Books | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'Small Buildings of Kyoto': A spotlight on Kyoto's overlooked quotidian

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Contributing Writer

When it comes to photography books about Kyoto, the genre is usually limited to three areas: geishas, gardens and temples — in the English language at least.

Small Buildings of Kyoto: Volume Ⅱ, by John Einarsen.
108 pages
KYOTO JOURNAL, Photography.

In “Small Buildings of Kyoto,” John Einarsen, a long-term resident of Kyoto and professional photographer, keeps his camera — or his iPhone in this case — well away from those cliched images that Kyoto has become world-famous for. Instead we see another side of Kyoto, a hodgepodge of houses, cafes and shops, the quotidian and overlooked buildings that make up any city and give it its character.

Einarsen’s book started online, on Kyoto Journal’s Instagram page, where he has been posting hundreds of images of Kyoto’s “unassuming, everyday architecture.” With enough likes and donations, an online community banded together to help fund the first volume, which was published in 2017, followed by a second volume last autumn.

It’s a slim and neatly packaged publication, running to just over 100 pages. The range of photos of small buildings covers disparate architectural styles some of which clearly evoke the era they began life in, such as the photos of the Showa Era (1926-89) “cut houses” or barbershops.

Einarsen keeps captions to a minimum, and often includes a passerby in his images to convey scale. As a collection, the photos of neighborhood coffee shops, narrow row houses squeezed together, car mechanics and aging storehouses reveal an ordinary Kyoto, wherein a “modest magic” lives.