Through the Salaryman's Eye

A view of Tokyo from the 70s and 80s

JIRO KOCHI

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Jiro Kochi (1927-2010) was a salaryman who lived in Takanodai, Tokyo with his wife and three children. For forty years, he worked in Ginza at Tenshodo, a specialty shop selling watches, model planes and steam trains. He had a lifelong passion for photography and went everywhere with his camera. Over six decades, he took more than 85,000 images of his family, his daily commute to work, the people he encountered, the places he frequented, and anything that caught his curious eye. Significantly, his photographs offered a glimpse into Tokyo life from the 1950s to 1980s, and captured the signs and symbols of Japan in its boom years.

Gossiping, 1985

Through My Father’s Lens: To Ginza and Beyond

By Haruko Kochi

As far back as I can remember, I have never seen my father without his beloved cameras. He went everywhere with them, and a cupboard in our living room was devoted to his cameras and accessories. When we were small, he would take countless photos, films and videos of my brothers and I — at home, at play or when he brought us out. As such, I assumed having many childhood photographs was the norm and did not think much of his all-consuming hobby.

That was until his death in 2010, and I was confronted with the 85,000 images and hundreds of films and videos that he had left behind. I was living and working in Singapore at that time and for several years I left them in storage in Tokyo, not sure of what to do with them. One day I decided to digitise them and in the process, re-discovered a Japan that I had forgotten and unexpectedly entered my father’s world through his lens.

Jiro Kochi was born in May 1927 in Nakano, Tokyo. His interest in photography started when he was in high school. He created a space in his crowded family home to develop his own prints and even attempted to make his own camera. This interest continued when he entered Meiji university as a law student. He experimented with different cameras and kept detailed logs of them. He married my mother, a nursery school teacher, and my family moved to Takanodai when I was three years old. He would spend the next thirty years working in Ginza at Tenshodo, a specialist shop selling watches, model airplanes, and steam trains. His interest in photography never waned despite his busy work schedule. As there were many camera shops in the Ginza area, he would visit these shops in his free time to view the latest models and perhaps to buy and sell cameras as well.

yt_image

My father was a kindly and quiet man, who did not discuss the details of his day with us. Growing up, I was too pre-occupied with my own life to take an interest in his work. I never expected that his camera would speak on his behalf, until I looked through his images and discovered a photographic diary of his daily 90-minute commute to work and his lunch breaks. As always, he never went anywhere without his camera, even to work. He took photos of seemingly mundane situations and random people, in and around the train stations, on the trains, and on the colourful streets of Ginza with its unique buildings and signages. Some scenes seemed to fascinate him more than others, as he photographed them repeatedly over different days and seasons. What he wanted to achieve, I will never know. But what he left behind was a staggering number of images that revealed a salaryman’s view of Tokyo.

I felt that my father’s photographs deserved to reach a wider audience and that he would be glad to share them with others. Thus with the kind support of Leica Singapore, I have decided to share a selection of photographs that were taken with manual Leica cameras and lenses during the 1970s and 1980s, as these offer an interesting glimpse into Japan at its economic peak. 

Initially I was overwhelmed by the many photos, negatives, slides, films, videos and cameras that I had inherited. They triggered many memories of the past but also formed a bridge across the years for me to better understand my father. They are all the more precious now that I realise they are a big part of who my father was — a devoted father and husband, a hobbyist and a salaryman with a simple desire to capture his world with his lens.

Leica Store Singapore

Fire, 1957

Spotlight, 1989

Pretending To Sleep, 1985

Morning Glory, 1988

Abundance!, 1979

Singin' in the Rain, 1980

Released Today!, 1990

Solid Model, 1977

Isetan Rooftop, 1985

Copyright © 2020 Estate of Jiro Kochi. All Rights Reserved.