Melbourne-based but internationally raised, photographer Jean-Paul McAllan has a unique way of capturing the world around him. A quiet and curious observer, he manages to capture the nuances that are overlooked by many and Tokyo, his second home, holds a special place in his heart.
"Tokyo is a seemingly never-ending metropolis that is 24/7 hustle and bustle," he says. "Tokyo inspires me to look beneath that and shoot it’s roads less traveled; the unseen and uncommon scenes that exist there."
McAllan took the time to let us in on some of the city's best kept secrets, local treasures, and must-dos. Get to know Tokyo through his lens below.
To me, the heart of Tokyo is always Shibuya. During the day, I usually come to shop, eat and hang out. A favorite place is Tower Records, where I spend hours listening to music and looking through the books and magazines. At night I come to eat, usually at one of the many izakayas which is then almost always followed by more drinking at assorted bars with killer vinyl selections, such as Grandfather’s Bar. Otherwise, there are countless nightclubs in the Shibuya area with music to suit all tastes, every night of the week.
Yurakucho Yakitori Alley
Loud, smoky and slightly seedy yakitori (grilled chicken) stalls directly underneath a train line, sandwiched by modern Tokyo. The alleys feel like you have stepped into the past for a moment, which I love. I don’t have a favorite stall or restaurant, but every one that I have tried has been great. Follow the salarymen and the beer and you can’t go wrong.
Matsuri festivals are essentially traditional Shinto shrine festivals that happen all over the country, throughout the year, and for all occasions. There are so many amazing matsuri festivals it’s hard to recommend just one, but my personal favorite is the Azabu-Juban Noryo matsuri which usually happens around the end of August in the Azabu-Juban neighbourhood. There’s so much good food and the vibe seems more chill than the more ‘serious’ matsuri festivals.
Like matsuris, major music festivals happen all over the country throughout the year. The most popular festivals close to Tokyo are Fuji Rock festival (July), Summer Sonic (August) and Ultra (September). If you know how organized, clean, and orderly Japan is in general, then you can imagine what a great vibe it is at these festivals. My personal favourite is a little techno festival held yearly in the mountains of Niigata prefecture every Autumn.
Tiny Local Restaurants for breakfast or lunch
One of the best things you could do, which many people overlook completely, is try your local tiny 5-seat restaurant for breakfast or lunch. Look for the line during lunch time and join the queue. Most likely, it’s a family run local institution, it won’t be on google, and they won’t speak english. Just point at what the guy next to you is having and take a chance. Chances are, it’s amazing.
Try Fugu (Blowfish)
The poisonous, deadly Fugu is toxic and every year people in Japan are poisoned, but it is also considered a delicacy. Chefs have to attain a special license to handle and serve Fugu and at one of the many reputable Fugu restaurants, you can try it yourself served in many different ways. Try the Fugu sake!
Quick two-hour getaway to Karuizawa
Karuizawa is a resort town in the mountains near Nagano, Japan with amazing scenery. It's perfect for a quick, relaxing getaway. In the winter, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and hot springs are popular, but I like going in autumn when the mountains come alive with color from the autumn leaves. I recommend catching the sunrise while watching the active volcano, Mount Asama, and visiting Shiraito falls in the morning while it’s still quiet.
Quick one-hour getaway to Kamakura or Zushi Beach
Don’t expect crystal clear waters and white sand, but an hour from Tokyo you can still go to the beach in summer where it’s a nice break from the busy city.
Visit the normal, "everyday" suburbs
All the famous and well-known suburbs in Tokyo like Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, etc. are great but - especially as a photographer - I find walking around the "everyday" suburbs where mundane, everyday life is happening to be the most interesting.
Photography by: Jean-Paul McAllan