An unsettlingly lifeless Japanese girl in the park

Seeing people passed out on Tokyo’s streets isn’t that unusual, but for them to be female, is. A factor that made the scene below rather surprising — particularly so as it was in the middle of the day and devoid of any of the debris usually associated with heavy drinking.

Yet what made the sight really striking was that it initially looked like the young woman in question was being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Something that arguably wouldn’t have been all that unexpected considering her clearly unconscious state.

But that wasn’t the case. Instead, her companion was intently picking at her skin, utterly oblivious to me and his surroundings. Behaviour that made the whole situation all the more odd and unsettling.

Japanese girl unconscious


    • says

      I know. I considered asking if everything was ok, but in the park, with kids and their parents about, I convinced myself it was. Hopefully I made the right call…

    • says

      Erm, yeah, there’s admittedly an element of that, but it’s just, I hope, in the arena of the respectable.

      • Kath says

        No, DEFINITELY outside of the arena of respectable. Be more respectful in your choice of angle. Would you like your girlfriend/wife/daughter/sister/mother photographed by a stranger at that angle and then published online?

        • says

          To be honest, probably not. At the same time, I was careful not to reveal anything untoward, and to make sure the face of the woman (and her companion) weren’t visible. If one or the other had been visible, I wouldn’t have published it. Or more than likely taken the photo in the first place.

          Those elements for me made the image justifiable. Something that of course is very subjective, and as such, I totally understand people thinking otherwise.

  1. Faiez says

    Noooo, he’s picking her skin? For what? Pimples? Like, there, out in the open? Hahaha, I’ve to say this is more bizarre than unsettling…

    • says

      That’s certainly what it looked like. It was bizarre for sure, but her completely out of it state was the unsettling part.

    • says

      That was my first reaction was “in public?!”. My husband picks at my face for pimples and rogue hairs and I don’t personally like it, but he does. It’s kind of a primitive grooming instinct that some people have. With that in mind it could very well be a relaxing treatment for her, or so I’m sure we’re all hoping….

      • says

        Good point. There was a grooming like nature about his actions. In some respects it was like watching a very odd variation on a nature programme.

    • says

      Yes, pretty much. But as I said above:

      “I considered asking if everything was ok, but in the park, with kids and their parents about, I convinced myself it was. Hopefully I made the right call…”

      Not saying I was right, but in a busy city centre park, and in broad daylight, it seemed like calling the police was an overreaction. A decision I have to trust was the right one.

    • says

      I don’t know. Obviously he wasn’t doing anything wrong as such, but they’d have presumably checked to see if the girl was ok.

      • says

        Don’t know what the definition of assault is in Japan, but in the U.S., if she’s unkwoningly/unwittingly being touch/groped, that’s assualt

        • says

          Not sure either, but by that definition, then yeah, it’d be assault. Not sure I’d describe it that way myself though. At least from what I briefly saw.

  2. says

    I must say, I think there is good reason to be concerned for the woman in this shot. It is difficult to say what the reality of the situation was, having not been present. Photographs, like words, can distort context. If I had been there, I would have definitely enquired if she was okay, as I have done on several occasions before, where I have seen a possible need for assistance. This is certainly a controversial shot, Lee.

    • says

      Yes, I suppose in some rejects it is. But in documenting life in Japan, I feel it’s only right that the good, bad and sometimes controversial are represented, just like they are in real life.

      As for the situation itself, I honestly don’t know what the deal was. The only thing I felt for certain was that they were a couple, and regardless of how odd it looked, he meant her no harm.

      At least I hope that was the case anyway. And equally I hope I made the right decision in assuming so.

      • says

        The photograph may indeed have made an innocent moment appear more sinister than it actually was, in which case it brings up interesting questions about the validity or honesty of photography in general as a tool for documentary. The artistic choices, composition, the moment captured, the photographer’s imposed biases, the camera and lenses chosen, cropping, the distance and motivations are all variables that can affect the legitimacy of an image to portray a scene as it actually was. Even choices between colour or B/W can affect the context. As photographers, especially documentary photographers, we have to balance our artistic interpretation of a scene with responsibility to portray those individuals in it fairly and with respect, so that there is no misconstruing.

        Beer soon?

          • says

            Sounds good.

            Yes, that’s very true. I’m happy to say that this image was only cropped ever so slightly at the right to take out part of an ugly post, but that’s it. Otherwise the scene is as ambiguous in photographic form as it was in real life.

  3. winnie says

    My imagination went wild. They eloped? The girl is too tired after running, walking for so long and finally too tired , just slept?
    The boy is trying to wake her up .( he pinched the girl’s nose??)and tell her to move on..( quick, wake up, we cannot let them to catch us).
    Or he actually shy or embarrassed?

    • says

      I honestly don’t know. There are numerous possibilities. Some innocent, some not so innocent. But what it actually was is unclear.

  4. benalbanach says

    So…You took a photograph. That’s it ? That’s all ? That’s as far as your curiosity took you ? Unbelievable !

    • says

      Yeah, that was it. I’ve explained in the comments above, but going on past experiences, the place, and it being Tokyo (so the place was far from deserted), I made the decision that nothing untoward or dangerous to the girl’s well-being was going on.

      Hopefully that was the right call.

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