If you’ve ever looked through Instagram, Facebook or YouTube you’ll notice Japan fairs well when it comes to the number and quality of the photos and other content presented on these platforms. There are a few reasons for this: the country is accessible, safe, and offers an essentially endless photography experience. For this list I’ve stuck to very accessible locations around the Yamanote JR line and along the Ginza metro line.
Time to go: Night
A short distance from the station you can find the well known Omoide Yokocho, also known as ‘Piss Alley.’ Further along after passing under the rail bridge, you’ll find Kabukucho and its Famous Red Gate. Kabukicho can best be described as a combination of bright lights and dim back alleys populated by colorful characters blanketed with a seedy undertone.
It starts off relatively tame and deteriorates into a quintessential red light district as you delve deeper. On the far side of Kabukicho is Golden Gai which also makes for a great spot for photographers.
Time to go: Day for Shiodome / Night for Shimbashi West
Shiodome business district, with its modern skyscrapers made of steel, glass, and concrete, makes for fantastic geometric shapes that lead to unique street photo compositions. On a sunny day, ever changing hard shadows and reflected light are cast across the area making for endless an photographic gold mine.
At night the ties are loosened and the unwind begins in the numerous eateries on the west side of Shimbashi station. The little bars that often spill out onto the street make for a great chance to catch Japan’s beautifully lit night street life. Business people and night workers of all sorts mingle in the small, smokey lanes that riddle the area.
Time to go: Night
The famous Shibuya Crossing is one weapon in the area’s arsenal of great photography spots, but beyond the crossing are seemingly whole worlds of hidden streets filled with smokey bars and colorful locales. One such nook is Nonbei-yokocho. Center-gai is also great and is famous for being rather chaotic during Halloween. With enough time spent in Shibuya, you might eventually find your way to the seedier district of Dogenzaka, filled with love hotels and hostess bars. The other side of the station offers an area that is completely opposite in its atmosphere. Known as Shibuya Stream, it is a clean, modern world with raised walkways and glass skyscrapers—all useful elements for interesting street photography.
Time to go: Day or Night
Ginza during the day is an expensive shopping district comprising of impeccably dressed locals and urban scenery that is just as classy as the people on the streets. A great spot for getting above the street in Ginza is Tokyu Plaza Ginza. The rooftop terrace provides an excellent view over a major street crossing and makes for some great perspectives. In the evening the terrace area on the top of Ginza Six is excellent for capturing cityscape views.
Near Ginza, nestled between Tokyo station and Yurakucho station, the immense Tokyo International forum can be found. Tokyo International forum is an amazingly beautiful structure that will entertain any photographer for hours if not days. Sunny days here offer an ever-changing array of photography opportunities. Come evening, Ginza transforms into an area of classy restaurants and bars, but behind the beautiful facade, tucked away in its backstreets, is an upmarket version of Kabukicho—an area littered with posh hostess bars and swanky night clubs.
Time to go: Day
Harajuku provides a constant stream of interesting people, all mostly decked out in youth fashion. The best place to catch people is around Takeshita Dori and Cat Street. Takeshita Dori is only suitable for those who don’t mind a little bit of crowds, while Cat Street provides a more relaxed environment (and more personal space). For creative compositions, the mirrors of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku will keep most photographers entertained for a while. Finally, for a relaxing stroll, Meiji Jingu and Yoyogi Park are worth a visit.
Time to go: Morning, Afternoon, or Evening
During the day the area around Yebisu Garden Place is an amazing spot for contrasting colors and light from interesting vantage points. Here, morning and late afternoon photo sessions afford interesting shadows and high contrast, allowing for striking compositions. At night, the Top Of Yebisu Sky Lounge has amazing views over Tokyo, particularly if you’re after a shot of Tokyo Tower.
Time to go: Evening or Night
Sensō-ji and Hōzōmon Gate are illuminated until quite late into the night making for some excellent photos (if you can work around the crowds). For a bit of street photography the area around Hoppy Street is great for shots in the evenings with many of the restaurants having tables and stools spilling out onto the street. During the day, the areas to the north side and beyond offer a peek into old Japan.
Time to go: Evening
Ameyokocho is a strong draw for Uneo with its mix of retailers and food market stalls, all making for great photography. As it gets into the evening, the neighborhood changes character as the market side of Ameyoko winds down and the restaurants and bars come to life.