Photographs of the Bright but Unusually Empty Streets of Tokyo During COVID-19

Photographs of the Bright but Unusually Empty Streets of Tokyo During COVID-19

There are places that no one would have ever expected to see as empty but COVID-19 has really proven that even the busiest places on Earth can be turned into a ghost town.

These photos taken by Filipino-Japanese photographer, Akira Harigae documenting life in a COVID19-hit Tokyo.

Center Gai, Shibuya

COVID-19 first made impact in Japan in the latter half January when a resident of the Kanagawa Prefecture who had a recent visit to Wuhan, China started developing symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus. As a response, the Japanese government put into action certain measures to minimize and hinder the transmission of the virus. Provisions included restrictions of entry for foreign tourists coming from countries notably hit by the virus which were mostly China and Korea at the time.

Yodobashi Camera's West Main store in Shinjuku

Throughout the months of February and March, there was a continuous rise of cases of the virus in Japan involving both people with and without any travel history. On April 7th, a state of emergency was put in place. However, the situation in Japan did not involve any form of hard restrictions but instead, came from a unanimous response from the people to avoid crowded places and social gatherings. As an effect, while many industries are still operational and people still are able to go to work, the usually busy streets of Tokyo have turned into a colorful ghost town.

Shibuya Nonbei Yokocho

Shinjuku and Shibuya are two of the most commonly crowded areas in Tokyo. While photographs of Japan outside of Tokyo may show serene and peaceful scenes, photographs of the city life in Tokyo are the extreme opposite.

Center Gai, Shibuya

These photos taken by Harigae show the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on what was the norm in the city. As of 26th April, Japan has a total of 13,261 confirmed cases with 327 deaths. However, these photos show just how effective the efforts of the government are in simply reminding their people to take preventive measures to avoid getting infected.

Shinjuku, Odakyu Park

Harigae mentioned that while there is a state of emergency that will span an entire month, citizens are allowed to go outside either to go to work or get supplies. Instead of a full lockdown and forcing closure of businesses, the government encouraged companies to allow working from home, and staggering of shifts for essential businesses to lessen the number of people in offices at any given time. As a response to the stay-at-home request, it was taken upon by most of the population to suspend and avoid any gathering or social activities.

Center Gai, Shibuya

Public transportation in Japan is mostly functional and no curfew has been enforced, however, it is from the public’s general consensus to lessen activity and consequently the risk of harboring the disease that lead to this drastic change in Tokyo’s city life.

Omoide Yokocho

Akira Harigae is a freelance photographer and cinematographer based in Yokohama, Japan. These photographs of the streets of the empty city were taken during his commute to run work related errands.  Armed with his Sony a7RI II, he chose to document these unusual images of life in what is known to be one of the busiest cities in the world.

All images used with the permission of Akira Harigae

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4 Comments

I was thinking of doing something like this but then I have those types of shots already with or without Covid. It doesn’t really work actually. Nice shots, not criticising. I just don’t think this sort of “Street” photography works to illustrate what’s going on

" I just don’t think this sort of “Street” photography works to illustrate what’s going on"

I agree. we see those from all around the world and its an off off but I cant sense the feel of it.

Jordan McChesney's picture

While I understand what the photographer is trying to do, it’s actually not all that hard to get pictures of Tokyo empty, without a global pandemic, if you’re willing to wake up early or stay out late. Last year while the cherry blossoms were in bloom, I still managed to get shots of Senso-ji Temple practically empty by simply going around sunrise, despite it being the busiest time of the year for tourists.
I even remember BVS went to the Shibuya Scramble to take a picture with crowds of people, but he made the mistake of going at sunrise when hardly anyone was there.

Don’t get me wrong, the streets in the city are less busy than they usually are, on average and these kinds of photos are neat, but it’s a myth that Tokyo is always busy.

Fristen Lasten's picture

Nice photographs! Thanks Akira and Nicco.