Typhoon 15 [Roke] hits Tokyo

The Japanese typhoon season has been pretty rough so far. A couple of weeks ago a typhoon left a trail of destruction and 87 people dead as it swept across the south of Japan. Typhoon 15, or Roke as it is known outside of Japan, spent a few days tracing small and slow circles in the southern seas around Okinawa before making a rapid transit of almost the whole Japanese archipelago in a little over a day and a half.

Maps and predictions had it aiming squarely for Tokyo and it ended up doing just that. I was scheduled to give a presentation in Shibuya, at the monthly meeting of a photography club. I left home in south east Tokyo at around 3.30pm aiming to give myself a few hours of shooting before my 8pm appointment. It didn’t really pan out like that….

Charlie Kirk, a street shooter of some fame [and infamy] in Tokyo [and a buddy of mine for a couple of years or more, since first meeting him and giving him one or two lessons], was already in Shibuya shooting. He’d telephoned me to tell me of a great spot; loads of wind funneling through under a footbridge. Plenty of pedestrian footfall. Sounded perfect. Off I went.

Charlie had been there a while already by the time I turned up. It was about 4pm and the wind was beginning to get intense. Around 4.30 and 5pm both wind and rain got absurd. Charlie remained in the original spot; I’d ventured around the corner onto the crossing and nearby. Daft move on my part really. I got wet through in seconds. I have a slightly cavalier attitude to the well-being of my cameras in bad weathers as they have never let me down. However, not having dedicated rain gear from my camera  this time proved to be a mistake. Not because my camera got damaged or died… but because trying to keep my camera from getting too wet kept my mind slightly off the photos. Stupid. But, as we are at ‘Number 15’ and the typhoon season usually runs at least to Typhoon 24, it’s all good experience. Rain gear is being obtained for next time.

A woman battles the wind near Mark City, Shibuya, Tokyo

The light was terrible most of the time. That’s OK but high ISO and raindrops are not a great mix: one wants the raindrops to have sharpness, sharpness that gets swamped in grain or noise the higher you go.

I should really have taken the flash, which is how Charlie always shoots. Not to do ‘a Charlie’ and shoot 1metre from people and with a 28mm lens. But to shoot from a little farther back or even set the flash up somewhere useful in a static position and fire it remotely. But, as Charlie found to his cost yesterday, flash and rain is a bad mix…. Charlie’s nice little Leica flash died last night. R.I.P. Nice bit of gear.

We went and had a few beers, attempted to dry out and never really managed it, went out and then basically decided a good move would be to head home. I walked to Ebisu, managed to squeeze onto the Yamanote Line there and got to Shinagawa, where scenes of mayhem awaited.

Crowds at Shinagawa Station during typhoon 15 - Roke - as rail services were suspended across Tokyo

The platforms were full. Trains were still coming in and people had no where to go as the crowd was a solid, stationary mass all the way up the stairs and onto the station concourses. It took me 45mins to get to the ticket gates and through them. At several points people started to get a little panicky, so profound was the crush and the combined sweaty heat of the crowd.

All in all a great experience. I love, as you know, shooting in the rain. It’s time to get a little more tooled-up for it though: raincovers etc. Just to make sure I spend my time watching and shooting rather than protecting my camera.

I missed the shot of the night: the taxi in Shibuya with the tree on it. I was forty metres away, saw the road taped off but couldnt see the taxi at first. By the time I had a look, they were cutting up the tree and the impact of the scene had gone. Bollocks. But, that’s the way it goes. Some nights the luck comes and you get gold, other nights….. you get shit.

I got some OK shots. None of the stuff from last night is ‘wow’ material but there’ll be other times and every shoot is a learning-curve. My biggest weather ‘wow’ is still that set of shots from the snow in 2010, that turned Shibuya into a wonderland for a couple of hours. Thought I might get some of that last night but it wasn’t to be. Still, Charlie and I had a shitload of fun though and I eventually made it home at around 11pm, after walking the last 4km from Shinagawa Station.

Here’s some shots…. I await the next typhoon, lessons learned :-)

Oh, and the ‘science bit’ as those old Pantene shampoo commercials used to put it:

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