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Capturing Kansai: Faces of the People that you Meet

Since living in Korea from February 2011, I’ve spent my week-long winter vacations in Japan, with the last two being in the Kansai region, flying in and out of Osaka.

I had become a keen street photographer since my first visit to Asia in late 2009, but just prior to my second visit to Japan, I had acquired a mirrorless camera with fixed lenses. The depth and quality of the images I could produce led me into focusing more on portraits.

The following pictures are a result of two weeks exploring and interacting with the people of Kansai.

I found this girl in a supermarket in Kobe whilst browsing the endless choices of sushi on New Years Eve. Whilst some kids might become shy and disorientated when asked to pose impromptly by a strange foreigner, this little cutie loved it. She even stopped, smiled and waved at me whenever she saw me in the aisles later on.

These guys came out of a very upmarket sushi restaurant in Kyoto, as I was wondering who would eat at a place without prices marked on the food displayed outside. A man in a top hat with matching glasses and cape, was the answer.

I chased a family down whilst in the Kofuku-ji temple complex after seeing the boy’s impressively elaborate costume. The family had come down from Tokyo for New Years vacation. Nara was the father’s hometown. I was able to get his email to send him the pictures afterward.

As you might have guessed by now, there are no shortage of kimonos, the traditional clothing, around the New Years period. This girl particularly caught my eye in Osaka station as she was foreshadowing a billboard comprised of futuristically adorned women. Originally from Osaka, she was back in town from her current home of Tokyo for the holidays, where she works in a bank, grinding twelve hour shifts each day. She had just returned from a day trip to Kyoto.

Bathing with Japanese Macaques in an onsen, a natural hot spring bath, was one of the things that I most wanted to do in my time here in the Far East. That is, until I took a trip to Arashiyama monkey park and realised how aggressive they are. They won’t attack you unprovoked, but when making eye contact is considered provocation, my bathtime wishes were quickly dropped. The look on this one’s face gives a sense of how edgy and agitated they constantly seem.

I was originally taking a picture of the back of this man as I liked him with the graffiti. When he turned around he seemed to love the attention, so I captured him doing what he was preparing to do, which was sit down and smoke. The Tennoji area of Osaka is pretty run down with a lot of elderly hanging out and drinking and gambling in pachinko parlours. The increasing elderly population, combined with the decreasing birth rate, is becoming a societal problem. There are now more adult diapers than children’s diapers.

Upon seeing a nice backdrop for a portrait in the Shinsekai district, not too far from the man in the previous picture, this gentleman passed by, but I couldn’t let the photo opportunity do the same. The difference was that this chap seemed far more purpose-driven and full of beans. An Osaka native, he had the look and demeanour of a Hayao Miyazaki character.

Nipponbashi, also know as ‘Den Den Town’, is Osaka’s ‘otaku’ (Japanese for geek) mecca. Containing innumerous multi-storey manga stores, sex shops, maid cafes and video game arcades, this place has a lot of answers for the lack of babies being born right now. There are shops devoted to virtual girlfriend CD-Roms. The otaku above works in a retro video game store that contained so many blasts from the past, the teenage game geek in me explodes with joy whenever i visit. As you can imagine, the guy’s handshake was disturbingly limp-wristed.

This was the Notorious B.I.G of monks. I found him in Wakayama prefecture, in the UNESCO World Heritage listed mountain range of Koyasan. He spoke disarmingly perfect English, so much so that I thought he was Western at first. I was a little cheeky as I knocked on the door to his dwellings to get him back for a second round of photographs before I got this shot, with the mighty Danjo Garan temple in the background.

Like the previous photograph, this was the result of being persistent and trying our luck, as we had persuaded the staff of the Kyoto Manga Museum to allow us into a private Cosplay party. We were the only ones out of costume, and almost definitely the only foreigners.  I say almost, because the identity of the people sitting with my friend, Kevin, above, is tightly concealed under their synthetic skin.

Kansai is an amazingly beautiful region with mouth-watering food, dizzying neon, ancient temples and spellbinding nature. But hopefully my photos attest to the fact that it’s the people, as much as the place, that make this region truly special.

Camera: Olympus OMD EM5

Simon’s blog can be found at

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About Simon Slater

Simon Slater is a freelance journalist and photographer currently based in Seoul. As well as contributing to various media outlets, he writes photo-led stories about Korea and the rest of Asia in his blog 'The Secret Map'.

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