Skip to main content

Take a nostalgic trip back to 80s Japan with these Blade Runner-esque images

New photo book shows nostalgic 70s Japan
(Image credit: Greg Girard )

Greg Girard is the photographer behind the absolutely stunning retro images of Japan compiled in his latest photo book titled, JAL 76-88

Arriving in Tokyo in the spring of 1976, photographer Greg Girard only intended to stay for a few days, until a late-night stroll through the city changed his mind.

• Curious about the 10 best-selling cameras in Japan (opens in new tab)?

Greg Girard (opens in new tab) is a Canadian photographer who has spent much of his career in Asia, with several photo books released of his beautiful city nightscapes. His work examines the social and physical transformations taking place throughout the regions he visits, and many stand as visual relics of a pre-demolition space. 

His work captured in Japan, specifically Tokyo, where he remained for a while having found a job teaching English at a language school in Harajuku, explores urban night life in the late 70s and cleverly relies on neon street lamps as a primary light source for many of his shots. 

Exploring the nearby Yokosuka, Girard discovered a home port of a US military fleet, which he lived in close proximity to and documented in his photo book, Hotel Okinawa, and his earlier works in Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-1983. 

(Image credit: Greg Girard )
(opens in new tab)

At a time when information didn't spread as quickly, these vivid portraits and street photography from Girard highlighted the dawn of a new era. In speaking with Brad Feuerhelm in a Q&A email interview, that has been published and included in his latest book JAL 76-88, Girard shares that:

"When I first arrived in Tokyo in April 1976, the plan was to spend a few days there and then continue onto Southeast Asia. I decided to stow my luggage at the airport that first night in order to better wander around the city. I had no idea where
I was going to stay...I spent the night wandering around Shinjuku and nearby neighborhoods, and by morning I knew I wanted to stay."

(Image credit: Greg Girard )
(opens in new tab)

"The photographs in JAL 76-88 are artefacts of a pre-bubble Japan, and particularly Tokyo, before the term "BladeRunner-esque" became the default for a neon-soaked, urban Asia-influenced near future." He continues, "It’s perhaps worth pointing out that in 1976 there was nothing to prepare a first-time visitor for Tokyo. At that time, the notion that the future had arrived, and was alive and well in an Asian city, was simply an unknown."

(Image credit: Greg Girard )
(opens in new tab)

The images captured in JAL 76-88 by Girard are truly stunning, especially considering how they were created, using a film camera and analog processing techniques to produce night photography shot with film can't have been an easy task. Girard discusses the complex discovery of shooting night photography on film in the interview.

 • Looking for the best low-light cameras?

"It was a real exploration, in the sense of not knowing how the film would turn out, which meant lots of trial and error before I started to understand how the film would react to various light sources, or the lack thereof. It probably sounds a bit outrageous to say it but I did feel that I had “night” to myself back then. "

(Image credit: Greg Girard )
(opens in new tab)

"It’s quite a well-trodden path now, of course. And, with digital technology, taking pictures at night is astonishingly easy, almost effortless.There’s as much night on earth as there is a day, and we are finally starting see it recorded as such." 

He also explains in the interview that, "As a young photographer, the last thing I was thinking about was how the pictures might be received decades later. If I was guided by anything beyond my own fascination with the city it was simply the instinct that the pictures should also be interesting to people who knew Tokyo and lived there."

(Image credit: Greg Girard )
(opens in new tab)

With images featured in the book that are both color and black and white, Girard sheds some light about his photographic choices, "I never went through a period when I shot exclusively in black-and-white. From the beginning, I made pictures in both color and black-and-white."

"In Tokyo, I would often carry two camera bodies, one with black- and-white film, the other with color slide film. There wasn’t any particular formula or philosophy to it."

The beautiful nostalgia showcasing 1970s Tokyo can be yours to own, with JAL 76-88 now available to purchase in paperback format via Amazon priced at $68/£65, and also available from Greg Girard's website (opens in new tab) with international shipping. 

The photo book is published by Kominek, Berlin. Comprising 256 pages of imagery with a soft cover, otabind and page flaps.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Beth Nicholls
Beth Nicholls

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.