Being a Film Photographer in Japan

Japan is a photographer’s paradise.  Naturally, it has a lot of appeal to photographers in terms of the subjects it offers: old, traditional buildings, modern cityscapes, quirky Japanese goods and fashion, and more.  And more importantly, it has cameras, lots and lots of cameras.

I first moved here in 1999.  Back then you’d be hard-pressed to find an internet cafe anywhere, and what did exist took a long time to load (anything under a minute was considered fast).  Obviously digital cameras were available, but film cameras and film sales were still very much around and going strong. Even in small shops there would be a huge cooler, sometimes two, of film.  And you could pick and choose what you liked, right out of the cooler (I was in for a shock when I moved back to Canada and realized that I had to ask the clerk specifically for the film I wanted from the cooler that was hidden way behind the counter).  Most of the display cases held film cameras, new and used.

Fast forward to 2014 and the situation is a lot different.  Now digital cameras and memory cards take up most of the floor and display spaces, and you’ll be lucky to find some film cameras, used or new, off in the back corner somewhere. Of course, there are some small diehard camera shops, mostly selling used cameras, which is great if you know what you are looking for, and if you are in the right city.  They may or may not have film available, and if they do it is likely to be consumer grade negative film like Superia. If you are in a big city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, you’ll be in luck as they’ll have a Yodobashi Camera which will have a modest film and paper/darkroom selection.

The interesting things I find about shooting film now, and this is not only in Japan, is that I get a lot of attention shooting a film camera, especially when I bring out the medium format gear, whether it’s my Bronica or Autocord, or even sometimes my Holga.  Occasionally I’ll get the odd person who wants to come talk to be about it, but usually it’s just the whispered comments that I can hear around me.  Even though I hate being the centre of attention in any situation, in these instances I usually don’t mind, because I know it helps promote the fact that shooting film is still a viable option.  I don’t know how long that will last, but I’ll do it as long as I can.


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