Travel

Bright Lights, Big City: Alexander James’s "Tokyo Taxi"

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Tuesday Mar 20, 2012
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As anyone who’s visited Tokyo knows, the city is a nocturnal wonderland of neon and color, a kaleidoscopic realization of "The Future: Now Playing." With a citizenry as colorful and animated as the signage, Tokyo at night is a photographer’s dreamscape - and Alexander James, the man behind the lens of the book "Tokyo Taxi," has given himself a fantasy assignment.

In a city with as many distinct - and sometimes distant - neighborhoods as Tokyo, taxis are ubiquitous. The city’s 58,000 taxis are registered to 1,024 companies - and each one of those companies is recognizable by its own distinctive illuminated sign atop the cab. In James’s words, "these signs - illuminated when a cab is vacant - produce a captivating display...glowing and buzzing with a sense of urgency." James’s fascination with taxicab signage began more than ten years ago - and during the course of his travels to Japan, he began to photograph the signs, often while riding his bicycle.

James rarely photographed Tokyo and its taxis during the day; as he says, "For me, [the city’s] transformation at night is simply magical." The resultant glossy-paged book is a photographic paean to the beauty of the urban night. As evidenced by James’s photographs, Tokyo’s taxi signage is a dazzling display of the city’s playful and colorful culture, with neon cats and frogs, stars and lanterns, and cherry blossoms, all blinking and beckoning to the passenger for a ride deeper into Alice’s rabbit hole.

James reminds us that in Tokyo, taxi drivers "often wear white gloves, while the seats are covered in white cloth [and] with the aid of a hydraulic ram, the driver opens the passenger door for you as he skillfully pulls up beside the pavement."

Lest one think we’re in the land of Martin Scorsese’s "Taxi Driver," James reminds us that in Tokyo, taxi drivers "often wear white gloves, while the seats are covered in white cloth [and] with the aid of a hydraulic ram, the driver opens the passenger door for you as he skillfully pulls up beside the pavement." In other words, Dorothy, we’re not in New York anymore.

In order to photograph some of the city’s more rare taxi signage, James followed the cabs on his bicycle - usually deep into the Akasaka neighborhood, where the taxi drivers gathered - and spoke to them about their livelihoods. Some of the most illuminating parts of "Tokyo Taxi" are the words of Tokyo’s drivers, commenting on their profession and the people with whom they come into contact.

Based in London, James’s work has been exhibited around the world and in publications such as Qvest, Monograph, Design Week, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. "Tokyo Taxi" is a photographic testament of love to a vibrant city that lives as much in the imagination as it does on its fantastic streets.


Details:
Tokyo Taxi
Alexander James
Price: $16.95
ISBN-13: 9781858945699
Publisher: Merrell Publishers, Ltd.
Publication date: 3/20/2012
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.

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