PAUL Church first picked up a camera as a teenager at Monkwearmouth Comprehensive School.
Now he uses his snapping skills to capture everyday life in Tokyo.
Paul, who grew up in Fulwell, headed east eight years ago to take part in a year-long intensive aikido martial arts course, where participants have to sign away all responsibility for injury or death.
The course was started for riot police and most people drop out after a few days, but Paul managed to survive and thrive without missing a single day of training.
Now he is a copywriter and spends his spare time taking candid photos of street sights.
For the past year he has taken a photo every day for Blipfoto, an online photography community.
Paul, 32, said: “I set out to take photos that show what it is like to live here.
“It’s Tokyo without the make-up. I typically try to avoid the flashing lights, cosplayers (the people who dress up as manga and anime characters), and temples, and instead try to look at the people we walk past every day without giving a second thought to.
“As with any big city, the stories are not down the glitzy shopping streets or at the high-end restaurants, but instead they are down the alleys and back-streets away from the tourist attractions, where the majority of people spend their lives. This is what I try to show.
“I’ve learned a lot about what it means to live in Tokyo, and in certain respects it has been a opportunity to look at myself and my place in this metropolis.”
Paul grew up in Fulwell and his family still live there. He returns to Wearside every few years, but says it is hard work trying to fit everything in.
Before he moved to Japan he was working as a technician hand-making special pharmaceuticals that can’t be mass produced.
He quit that job to take part in the Yoshinkan Aikido Senshusei course – a life-changing experience.
He said: “Although the main reason to come was to take on the challenge of the course, I also wanted to see and experience a different country and culture by living there for longer than a few weeks’ holiday.”
“In nine months you earn your black belt, something that takes part-time students many years, which gives you an idea of how intense it is.”
The majority of his photos are black and white and he uses a Nikon D700 camera.
Paul said: “I love the connection you get with the people in black and white photos, they feel a lot more intimate and in my mind this is what daily life in Tokyo is all about.
“I want to show the people that make up this city. It’s not all just about the flashing lights and hi-technology, but there are times when I want to show that side of the city, so I might choose to shoot in colour.
“A simple walk around Tokyo can be so diverse in subject matter that it’s nice to be able have a choice.”
Paul first became interested in photography while he was a pupil at Monkwearmouth Comprehensive.
He said: “At that time, a few people every year were lucky to be able to take a few lessons on taking and developing photographs using the school’s cameras and darkroom, so that’s where it all started. After that, I was lucky enough that a neighbour lent me his camera so I could practice, but it wouldn’t be until more than 15 years later and a move to Tokyo before I would really take it as seriously as I am now.”
To see more of Paul’s photos go to www.blipfoto.com/wayoflife