Unseen Photos of 1970s Tokyo Look Like They’re Straight Out of Science Fiction

Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983 by Greg Girard

Photographer Greg Girard is known for his explorations of Asian cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, but a newly published series of photographs reveals a pivotal moment early in his career. Several years in Tokyo during the mid- to late-1970s not only helped develop Girard's photography but also give the public a rare glimpse of life in the Japanese capital. As a young man exploring a foreign land, Girard was able to capture a pivotal moment in Tokyo's history. His street photography shows the city just as America's post-War influence was declining and right before Japan's economic boom.

It's this grey area—full of urban grit, but with a look toward a powerful future—that Girard found himself in when looking to branch out from his hometown of Vancouver. In search of adventure, he set out for Asia and settled in for what he thought would be a quick trip to Tokyo based on the advice of another traveler he'd met. Once he stepped off the train into the city, he knew he was destined for much more than a short visit.

“It was just so obvious that it was a kind of science-fiction place—that word just popped into my head looking out the train window at the city,” he shares in his new book Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983. “I thought, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?’ It was clear that first night that I wanted to stay.”

Teaching English lessons to keep himself afloat, Girard found an apartment and dug into the layers of the city. Whether hitting the streets at 5 am or exploring the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka, he set out to explore the urban underbelly of this city in flux. Fascinated by this new culture around him, Girard realized that he could apply the photography skills he'd been developing in Canada to any environment.

“In the mid-1970s, apart from great work by Japanese photographers—work that was rarely seen in the west—there simply wasn’t much information (visual or otherwise) about what Tokyo was like,” Girard tells My Modern Met. “And the Tokyo I was seeing, when I first arrived and started living there in 1976, didn’t fit with anything I knew or had previously seen. So, I suppose I felt like I was ‘discovering' it for myself, and set about trying to make pictures of what it looked and felt like to me.”

These photographs, taken when Girard was in his early 20s, were rarely seen until recently. After showing the work to a wider audience, he's been pleasantly surprised by the reception and thrilled that he's able to share this critical moment in his—and Tokyo's—development.

Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983, which contains 100 photographs of Tokyo in the 1970s, is available for purchase via Girard's website.

In the 1970s, acclaimed photographer Greg Girard moved to Tokyo and discovered a city that looked like it was straight out of science fiction.

Tokyo in the 1970s

Kabukicho, Tokyo, 1977

120 Days of Sodom Poster in Tokyo by Greg Girard

120 Days of Sodom, Tokyo, 1977

Sibuya in the 1970s by Greg Girard

Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing, 1976

Shinjuku at Night in the 1970s by Greg Girard

Shinjuku 05:19am

Tokyo Street Photography by Greg Girard

Yokosuka, off-duty American sailor, 1976

Tokyo Photos by Greg Gerard

Tokyo, 1977

His photos of Tokyo in the 1970s give a rare glimpse of the Japanese capital during that time.

Tokyo Sign at the Haneda Airport

“Tokyo”, Haneda Airport, 1979

Girl in Yoyogi Park by Greg Girard

Keiko, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, 1979

Tokyo Photos by Greg Gerard

Tokyo, Shinjuku, 5 a.m., 1976.

Tokyo at Night by Greg Girard

Yokosuka, 1976

1970s Tokyo by Greg Girard

Tokyo, 1977

Tokyo Photos by Greg Gerard

Shin Okubo, 1976

Tokyo Photos by Greg Gerard

Shin-Okubo, alongside Yamanote Line tracks, Tokyo, 1982

Girard also spent a significant amount of time exploring the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka, documenting the decline of American influence in Asia.

American Sailor in Tokyo

American sailor

David Bowie in Japanese Commercial for Jun Rock Sake

TV comercial, Japan, 1980, David Bowie for Jun Rock Sake

Greg Girard Street Photography

Tokyo, 1977

This largely unseen collection of street photography is now available in his new book, Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983.

Two Japanese Schoolgirls by Greg Girard


Tokyo Street Photography by Greg Girard

Club USA, Kabuki-cho, Tokyo, 1976

Tokyo Street Photography by Greg Girard

Young men at fast food restaurant, Tokyo, 1977

Tokyo Street Photography by Greg Girard

Smoker at Bar B

1970s Tokyo by Greg Girard

Tokyo, 1979

1970s Tokyo by Greg Girard

All-night cinema after last film, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, 1977

Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983 by Greg Girard

Greg Girard: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Greg Girard.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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