After arriving in Tokyo in the 1970s for what had to be a short trip, Greg Girard instantly made up his mind to stay there. The photographer got a part-time gig working as an English teacher, giving him plenty of time to explore the city with his camera. Renting a darkroom and making black and white prints, and sending his slide film to a commercial processing lab, his pictures from this period remained largely unseen until The Magenta Foundation put them together into a book called Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983.
Having just arrived in Tokyo for the first time in 1976, Greg looked out at the city from the Yamanote Line, wondering why nobody had ever told him about this place. "There was nothing at that time, in terms of available information, that could prepare you for your first visit to the world's biggest, most intense and most unknown city on Earth," he told Bored Panda. "I left my luggage in a coin locker and walked around the streets and alleys of Shinjuku all night and by morning decided I was going to try and figure out how to stay there."
Ikebukuro Subway Station, 1976
"Tokyo felt further away than it does now, but that's true of everywhere, of course," the photographer said. "In a way, Tokyo today seems to be the new Paris by comparison: foreign enough and yet familiar enough for North American visitors to not really have to struggle too much. There weren't too many foreign faces in the streets or on the traits at that time, no English menus in restaurants. One of the first things you had to do in those days was to learn katakana and hiragana in order to read a menu (pointing at plastic food replicas in a cafe window displays gets old fast)."
"But, apart from the many foreign faces in the Tokyo streets today, in other ways the place doesn't feel terribly different. I'm not sure if that's because I want it to be so, or if the essential tone is actually relatively unchanged. The mix of small and intimate with the massive and anonymous. The refuge and adventure of nightlife. The possibility of human connection, friendship, intimacy like something almost breathable in the air. Human electricity. And it's opposite, as much quiet and isolation as you want as well. Those essential things still feel like they're there."
Keiko, Yoyogi Park, 1979
Greg lived in Tokyo for about three years in the late 70s and visited frequently from Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. He lives in Canada now but still visits the city 2-3 times a year. "I'd visit more if I could."