The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki: traditional photos to sexuality

Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki: traditional photos to sexuality

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The photography of Ogawa Kazumasa provides a glimpse into the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Japan.  He and others enable people to grasp aspects of Japanese culture and history in this period and Ogawa Kazumasa shows part of the struggle between tradition and modernization.

Nobuyoshi Araki, on the other hand, shows aspects of the sexual revolution which erupted in cities throughout the world. However, the images of Nobuyoshi Araki have a distinctive Tokyo feel.  The subject theme may be a million miles apart but both photographers are responding to a world which is changing.

Irrespective of the motives behind Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki, they both provide glimpses into the world they saw/see around them.  Neither are passive bystanders and their images show rich detail and labels are easy to put on individuals but the images have no labels because people will look at them for different reasons and draw their own conclusions.

Indeed, while most emphasis about Nobuyoshi Araki focuses on the sexual nature of his images this is also an illusion. After all, Nobuyoshi Araki is a very broad photographer and his themes are varied.

Turning back to the world of Ogawa Kazumasa then clearly events were changing quickly and the same applies to society and thought patterns.

Ironically it wasn’t old Japan and the samurai which was a threat to regional nations. Instead it was the modernized and Western influenced Japan which began the darkside of Japan’s militarization and colonial period.  It appears that a duality appeared within the psyche of military and political leaders in Japan and this applies to the threat of being the victim of Western encroachment and at the same time to join the Western club and taking over nations just like Western powers had done.

Ogawa Kazumasa witnessed this changing Japan and the liberal tendencies which also came about because of contact with the outside world.  Therefore, this world provided many opportunities for Ogawa Kazumasa who was born in 1860 and died in 1929.

The power of Ogawa Kazumasa can be witnessed within his images because often it is like looking into a mirror of a different world.  The images even when the theme is simplistic are powerful and time and motion appears to have stopped in order to capture the moment.

In my article called Ogawa Kazumasa: a photographer of style and panache, I comment that “His images remain vivid today and like Nobuyoshi Araki, but for very different reasons, both photographers provide images of a real Japan.  Ogawa Kazumasa provides images of a Japan which is caught between tradition and the onset of Western influence. “

“However, Nobuyoshi Araki focuses on the sexual nature of Tokyo in modern times but he does this with a rare quality and unlike the blandness of Kishin Shinoyama who lacks individuality or genuine creativity; Nobuyoshi Araki provides images which enlighten people to the changing nature of aspects of Tokyo culture and he does this with a rare talent.” 

“It is obvious that Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki are like chalk and cheese but in one way both are similar despite the huge differences of composition, style, time in history, techniques, different technology, art forms, and so forth; but both provide a style which opens up the subject matter that they enter and for Nobuyoshi Araki this applies to Tokyo and for Ogawa Kazumasa it applies to Japan.”

I think the analogy with Nobuyoshi Araki is true despite the complexity of both individuals and the images that they have given the world.  In the soul of Nobuyoshi Araki you can witness the hidden and sexual side of Tokyo in modern times but irrespective if this is hidden from most people it is part of reality.

The same reality was being shown by Ogawa Kazumasa but in a more natural form despite this the images of both individuals are powerful for contrasting reasons.  Ogawa Kazumasa shows a world in change but with many people clinging to the old world and others being victims of this changing world. This applies to modern concepts which challenged traditional crafts and obliterated many traditional based companies.

Like all societies in change you had many winners and losers and big business and modernization destroyed many. Also, more intensive labor markets uprooted people and when economic depression took route in Germany and Japan it gave the twin forces of fascism and communism a chance.

Ogawa Kazumasa was on the fringe of the real struggle between democrats, militarists, and communists in Japan and at the heart for many you had traditionalists in Japan who wanted to preserve the best of Japanese culture. 

In a way, but based on other factors, Nobuyoshi Araki, shows glimpses into a world where social morality, female emancipation, modern technology, greater freedom, sexual revolution of the 1960s, movement of people from the countryside to Tokyo, and a host of other factors, all merge together within negative criminal forces who saw an opening to exploit once more. 

Of course, for many images by Nobuyoshi Araki the theme also provides glimpses into genuine sexual urges and emancipation from conservatism and freeing the soul from all constraints.  

In my article called Nobuyoshi Araki shows the cultural side of Tokyo in the flesh. I comment that “…Nobuyoshi Araki goes much further because this famous photographer opens up a Tokyo which is often neglected or not imagined.  He also fuses his photography with the landscape of Tokyo amidst naked bodies or ladies being tied up and his imagery is clearly powerful.”

“Therefore, Nobuyoshi Araki is also focusing on the emptiness of entertainment districts and the sex industry; albeit from an erotic human form and the energy and visual nature of his photography expresses many emotions.”

“Like any artist; people will see different things within his photography and while some people will gain from his works others may reject him on various grounds.  However, if you look deeper into his work then Nobuyoshi Araki is providing a real glimpse into a Tokyo which exists and not only this, he does this by creating a rare energy within simplistic and complex themes.”

Ogawa Kazumasa was a founding member of Nihon Sashinkai (Japan Photographic Society) and his images show glimpses of the Meiji era and Taisho period. Therefore, Ogawa Kazumasa, Enami Nobukuni, Tamamura Kosaburo, and others in the same period, have provided images of high quality and more important, they have left a legacy whereby individuals can see aspects of old Japan and the changes which were taking place.

Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki also provide nostalgia despite their themes being very different.  Nobuyoshi Araki commented about nostalgia that “In a way, I guess so. People say photography should try to avoid being nostalgic, but I simply say photographs are nostalgic. The meaning of nostalgia for me is not sad memories or something that has disappeared; not just memories. For me nostalgia is like the warmth in a mother’s belly.”

Therefore, if you want to witness aspects of both worlds then Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki do this with great artistic skill. Irrespective of the motives or themes and the time difference between both individuals, they were blessed with rare skills. Also, they have shared their world and the world around them with vast numbers of people all over the world and Nobuyoshi Araki continues to express aspects of Tokyo.


In life (Nobuyoshi Araki) and death (Ogawa Kazumasa) both artists have connected with the world and when Nobuyoshi Araki passes away in the future he, just like Ogawa Kazumasa, will leave a valuable legacy.  (Photo gallery and very high quality)  

(Fantastic information about Ogawa Kazumasa) Nobuyoshi Araki Nobuyoshi Araki

Please note that Ogawa Kazumasa was born in Saitama prefecture which is near Tokyo but I have entered him under Tokyo because he was based on Tokyo and this is where his career began in the field of photography, printing, and publishing.


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