NIHON LIFE: Commuting above-ground

SkW28-660_Nissan Skyline C10 Hakosuka

Living in Tokyo’s 23-ku has many benefits, and detractions too I suppose. However, one of my great pleasures is the early morning commute across town. Many years ago I decided to ditch the usual meek-gray-mouse-crammed-onto-the-Ginza Line experience for a motorcycle. 

While I used to transit the stations where white-gloved attendants helpfully force more commuters into the carriages (unlike other Tokyo myths like underwear vending machines, this regularly still occurs), it was not the crowded claustrophobic nature of the trains I decided I did not want to endure, but merely that I was missing out on much above ground activity for the hour or so my journey took.

SkW28-667_Nihon Life TokyoSkW28-148_Toyota Century

So, my surface commute now takes me by Yoyogi-koen, the home of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, past Harajuku and the regular sight of curiously dressed foreigners looking for the local cosplayers that evaporated years ago, under the Shutoko Expressway and through the Marunouchi skyscrapers, past the Prime Minister’s residence and the Diet and countless Toyota Century-borne suits, through Ginza and the kimono-clad oba-san alighting from their many Lexuses.

SkW28-663_Nissan Skyline C10 Hakosuka

Past the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters one morning, I chased a snarling Hakosuka as its hipster-hatted driver rowed up and down the gears on near-empty roads. Looking like a playback scene perhaps from Grand Turismo, the driver was obviously enjoying the stoplight starts and the sweeping curves around the Imperial Palace.

SkW28-657_Toyota AE86 Corolla Levin

A few days later, on the way out Inokashira-dori, a recently re-Shakened and largely unmolested AE86 was making the evening commute.

SkW28-674_Honda S660

Though I drove an S660 for JNC a few weeks ago, there are still very few on the roads. So it was interesting to see a red one last week filling the route past Yoyogi-koen with its little turbo whine, and to contrast it in size to the full-size cars on the road.

SkW28-655_Mitsubishi LancerEvo9

The wide avenues give way to meandering lanes, and in a local shotengai a Showa-era shophouse finds a new use as a part-time preparation garage for a rally-ready Lancer Evo.

SkW28-672_Honda CC110 CrossCub

Occasionally too, I’ve seen a fellow rider who takes his daily commute seriously. On his second Honda CrossCub 110 in as many years, he suits up each day with the full catalog of off-road protective gear — perhaps more suitable for the Ginza Line than the usually benign Tokyo traffic.

SkW28-647_Honda S800

With the occasional heavy snow, typhoon, or nihonshu consuming dinner sometimes forcing me off my barge-like Maxam onto the trains, I do not mind as I know my bike is waiting for me at home with an old construction camera in the storage box to snap the ever-interesting sights in daily Nihon Life.

Skorj is a photographer living in Japan and co-founder of


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21 Responses to NIHON LIFE: Commuting above-ground

  1. 02Anders says:

    As always Skorj, absolutely awesome pictures and great writing to match…
    Please don’t stop! 😉

    • Skorj says:

      Thanks! I followed a 117 Coupe this morning, a Countach yesterday, and a Stratos last week, so maybe a drive-recorder is needed as well…

  2. MikeyJay says:

    Wonderful images and a great story. Thank you for posting this.

  3. Toyotageek says:


    Skorj, you are the bard of the JNC Nihon Life ….. wonderful photos and words.

    Please inspire us more.

    • Dave Yuan says:

      Bard indeed!!

      I feel similarly, that I miss out on the above-ground activity every morning commuting under my beloved San Francisco. However, we don’t get Centuries and the like roaming the roads, tho there is a hakosuka in the city.

      Amazing article as always!

      • Skorj says:

        The ‘brad’ of Nihon Life I thought? Who’s he? Thanks, though not sure that’s true. While there are plenty of regular Century about, the one above is one of only two or three LWB I’ve seen in many years.

      • I enjoy looking through a post that will make people think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

  4. Artsyken says:

    I seem to have missed a lot taking the subway in Tokyo for many years!
    Glad I could get “out” of that routine!

    Fantastic story and pictures Skorj!

  5. Lupus says:

    Awsome pictures and great flow of writing. You really created an unique mood. Can’t wait for more Nihon Life.

    • Skorj says:

      Thanks too, as it’s difficult to convey the feeling without sounding too ridiculous, but I try to summarize what Tokyo is about. At least for me. The black-and-white film photographs help sometimes also as they really render the far-off view of buildings and stuff well.

  6. The Black CRX says:

    What everyone else said! Your words, pictures and beautifully expressed observations always make me miss Japan while simultaneously feeling like I’m still there. Please don’t ever stop sharing your sights and insights with us.

  7. Ben Hsu says:

    Love the photos series, Skorj! Even the ones where JNCs aren’t the subject…. the morning sun gleaming off black skyscrapers, the rally car crammed sideways into the smallest of garages, the motorcycles and buses and kei trucks in the background.

    The guy on the CrossCub is certainly training for his after-hours job moonlighting as a Kamen Rider!

    • Skorj says:

      Ha! Thanks again too to the JNC team for allowing a little deviation from pure kyusha content into a bit of daily life.

  8. Bart says:

    Tokyo is an extremely photogenic city, and you always do it right! Thanks for posting.

  9. sabotenfighter says:

    Man, I wish my company would let me ride my bike to work. From Nagoya out toward Toyota City is mostly underground and what is above ground is nothin but fields and boring (also the train scheduling down here sucks, especially when a normal day evolves into a long night at the desk).

    • Kuroneko says:

      The drive though is OK? I’ve done it a few times myself, but perhaps the commute back in is too slow? For sure, a bike makes short work of across Tokyo though.

      • sabotenfighter says:

        Yeah, driving to the office is fine, but insurance reasons or something they wont let us. Hell, they wouldn’t let people who live close ride bicycles to work till last year. Car commute for me would be slightly faster than the train, even with traffic as the trains are so infrequent on the Meitetsu line. If I leave work at 1730, I cant catch a train till 17:53, so I get stuck dicking around at the station for at least 15min before I start a 12min ride.

  10. Nigel says:

    Thanks for showing us some of the cool things you see Skorj.

  11. Shakozoku says:

    Great article! Love the mood of these shots with the black and white shades.

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