Today, East Asia is home to some of the largest metropolises on the planet. The population of Shanghai, the greatest in China, tops 22 million, but it is just one of five Chinese urban centers with populations over 10 million. While metropolitan Tokyo is no longer the largest city in East Asia, the megacity of Greater Tokyo remains the most expansive urban conglomeration in the world; one quarter of Japan’s entire population resides there. The population of Seoul is just over 10 million, yet the sprawling metropolitan area around the city houses more than 25 million people, almost half the residents of South Korea. Urbanization is not new in East Asia.

However, its current scale is without precedent, and megacities are wreaking extreme pressures on the lives of people in China, Japan, and Korea. Family relations fragment as people move into the cities and leave their local towns and villages. Older neighborhoods are torn down to be replaced by uniform apartment blocks with increasingly smaller living spaces. Commuting distances lengthen, and city residents often live in almost total isolation from their neighbors. Congestion, pollution, and an increasing disparity in income belie the sparkling commercial districts in the cities’ centers. Recording these changes in a variety of ways is a generation of photographers who have come of age during this period of rapid and unchecked urbanization. Some photograph the changing face of their cities: the high rise towers, theme parks, and rebuilt neighborhoods. Others capture the lives of the residents, at home, on train platforms, or on the streets of the built-up landscape. Many reveal the disparities in the lives of the new urban dwellers. All capture the sense of dislocation that dominates the lives of the residents of East Asia’s megacities.

—Samuel C. Morse, Consulting Curator for Asian Art


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