Japan Seen through the Eye of the Camera - Photo Sketches of a German Researcher

Photos 1991-2000


写真 1991〜2000

Ulrich Moehwald is a German sociologist who was born in the countryside of Hessen in 1951. He is engaged in research and teaching as a professor at Chubu University in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture. His research fields are family sociology, rural sociology, and value change.
He first came to Japan for one year as a research fellow at Tokyo University in 1987. Being engaged earnestly with the camera since his early twenties, he traveled around Japan, looking at the various sides of Japanese life and taking pictures of everyday events to use them as material for research and teaching.
After returning to Germany for half a year, he came back in 1989 to work as a researcher for the German Institute of Japanese Studies in Tokyo. In 1993 he became a professor at Chubu University.
After his return to Japan, with his peculiar acting power and overflowing curiosity, he energetically continued to take photos of the various sides of Japanese everyday life, from work places to holidays and festivals. The number of his photos from Japan amount to several thousand to date.
During his time at the German Institute of Japanese Studies, he engaged in cultural exchange in the Tama Region and Tachikawa City, and he also participated in Community Centers’ activities.
In the course of this exchange, without anybody noticing it, “Uli’s photos” became popular among his friends. Ten years ago we opened an exhibition of his photos in Tachikawa City under the title of “Views of and Thoughts on Japan” that gained public favor. The same exhibition was later shown in Sendai in 1992 and 1993 and in Nagoya in 1994 and was always favorably commented upon.
And now, after ten more years of living in Japan, we want to see a new exhibition of his photos, how Japan is reflected, and how it has changed seen through Uli’s eyes.
The selected photos (32 frames) cover the entire last ten years of his shots in Japan, from the most recent photos to very early ones, and those shot in the Tama Region.
The unretouched face of Japanese youths approached in their daily life, his thoughts while making contact with Japanese traditional culture, and so forth, and so on, the things that we Japanese see too often every day to notice them, let us rediscover them through this photo exhibition.

Tachikawa, July 2001
Takaichi Yoshizawa



1. Chindonya. Osu daido chonin matsuri, Osu, Nagoya, October 12, 1997.
The quarter around Osu Kannon Temple in Nagoya resembles in many ways Asakusa in Tokyo. It is very popular among young people as well as among the old. Every year on the third weekend in October a great festival of street performers takes place in this quarter, in which artists from all over Japan participate. This rather famous chindonya troupe from ?saka participates every year. Chindonya are groups of street musicians that in former times existed everywhere in Japan. They were especially engaged by shops and other businesses for advertising events. Since the 1960s their number has shrunk rapidly and only very few troupes exist nowadays.

チンドン屋 1997年10月12日 名古屋市・大須大道町人祭り。
Contax G II, Planar 45 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
2. Juggler. Osu daido chonin matsuri, Osu, Nagoya, October 12, 1997.
Flying knives− that was fascinating for the children, which followed the performance of the juggler with keen curiosity. Since this festival takes place on a weekend, it is attended by many children and their parents.
ジャグラー 1997年10月12日 大須大道町人祭り。
みごとなナイフさばきに、子供たちもびっくり。 祭りのお客に子供が多かったのも目立ちました。どこの国の子供も好奇心がいっぱい、やはり楽しいことには目を輝かせます。
Contax G II, Sonnar 90 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
3. Spice vendor. Osu daido chonin matsuri, Osu, Nagoya, October 12, 1997.
Red pepper - togarashi - is an often used spice in Japan. In most cases it is not used in its pure form, but mixed with other spices. The ingredients vary according to the food for which they are used. This vendor produced the various mixtures with an incredible speed and at the same time amused the passerby with with funny commentaries and stories. He is also quite famous.
唐辛子売り 1997年10月12日 大須大道町人祭り。
この人、口上がとても上手でした。そして、手早い動作で唐辛子を詰める手際のよさ! 彼もかなり有名な人だそう
Contax G II, Sonnar 90 mm, Kodak Ektachrome Dyna EX 100.
