The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Darkest Hour


I have shot so many images of Shibuya crossing over the years but none like this one. I took this image on March 15th 2011, exactly seven years ago with a journalist from the Daily Mirror called, Tom Parry who was in Japan to cover the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

Shibuya is one of the most iconic views in Tokyo: a collection of electronic craziness, famous throughout the world. It is the cultural centre of a city so sprawling and so diverse in character that calling it merely a Mecca for youth culture misses the point. The stoicism of the dog, Hachiko, who waited outside the station for her master to arrive home from work each day, even after he had died, is as important a metaphor for the character of the Japanese as the bizarre fashions and hedonism so usually associated with the place. Shibuya is where Tokyo comes to have fun and forget the stresses of ordinary life but is also, it seems, where it comes to find itself.

It was the perfect place indeed to take to take Tom and interview people about their reactions to the disaster. It was also a place where, as a photographer, I could visually show the effects of the tragedy on people’s lives in Tokyo before heading north into the devastation of the tsunami coast the next day. Due to the damage at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station, and the ensuing panic, all Japan’s nuclear reactors had been turned off and much of Japan was switching off lights, escalators and all manner of electrical extras that eased the life of its citizens to save energy.  The usual bright lights of Shibuya crossing were dimmed as we arrived, climbing slowly up the stairs of the station to the street. The giant, energy-sapping TV screens, that surrounded us were dark and silent. I had never seen this place like that before and it looked apocalyptic enough even for a British tabloid. The interviews however; four days after the events to the north, and in the epicurean streets of Center Gai showed a capital dealing annoyingly well with disaster.

“They’re all too bloody happy.” Tom said to me as we looked around for people to talk to.

To his credit, and because he is a good journalist, he reported that fact, finding something admirable in the ability most of the salarymen and fashionable couples we interviewed had for getting on with life as it needed to be lived at that moment: bringing a little light to the darkened streets. Other papers, in my homeland, told a more terrible and less realistic story, created at a greater distance of course. The thing is it it was still Shibuya and though there was definitely a difference: I had never seen the crossing so dark and quiet before or the street so humble, it was still the city of stubborn pleasure, of optimism, of looking ahead.

One year later the Daily Mirror sent Tom back to cover the first anniversary of the disaster and I was able to show him Shibuya in all it brash irreverence. He liked it more and yet he found it familiar too.

Later Damon


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