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"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #11 ©Toru Ukai


"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #71 ©Toru Ukai


"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #69 ©Toru Ukai



China was in a transition stage in the late 1990's. Everyone tried to find and go their own ways for better life. There was not any paved road for the future but some obscure path like

an animal trail. People looked as if they had lived on their own without the aid of society.

I, a man from a well-controlled country often flinched at their life force. I could barely compete with them under the protection of my company, my passport and the Japanese yen.

Now I know that Chinese big names like Tencent and Alibaba were about to be born just in the chaotic period. Chaos is the womb of a revolution or innovation. A sign of prosperity had begun to grow in it, though I regarded it just as disorder then. The times were streaming aside of me toward the unknown future…


You can see other images related to the article in the project "From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997".


Updated: Feb 7


"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #68 ©Toru Ukai

"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #13 ©Toru Ukai



Guangzhou is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer and the weather is hot and humid.

I found a lot of people sleeping outdoors or on the bare ground in the middle of 1990’s. Natives did so for escaping the heat in their rooms and the migrants did in the same way until they got jobs and accommodations somewhere in the city. Everything about it looked so natural and practical that I was never surprised. It seemed that they only concentrated on living a normal life or surviving. They did it without keeping up appearances. It's one of the most difficult things for us, the Japanese. I learned a lot from the naked realities of people’s daily lives there.


You can see other images related to the article in the project "From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997".


"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #54 ©Toru Ukai

When I was absorbed in photographing night scenes of Guangzhou, to tell the truth, I was a manager of a Japan-China joint venture of preschool education. I worked at a clean office in a skyscraper during the day, then I took a picture in the chaotic station square or at a damp street corner at night, and finally I went to bed at a hotel suite with very good service.

In those days Chinese migrants were pouring into such a metropolis as Guangzhou like an avalanche in pursuit of better life. The area in and around the terminal station was always incredibly crowded. A huge number of people stayed in the station square for days until they could get jobs in the city. I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of contradiction. The difference between my comfortable life and the chaotic situation outside was too big to bury. So every picture taken on the street looked like a dream or a nightmare, though I myself watched and photographed it…

24 years have passed since then and those pictures still remain dreamlike for me in a different sense. I’m puzzled how rapidly and boldly China has changed into a superpower. I probably can’t take such a picture again in Guangzhou that is among the three largest cities in China. It seems that now the pictures just show me the views of “nowhere”.

No matter what I photograph, a picture essentially comes from the external world that I don’t really understand. And as soon as I photograph something, the picture can tell me only the past that I cannot touch at all. A picture is so mysterious in spite of the clear appearance. It drifts eternally on the sea of indefinite and unknowable meanings.



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All images © Toru Ukai, 2020

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