A Photographer’s Appreciation for Tokyo Escalators

tokyo escalator

The escalator is defined by Wikipedia as “a moving staircase – a conveyor transport device for carrying people between floors of a building. The device consists of a motor-driven chain of individual, linked steps that move up or down on tracks, allowing the step treads to remain horizontal. Escalators are used around the world to move pedestrian traffic in places where elevators would be impractical. Principal areas of usage include department stores, shopping malls, airports, transit systems, convention centers, hotels, arenas, stadiums and public buildings.”

Japanese photographer Miha Tamura has a fascination with escalators and this is evident in her website. It is arguably the most comprehensive compilation of escalators from Japan’s premier city, Tokyo. Who has not stepped on these ubiquitous transport devices that spare us a calorie or two from otherwise having to walk up a flight of stairs?

tokyo escalators

Indeed, the escalator, just like the elevator, is an indispensable piece of machinery we take for granted whenever we move up and around town. These contraptions have come a long way from the purely functional, unimaginative diagonal conveyors pointing up or down, and have metamorphosed into devices that keep up aesthetically with changing architectural designs.

escalator in japan tokyo

Tamura’s collection of images is arguably the most comprehensive compilation of escalators from Japan’s premier city, Tokyo. Escalators of all kinds can be found here. You name it: Ridiculously short, acrophobia high, curving, spiraling, stacked, and some utterly graceful examples are found on her webpage. Tamura is quick to point out that she does not shoot just any escalator. There are standards she maintains.

escalator in mall tokyo

She says she does not include samples that to her are “average.” Only the ones that stand out form the rest are given her attention. Her objective when photographing these modern machines is not to show off her picture taking chops, but rather to present each escalator in the best possible way.

tamura tokyo escalators

Tamura described why she was drawn towards the escalator in a recent interview with PingMag,

“Compared with simple means of transport like elevators, escalators are vehicles made by advanced technology invented in the twentieth century. They are not suitable as barrier-free transport, as elevators are for wheelchairs, but rather are facilities installed mainly just when it is necessary intermittently to transport a large amount of people quickly and smoothly.

To be precise, they are suitable for department stores and subway stations, and are concentrated in large cities. In this way, escalators are luxurious and special, but Tokyo is a city where there is the opportunity to ride them almost every day. This felt very fresh to me and so am anthologizing escalator landscapes.”

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.