Japan in black and white Stefano Bandini shows us another perspective of Japan with his Leica cameras

Japan. Cherry blossom, sushi, the bullet train. The usual picture of a geisha, real or a fake. The usual stereotypes. Since my first time in Japan, twenty years have passed. For almost eight years I have been living there. I cannot count how many times Italian friends asked me if I was tired of sushi every day.


Of course Japan is not just sushi and while I was living there I was always looking for something different, looking for unusual places. These pictures are part of the result of this research, a diary of the years I spent living and exploring the country.

Describing Japan by means of photography is very difficult. It is very easy to end up with stereotyped snapshots indeed. Therefore I tried to select the images that better represent the new world I discovered,the sensations I felt.

At first I tried to understand Japan but, even after many years, many aspects are not clear yet. We approach Japanese culture on the basis of our own yardstick but here roots are completely different. History, geography, religion, everything is different and different is their influx on Japanese culture, people behaviour, moral and aesthetic.

The more you struggle to understand the more you get confused. Eventually you realize that the solution is in giving up understanding Japan and Japanese people; being transported by emotions is the proper way to approach this place. At the end it is better to stop analyzing and simply observe. People passing by with spirited eyes, unusual gestures, the quiet way to communicate; any effort to understand billboards or signs won’t lead anywhere. It is better to enjoy the feeling of mystery and, sometimes, the ambiguity and promiscuity of some dark and narrow alleys.

The first time in Japan usually leads to a superficial impression of the country. At a first glance it looks as a modern country, and as a matter of fact, Japan is modern, it is perhaps the most technologically advanced country in the world.

But then, slowly, one step at a time, new aspects emerge: a much more complex culture and old traditions are still surviving the modernization of the society. The influx of two coexisting religions, the animistic shinto and the more introspective zen buddhism, the traces of a feudal era that ended only in the late 19th century, played a fundamental role in shaping japanese society.

All these aspects can be a key to try to understand why the same people who travel in the bullet train, believe in spirits and ghosts. Why every year, every spring and fall, people are once again amazed by cherry blossom or maples turning red. Why a person in the middle of a crowd seems to be walking in a different dimension. In any case, is always present the feeling that everything is blurred.

As mentioned at the beginning, this set of images is mainly a diary. A collection of the emotions I felt visiting Tohoku, the area devastated by the tsunami in 2011. A testimony of what is the other face of rich Japan: Nishinari, area of Osaka where homeless live separated from the productive world, like real ghosts, in striking contrast to the close amusements and shopping district of Shinsaibashi. And people I encountered, places I visited.

Many foreigners cannot live in Japan very long because of the cultural differences. Others fall in love with this country. I definitely belong to the latter.

About Stefano:

Born in Milan, Italy, 1965. Living in Milan. Graduated mechanical engineer, worked as engineer in Milan. Moved to Japan in ’06 and managed a small restaurant in Kyoto. Now back to Milan, working as consultant in the steel making industry. I bought my first camera at the age of 20. In 1998 I participated in the Toscana Photo Workshop with Paolo Pellegrin and Jim Megargree. In 2002 at Castello Sforzesco in Milan I co-exhibited a work about the condition of abandoned children in Romania, which become a book curated by Denis Curti and published by Mazzotta Fotografia. The exhibition then moved to “Fotografia in Puglia”, Bari. In 2003, I exhibited works on the theme of poverty in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, at MoMokan Gallery, Wakayama.

Stefano uses Leica M6, Leica M9, Leica Summicron 35 f. 2.0 pre aspherical, Leica Elmarit 28 f. 2.8 pre aspherical, Leica Summicron 35 f. 2.0 aspherical, Leica Elmarit 28 f. 2.8 aspherical.

To know more about Stefano Bandini, please visit his official website.

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5 comments

  • Sempre magnifiche le fotografie di Stefano Bandini, che avevo già conosciuto tanti anni fa in occasione di una bellissima mostra dell’agenzia fotografica SMALLER (che aveva fondato insieme all’amico Paolo Parenti).
    Non ci dubbi sulla profondità e sulla poesia dello sguardo di Bandini e sulla sua capacità di restituire nei suoi scatti le proprie sincere emozioni. Il suo lavoro rimanda una visione sincera e mai banale del Giappone, un paese così meraviglioso, così diverso e che conosciamo ancora troppo poco. Le immagine appaiano libere da orpelli linguistici, in grado di trasmettere una toccante verità umana con chiara limpidezza anche guando lo sfuocato le circonda di poesia. Merita una mostra al LEICA STORE di Milano. Bravissimo!

  • Sempre magnifiche le fotografie di Stefano Bandini. Lo avevo già conosciuto tanti anni fa in occasione di una bellissima mostra della mitica SMALLER (l’agenzia che aveva fondato insieme all’amico Paolo Parenti).
    Non ci dubbi sulla profondità e sulla lirica dello sguardo di Bandini, sulla sua innata capacità di restituire negli scatti le proprie sincere emozioni. Il suo lavoro rimanda una visione sincera e mai banale del Giappone, un paese così meraviglioso, così diverso e che conosciamo ancora troppo poco. Le immagine appaiano libere da orpelli linguistici, in grado di trasmettere una toccante verità umana con chiara limpidezza anche guando lo sfuocato le circonda di poesia. Merita una mostra al LEICA STORE di Milano. Bravissimo!

  • Oddly enough, I don’t have any problem understanding Japan or the Japanese. After all, they are only human and most of the differences are exaggerated to the point of absurdity. After 35 years of working with and in Japan and 17 years of living here, I’d say the main thing I have learned is to ignore the “mysterious/inscrutable Japan” nonsense, run from anyone who starts blathering on about zen, and treat folks like they are normal humans because they are. Learning Japanese helps (especially in understanding those billboards and sighs!), and dropping the myth of everything being different helps even more.

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