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Vintage Photos Of Gangsters, Prostitutes And Drag Queens From Tokyo's Red Light District

Tokyo has a wild and wooly Red Light District just like any other big city in the world, but like everything else in life the Japanese version of Hooker's Hideaway is more diverse and more interesting than the rest.

Where else can you see Yakuza thugs rubbing elbows with super kooky looking drag queens and prostitutes who look like they just stepped out of an anime series?

These sensational pics were taken by street photographer Watanabe Katsumi, who lurked around Shinjuku's red light district Kabukichō during the 60s and 70s capturing still images of the wild street life:

Kabukichō is the red light district in Shinjuku, a commercial and administrative ward in central Tokyo. Apparently Kabukichō took its name from plans to build a kabuki theater in the district sometime in 1940s. This never happened. Instead the area became a busy red light world of nightclubs, hostess clubs and love hotels. It’s estimated there are some 3,000 such enterprises operating in Kabukichō today. At night, the busy neon-lit streets thrive with the curious and the criminal—around a thousand yakuza are said to operate in the area. All this relentless activity gave Kabukichō its nickname as the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街).

Watanabe thought of Kabukichō as his theater and the men and women who posed for him as his actors. He approached each of his subjects and offered to take their picture.  He took the pictures quickly. But whatever he said to make each individual sufficiently relaxed worked. His photographs captured something unguarded and utterly spontaneous about his subjects. The next night he would return, deliver three prints of each photograph for 200 yen—roughly around a dollar back then. This was how he made his living.

See They Live By Night: Photos Of Gangsters, Prostitutes & Drag Queens From Tokyo's Red Light District here

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