Ready for your close up? Kit Nagamura on the city’s best snappers

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so here are approximately a thousand bon mots on where to get yourself a worthy picture. Tokyo has many options for immortalizing your family mem­bers, from formal studio set-ups to computerized photo booths to dress-up facilities, and even profes­sionals for hire.

Before you break out the wallet, though, remember that often the best snapshot-chroniclers of children are their own parents. Mom and Dad instinctively know the golden rules: grab the moment, get close-up shots, and love your subject. These days, cameras are easy to use, film is cheap, and digital lets you erase all evidence of ineptitude.

Suppose you’ve got other things in mind, such as a portrait for posterity. One convenient option is your neighborhood “shashin-kan,” or studio. You’ll know it by the big glossies of your neighbors in the window. The results from these studios are designed to last an eternity, and the technical quality is usually outstanding. Prices for such formal portraits are gen­erally not cheap, but like a Trans-Pacific cruise, there’s an old-world attraction to the process. Be forewarned that some studios reserve the right to choose which picture you will receive. Best to determine the ground rules in advance.

Many hotels and department stores offer simi­lar services. At hotels, you’ll have to schedule in around weddings, whereas department stores tend to be booked solid during seasonal holidays (think school entrance in April, shitchi-go-san in November, Adult Day in January, etc.). Commercial studios base prices on size and number of prints as well as num­ber of poses. For ease of comparison, let’s consider a single pose, and two prints at the yotsu-giri (approxi­mately 25 x 30 cm, or 10 x 12 inches) size. Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku and Takashimaya Department Store in Nihonbashi both host studios, and their prices hover in the ¥18,000 range. English information staff might be coaxed into to helping you set up the necessary reservation. Both establishments are open from 10am-8pm, but note that final reserva­tion slots are about an hour before closing.

Even if you don’t speak Japanese you’ll probably be able to mime your desires at one of the numer­ous Studio Alice locations, a fun and child-friendly option ( A fashionable mom of three claims this is as close as you’ll get to the Sears, or mall-style, photo. You’ll also get to indulge your young one’s fantasy with a tour through the over 400 dress-up costumes, traditional kimono arrangements, formal outfits and Disney props. You can take as many poses as you wish, purchasing only the shot you like. Studio time and costumes rental for kids included, one yotsugiri print will run you about ¥9,000, with additional prints costing ¥5,900 each. You can also elect to purchase the negative, but will have to wait one year to receive it. The two locations most convenient for Tokyoites are the Omori Studio Alice (2F in Ito Yokado, 2-13-1 Kita Omori, Ota-ku; tel. 03-5467-1301) and the Itabashi Studio Alice (3F of Daiei, 2-21-2 Narimasu, Itabashi-ku; tel. 0120-033-970).

In the same can are the Pinocchio Studios ( If you’re not into dress-up, you can wear your own duds and take advantage of their “Family Smile” special, which yields one yotsugiri for ¥4,700 on weekday appointments, or ¥5,700 on week­ends. Pinocchio also specializes in a category called “My Bromide” (neither a sedative nor a boring plati­tude, but a photo printed on paper treated with bro­mine and silver), an image approximating the roman­tic impression of Gone With the Wind. The Magome branch is easily accessible via the Toei Asakusa Line (1-12-4 Magome, Ota-ku; tel. 0120-354-115).

For the ultimate in individual image creation, and to avoid language-oriented mishaps, hiring a local professional is the way to go. Kerry Raftis, Tokyo resident for the past five years and head of Keyshots (, places an emphasis on the per­sonal touch. Make reservations a week in advance for Raftis or her partner to come directly to your home (if it’s photo-ready) or meet in your local park. One of the advantages of her service, Raftis points out, is flexibility. “If your child gets the chicken pox or you suddenly have a pimple, it’s possible to reschedule,” she laughs. Her focal interests lie in shots that reveal personality, whether formal or informal, and she’s clearly excited about getting up close to her subjects. The price for a yotsugiri? Not in the formula here. A Keyshots session starts from ¥30,000, for which Raftis will travel to your location, set up the shoot, and pre­pare a CD of anywhere from 50 to 80 different shots. The CD is yours to keep.

Another local expert at portraits is Jamie Rawding ([email protected]). Rawding’s primary interest comes from the artistic angle, but during her four years in Japan, she came to “see a real need for local portrait photography,” and built a business around it. Rawding works primarily in black and white images, preferring outdoor settings (though she’ll move indoors if it’s necessary) and natural as opposed to contrived images. A session with Rawding starts at ¥40,000 for one hour, during which she shoots an average of four rolls of film. As do many professionals, Rawding archives all negatives; clients may choose prints from contact sheets, and Rawding processes the prints (¥3,600 per 8 X 10 inches) her­self. For additional fees, she will also hand-tint photographs, for an entirely one-of-a-kind creation.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for above, check out the website of Philbert Ono: Phil’s new listing of English-speaking photographers in Japan is an invaluable resource, and he offers a fisheye take on the entire photography scene in Japan. His good sense of humor and sharp focus on the facts make the site a pleasure to put in your viewfinder!