On a recent tour a guest challenged me to show her ‘Tokyo’s Soul‘. It made me think: what is the most ‘soulful’ place in Tokyo? There are certainly places devoid of it—corporatized, commercialized, commodified liminal spaces lacking anything that could be called a soul.
What does it even mean for a place to have a soul? To me, it means a place has a history that is still felt in modern times. The businesses and people that occupy the place can trace back their lineage to days long past, yet despite this, the area is not a museum or a retro theme park. It must have a vitality that is expressed in the daily lives of regular people, going about their business day by day.
In Tokyo, the most lively such neighborhood is Ueno. In a sense it is the ‘capital’ of the Shitamachi (the downtown, or ‘low city’ of old Edo). This is where the normal people of modest means, artisans, merchants, and the like, of the old days lived. The Shitamachi occupies a large swath of north-east Tokyo. Its neighborhoods are quite spread out, albeit very walk-able, so we focus our attention on Ueno.
Since we like to combine two or more neighborhoods on our photo adventures we wanted to pair Ueno with a nearby place that embodies this soulful spirit, so we chose Shimbashi, a bustling watering hole by night, but a haven of retro-vibes during the day. Daytime street denizens include delivery drivers, cooks and chefs preparing their shops, and salarymen on lunch breaks. Shimbashi’s Showa era atmosphere matches well with the hustle and bustle of Ueno’s Ameyoko market.
So, that’s our new photo adventure: Tokyo Soul. It’s a dive into the daily life of the soulful big old city of Tokyo.
Discover the soul of Tokyo in the old downtown, crowded street markets, and under the old girders of the rumbling railways.
See some photos from the adventure: