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LIFE IN JAPAN
Stephen Mansfield

Stephen MansfieldOccupation:
Photojournalist

Time in Japan:
Ten years



What do you do here?
Photojournalism is my main source of income, but I always like to have other projects in development. I' working on Laos Hill Tribes: Traditions and Patterns of Existence, which I am writing for Oxford University Press. The last book that I had published was Japan: Island of the Floating World, which is a photo book with a general introduction to Japanese culture and life. Also, NHK asked me to do an international news course in English that is an analysis and appreciation of world news for Japanese people who are fluent in English.

Where are you from?
I am from Oxford, England, but I have lived in various places. Before coming to Japan ten years ago, I lived in Barcelona, Cairo, and Beirut. Two years ago, I had to write three books, so I decided that it would be better to be stuck in a room in the countryside in the south of France. I just returned to Japan this January.

What do you like most about Japan?
I think it's a good place to cut your teeth on a new enterprise, and it was a great place for me to do an apprenticeship. Before I came to Japan, I had done a little photography in Beirut, but I didn't have that much experience. I like the fact that Japan is the kind of place where you can turn your dreams, ideas and interests into something professional.

What do you dislike most about Japan?
Extremes of behavior are sometimes difficult to handle. Like on the train sometimes people don't want to sit next to you but then other times they're happy to use your shoulder as a pillow. I think that the fine tuning of life in Japan is also difficult.

If you could take one thing back from Japan to your native country, what would it be?
When I eventually go back to the very gray country of England, I would strip Shibuya of all its neon and take it back as a remembrance of how energetic Tokyo can be, even during a recession.

You were here during the time of a booming economy, and now Japan is going through a severe economic crisis. How do you think the country has changed?
I think a recession is the most interesting time to live in Japan because everything is being questioned. People are becoming much more cynical about their leaders, authority, and the traditional male/ female classifications. During the bubble years, people were much more complaisant. They believed their system worked, so why should it be changed? Now there is more of a feeling that anything is possible, and Japan is more open-ended.

Do you have a favorite place to eat or drink in Tokyo?
I try to seek out the lesser known little back street places in certain areas such as Yanaka and Soshigaya. I like these areas because they take you back to the old Meiji and Taisho periods.

You have to spend the rest of your life trapped on the Yamanote line. You're allowed to take one book, one CD and one luxury item. What would they be?

Actually, it wouldn't be any hardship for me to be stuck on the Yamanote line. I really like it. I suggested a photo book on the Yamanote line to a publisher, but they were a bit shortsighted and didn’t go for the idea so the book would be Side Show by William Shawcross. For the CD I would take something meandering and ambient, like Brian Eno. The luxury item would be a bottle of St. Emilion Cheval Blanc, which was the only wine that I couldn’t afford when I lived in the south of France. Well, if I was trapped for life, the bottle wouldn't last that long so I think I would take a flamenco guitar for a source of income.

Stephen Mansfield spoke to Tracee Walker.


Do you know an interesting person in Tokyo? If so, email us at editor@tokyoclassified.com
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