Gangs of Kabukicho

Watanabe Katsumi


Designed by Alexander Gelman and Andrew Roth.

Watanabe Katsumi was an itinerant portrait photographer working primarily in Shinjuku in Tokyo. Gangs of Kabukicho reproduces 155 photographs taken in the '60s and ' 70s in the blue-light district of Shinjuku called Kabukicho. The title of the book reflects the title of his first book published in 1973 called simply The Gangs of Shinjuku.

The subjects in Watanabe’s photographs are the prostitutes, street people, drag queens, entertainers and gangsters (Yakuza) that populated Kabukicho at night. Essentially, Watanabe made his living by selling the photographs to his subjects. He would offer three prints for 200 yen. A modest gentleman, Watanabe had a keen sensitivity to the natural posturing of his subjects which allowed them to uninhibitedly reveal their identities. He saw Kabukicho as a stage; his photographs documented the performers.

To accompany the photographs, Iizawa Kōtarō, who wrote “The Evolution of Postwar Photography” in Anne Tucker’s The History of Japanese Photography, has chronicled the history of Shinjuku and offers a biography on the life of Watanabe who died in 2006. The text is printed in English and Japanese.


PPP Editions, 2006
An edition of 3000 copies, the entire edition.

4to.; black-and-white photographs; photographically illustrated wrappers; clear plastic dust jacket.


︎︎︎ Exhibition