TOKYO (TR) – It is a typically teeming scene in front of the intersection at Shibuya Station. As is common in this teen shopping hub, girls, lots and lots of young girls, dressed in their summer best — tiny skirts and thin tops — stand waiting at the signal.
It is a prime opportunity. He slowly lowers the tip of the billiard cue case, in which a tiny pinhole camera is mounted, behind an attractive woman’s feet.
“It is the same technique as that of a magician,” explains Masa Shiohara of the need for an element of distraction in his brand of photography known as “ninjashot,” a term he coined himself to describe his pursuit of panty pictures. “He keeps the audience’s attention in one place and performs the trick in another.”
But when the light changed and the shapely target started walking, Masa failed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
“Another girl walking the other direction saw what was happening and screamed,” the spiky-haired 30-year-old with wraparound glasses remembers. “The girl being filmed had no idea what was going on. But I just ran.”
Practice, practice, practice. Refining techniques and strategies are some of the continual demands of those taking a ninjashot — a term that loosely corresponds to “upskirt” in western parlance. The pastime can be summarized as a lurid mix of lust, lenses, and stealth that is enhanced by Japan’s commonly cramped environs and culture. Make no mistake, this hobby, fueled in recent years by developments in digital photography, is generally illegal, but that factor pales in comparison to the rush.
The gear options are numerous.
As easily as Masa’s billiard cue case was converted into a camera boom, a pinhole camera, which will typically cost around 20,000 yen, can be built into a shoe or handbag. Connecting wires are then run up a pant leg or inside a jacket to a recorder stored in a pocket or backpack so the user can easily navigate to his favorite crowded escalator or other hunting ground.
Wireless versions with a remotely placed recorder offer more flexibility. For example, a camera can be set at the top of a shower stall for a significant length of time with the recorder safely secured elsewhere.
“We do not need to be worried about being arrested,” Masa says of a planted wireless apparatus. “Even if the girl finds the camera, she won’t know where the recorder is, or the ninjashooter himself.”
As a downside, however, this does not allow for monitoring. “Wireless cameras need batteries,” Masa moans of this common problem. “As well, a wireless setup is very unstable as far as the connection. Sometimes after shooting I’ll check the video and there will be no image. The most reliable method is when the recorder and camera are together.” Still, Masa boasts that experience now nets him a fifty percent success rate.
Quick and dirty options for random shots on the sly include the small versions of Sony’s Cybershot line. To demonstrate a magician at work, he takes one of the latest models in his right palm. While simultaneously turning his head to the left to pretend to be distracted, he then slides the camera across the top of the table in front of him with the lens upturned and poking from between his middle and index fingers, his thumb poised over the shutter button.
Though ubiquitous, cameras in phones are not conducive to this activity because a sound is emitted when the shutter is activated.
For assistance in choosing a setup, many turn to Radio Life, a publication that features tips on the latest in spy technology. Using this guide, shooters can read about such topics as light sensitivity and camera range in a context suitable to their furtive needs and peruse ads for X-Ray cameras and telescoping devices with night vision attachments and filters. Select shops in Tokyo’s Akihabara district specialize in the sale of such goods.
In the end though, equipment choice is up to the shooter. “It depends on the situation,” Masa emphasizes. “There are no rules for using the equipment. Each ninjashooter has his own method.”
Planning is vital. For example, a mission to Shibuya’s Don Quijote market, one of Masa’s common target spots because of its narrow aisles and the fact that plenty of lightly dressed females can be seen bending over and reaching to the tops of shelves, would require an arrangement suitable for shooting indoors.
“I’ll start thinking about it case by case,” he explains of his average thought process. “If I go here, if I go there, I’ll start thinking about possible ninjashot possibilities. Then I’ll think about the equipment, the method…It is a brain game.”
An adequate supply of batteries and recording tape are a must; but being in possession of an identification card is the most basic mistake of a novice ninjashooter.
Those caught by the police are arrested on the grounds of breaking a public nuisance ordinance. The violator is taken to court and a fine, which varies from prefecture to prefecture, is set.
Masa claims that there is no demographic for the average ninjashooter. News reports of those nabbed in recent years bear this out, showing that the practice covers a range of professions. Professors, police officers, newspaper photographers, and postal workers have been among those making the papers for concealing small cameras in rolled towels and sandals.
It is no coincidence that Masa’s pursuit of this hobby began five years ago, the period in which digital photography started to rapidly spread. It was then that the resolution of charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors – light-collecting elements that operate like an electronic version of the retina – began to substantially increase. This boost allowed manufacturers to shrink camera component sizes accordingly.
In days past, communication among fellow ninjashooters was through magazines but now the Internet is the prime means for the swapping of favorite panty-cam shots. Masa, whose own Web site includes content gathered primarily from fellow hobbyists, sees it as similar to stamp collecting. Oftentimes sites provide commentary on such things as camera angle and blur. Inquiries from readers typically request information on equipment selection and methodology for particular shots.
“If we can capture the woman’s face as well,” Masa drools “that enhances the shot. Such an accomplishment is a form of status (among fellow shooters); it is like a competition.”
In spite of the fact that Japan’s notoriously wild weekly magazines will frequently print shots of partially exposed panties or bras of celebrities taken from unconventional angles during such events as news conferences – which more or less makes the images legal – a market for peddling freelance ninjashots is nearly nonexistent. Masa claims that the reason is fear of a lawsuit on the part of the publications. He says that the ninjashot-looking images printed by many magazines are done almost entirely with consenting actresses.
Masa sees the opportunities for ninjashooting as something unique to Japan. In addition to crammed cities and ever-present onsen (hot spring), other opportunities for a surreptitious shot or two can be had by training a lens between the small spaces between the floor and walls of squat toilet stalls.
Though Masa claims that this recreation is “peaceful entertainment” — and even maintains that it is less intrusive than the work of a chikan (molester) — celebrity Ai Kato might disagree. Footage taken by a hidden camera of her sunbathing at an onsen was made public just over a year ago.
In comparison to more conventional forms of photography, Masa’s work might sound a tad unprofessional; but Masa is no amateur. After graduating from Waseda University, he worked for various companies that made television programs and commercials before entering the porn movie world as a director. Today his full-time job is at a news company, where he partakes in photography, writing, and editing. In fact, he implemented some of his ninjashot techniques to take a photo of Prime Minister Koizumi’s geisha girlfriend as she shuffled along a street in kimono last year – around the time that news of their relationship became widely known.
Masa says that “normal” people do not understand his motives for ninjashooting. The challenge of orchestrating a shoot and the sense of victory that accompanies a crisp image are some of the things – along with enhancing the release of sexual tension – that drive him to Shibuya every weekend during the non-winter days of the year.
“It is kind of a sickness,” Masa admits of his continued chase of the drug-like high that comes with his recreation. “When people are trapped with such a feeling, they cannot help doing it.”
Note: This article originally appeared in January 2005 on the Sake-Drenched Postcards Web page.