From Risen in the East
© Shintaro Sato
Despite being one of the world’s great cities, the Tokyo skyline is short on truly world-famous features. Tokyo Tower, a copy of the Eiffel Tower, can hardly be seen anywhere, and in any case it’s now almost 60 years old. In a couple of months, though, a new landmark building will be completed: Tokyo Sky Tree, a 634 meter (2,080 feet) tall broadcasting tower which can already be seen from points clear across the city. What’s interesting about Sky Tree is its location in the East part of Tokyo, in what’s known as the “lower city”: a historically blue-collar area which, even as other parts of the city have been transformed by glittering developments, still retains its Showa-period atmosphere. Or, at least, it has up until recently. The construction of Sky Tree is transforming this historical area—and Shintaro Sato, a photographer and native son of Tokyo’s East side, has been documenting these changes.
Sato started shooting Sky Tree as soon as construction started, and he just recently published a book that’s a result of these efforts, Risen In The East. It’s a series which brings out the often jarring spatial relationship between Sky Tree and the surrounding areas. I have some personal interest in the “lower city,” having worked in junior high schools in the area for a couple of years, and also joining a baseball team there—I’ve played a game a couple of fields down from the one Sato photographed, and could see Sky Tree right in the background while I was at bat. I share Sato’s worry that Sky Tree could very well destroy these Eastern neighborhoods entirely, so I’m glad to see that he has preserved something of them. I asked him a few questions about Risen In The East, and he explained how it references traditional Japanese art, even through digital technology.
Where exactly are you from?
I was born in the East part of Tokyo, more specifically in Kanamachi, in the Katsushika ward. Clearly, that’s an important part of why I’m attracted to that area.
It seems to me like there’s a great chance of the area being affected quite severely by the construction of Sky Tree. Do you think so, too?
Since the beginning of the construction of Sky Tree, I’ve been shooting in the East part of Tokyo, and I’ve felt big changes to that area. I thought that I absolutely had to photograph these changes. These older neighborhoods are being demolished to make way for new apartment buildings. It’s quite sad to see these historic areas being destroyed. I was really shocked to see that some places which I've photographed and included in this book have already disappeared.
I read that there’s some connection to Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings in this work. Could you explain that connection?
Ukiyo-e paintings don’t have any real center. Instead, your eyes can wander over them, almost endlessly. The painters used many different colors, to make it so that you won’t ever get tired of looking at them. Ukiyo-e can also be seen as historical records of Tokyo, during the Edo period. I was very naturally drawn to photographing buildings that date from this period. There’s a technique from the Japanese picture scrolls of the 12th century, in which the same person will appear in the same scroll more than once. It’s not just that the person is drawn more than once, but that they are appearing in the same painting at different times in their life. In this painting, you can see the passage of time as an old woman appears multiple times. If you look carefully at these photos, you can also see that the same person is also appearing more than once. I think it’s interesting to link the old traditions of Japanese art with digital technology like Photoshop.
Why did you use so many panoramas?
For this series, I am creating the work out of multiple photos, because it allows me to very precisely include details. You could think of it like producing a frame. It’s not like trapping things in a frame, but rather creating something that allows the scenery to be represented in total. I ended up with many panoramic photos because it turned out that was the best frame for my scenery.