We love photos of people in natural, unposed situations because they capture a moment at which a person or people were simply living their lives, however active or inactive they were. Errol Morris notes that a posed picture can be just as real and fascinating, and he’s right, but there’s something immediately intriguing about a good picture of someone who’s unaware they’re being photographed. Almost all of us privileged enough to have had access to a camera have tried to take some of these good pictures, and certainly all of us have admired them on the walls of an art gallery or in somebody else’s photo album.

Today I went down to Yuigahama beach, alone, to sit and read a book. (Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide, if you must know.) It was reasonably busy – nothing like summer, of course, but it’s getting warmer now and there would’ve been a good couple of hundred people out walking, playing and sitting. After sitting on the sand for about half an hour, a man came up to me and cheerfully asked, “Shashin o totte mo ii desu ka?” Is it all right if I take a photo? I quickly replied with an affirmative “Hai, douzo!” and returned to my book to read.

Usually it’s me taking photos of somebody else, not the other way round. I’ve never really felt particularly comfortable in front of the camera, but I like to observe, to see things in others that most people wouldn’t notice, and to capture that moment. I’m usually too shy to actually ask someone if I can photograph them, though, so I just end up observing and feeling satisfied that I saw something special. When somebody does want to take photos of me, there’s almost always somebody else there in the frame too, so I never think of it as a photo of me – more a photo of us, and the other person or people probably look way more interesting than I do.

So, for somebody to want to photograph me and me alone was something unusual. I imagine people who get asked a lot are able to immediately return to what they were doing and continue being natural to some degree, but for me, the words on the page of my book were immediately replaced with stacks of self-conscious thought. I was completely aware that in front of me, just out of my lowered field of vision, this guy was snapping away. This wasn’t a bad feeling at all, nor did I feel inadequate or anything like that; I just wasn’t used to it and didn’t really know how to remain natural.

I’d be interested to see how the photos turn out, because I’ll bet that my intense self-awareness will show through in some way. Does that make it any less natural of a photo, though? That’s how I reacted at that point of my life to that situation, and there’s no other way it could’ve been. Nothing wrong with it. Not exactly how I’d like it to be, and it might not make for an immediately appealing photograph, but it’s still a reflection of reality. It’s interesting, though, that despite the fact that I am stared at blatantly on a daily basis – usually on the trains – someone with a camera felt so much more intense than just a pair of eyes. It should really be the other way round, I think: staring is often a product of shock or surprise, whereas someone with a camera, like this guy, is genuinely made curious by your appearance and would like to capture an image because he or she thinks it might be memorable. It’s more innocuous. I’ll spend more time on the beach and see if I get used to it.


This week, I seem to be fascinated by people and things in a way that I haven’t been for quite a while. It’s the sort of week that shows me how much I still have to learn. In a good way. Like, at nearly 23 I’m still very much a kid, and the prospect of gaining more insight into myself and others is an exciting one. There are a number of reasons why this week has been different from others, most of them above my head, but I think the fact that I have been so fascinated means that people have been more willing to tell me things. You can’t fake interest.

I’ve decided that some array of endorphins is released when I speak a lot. Tuesday was a very good day, largely because I was talking for much of it. I feel a similar way when I play goalkeeper in futsal, barking constant instructions to beleaguered teammates. For people who naturally talk loads it probably isn’t such a big deal, but for me – the archetypal strong and silent individual – it’s kind of a rush to have people paying attention and responding to my words. The deal on Tuesday was that I had to trek in to Shinjuku for training in the morning, then halfway back to Yokohama for regular work in the afternoon, and finally home. All up, I was out of the house for a 15 hour stretch, and much of that time was spent talking, so when I arrived home at 23:30 I was exhausted but utterly content.

During one of the many group conversations, I realised something about myself. I’m pretty good at working off what other people say, throwing in comments or adding to (or subtracting from) their words. When I have to produce, I’m not nearly as strong. It’s like being an art critic, I s’pose: you consume and you react, but you never create. Maybe it’s the fault of my hundreds of film reviews that my conversation relies so heavily on the words of others. Or maybe it’s the thousands of hours of self-imposed solitude undertaken during my teenage and university years. It’s not a problem, anyway. If I’m verbalizing and the people are responding positively, everything is fine – who cares whether the inspiration comes from within or without?

The only difference is in relaying a well-rehearsed story. But an organically well-rehearsed story, mind. Last Friday this American guy swore loudly at me, repeatedly, both across a crowded bar and in my face, so of course I used that story whenever people asked me what I did over the weekend. After about four or five tellings, I knew how to make it more interesting than it should be. What to dwell on, what to cull. By that point, it isn’t so much production as it is recitation. Thing is, though, I rehearsed it in actual situations, learning how to tell it by, well, telling it, rather than sitting and studying notes and getting all the words right in my head. That organic practice-without-thinking leads to a story that flows naturally and gets the reaction you want it to.

So I have two modes: /respond and /recite. Oh, and /listen, the default mode where I don’t speak at all. Cool, I can live with that. But you’d think that such an individual would find it difficult to make friends, right? If they have little of worth to say out of their own head, and they know it, how do they go about convincing other people that they’re an interesting person worthy of your time? (Clearly I can’t stop thinking about how others see me, though it’s less with concern and more with curiosity as each year passes.)

And yet somehow, it happens. How does that work? How is it that people are drawn to me and have a relationship with me that is unlike that with anybody else? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe that’s just how I feel at times. Maybe that’s what friendship is at its fundamental level, a deeper connection that means something only to the two of you and nothing to anybody else. You build up your own language, your own points of reference, and you become comfortable enough with each other to show things that you usually hide. At the beginning it’s all building, which is why it doesn’t quite feel natural for a little while. Of course this is just one theory, and probably only holds true in selected situations. Some people walk into your life like you’ve known them forever. I guess it depends on the person.

At one point in Dance Dance Dance, the last book I read, the narrator draws a diagram connecting all the people around him at that point of his life, and it was interesting to see it all laid out like that, sort of like one of those ‘six degrees of separation’ diagrams. Thing was, there were no more than two or three connections for each individual on that map, but if he’d put himself on there, he could’ve drawn connections from himself to every single other person. Weird, that. I’m not too different, yet I’m nobody special for knowing all these people. I’m just here. I s’pose Facebook does the same thing. I wonder, does that map get smaller as you age? Like everything else, it probably depends on the individual.

So yeah, it was just the sort of day I relish, with one positive hit after another. A steady stream of people I could talk to and not feel stupid about myself with. Those strong, euphoric or flattening experiences – having children, fearing for your life, meeting The One, watching 2 Fast 2 Furious – are what you remember and tell people about year after year. However, I can’t help feeling that days of pure contentment such as this are what really matter. Most of us only have 2 or 3 truly life-changing events happen to us, and they do have a profound impact, but the compound effect of all those happy days and their simple delights is an immeasurably greater influence.

Those days are what shape me as a person, more than anything else. Same goes for the bad days. Big things come and go, but day-to-day life is always there, so I reckon if you’re waking up in the morning and you feel like getting out of bed, you’re doing okay.