He has traversed from the North Pole to the South Pole under his own steam, was the youngest person ever to climb the highest peaks of the seven continents at the time and has done field work in Micronesia on the art of star navigation. …… Naoki Ishikawa is a photographer who has traveled the globe far and wide. He has just completed an expedition to Pakistan in 2022, summiting the world’s second highest and most difficult peak, K2 (8,611m) and Broad Peak (8,051m). For Ishikawa-san, Shibuya has been another pole in a life spent traveling around the world. He was born and bred in the Hatsudai area of Shibuya and worked part-time on Cat Street as a student. Camera in hand, we walked around Shibuya to discover how it looks through the lens of a photographer.
A city-born photographer driven by a yearning for nature
”Next week I’m off to Nepal to climb Manaslu. I actually climbed it 10 years ago, but a friend invited me along.”
So remarks Ishikawa-san nonchalantly ahead of his expedition to the world’s 8th highest peak (8163m) in the Himalayas. Does his Shibuya birthplace play a part in his decision to live for travel?
“Until kindergarten I lived in Hatsudai. So I guess I had some kind of longing toward nature. If I had been born at the foot of a mountain I wouldn’t have been into climbing and if I had grown up by the sea I would have been indifferent to it. It’s because I grew up in Tokyo that I started to gravitate towards the mountains and the sea.”
The ever-changing city anda photographer’s connection
Ishikawa-san went to the poles as if propelled from the city, and then returned to another pole, Shibuya.
“No matter where I go, I often change trains at Shibuya Station, and when I do, I feel that I have come home. I also come to Shibuya for 35mm film shop such as Utsurundesu, and often do some writing at “Cafe Renoir” near Miyashita Park. Even though I moved away when I was a child, Shibuya has always been close to my heart.”
While a student, he worked at the newly opened Patagonia Shibuya store, shopped at mountain climbing stores around Tokyu, and went to the movies at “Eurospace.” A place he has long frequented there is “Choraku”.
“The upper floor is a soapland in Shibuya. Though I don’t know if that helps or not, it is cheap even if you eat a full meal, so even now I often go there after a photo shoot. That’s about the only place I’ve been going to since the old days……Shibuya is just changing so fast. It is different from Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, and I can’t think of any other town that is similar, even overseas. I find it fascinating that the landscape can change so rapidly.”
A collection of photos documenting Shibuya under the pandemic
“It is natural for time to pass, and I may not be the type to harbor much nostalgia for it. However, as a photographer, I have a strong desire to gaze at and document the ever-changing landscape.”
His words are borne out in “STREETS ARE MINE”, a photo book released in 2022 documenting Shibuya in the grip of the pandemic.
“I have always had this nebulous desire to photograph my hometown, Tokyo. As I couldn’t go overseas during the pandemic, I decided to take a fresh look at my own backyard. I went up those big buildings for the first time like Shibuya Sky and Shibuya Stream. That was when it struck me that this Shibuya unfamiliar to me was popping up all over the place.”
Intrusion into an unknown rodent-ridden side of Shibuya
The collection starts with the démodé high-rises of Shibuya and continues with antigen testing on the street and the bustle of Halloween, before showing the rats that roam around Center Gai as if they own the place.
“I started shooting the day the first state of emergency was declared. I had heard that rats were proliferating, but there were literally swarms of them. I became somewhat curious, so decided to get on their tail and start taking pictures. I carried two cameras in my pockets, and if I saw a rat, I would snap a picture off with no viewfinder. I was similarly shocked to see all the drunks staggering around clutching cheap booze. It occurred to me that for while it’s a familiar city, there is a great deal I don’t know about it.”
A stone placed at the bottom of Spain Slope, or a Dōsojin in front of LOFT. The spots that caught his eye were all things that, like rats, were portals to unknown worlds. How long have they existed, and who put them there and for what purpose?
“I believe that unknown landscapes are concealed within familiar places. The city is changing so quickly that the places where I was able to encounter the unknown will soon be gone. But that’s why I am happy to have recorded them in my photographs.”
Cafe Renoir Shibuya Miyashita Park
2F Shibuya Chikatetsu Bldg. 1-16-14 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
“Something akin to a Shibuya rubbish heap where you can see all sorts of human interaction. It’s got just the right level of background noise to help your writing flow” explains Ishikawa-san.
Choraku Udagawacho Branch
31-5 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
Downtown Chinese joint that has been popular in Shibuya for half a century. The famous “Loose Fried Rice” is a hearty dish filled with shredded pork and bean paste.
The Spain-zaka Stone
13-7 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
Located in front of Matsumoto Kiyoshi Shibuya Spain-zaka store. It seems incongruous, and yet Mr. Ishikawa is mystified as to why it was placed there.
Dōsojin in front of LOFT
18-18 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
Dōsojin is perched discreetly next to the Seibu Department Store, near the entrance to LOFT. Nearby is a stone monument named “Masaka,” which was named by the public in 1989.
Shibuya Center Gai
A place where Ishikawa-san would stalk rats late at night or at dawn during photo shoots for his photo book. He also witnessed a rat drinking a tapioca drink through a straw.
1-5 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku
A long-established mini-theater that opened in Sakuragaoka-cho in 1982. In 2021 the film “Shari” (directed by Nao Yoshigai), which was shot by Ishikawa-san, was screened here.
Born in Tokyo, 1977. Photographer. Completed doctoral program of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts. Drawn to fields such as anthropology and folklore, he has traveled to all kinds of places, from the remote to the urban, and continues to exhibit his work. In 2008, he won the Newcomer’s Prize of the Photographic Society of Japan Award and the Kodansha Publishing Culture Award for “NEW DIMENSION” and “POLAR”. In 2020, he received the Japan Photographic Society Award for Artist of the Year for “EVEREST” and “Marebito”. He is the author of many books, including “The Last Adventurer,” which won the Ken Kaiko Nonfiction Award, and “Making Constellations on Earth”. He is planning a solo exhibition at Gallery SAI in MIYASHITA PARK starting in mid-January 2023.