IN THE LATE 1980s, I was part of a travel party in Switzerland that included a young Japanese photographer. Kao was friendly and we got on well, well enough that I felt I could ask her, without risking offense, about the Japanese avidity for taking pictures of each other in front of cultural or scenic landmarks: "When a Japanese family comes home from a trip, is the slide show one picture after another of Komiko-san posing in front of something?" Kao thought for a moment, grinned, and said yes, that was pretty much it.
In Japan last December, I found people on the street responded agreeably every time to my requests that they pose. This has become increasingly rare in the States, where more and more people react with suspicion to any request by a photographer. Here is a quartet street of portraits from Tokyo and Kyoto. Click on any image to view in lightbox.