The piercing eyes of a grimy-faced young boy, clad in rags, who lost not only his home but his parents in World War II, express his fierce determination to survive.

This photo is part of an exhibition, titled "Tanuma Takeyoshi: Picturing My Tokyo 1948-1964," which is running until April 14 at Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward.

On display are 180 photographs taken by Takeyoshi Tanuma, 90, in his younger days. His works capture varied "faces" of the nation's capital through its years of post-World War II recovery and reconstruction leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In one photo, young boys and girls gather at a temple or a shrine on New Year's Day, milling around and peering into a "saisenbako" (collection box into which worshippers toss monetary offerings). The youngsters look hungry, but definitely not unhappy.

In another picture, kids stare raptly at a "kamishibai" (picture-card show) as the story reaches its climax.

A laborer flashes a brilliant smile from the scaffolding of Tokyo Tower during its construction. He must have been feeling the exhilaration of working on a structure that would achieve great fame.

Passengers on a tour boat plying the Sumida River grimace at foul odors rising from the water. This was when the ill effects of industrialization were becoming all too obvious.

Tanuma, the son of a photo studio owner in Tokyo's Asakusa district, apprenticed under Ihei Kimura (1901-1974), one of the most celebrated Japanese photographers of the 20th century.

In 2019, Tanuma is celebrating his landmark 70th year in the profession.

"During the second and third decades of the Showa Era (1926-1989), photography gave me unadulterated pleasure," he recalls. "I was head over heels in love with my job."

He has visited more than 120 countries so far to capture the expressions of children in their daily lives.

"Nowadays, Japanese kids are like model students whose faces don't reveal their real feelings," Tanuma laments. "But with kids of the past, I could immediately tell from their expressions what they wanted and didn't like."

Countless films and TV dramas depict Japan's struggles to recover from losing the war. However, we have surprisingly few opportunities to study closely, or at any length, the faces of people who were actually in the middle of living through those times.

Looking at Tanuma's works, I thoroughly enjoyed the eloquence with which each photo spoke to me.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.