Leica iiig and 50mm f2 Summitar lens

Drinking districts in Japan II – Nagasaki with a Leica iiig, 50mm Summitar and Portra 400

My photography is about people but often without people – stories in objects and surroundings about their lives and lifestyles.

Nagasaki (city) is a historically famous port. The only place in Japan to allow foreigners entry for trade (albeit to a small controlled island ‘Deshima’) for three centuries. The Portuguese brought new cuisine (‘Tempura’ – food in batter – and ‘Castella’ – a type of pound cake), the Spanish brought Christianity, but the Dutch and British were were more interested in making money so traded without religious connections. The city also has a strong historical connection with photography: Ueno Hikoma’s father brought the first camera (daguerreotype) to Japan and Ueno became a famous portrait photographer and teacher in the 19th century. His reputation became widespread and in addition to many famous and senior Japanese he photographed Ulysses S Grant and Tsar Nicholas II.

Closer to my personal interests, Nagasaki has access to a variety of fresh seafood, good restaurants and izakaya, and an interesting drinking area. In contrast to the area near Tamachi in Tokyo, the Shianbashi area in Nagasaki hides a rabbit warren of poorly lit, very narrow covered alleyways and hints at a darker side to Japanese life. Many of the tiny izakaya are known only to locals, suggestive of lonely individuals seeking solace rather than salaryman group parties, and possibly underworld connections. Maybe I’m being pessimistic – behind these close doors there might be innocent fun by friendly locals (primarily men). But a closer connection to a less salubrious side of life, possibly with yakuza (Japanese mafia) involvement, is not far away. “Girls bars” for a fee offer conversation and the hint of more with young and not so young ladies. Such bars are generally easy to spot but sometimes you may come across more cryptic and sophisticated signs with little indication of what is behind the door. These higher priced establishments are geared to Japanese nationals or fluent Japanese speakers.

Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“Whale meat and Nagasaki sake”. A local izakaya. Whale meat is not eaten by many Japanese now, they prefer beef, but historically was one of the main sources of red meat.
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“Legend”. Shuttered now but opens late. Why a legend I wonder?
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“Aloha”. 40 minutes, drink as much as you like for 8000 yen (about €60), seems expensive given drinks are likely to be beer or whisky. Maybe regulars are hardened drinkers, or maybe there are added attractions.
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“You can choose – the red route or the green route”. I suspect the outcome will be similar.
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“Eiji”. Drink and music (karaoke probably), in an alley otherwise full of bicycles and rubbish.
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
“Girls bar … and a prospective client”. The 2000 yen course is probably short, maybe 20 minutes chat together with a small beer, but no doubt with enticement to spend 5000 yen or more, getting light headed and then spending more.
Nagasaki, Japan, Leica iiig, Summitar and Portra 400
(from a nearby area). The sign is on an otherwise blank wall with no other indication what is inside. The sign reads “Peach Season”. I don’t think they sell peaches … well, not the fruit anyway.

For this series I chose the Leica iiig with a Summitar lens, and Portra 400. As before I shot handheld at f4 to get some depth of field with exposure times down to 1/8th of a second. I very much like the softness and imperfection of night shots on film rather than the clinical result that comes from digital.

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10 thoughts on “Drinking districts in Japan II – Nagasaki with a Leica iiig, 50mm Summitar and Portra 400”

  1. Great images and great write up. My wife is from a town near Nagasaki. We were just discussing yesterday where we want to go on our next trip to Japan. Nagasaki is high on my list. I have been there many times before but I really want to see it again. And the area you explored in this post is now on my list of things I want to see next time. Unlike prior visits, I will have a camera on any future visit. You can connect with ancient and modern history everywhere in Japan but Nagasaki is unique for the reasons you summarized so well. I would only add that there was also a Dejima like compound for Chinese who came to Japan via Nagasaki during the period of national isolation.

    And then there is the food.

  2. Lovely atmospheric photos. The area does seem to have “a touch of evil.” Were you apprehensive walking around there at night?

    1. Er…yes. But I wanted to go there more than the desire to take the safe and easy choice and, after looking around, wanted to show the less than picturesque side of Japan. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Yesterday, outside in the rain at mid-day, I was anxious shooting 400 speed film with a 40mm lens handheld at 1/30th of a second… and then I see Geoff shooting handheld at night at 1/8s!

    Inspiration to push my limits a couple stops! Lovely photos.

  4. You really have steady hands Geoff, great night photos!

    Btw “Peach Season” would’ve been “桃季” and “桃李” actually means “Peach and Plum” which is a metaphor for students educated and nurtured by a teacher. Not sure if it has any connection with what’s inside though. Thanks for sharing!

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