4. Bamboo craftsman. Central market, Sendai, Miyagi, July 25, 1992.
Bamboo is a material that has been used in Japan for many appliances and utensils. Hence in former times bamboo craftsmen could be found everywhere. But crafts no longer make a mint in this country and the competition from cheap imported bamboo goods from East and South-East Asia has added to the difficulties of the Japanese craftsmen. This photo was taken ten years ago, nowadays has become almost impossible to find this kind of craftsmen at markets.
竹職人 1992年7月25日 仙台。
この写真はもう9年前のもの。 今もこういった職人さんは残っているのでしょうか。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.
5. Ama. Ishika, Toba-shi, Mie, July 19, 1993.
Ama are women divers who dive for abalone and other seafood without any technical equipment to depths of fifty meters and more. Once they could be found everywhere along Japan’s coasts, but today their exists only few regions with ama fishing villages. One of them is Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture. I visited this village in the summer of 1993 together with a colleague from Mie University who did research in this village. He wanted to have a foreigner with him, because then the locals would use standard Japanese instead of their dialect. Among the Japanese the general image of ama is that of strong-willed beautiful young women diving naked. But in reality nowadys the average age of the ama lies well above sixty. The women are strongly opposed to their daughters following them in this dangerous and strenuous profession. And they never dive naked, because of the cold water temperature in greater depths. Nowadays they wear diving suits made from Neoprene, in former times several layers of white cotton clothes. Because of the cold men cannot do this kind of work, their fatty tissue is too thin to isolate against it.
海女 1993年7月19日 三重県鳥羽市。
M大学の聞き取り調査に同行しました。 外国人が一緒だと、相手が一生懸命、標準語をしゃべってくれるという理由からでもあります。 海中深く潜って「あわび」や「うに」を取る作業は大変ハードなものですが、年配の女性が多いようです。平均年齢は60歳以上。皆自分の娘には後を継がせたくないようでした。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.
6. Ama. Ishika, Toba-shi, Mie, July 19, 1993.
An ama‘s workday is not finished with diving. They still have a lot of other work to do, and often they have to prepare their catch before selling it. Like in this case where so-called bafun-uni, small sea urchins that resemble horse droppings, are prepared for canned food.
海女 1993年7月19日 三重県鳥羽市。

Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.

7. University graduation ceremony. Chubu University, Kasugai City, Aichi, March 23, 1994.
My first graduation ceremony at Chubu University. After a very formal ceremony with more than 1000 graduates in the university’s gymnasium, the different colleges and departments separately hand out the graduation diploma. At this occasion many female students wear traditional attire like a kimono or, even more typically, a hakama.
大学の卒業式 1994年3月23日 愛知県春日井市中部大学。
Pentax Spotmatic F, SMC Takumar 50 mm, Fujichrome 400.
8. Konpa with students. Kasugai City, Aichi, July 18, 1998.
Normally two or three times a year I have a party with the students from my seminars that are called konpa, which is an abbrevation of the English word company. This group belonged to my fifth seminar that graduated in March 1999. One of the girls I met accidentally in June 2000 at Nagoya Airport where she works now for an airline. A week later she came to visit me at the university and brought photos from the graduation party.
ゼミのコンパで 1998年7月18日 愛知県春日井市。
Contax G II, Planar 45 mm, Contax TLA 200, Fujichrome Provia 400.
9. Waiting for a date. Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya, December 1, 1999.
Sakae is the center of Nagoya where many young people meet. Mini-skirt and boots with platform soles in which it is rather difficult to walk, and a short white coat, thinking of the temperature on that day, that was really impressive.
