A Journey on the Rooftops of Tokyo / by Lukasz Palka

What is it that draws me to the rooftops in Tokyo?

What drives me up the stairs—ten eleven twelve flights at a time—is curiosity. I harbor a desire to discover unusual beauty in a chaotic urban landscape. To me, the rooftops are the ‘final frontier’ in Tokyo. The streets are crawling with photographers, but few venture off the ground and into the concrete canopy—but I want to see what I can create up there. The lights and vibrations of the rooftops weave images in my mind—images which I can call my own. Obtaining a unique perspective in photography is like finding a pearl in a sea of glass beads. The chance to glimpse uncommon sights is intoxicating. It is this pursuit of a narrative individual to myself which keeps me coming back. On the roofs, I find my own voice.

Seeking Clarity

The exhilaration of discovery is not the only quality that draws me up there. It is also the solitude. On the rooftops, I discover my own world. The city is aloof—muffled like a party in another room. I can think freely and take in sights and sounds that few others have experienced. With fewer models for comparison my creativity is less restrained. I am alone in space and time, as well as in my art. My photographic vision becomes unfettered from common images of Tokyo. From the ‘outside’ I find clarity.

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A Tranquil Mind

The metropolis is a living, breathing organism. The ecosystem is one of steel and glass, electronics and economies. But on the roofs the sounds of the bustling metropolis below fade into the distance. I hear a cacophony that is as organic as in any forest. Traffic rushes like distant wind. Crowds murmur like mountain streams. People’s laughter rings out like cries of hidden creatures in the understory. In the tranquility, my mind becomes a vessel ready to be filled by the muse, imbuing my eye with creative energy. Amidst the machinery and ductwork, looking out at the expanse of the urban jungle, I find serenity.

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Spirit of Adventure

Great excitement comes with exploring ‘uncharted territory.’ Exploring the unknown is a powerful experience. Sure, the rooftops are not a truly unknown place, but from the perspective of a photographer the rooftops carry a sort of mystique. They are a forbidden place promising great treasures to those who scale the cliffs of the metropolis. I can go to the edges of the earth to seek places untouched by any human in history, but to seek the unknown within the most populated city on earth is a personal journey, an inner endeavor. Scaling the urban mountains, and the mountains within myself, I find adventure.

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The Challenge of Self

Adventure must also be wrought with risk. The rooftops are a place with many dangers. There is the ever-present chance of being caught, but what is more severe is the risk to one’s safety. When I first started exploring the rooftops I had a strong fear of heights. It took many months of ‘exposure therapy’ to get over this fear. Over the course of my rooftop adventures I have become more brazen. When before I could barely scramble up to the 5th floor landing of a fire escape, now I can leap from precipice to ledge, though still with a sense of fear in my gut. These days I don’t take major risks, but thanks to my rooftop journeys I grow as a person and as a photographer. On the rooftops, I discover myself.

The rooftops of Tokyo are more than just places to take pictures. They are the stage for a personal journey into an unknown part of the city—and into an unknown part of myself as a photographer. I can express myself in a way not possible had I not taken my first steps up to the rooftops of Tokyo.