Reflecting on his three years in Japan, Taiwan-based photographer Jeff Liang says, “Someone said to me once that Japanese society is like nigiri rice – that’s a perfect ‘bowl’ of rice, formed with your hands: nothing can fall out, or stick out – every single grain of rice must stick together to make it work. In Japanese culture, conforming is deemed essential.”
He had arrived in Japan on a working holiday visa and found a job as a souvenir shop clerk in Osaka, before being hired as a photographer and designer for an app. His office was in Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest areas. “I was working for a Taiwanese company though, so my working day was only 10am to 8pm. It sounds long, but that’s pretty short by Tokyo standards. From 8am to 10pm is more normal. People are afraid to leave early and make a bad impression.”
As such, the commuter rush hour is not only one hour; instead, it’s more like four. “It begins by 6am, through to 10am, and then again from 6pm to 10pm.” In those periods, finding a seat on his daily 40-minute commutes, when this photo was taken, was almost impossible. But while he always found it stressful, “something to be endured”, he notes that the faces he captured around him are relaxed, comfortable even.
“These hours and this environment is normal in Tokyo. But it’s also the reason why you see so many people passed out drunk on the streets at night. They have to be a certain way for their work, and the commute is part of that. Afterwards, they can free themselves. But the next morning, it starts again.”