Photo project

Living Small: A Japanese Guesthouse in Won Kim’s Project

At the example of the guests of a mini-hotel in Tokyo, a Korean photographer shows that the Japanese can be comfortable even in the most limited space.
Won Kim Age 35

Born and lives in Seoul. Studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Published his works in the Daily Mail, New York Times, Metro, Vice, Business Insider, and many other outlets. Exhibited solo and participated in collective exhibitions in the US, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The Japanese are well-known for making efficient use of small living areas, a necessity of their high population density. I myself was also one of the residents of such a small area while I was traveling in Japan. I spent nearly two month there and thought the place would be a fascinating subject to photograph. These areas are guesthouses for backpackers in Tokyo. The facility is a sort of downscale version of the well-known “capsule hotels” often used by Japanese businessmen for short-term stays.

One of several such facilities in the city, this mini-hotel takes up one floor of an office building. It is composed of a few hallways, along which the proprietor has built tiny living compartments. Separated only by unfinished plywood, the spaces have no windows or door, only a curtain at the entrance for privacy.

Some of the people in these images, whom I’ve shown surrounded by their possessions, stay at the facility for a relatively short time. They may be visiting Tokyo, waiting for a job to come through, or saving money for a better place to live. For other residents, these tiny cubicles are essentially permanent homes.

For me, the real interest of the resulting portraits is in how each resident has made use of a such a small, confining space. Some of the interiors are spartan, others are full of possessions, often complete with hanging wardrobes and improvised bookshelves. Of these, some are neat and orderly and others are chaotic. In each case, the sharply-defined space and its contents tell something about its occupant’s personality, and his or her ability to function in such a strange, enclosed environment.

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