デートを待つ 1999年12月11日 名古屋市中区栄。
若者もたくさん集まる名古屋の中心地。 ミニスカートに厚底ブーツ、そして白いコート、服装がとても印象的でした。それにしても歩くのがちょっと大変では? それに寒くないのかしら?ちょっと余計なお世話でした。
Contax G I, Planar 45 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
10. Contemporary beauties. Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya, June 7, 2000.
Blonde Japanese girls - that is something which didn’t exist in former times. New hair-dying products made this possible, and since they appeared on the market in the late 1990s, there exist almost no young Japanese who don’t dye their hair. When I arrived at Narita Airport in 1987 I almost got a shock seeing only masses of black haired heads around me - unbelievable today!
現代の美人 2000年6月7日 名古屋市中区栄。
昔は見られなかったブロンドの日本人。時々外人? と勘違いするほど。この10年の間に、服装も多様化し、かなりオシャレな若者が増えました。日本に来たての頃(89年)、ドイツから来た私の教え子が、成田で、「みんな黒い髪!」と言って驚いていたのが嘘のようです。
Contax G I, Sonnar 90 mm, Contax TLA 200, Fujichrome Sensia 100.
11. Young women on the train. Chuo Line, Nagoya, Aichi, July 9, 1999.
There exist a number of universities along this line and in the trains one sees many students commuting to school. Compared to the tired and worn out middle aged men on their way back home, these two gave a very awake and cheerful impression.
電車の中の二人 1999年7月9日 名古屋市中央線。
Pentax Spotmatic F, SMC Takumar 50 mm, Kodak T-Max 400.
12. Late night on the train. Chuo Line, Nagoya, Aichi, July 2000.
The faces a bit red - that indicates consumption of alcohol. Most of the younger people nowadays don’t like drinking with colleagues after hours, but among the elder generations of salaried employees, which are now between forty-five and sixty-five, going out drinking with colleagues is still regarded as very important to keep up social contacts.
夜の電車で 2000年7月 名古屋市中央線。
Contax G I, Sonnar 90 mm, Contax TLA 200, Fujichrome Sensia 100.
13. On Nagoya’s subway. Nagoya, Higashiyama Line, November 4, 1997 and Meijo Line, January 26, 1998.
During my daily rush-hour rides on over-crowded subways in Tokyo and Nagoya I made an astonishing discovery. Despite the cramped conditions people hold up and mutually respect something like a symbolic space of privacy. These photos are part of a project that was inspired by Walker Evans’ New York subway portraits from the late 1930s/early 1940s, which I had seen in 1997 at the 10th Documenta in Kassel. On both shots I even used the same camera type as Evans, an old Contax II. Since my camera had also originally been produced for the American market, the distances on the focussing scale are only given in feet, what causes me considerably problems to recalculate this unfamiliar measurement into meters while setting the focus, because these photos are not taken using the finder.
名古屋の地下鉄で 1997年11月4日・1998年1月26日 東山線・名城線
地下鉄の中で夫々がプライバシーの領域を持っていることに興味を持ちました。ファインダーをのぞかずにシャッターを押しましたが、このカメラ目盛りがメートルでなくフィートだったので、距離合せにとてもてこずりました。 そして、中年男性の疲れた表情にはとても共感を覚えました。
Contax II, Sonnar 50 mm, Kodax T-Max 400.
14. Summer holidays. Ishika, Toba-shi, Mie, July 20, 1993.
On the first day of the summer holidays in this fishing village one saw many children playing outside. During the six years that we had lived in Tokyo we almost never saw any children playing outside without being supervised by an adult. Where were live now in Nagoya it is much more common than in Tokyo, but it can still not be compared to rural regions.
夏休みの公園で 1993年7月20日 三重県鳥羽市
夏休み最初の日。外で遊ぶ子供たちをよく見かけました。 東京にいた頃は、外で遊ぶ子供をあまり見かけませんでしたが、名古屋の家の近所でも、外で、そして集団で遊ぶ子供たちをよく見かけます。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.
15. School is out! Takama-cho, Meito-ku, Nagoya, September 7, 1996.
These kids from a primary school in our neighborhood really had fun on their way home from school.
