HASHIGUCHI, George 橋口 譲二 (1949- ) Kagoshima Pref. Mainly a photographer of straightforward portraits of Japanese.
Seeks to understand what makes the Japanese tick. Recent photo books include "Work" which featured workers in Japan and "The Look" (Shisen) which is about juvenile delinquents in the 1980s.
Awards: Taiyo Prize, 1981; Award of the Year, Photographic Society of Japan, 1992; Domestic Photographer Award, Higashikawa Town, Hokkaido, 1992.
See book reviews below.
Work 1991-1995 (職1991～1995)
Portraits of Japanese men and women, both young and old, at their workplaces.
Published: June 22, 1996
Publisher: Media Factory
Price in Japan: ¥3,800
Qualities: Hard cover, B/W photos
Size: A3, 223 pp.
Language: Japanese and English
Status: Out of print
Hashiguchi George makes what I call educational and environmental portraits. Educational because he usually provides a story behind the human subject. Environmental because his subject is always posed in his or her immediate environment.
Hashiguchi's portraits are straightforward with the subjects facing directly at the camera with a straight-looking face. The portraits are usually accompanied by a few facts and a short essay about the person. This is what makes it really interesting. He humanizes and personalizes the subject, and he makes you feel like you are actually meeting and getting to know the person. The portraits are a visual and written record of modern-day people and their lives. This is Hashiguchi's distinct style and he has published a number of photo books filled with such portraits: "Father" shows portraits of Japanese fathers and their son or daughter. "Couple" shows portraits of couples. "Seventeen" shows 17-year-old Japanese adolescents. "The Look" (Shisen) reviewed below, shows delinquent juveniles of the 1980s.
And this book, "Work" (Shoku), is perhaps his most educational photo book, at least for students and people looking for a new job. It is a collection of portraits of Japanese in various occupations and working environments. The photos were taken from 1991 to 1995. On the book's front cover is a young bus tour guide in Okinawa with a sightseeing bus in the background.
The number and variety of occupations that are featured in this book are impressive. Eighty different occupations with at least two subjects each are presented. Each occupation is featured on a double-page spread with one portrait on the left page and another portrait on the right page. The person pictured on the left page is a veteran in the occupation while the person on the right page is a newcomer with only one or two years experience. The setting for both portraits are usually exactly the same, which means both subjects work at the same place. The subject is usually standing in his or her working environment, dressed in work clothes or a uniform, and facing the camera directly while staring at the camera lens. The face is expressionless.
Among the more unusual occupations featured are pyrotechnicians (fireworks makers), builders of plastic food models (for restaurant displays), baseball bat craftsmen, taiko drum craftsmen, stick incense makers, sake brewers, prosthetist/orthotists (makers of artificial limbs), baseball stadium groundskeepers, cooks for in-flight airline meals, and deep-sea divers.
At the top of the two-page spread, we see the title of the occupation and a short job description. For example, you'll read that mortuary cosmetologists "bathe dead bodies and apply cosmetics on the face before it goes into the coffin." Next to each portrait is a short list of facts and an essay about the subject. (A good English translation is provided at the back of the book.) Besides the subject's name, age, occupation, and workplace, you can read about how long the person has been in the occupation, what he or she had for breakfast that morning, his or her favorite music or singer, the starting and current salaries, and the person's dream.
Then a short essay is presented in the subject's own voice as he or she talks about his or her job. Reading the essay brings the subject to life as you discover how varied people's working lives and challenges are. In the book's postscript, Hashiguchi writes that he hoped that the book would help us understand Japan and its people. I think he has attained his goal. This book would also be an excellent guide for job-seeking high school and college students as well as job counselors. It would certainly be of interest to anyone contemplating a career in any of these occupations. This book should definitely be in all school and public libraries in Japan.
The information about salaries is perhaps the most eye-opening, and it may help you decide which occupation to pursue (or avoid). Since each occupation features both a veteran and a newcomer, the contrast in salaries is interesting. We now know that a 22-year-old streetcar operator in Osaka earns 178,000 yen/month, a 23-year-old stripper earns 600,000 yen for 20 days of work, a 46-year-old mailman makes almost 500,000 yen/month, a 29-year-old nursery school teacher makes almost 200,000 yen/month, a 22-year-old bicycle frame builder makes 100,000 yen/month, a 51-year-old bus driver makes 700,000 yen/month, a 45-year-oild lingerie seamstress makes about 135,000 yen/month, a 51-year-old tattoo artist makes 15 million yen/year, and a 28-year-old tatami mat maker makes 350,000 yen/month.
