Photographer Taro Moberly captures the contrasting cultures of Kyoto in new book

Taro Moberly - In Kyoto
(Image credit: Taro Moberly - In Kyoto)

In Kyoto, is the debut book by travel and street photographer Taro Moberly. It transports you to the cultural heart of Japan and sprinkled through its pages are snapshots of clashing cultures, the contrast between urban and traditional Kyoto and the serenity of its infamous bamboo forests. 

Growing up in California, Taro's interests shifted from one thing to the next. When he moved to Kyoto, Japan in 2015 he began documenting his adventures using a Fujifilm X100 but only as a way to keep family and friends back home updated. Soon his hobby and way of communication turned into something much bigger and his new-found passion made him want to improve. 

• These are the best Fujifilm cameras including the x-series mirrorless range and medium format GFX.

Taro's photos capture all of Kyoto's distinct dimensions, from its towering bamboo forests transport to its prewar machiya (traditional townhouses) to the Kyoto Municipal Subway that links this diverse city. Throughout In Kyoto, Taro has included traditional Japanese poems about Kyoto written in both Japanese and English once again cementing his affinity for his culturally rich new home. 

To find out a little bit more about why he loves Kyoto, what publishing his first photo book feels like and what he has planned for the future we had a quick chat with Taro. 

Taro Moberly - In Kyoto

(Image credit: Taro Moberly - In Kyoto)

What made you choose Japan as your new home?

My mother is from Japan, and I used to visit my family here during school breaks when I was growing up. Because of this it always felt kind of like a second home, and a place that I have been drawn to.

Do you see yourself living anywhere else in the future?

That’s the million-dollar question! Japan is an incredibly liveable and safe country and I absolutely love it here. That said there’s so much more of the world that I would love to see and explore, including back home in the US. We’ll see what the future holds and what opportunities arise.

Taro Moberly - In Kyoto

(Image credit: Taro Moberly - In Kyoto)

What is it about Japanese culture that draws you in?

There’s so much! There’s so much to the culture that makes Japan the country that it is. I think the biggest thing for me though is the mixing and contrast you see between modern, urban Japan and the embracing of traditions that have been around for centuries. It’s very apparent here in Kyoto, which is kind of the cultural capital of Japan. Walk five minutes from downtown and you’ll find yourself in a traditional district where the streets are lined with old-style Japanese townhouses called Machiya. You’ll see modern sports cars driving alongside hand-pulled rickshaws. Businessmen dressed in suits next to women wearing traditional kimonos. It’s very cool to see.

How has your life changed since the move and what do you miss the most about California?

I think the biggest thing is how much more open to differences in culture I am now than I was before living abroad. By immersing yourself in a culture that is so drastically different from your own you get an opportunity not just learn about your new surroundings and way of life, but also examine the culture of your own home. There’s so much that you take for granted about life at home that you never really think about until you experience something so different, and through that you realize that there’s no true right or wrong way to live your life.

What do you like to shoot the most, people or places?

That’s a tricky one! But ultimately I’d say that it’s the people that really make the place what it is. While it’s great to get those empty shots with no one around, it’s the photos of the people that really tell the story and give the place it’s character.

Taro Moberly - In Kyoto

(Image credit: Taro Moberly - In Kyoto)

Have you had a photobook published before and how does it feel to see this project complete?

This is my first one! It feels great to see it come to fruition. In this age of the internet and social media, so much of the work we create is short-lived. People will see your work on social media and remember it for as long as it takes for them to swipe onto the next image. A physical book, on the other hand, is something permanent and something tangible. It’s something you can appreciate for much longer than you can if it were just on the internet, and it’s an honor to be able to share my photography in this format.

What's next for you?

As a result of the pandemic I, like many others, have been venturing more into the outdoors and enjoying all of the vast beauty that nature has to offer, and I have been enjoying the challenge of taking my photography into the wilderness more and more. It’s definitely a departure from shooting in the city streets, but as a photographer I think it’s important to not limit myself and to always challenge myself with something new.

Taro Moberly - In Kyoto

(Image credit: Taro Moberly - In Kyoto)

What equipment do you shoot with?

I have been using various Fujifilm cameras since I first used an x100 shortly after moving to Japan. They’re intuitive to use, the lenses are small and lightweight, the bodies are strong and robust, and the photos look great. Can’t complain.

If you could work with one photographer, dead or alive who would it be and why?

Saul Leiter has been very influential for me, especially when it comes to street photography, so he would be my pick. The way his images can capture beauty in what some might consider undesirable moments - people walking in the rain under an umbrella, being out in a frigid snowstorm, subjects obscured by mist or condensation on windows. To me, his work is unforgettable and is a huge inspiration.

In Kyoto will be available to buy in Autumn 2022 directly from Trope Publishing for $39.

Check out more of Taro's work on Instagram

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.