学校の帰り道 1996年9月7日 名古屋市名東区高間町。
Mamiya 645 Super, Mamiya Sekkor 80 mm, Fujichrome 400.
16. Throwing rings together with father. Kakuozan Summer Festival, Kakuozan, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, July 24, 1999.
This summer festival was organized by the neighborhood. There were many attractions for children and a flea market for adults. During the summer holidays one can also see fathers accompanying their children.
父さんと輪投げ 1999年7月24日 名古屋市千種区覚王山夏祭り
Pentax Spotmatic-F, SMC Takumar 50 mm, Kodak T-Max 400.
17. Child at bon-odori. Kugayama, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, August 18, 1991.
In this area of Tokyo everybody, young and old participted in bon-odori festivals, which therefore were very lively and interesting. Especially the children had a great time. Where we live now in Nagoya only families with small children participate and it’s quite a sterile event.
盆踊り 1991年8月18日、東京都杉並区久我山
東京に住んでいた頃、近所では盛んに盆踊りが開かれていました。大人も子供も一緒に、とても楽しそうで私たちも良く出かけました。 今私が住んでいる地区でも盆踊りはありますが、PTA主催のせいか、子供ばかりで、東京とはだいぶ印象が違います。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Pentax AF 280 T, Fujichrome 400.
18. Child at bon-odori. Takaido-Nishi, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, August 25, 1991.
盆踊り 1991年8月25日 東京都杉並区高井戸西
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Pentax AF 280 T, Kodak Ektachrome 200
19. Street perfomance. Osu daido chonin matsuri, Osu, Nagoya, October 13, 1996.
This photo was shot when we went to the Osu Street Performers Festival for the first time. This Chaplin imitation was especially popular among the kids.
街角のチャプリン 1996年10月13日 大須大道町人祭り。
初めてこの祭りに出かけてみました。 この人は子供たちにも大人気でした。
Nikon F3, Nikkor 35-70 mm, Kodak Tri-X Pan.
20. Fortune-teller (inyoshi). Monthly market at Nittaiji, Kakuozan, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, April 21, 1996.
What surprised me lot after my arrival in Japan was the great number of all sorts of fortune-tellers that you can see everywhere in the big cities. The Japanese have no interest in other-worldly things, that’s a joke!
陰陽師 1996年4月21日 名古屋市千種区日泰寺・21日市。
Nikon F2, Nikkor 35-70 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
21. Shopping. Shichijo-dori, Kyoto, September 8, 1994.
On certain days of the month a big outside market takes place along Shichijo-dori. We love this kinds of markets, because of the many unusual things you can see, the bargain prices, and the contact you can get with the vendors. But the young Japanese prefer shopping in department stores and they have no sense concerning the charm of the markets. On this market too, the majority of the customers were old people.
買物 1994年8月9日 京都市・七条通。
私は市場が大好きです。お店の人と話ができるし、品物もデパートなどと比べて、だいぶ安いような気がします。 でも若い人はあまり好きではないようです。この市場も60代以上の女性がお客の大部分を占めていました。
Mamiya 645 Super, Mamiya Sekkor 80 mm, Fujichrome 400.
22. Giving loud orders. China Town, Nagasaki, March 25, 2000.
Compared to the 1980s and early 1990s, nowadays we rarely have a chance to travel in Japan. In March 2000 we had a rare opportunity to travel to Nagasaki and its surroundings. Nagasaki has the oldest China Town in Japan, but compared to those in Yokohama and Kobe it is rather small. We were there just looking for a place for lunch, when we saw this old man giving loud orders. Presumably he was one of the elders of the quarter.
大声で指示をする 2000年3月25日 長崎市中華街。
Contax G II, Sonnar 90 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
23. Igo in the afternoon. Tsurumai-Park, Nagoya, March 28, 1998.
Tsurumai-Park is the largest park in central Nagoya. Like in many other parks in Japanese big cities, here too they have a corner where people can play games like go, sh?gi and checkers. But overwhelmingly it is old men that meet each other here. In one corner we also saw a game of mahjong, which normally is played for money. But the guys playing it didn’t like to be photographed .
