The Architecture of Cities: Tokyo

One twilight evening in Tokyo was particularly enlightening.

I was racing against time to see what I might see before the twilight faded into darkness.

I raced against time. My mind kept rewinding the significance of getting where I needed to be. The city was soon to tear town Kurokawa’s “Nakagin Capsule Tower”. Without any references, I knew where I needed to be standing at the best twilight moment.

The Capsule that has vanished.

I remember a similar story about Kenzo Tange’s  “Yoyogi National Gymnasium”.

It is not that another photographer might make the photograph needed to be made. It was that my mind’s camera needed to make the capture. My light was nearing a solemn goodnight. My whole career came pouring forward in flashing imagery like Hieronymus Bosch and Joan Miro delightfully dancing before me.

The passion to capture the light in the moment is a disease. It is an addiction I lovingly embrace. It allows me to breathe.

With one deep Sleep Apnea mannered inhale I raced across roads. My camera bag swung naked to the public. I was not crying. I was tearing with anticipation.

I do not speak Japanese. But I understood the “Capsule” was to soon be razed. I could always find a book or a video. But what is mine in my eyes is mine for eternity.

For maybe fifteen minutes of racing like a “Gorilla in the MIst”, I panicked. Everything soulful, and heartfelt imagery of forty years of photography danced and danced before my eyes. Every image I had ever made sat alongside my tear drops warning me to meet the challenge. ‘Sorry to share this information with you, but it is just how I operate’.

Kengo Kuma.

This single picture for better or worse I needed to capture. I needed to be “there”. It felt like a link to my present; A link to my past: a link to everything in my future.

Architecture in Tokyo is not like most cities. The country of Japan enforces their earthquake legislation. If the codes are not met. A building may be brought down. Because a building is iconic, and still does not meet the legislative codes it too will disappear.


I am a photographer of architecture. Every second gazing through my viewfinder is a moment in history: I see not merely history: I see the Samurai, the Emperor, the Yakuza, Akira Kurosawa, Eikoh Hosea, Yukio Mishima and more. I see more than I know as my pace quickens.

Racing along the streets to capture my “Capsule” was not a fantasy, it was a dream come true.

The dream come true is the only reality that lives. I need to make a “snippety snap-snap” or if not, I have failed.

I have missed opportunities for decades. Though I have learned over time that that in itself is part of my inspiration. I trace the moments and places where I have stood. I trace my life  back by millenniums. I feel the wind of not merely history but a culture that stands before me,”waiting” for my snap!


The architects Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Sanaa, Maki, Isozaki, Tange, and many more have been present in my time spent in Japan. They might not know how their works and presence have influenced my eyes. But how could I arrive in Tokyo and all of Japan without acknowledging their voices in my every frame photographed.

All photographs by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.