When Miho Aikawa was a teenager, she was often annoyed when her parents would insist that they eat every meal together. As an adult, however, Aikawa recognized the value of the family meal—as a grounding ritual in their lives together. It is a theme she now explores in a series of intimate photos, revealing how, as New Yorkers and Tokyoites sit down for their evening meal, tradition is evolving to fit into the chaos of contemporary life.
"Having dinner isn't just about eating food, or even about nutrition," Aikawa tells Co.Design. "It reveals so many aspects of our lives, much more than lunch or even breakfast would. And because dinnertime is usually private, it uniquely reveals a part of a person's lifestyle."
In Aikawa's photos, dinner is the hinge around which the demands of socialization, nutrition, and work are evoked. In one photo, a musician in Brooklyn eats noodles with chopsticks at 1:20 a.m., while browsing the Internet on his MacBook. In Jackson Heights, New York, Aikawa photographs a Myanmar monk as he enjoys a 12-course meal at 11 a.m., one hour before he must (per his religion) avoid eating for the rest of the day. A Shibuya hairdresser shares dinner with an employee from a bento box brought to him by his wife. And on New York's Upper West Side, a mother feeds her nine-month-old daughter as they share a meal with the baby's grandparents—in Boston—over Skype. To Aikawa, all of these photos, though inherently private, tell a "precious story."
"People tend to get so bored with their daily lives, but I believe that we are just overlooking the many fun, exciting, surprising, and treasured things that happen in our private moments," she says. "My photos are voyeuristic, but my attempt is to capture and convey the subtle and important moments that so often pass us by, in our daily lives."
Although she photographs dinners in two of the world's major metropolises, Aikawa says there are more differences than similarities in the way that people from New York and Tokyo take their meals. For one, New York has more racial diversity, which results in a far richer palette of different cuisines, rituals, and experiences than in Tokyo. In addition, Aikawa says she finds that Japanese people tend to be more shy about being in front of the camera than New Yorkers are.
But the bigger theme, which Aikawa's photography brings home, is that the ritual of dinner itself is far more important than the food.