Shane Thoms is what’s known as a “haikyoist.” The word comes from the Japanese “haikyo,” which literally means “ruins” but can also mean urban exploration.
His book is collection of photos he took while travelling through Japan in recent years, hoping to capture the juxtaposition between Japanese aesthetic — typically minimalist and precisely organised — with the overgrown weeds, moss, and debris that characterised the ruins.
Thoms shared a collection of the images, many of which evoke an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel, with Business Insider. Here’s what the haikyoist saw.
Thoms ventured to Japan to explore hospitals, mines, amusement parks, factories, and 'other entities from different areas of Japan that have ceased operating for a number of different reasons,' he told Business Insider.
Some of the businesses have closed due to a shrinking economy, as Japan has grappled with low fertility rates and an ageing population.
But others have shuddered due simply to the forces of history. 'This is an artistic project with an artistic focus, not a political or economical analysis,' Thoms said.
As the title of his book suggests, he and other haikyoists refer to these rundown structures as 'modern ruins.'
They are commonplace in Japan, especially in areas where industrialisation hollowed out rural communities. Post-WWII, people either left town for neighbouring locations or moved to the closest city.
'In terms of abandonment,' he said, 'I found that when I stepped away from the wider deserted commercial areas and into the more intimate interior of the traditional Japanese room, what made these decayed dwellings so different to the forgotten haunts commonly explored in other parts of the world was the thoughtful structure of the space.'
Some of the subjects he photographs are what people typically call to mind when they think of ruins ...
... while others he captured for the sake of highlighting the juxtaposition between decay and ornateness.
'Culturally profound elements such as shoji screens, tatami mats, tokonoma alcoves, and fusuma doors all work cohesively to create an environment where the family spirit is encapsulated and preserved,' he said.
Taken together, those elements lead Japanese ruins to evoke more sentimentality compared to European or North American ruins, Thoms said.
As Japan continually evolves over the decades, the photographer said he wanted to freeze a moment in history in the way the environment has been preserving it naturally.
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