Second and third generation smartphones where launched on the markets around ten years ago but Japan was one of the least country to step in the game. Despite the country’s long time enthusiasm for digital technology, Japan’s users stuck with feature phones much longer than those of many other countries. Tokyo, where the population in the greater metropolitan area is around 38 millions, has a subway system that accommodates roughly 8 million passengers a day with a wi-fi service good enough to stream videos. The average subway commuting time is one of the highest in the world and in a country with a very formal and respectful culture, the subway is no exception: there’s hardly any noise pollution.
Not very long ago, back in 2008, I was in Hokkaido, Japan, to shoot the G8 Summit in Toyako and a story on the Ainu indigenous minority. I also spent a couple of weeks in Tokyo and I noticed that many many people, of any age and social class, when riding the subway would easily fall in a deep sleep and magically wake up always in time to get off the train exactely where they had to. The Tokyo subway was very quiet, there was a lot of silence. In 2016, while I was in Tokyo after I came back from Naraha in the Fukushima Prefecture, I moved around using the subway and after a few rides I noticed that, even though people commuting spent most of their time on their smartphones, there was the same silence I had experienced on the same metro lines when, back in 2008, I shot a series of portraits of Tokyo commuters sleeping deeply while riding on the trains. That silence was familiar in some way so I decided to shoot this new sort of twin series of portraits. Almost 8 years have passed and the Tokyo subway’s still very quiet and there’s still a lot of silence. Things have changed though: people don’t sleep no more, they are too busy with their smartphones.