36 Portraits of Gangs of Kabukicho, Tokyo in the 1960s and 1970s

Kabukicho is an entertainment and red-light district situated in the busy Tokyo area of Shinjuku. At night the streets are buzzing with neon lights, as the host and hostess bars and clubs come to life. Meanwhile, in the criminal underworld, around a thousand gangsters (Yakuza) are said to operate in the area, giving this spot the nickname the ‘Sleepless Town’.

During the 1960s and ’70s, one curious photographer named Watanabe Katsumi prowled the streets while taking pictures of Yakuza, the pimps and the prostitutes who called Kabukicho their home.

Watanabe made his living by selling these photographs to his subjects, offering three prints for 200 yen—roughly around a dollar back then. 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, and his photographs document the performers. Here is a collection of images from his volume titled The Gangs of Kabukicho.

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