We have to give credit to Hashiguchi for probing into the subject's private background so deeply. I wonder how he got these people to take a break from work to answer all these personal questions. He mainly chose those occupations which are essential for sustaining our daily lives but not often spotlighted in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, the popular occupation of photographer is not covered in ths book. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)
The Look (視線)
Outdoor portraits of Japanese punk guys and girls during the 1980s.
Published: Feb. 4, 1998
Publisher: Mitropa Inc.
ISBN: Price in Japan: ¥3,780
Qualities: Hard cover, B/W photos Size: A4, 96 pp.
Status: Out of print
Those of us who lived in Japan during the early 1980s would recognize many of the facial expressions (the "look"), hairstyles, and fashion of these punkish-looking guys and girls in Tokyo. It was an age when "punch perm" hairstyles were the primary symbol of youthful rebellion (or of two-bit hoods called chinpira). It was the heyday of the Takenoko-zoku (Bamboo Shoot Tribe) kids who came out en masse on the road closed off to traffic (called "Pedestrian's Paradise") in Harajuku and danced in garish costumes to '50s and '60s rock music squealing wretchedly from low-quality radio cassette players. It really was an interesting time to observe Japan's youth. On Sunday afternoons, the pedestrian's paradise was also a photographer's paradise. Many great shots of these kids dancing could be had. Overseas film crews often came to document the phenomenon as well. Many foreign celebrities (like former Monkee Peter Tork who posed for me) also came to observe these kids letting off steam. It was a standard stop on Tokyo tourist itineraries.
George Hashiguchi was one of the many photographers who were there clicking away. But he did it differently from most others. He took actual portraits with the subjects looking directly at the camera. You don't see any photographs of them dancing. He also frequented Shinjuku, namely Kabuki-cho where he says it was a human zoo with all kinds of characters: Ordinary businessmen, wanderers with "failure" written all over their faces, young girls trying to act like sexy adult women, country hicks, and men lusting after women. It remains interesting even today.
One day, he noticed that these young men and women had this piercing "look" on their faces. He then sought to find out what it was about and evidently succeeded in recording it on film. He later concluded that the Look was not really mean-spirited. It's because these kids still maintained ties with other people (usually other delinquents). They still had faith in the people they associated with. (Most of the subjects are shown in a group.) This neutralized their "wildness." Hashiguchi then compares them to today's ordinary, self-isolated youth who increasingly refuse to go to school, kill their parents or classmates, and bully others viciously. He senses a change in the attitude of youth then and now, while noting that juveniles with that "Look" no longer exist today.
The photographs in the book were taken from 1980 to 1983. It was Hashiguchi's first project which effectively launched his photographic career. The photographs won him the Taiyo Award in 1981. This award is sponsored by Taiyo magazine and one of Japan's prestigious photography awards (Nobuyoshi Araki was the first winner in 1964 and it launched his photographic career as well). The photos were exhibited publicly in 1983, and this book marks the first time they were published collectively in book form. It is the first installment of his series of portraiture striving to understand Japan and the Japanese. (Another installment was produced in a book titled Work, reviewed above.)
The book includes his Japanese essays with English translations. I wish he also explained how he got permission to photograph these "delinquents." It seems that he just stopped them while walking on the streets of Shinjuku or the Harajuku pedestrian's paradise and asked them to pose. It would be great if he were to do it again in this day and age. The difference in the fashion, hairstyles, and the "look" (if any) would be striking between then and now.
The book shows a few of the subjects squatting on a sidewalk with only their two feet touching the ground. Today, those girls would be sitting cross-legged flat on the road. Back then, all the girls were wearing long skirts. Today, it's miniskirts and dark tans.
Sadly, the pedestrian's paradise in Harajuku was abolished by the police a few years ago to alleviate traffic congestion and noise complaints from residents. It effectively ended an era of youth culture that later found other ways and venues of expression. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)