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“Narrating Through Photographs: The Sociology of Tokyo”
An Attempt of Observational Method using Photographs
<<“Collective Photographic Observation” as a New Visual Research Method>>

The Collected Works of our Project (in Japanese)
2016(15 pieces)
2015(16 pieces)
2014(12 pieces)
2013(13 pieces)
2012(18 pieces)
2011(17 pieces)
2010(17 pieces)
2009(58 pieces)
2008(22 pieces)
2007(22 pieces)
2006(23 pieces)
2005(23 pieces)
2004(21 pieces)
2003(30 pieces)
2002(30 pieces)
2001(30 pieces)
1999(30 pieces)
1998(31 pieces)
1997(30 pieces)
1996(30 pieces)
1995(35 pieces)
1994(30 pieces)


Photographs are "spaces into which the human unconsciousness is woven", "collections of the stuff of stories", and at times "windows through which we can peek into society" (refer to photographic theory, photographic act theory, and photographic media theory by W. Benjamin, R. Barthes, P. Bourdieu, J. Baudrillard, H.S. Becker, K. Iizawa, K. Nishimura and others). It is based upon these unique characteristics of photographs that we are able gaze upon society through photographic action as a form of observation, and attempt to analyze it. It is through a single photograph- That is to say, a story compressed into a single moment- that we are able to decipher ever-changing Tokyo with our sociological eye. This is what we, the Society for the Observation of Tokyoites (Tokyo-jin Kansatsu Gakkai), have been performing through our project “Narrating Through Photographs: The Sociology of Tokyo”, since 1994.

We collect works (qualitative collective data upon which the multifaceted reality of Tokyo is impressed) created through a three-step process:

1) Capturing a scene that symbolically represents Tokyo (and, by extension, contemporary cities and societies) and/or Tokyoites (modern urban people) in a single photograph.

2) Applying a suitable title to it.

3) Adding a short, sociological description of about 300-400 Japanese characters.

Our members then, through collective re-interpretation, and their own sociology knowledge and additional research, complete the works with titles and explanations being elaborated upon in a way that reflects the aspect of Tokyo represented most clearly in the photograph as seen from the point of view of the members, and this in the end forms an omnibus of the sociology of Tokyo.

Interaction through visual perception and dialogue sharpens keenly the “sense of wonder” (R.L. Carson) towards Tokyo and Tokyoites and enhances our “sociological imagination” (C.W. Mills), as well as our power of expression. Additionally, it encourages visualization and perception of the processes and structures of society that are hard to see, which we cannot grasp fully until we have discovered, read, and re-interpreted into words its reality. This method, designated as “collective photographic observation method” has the potential of greatly extending the reach of social research.


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Noriaki GOTO
Professor of Sociology
College of Humanities & Sciences, Nihon University
3-25-40 Sakurajosui, Setagaya-ku
Tokyo 156-8550 JAPAN
E-mail: ngotoh*chs.nihon-u.ac.jp (*=@)