New Zealand photographer on mission to snap Tokyo’s danchi

Cody Ellingham has launched a Kickstarter campaign to preserve the old atmospheric vision of an ultramodern dream

Once a promise of bright future, these iconic buildings are now mostly abandoned torsos of concrete that are gradually turning into hipsterish coffee shops.

The danchi houses in Tokyo remain a memory of Japan’s struggle with the influx of urban population in the 1960s when the country decided to get rid of the dirt and wood of old Japan and to replace them with enormous apartment complexes and factories.

Danchi emerged in the 1960’s as a solution to rapidly increasing urban populations. These new concrete buildings replaced the wood and dirt of old Japan  —  Cody Ellingham New Zealand photographer on mission to snap Tokyo’s danchi
Danchi emerged in the 1960’s as a solution to rapidly increasing urban populations – Cody Ellingham

New Zealand photographer, Cody Ellingham, has decided to make the unique constructions immortal. He spent eight months capturing what has remained from the golden times and now has launched a Kickstarter campaign to support his photo book about the monolithic bodies of concrete.  

“It’s a personal goal for me, having it so that people can hold in their hands and see what I’ve seen, it’s an important thing. You can see these buildings now, but when they go, there won’t be anything left. I want to be able to tell their story,” the photographer said.

"You can see these buildings now, but when they go, there won’t be anything left. I want to be able to tell their story,” the photographer said — Cody Ellingham New Zealand photographer on mission to snap Tokyo’s danchi
“You can see these buildings now, but when they go, there won’t be anything left. I want to be able to tell their story,” Ellingham said – Cody Ellingham

Many danchi are facing demolition, and the dream they once represented is in danger of being lost. However, there might be a new use of the houses and abandoned factories as local small businesses are starting to pick them for their operations. The premises are being turned into cafes, apartments are becoming spaces for artists and artisans, and dormitories are turning into galleries.

One of these locations, Atelier Takiguchi in Koto-ku, served Ellington as a space to exhibit his photos. The gallery lies in a former workers’ dormitory that became a factory and was abandoned long before finding its new purpose in 2018. Art students now use the upper floors as a workshop, while community exhibitions are held below.

The complex was split into 4 sections - A, B, C and D block and each block had about 40 buildings — Cody Ellingham New Zealand photographer on mission to snap Tokyo’s danchi
The complex was split into 4 sections, A, B, C and D block and each block had about 40 buildings – Cody Ellingham

“This was once the cultural and artistic centre of old Edo, and I feel like it’s going back to that. Tokyo’s usually very commercial – you have to pay to play. But this area is not experiencing the same kind of gentrification, and that means the creative scene is able to come back more organically.”

Ellingham said while the series of his photographs had originally focussed on the exteriors of the buildings, he was lucky to be granted access to the interior of an abandoned danchi complex late in the final stages of the project.

Ellingham  originally focussed on the exteriors of the buildings, but he was lucky to be granted access to the interior as well — Cody Ellingham New Zealand photographer on mission to snap Tokyo’s danchi
Ellingham originally focused on the exteriors of the buildings, but he was lucky to be granted access to the interior as well – Cody Ellingham

The interior vision changed his perspective. Having seen “the box from the inside”, he was now able to show objects and interiors experienced by residents on a daily basis.

In his Kickstarter campaign, Ellingham has already collected around 90 per cent of the funds he needs for his photobook.