By Ryosuke Yamamoto, staff writer
In the year of the Tokyo Olympics, buildings in the Ginza district are adorned with national flags while strolling pedestrians seem caught up in the spirit of excitement.
The images captured by an unsung photographer in 1964 show what might have been in the Ginza this past summer if the capital was again swept up in Olympic fever.
However, the spread of the novel coronavirus forced the 2020 Summer Games to be postponed.
Still, bookstore owner Yoshiyuki Morioka was determined to compile the photos into a book titled “Ginza Tokyo 1964,” which was initially meant to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics this year, because he believes the photos can lift spirits amid the pandemic.
The book contains 120 black-and-white photos taken by Ko Ito, who was 21 at the time.
One shows people passing by in front of a building decorated with national flags, while another shows a couple who appear to be on their honeymoon. Other subjects include an old man passing in front of young men dressed in Ivy League fashion, cigarette butts and a trash can.
GINZA LIKE NEVER SEEN BEFORE
Ito worked as a freelance photographer and moved to Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture, when he was in his 30s. He worked as a potter there until he passed away in 2015.
When his wife, Kimiko, 74, was organizing his work studio after his death, she found two cardboard boxes labeled “photos” in one corner on the second floor. Carefully stored in the boxes were about 300 photos taken in the Ginza and Yokohama.
Kimiko knew her husband used to be a photographer, but she didn’t know why he left the photos in the boxes. She came to think that the photos should be shown to as many people as possible.
When Kimiko visited a few galleries in the Ginza to see what might be possible, she noticed a copy of the Ginza Hyakuten community magazine placed inside one of the galleries.
Hoping to get some advice, she went to the publication’s editorial department, where she was received by Yuko Tanabe, editor-in-chief.
Tanabe was amazed by the photos brought by Kimiko at a later date.
“I’ve seen so many photos of Ginza as part of my work, but I’ve hardly ever seen it like this,” she recalled.
In Ito’s compositions, the line of sight appears displaced from the figures, landscapes and other subjects, making the viewer wonder what the subjects were feeling when the photos were taken. Tanabe felt that Ito’s works can conjure up various emotions in the viewer.
She became curious to see how Morioka would feel about Ito’s photos because he loves the Ginza and photography. Tanabe has previously asked him to write an essay for Ginza Hyakuten.
When Tanabe met Morioka in a bar to show copies of the photos, he said with a twinkle in his eyes, “I want to publish it.”
It was March last year.
LIFTING SPIRITS AMID PANDEMIC
Morioka, 45, opened his modest bookstore, Morioka Shoten, in the Ginza in May 2015 with a total floor space of 5 “tsubo,” or about 16.5 square meters. Taking a peculiar approach to his business, the owner stocks only one title, which he changes on a weekly basis.
Morioka had been preparing to publish Ito’s photos in a book to mark the fifth anniversary of his shop and the second Tokyo Olympics, interviewing Kimiko and locating the spots where the photos were taken.
That was when the new coronavirus began to spread. The decision was made to postpone the Tokyo Olympics in late March, and Morioka had to temporarily close his shop after a state of emergency was declared in April. All the events he had prepared were canceled.
Morioka wondered in anguish whether he should publish the photobook as planned, but he decided to go ahead as he was inspired by Ito’s intention hinted in his photographs.
“Ito felt contradictions in society while he paid attention to the bright sides of the city and people,” Morioka said. “I think his works that show hope in Ginza in 1964 can cheer up people during the coronavirus pandemic.”
He published “Ginza Tokyo 1964” a little later than initially planned, hoping that the pandemic-stricken Ginza would make a comeback as soon as possible.
Morioka was approached by an acquaintance in the Ginza who told him that he did a good job in publishing the photobook. He also heard there was someone who shed tears while turning the pages.
A copy of the book is also placed in the bar where Morioka was introduced to the photos.
“It’s a Ginza miracle,” Kimiko said.
It remains unclear whether the Tokyo Olympics can be held next year.
“I’d be happy if it serves as a starting point for as many people as possible to learn about the charms of Ginza,” Morioka said.
The B5-sized photobook is priced at 6,050 yen ($57), including tax.