A late-night stroll through the streets of Shinjuku or some other lively Tokyo neighborhood usually involves flashing neon signs, groups of people heading to and from drinking parties, and cries of “Otsukarasamadeshita!” (“You’ve worked hard!”) between red-faced coworkers as they part ways. As the evening wears on, a new creature makes its entrance onto the scene. Curled up on the sidewalk or spread eagle on a bench, it’s that curious big-city phenomenon, the passed out salaryman.

Photographer Kenji Kawamoto recently shined a new light on these hard-working, hard-partying company men with a series of photos depicting their various states of repose. While the result is surprisingly artistic, context really is everything; more than a few of these look like shots of crime scenes. 

Kawamoto titled his series Drunkard’s Heaven, which leaves the material open to at least a couple of different interpretations. Does the title refer to the fact that cities are, in a way, a “heaven” for drunkards, what with their innumerable drinking establishments and the work-related drinking culture? Or does it evoke the sense of peace and calm present in many of these photos?

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There are a number of interesting details in these shots, such as the socks and shoes beside the sleepers (because who doesn’t take off his shoes before passing out on the sidewalk?). We also can’t help but wonder about the circumstances resulting in the second photograph. Did both men pick the spot out together after a night out drinking, or did they somehow converge there as though by a stroke of fate? As for the man in the top image, a thoughtful policeman seems to have set up a traffic cone barrier so some unsuspecting passerby won’t go stumbling over his prone body.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that Kawamoto views his subjects (or perhaps models?) with something besides amusement. For him, these portraits depict men who have poured out all their energy into both their work and its related social engagements.

In his page on LensCulture, an online photography platform, Kawamoto describes his motivations behind the series:

“My photographs are a record of the people who have reached their limit and exhausted their strength after the daily grind.

Everyone has different burdens, but everyone lives at a frantic pace. People drink with friends as a reward for the hard day’s work and face a new day’s work like warriors.

A lot of people struggle through such work situations.

I took these pictures with a true feeling of respect for the people in them. I don’t believe the state my subjects are in is shabby in any way. I can feel they have experienced hardships and fatigue to end up like this.”

Sources: Artist DatabaseLensCulture
Images: © LensCulture/Kenji Kawamoto