Away from Japan’s big cities, the combination of a shrinking population and urban migration are having a visibly devastating effect. Once thriving towns are now all too often little more than sad reminders of the past, with shops shuttered up and former essentials such as train services slowly disappearing. A phenomenon I documented just recently in this photo essay: Looking for the lost.
Of course not everything closes, and life does go on for the generally older residents who remain, meaning amidst the shutters and abandoned buildings, some businesses do struggle on. Like this large and rather unusual clothes shop.
Back in the day, it was clearly where the town’s more style conscious residents did their shopping. Those with a fair bit of money too considering the faded but still expensive price tags. A place where foreign brands and faces abound, although the latter are rather unsettlingly all mannequins.
Surrounded by these unusual figures, not to mention the general disarray, was the owner. Now badly bent over and really quite deaf, she nonetheless still opens up everyday. With good humour, she was also happy for a couple of strange foreigners to enjoy photographing the similarly strange mannequins. At the same time, however, she very matter of factly kept lamenting that while we were obviously fascinated, nobody ever actually goes there to shop anymore.
And so now, after 70 years in operation, the shop, and almost certainly its last proprietor, patiently wait as closure quietly beckons.
Due to its very nature, urban art isn’t destined to last. Demolition, wilful damage or simply time all too often eradicate what once entertained. A few of my favourite pieces in Tokyo were this tiny Audrey Hepburn stencil, and these kimono and seppuku inspired works. All of which are now sadly long gone.
That said, the odd one or two do manage to survive. Astro Boy continues to blast off in Shibuya, and this huge, Hello Kitty-related street painting remains intact to resolutely stare back.