Photo of the Week | 05.11.09 | Japanese Commute

A Japanese child, perched on his mother's bike. 2004
A Japanese child, perched on his mother's bike. 2003

I was trawling through my archive today, looking for images to accompany a presentation that I am giving as part of my workshop tomorrow. As I looked through my ‘older’ files, I stumbled upon many of my images that I took while I lived in Japan between 2003-2004. I had just finished University and I was quite unsure about what direction my life was taking. Having been dabbling in photography for a year or two, I decided to take myself off to Japan in order to experience a completely alien culture to my own and see what it brought out in me photographically.

At the time I did not work as a professional photographer. I was on the JET programme, an initiative run by the Japanese government that brought native English speakers to the country to teach schoolchildren. I was based in the small and little-known town of Himeji, on the coast, south of the larger cities of Kobe and Osaka. My main school was in Himeji itself, however for two days of the week I would get on a boat and head out to a small group of islands off the Japanese coast to teach in a school that served the small archipelago.

My daily commute involved a 20 minute bike ride to the local docks, a 25 minute speedboat ride and then another 20 minute bike ride to the school. Not the worst way to travel to work! On one of my commutes whilst cycling on the small islands, I stopped at a small junction and saw this young Japanese buy perched on his mother’s bike. Using my small Minolta Dynax 5, loaded with my favourite film at the time, Fuji Velvia 50, I snapped this one frame of the boy.

I love this photo, as it is one of the first portraits that I was truly happy with and it takes me straight back to my experience of living and working in Japan. The islands (called Ieshima, by the way) were a unique place, and like Japan, hold a special place in my memories living, working and travelling in Asia.

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