A Japan Photo Essay

June 17, 2019

In May of 2019, I set out to do a rather ambitious journey: running across Japan. Of course, not really running across Japan, but rather, several segments of different cities, villages and mountains, while still taking public transportation from major city to major city. Here’s the deal. Running and photography have historically fuelled my travels for as long as I can remember. It’s no wonder that half of my 10 litre Solomon backpack is composed of camera gear, and the other half is water. 100% of my survival kit, really.

These are a few of my favourite shots from the trip, which involved mostly street shooting, getting to know people in coffee shops and libraries, making friends in the most peculiar and uncomfortable situations.


The first night was spent in Shinjuku, as a way to force myself awake from the horrible jetlag from Montreal. Loud, busy, inescapable, Shinjuku will wake you up with a bang.

asset 2 And Tokyo’s alleys at night are a delight.

The first couple of days in Tokyo served me well—mostly as a warmup to feel comfortable again, out in the open field, pointing a camera directly at groups or individual people. It was also an opportunity to try my new 9/18mm M4/3, which devoured Tokyo’s cityscape with immense pleasure.

I call this one the female inline Abbey Road. asset 5

asset 6

The running started on day 2, my birthday. Leaving Shinjuku, down the Tama river, to crash the next day at Kawasaki. Eventually I made my way back to Tokyo, where I fell in love with the accidental renaissance that is the Tokyo subway:

One of my favourite pictures from the entire trip

Slightly dystopian.

asset 8

Another run along the Tama river, this time heading West towards Hino. It was time to—for the time being—say goodbye to Tokyo.


Takayama, in the Japanese Alps region, is a tiny little town also known as little Kyoto. Apart from the morning market in the little alleys, there’s no overwhelming crowds, no hustle, no sense of urgency. This was a very welcoming departure from Tokyo; and it gave me a chance to finally engage with the locals. Takayama literally changed the way I approached and dealt with people for the rest of my trip.

Visually remove wires and signs, and this is Japan 300 years ago

asset 10

Elderly foodies.

asset 12

After taking a bus down south, I ran alongside the Miyagawa river, up north. As the terrain ascended, just before sunset, I realised I was right in the middle of a surreal and idyllic place; I could see the mountains down below, hear water streams, see no other living soul. A moment to stop, grab the camera off my backpack, and sit in stillness for a little while:

asset 13

The next day, my legs needed a break in the morning. Walking was difficult, so I did what I love the most: grab a book, find a good café, sit around and read. This time, however, I didn’t get to take my book out of the bag, because I met Chiemi. I grabbed a picture of her right when we met, and eventually took the conversation elsewhere.

asset 14

It was also in Takayama that I met Mr. Koba, the owner of a local Jazz bar in town. As we were the only two souls in a bar, he kindly kept the vintage sake pouring, and the both of us drunkly chatted about life. While I was still sober enough to work a camera, I snapped his photo, also capturing the joyful state of Mr. Koba that night after a few glasses with me.

asset 15


From little Kyoto, to big Kyoto.

The unmistakable green taxis

Kyoto is heaven for shadow play. Nineizaka and Sanneizaka may be touristy, but very, very lovely. asset 19 asset 20 My impromptu local guide that day. Magical things happen when you stay put for a little while.

Running in Kyoto was also pretty fantastic. The segments I did were all alongside the Katsura River, southbound, to the Fushimi Ward. In one of these runs, I captured one of the most astonishing sunsets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness, too.


Osaka was a quick stop–and an excuse for sidetrips. Running-wise, this is also where things went wrong: right after my run alongside the Yodo River (northbound), my body pretty much collapsed from exhaustion. Long story short, I was forced to bedrest for an entire day, and had to miss most of Osaka. Luckily, I still managed to walk around a little bit at night, where it shines the brightest. And it smells the loveliest, too.

asset 22

Welcome to Osaka Getaway to Nara. This was the cutest couple.


Coming back to Tokyo was everything, and more, that I could possible ever want and need. Extremely fatigued and sick, all I could do was meet people and get lost in the crowds. Luckily for me, I was staying in Asakusa, right in the middle of the ______ Festival.

asset 25 asset 26

Profile picture

Written by Ricardo Magalhães who works for the Internet. By day, a front-end web developer with a passion for typography and design. By night, he sleeps. Follow me on Mastodon.