午後の囲碁 1998年3月28日 名古屋市鶴舞公園。
Contax G II, Sonnar 90 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
24. Father and daughter. Osu, Nagoya, August 12, 2000.
Osu is a quarter with many small shops that sell almost anything. The specialties of the quarter electric appliances and electronics. During summer many events also take place in Osu and one sees many children with their parents. Because of the the large amount of overtime and weekend-work, Japanese fathers have the image of being non-existing in family life, but lately one often sees more and more fathers taking care of their children.
父と娘 2000年8月12日 名古屋市中区大須商店街。
Contax T VS III, Vario Sonnar 30-60 mm, Fujichrome Provia 400.
25. Rural Kabuki. Akigawa-shi, Tokyo, October 25, 1992.
Kabuki is a traditional form of Japanese theater that developed during the Edo Period (1600-1867) as a favorite past-time of the affluent burghers of the big cities. Therefore it also contained many popular elements. Today kabuki mainly exists as a rather formalized form of theater, which is concentrated on the big and famous city theaters, but well into the 1950s there still existed many kabuki-troupes that traveled the rural regions. In Akigawa this tradition of rural kabuki was revived in the early 1990s and we had the opportunity to visit its first performance and also look behind the stage. The impression really differed from “high kabuki” in that its rural form is very popular and lively. Elder people were dominant among the spectators.
田舎歌舞伎 1992年10月25日 秋川(現あきる野市)。
Nikon F2, Nikkor 35-70 mm, Kodak Tri-X Pan.
26. Rural Kabuki. Akigawa-shi, Tokyo, October 25, 1992.
田舎歌舞伎 1992年10月25日 秋川(現あきる野市)。
Nikon F2, Nikkor 35-70 mm, Kodak Tri-X Pan.
27. Rural Kabuki. Akigawa-shi, Tokyo, October 25, 1992.
田舎歌舞伎 1992年10月25日 秋川(現あきる野市)。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.
28. A drunkard with good manners. Kugayama, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, August 18, 1991.
The evening before I shot this photo, a big bon-odori took place in Kugayama. Perhaps he had drunk too much on that occasion, couldn’t make his way home, and lay down to sleep in the entrance of a shop. I saw him there when I went to work early the next morning. What was really impressive was that he had taken off his shoes just like before entering a tatami room and had arranged them very orderly on the street.
行儀の良い酔っ払い 1991年8月18日 久我山。
Pentax A3 Date-S, Cosmicar 35-70 mm, Fujichrome 400.
29. Saving a place for hanami. Inokashira-Park, Kichijoji, Musashino-shi, Tokyo, April 4, 1992.
A hanami-party under cherry blossoms is a really important event in spring for the Japanese. “Looking at the blossoms” is less important than drinking, eating, and partying. Tokyo has a number of parks that are famous for this event, because of the many cherry trees and these places get extremely crowded, finding a place for the party is difficult to secure. Inokashira-Park is one of the most popular places for hanami. Companies that plan a party there send out people to save a place the night before the event. This photo was shot at 7 a.m.
花見の席取り1992年4月4日 吉祥寺井の頭公園。
Mamiya 645 Super, Mamiya Sekkor 80 mm, Fujichrome 400.
30. Amateur-Baseball. Issha Chuo Koen, Issha-Minami, Meito-ku, Nagoya, August 20, 1995.
Baseball is perhaps the most popular sport in Japan. Its popularity is not only reflected in the large number of visitors to professional league games, but also in the existence of rather active amateur leagues. During the summer, a number of amateur-league games take place every weekend in this park near Issha station. The photo shows the coach of the club, who poses in the same way as those of professional clubs.
アマチュア野球 1995年8月20日 名古屋市名東区一社中央公園。
Nikon F3, Nikkor70-210 mm, Kodak Tri-X Pan.