Harajuku Girls

by Ed Lau on July 9, 2008

One of the biggest attractions in Tokyo is actually…well, it’s not what you’d expect.

Each Sunday, the bridge outside Meiji Jingu (a Shinto shrine built in honor of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken) is filled with cosplayers…or people, usually teenagers, that like to dress up as their favorite anime characters, visual kei bands or heck, just put on some clothes that are a bit out of the ordinary. Just about all the cosplayers are female but…I’m almost sure a few of them are dudes.

One of my favorite pictures from my last trip to Tokyo was a portrait of a girl on the cosplayer’s bridge and this place is one of my favorite places in Japan so I’ll probably drop by each Sunday. Unfortunately, it was raining on the first two Sundays I was here so this is the first week I’ve been able to capture this unique cultural phenomenon.

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If you’d like to see more, I’ve started a Flickr account and there are even more pictures posted there.

It seems, however, that it has gotten a little too big. Usually everyone is very friendly and wants to have their picture taken but this time, I found that some were camera shy. In addition, there are now two strange old guys telling folks with big lenses that they can only use small ones and both were quite big jackasses. One in particular, when he found out I don’t speak Japanese, tried to stare me down and intimidate me but…buddy, I’m a foot taller, forty years younger and got at least 50-some pounds on you. Of course, he realized this wasn’t going to work since I’m decidedly more intimidating. Watch out for them. They might be jerks but they’re relatively harmless. We’re all in public, after all.

I had a fellow tourist translate for me and found that their reasoning is that the girls don’t want to appear in any publications or have their families find out what they’re doing. I don’t see how the first one is bad since…well, you could get famous, maybe? And if your family doesn’t realize that you either walk out of the house dressed as a ninja or carry a massive suitcase with you every Sunday, there are bigger problems. To be quite honest, I think those two #%&holes have convinced the cosplayers that they can make some money out of all this and want photographers to pay. Either that or they want the exclusive rights or something since it seems they’ve all got cameras around their necks too. Regardless…I’ve played paparazzi before. I can deal with a couple geezers.

Maybe this was just a one day abnormality or everyone was just a little moody since it was 33 degrees out. I would be pissed if I had to wear all those layers when it’s hot as hell out.

in Photography,Travel

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnny July 9, 2008 at 11:16 am

you should’ve taken pictures of the two old guys. were there alot of people taking pictures?

you know what you should do? dress up also to blend in and i bet they’ll be more willing to let you take pictures of them. now who can you dress up as…hmm….

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Stephen July 9, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Another strange thing about Japan. Do these people just go there and stand around or is there some sort of activities that they do.

Btw I’d like to add you as friend on flickr, I really enjoy your photos. Is that ok?

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Ed Lau July 9, 2008 at 2:09 pm

No problem. :)

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ms danielle July 10, 2008 at 6:11 am

f
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ken July 10, 2008 at 6:31 pm

I heard people in japan were pretty cool they dont stare at anyone.
I hope thats true, this staring game is annoying as hell when i see someone one trying to stare me down i wanna pick somthing up and smash they’re ………in
I just got bac from a drive, I viewed Illegal aliens sitting on the corner trying to stare me down as I drove by wtf.
Mayb I am that handsome .
naaahh

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Eva White July 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Why do they do it? Get dressed and parade like this?

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Thrifty July 14, 2008 at 1:33 am

Is that what they do just dress up, and hang out?????

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Ed Lau July 14, 2008 at 7:27 am

@thrifty, Eva White

Pretty much. That’s their hobby…to dress up and hang out. There’s even more if you go to their comic conventions or something.

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ms danielle July 14, 2008 at 11:19 pm

better that they do this than drive around and shoot innocent people. oh high school memories….

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Jenny July 14, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Hi Ed.
I think it’s pretty weird that they were camera shy. The reason why they dress up like that is to get people’s attention, right?

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slif March 29, 2009 at 9:40 am

Went there today and unfortunately there weren’t that many of them out at all, maybe 10 total? This was about 4 PM on a Sunday afternoon. It’s been pretty cold this week in Tokyo so maybe that’s why there weren’t as many? Sigh… slightly disappointed about it all…

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Tammy March 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm

@Jenny
Its not weird that they are camera shy, sometimes their friends draw them into the hobby and they can’t get out. Cosplay is like an addiction.
Sometimes dressing up is just really fun; They dress up to be someone else they are not, they don’t do it for the attention.

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Miori July 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I just stumbled accross this blog, so Iread through it a bit, but there’s a thing I couldn’t help asking about pictures: do you ask them before takinf the pictures? I’m asking, because it is technically illegal to take pictures or strangers, and even worse if those pictures were to be ut onto the internet without their faces blurred out.
Also, people can find it creepy to be taken a picture of by a person they have never seenbefore. That happened to me once, though in a completely different situation. I was coming back one morning from clubbing with 2 friends, and while we were sitting in the train, quietly talking, we realized a guy (who was pretty close to us) was taking pictures of us with his phone. When he realized he couldn’t take proper pictures anymore (because we had turned away), he went to the other side of the train and started taking pictures of the next closest girl to him then. Just creepy…

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Ed Lau July 28, 2011 at 1:10 am

That seems like two questions: is it illegal to take pictures of strangers and do I ask before taking pictures?

It is not illegal to take pictures of people in public places. Regardless of whether people want their picture taken or not, if they are in a public area, all’s fair. The only situations where you need someone’s permission to take their picture is if the picture is for commercial use like it’s going to be in an ad or something. For journalism or art, you don’t need model releases.

Do I ask people if I can take their picture? It depends on the nature of the picture but most of the time, no. Asking someone to take their picture removes the “realness” of the moment captured. That works sometimes but I prefer not to have people pose.

Yes, if someone is just taking pictures of you for no reason, then that’s a little creepy but there’s a difference here. These girls all come out to this spot to have their picture taken. It’s a huge complement that we enjoy their costumes. I mean, why dress like that other than to be seen?

That and I’m quite obvious about taking pictures of anyone. I don’t sneak about. People know when my lens is pointed at them and I’m quite open and friendly about any inquiries they have.

There’s a very big difference between photographers trying to create art in images and a dude snapping away at random women with his phone.

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