Between Brisbane and Japan, some whimsy and Dan (All contents © 2013 by Dan Ryan, unless noted)

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Let’s Camera—A small whimsical

You have to suck Tokyo into your lungs and let it rewrite your DNA.

You have to piece together your own reality one combini at a time.

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As you look around your tiny room and try to remember the rest of some words from an Elvis Costello song,

you grab things and put them together and that is how you change a part of the world.

It doesn’t matter, not to anyone but you, and it doesn’t objectively matter actually at all.

But it will matter when you hit Tokyo’s streets.

It will help your brain figure out how to piece it all together and give it immovable coordinates on your permanent brain map.

Like I said, you have to let the city rewrite your DNA.

Actually, you don’t have any choice in the matter, but it’s always easier when you acquiesce and let it happen easily.

(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in April, 2012. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)

A Japanese Curry—A small, zesty recipe

I love to cook, and I am told I’m pretty good at it. The one thing I cook for people most often is this this Japanese curry. I’ve been making it for nearly a decade, but I really got serious about it after my wife and I went to Tokyo in March, 2008. I make it four or five times a year. Amongst my neighbors and friends it has become my signature dish. If you are familiar with Japanese curry at all, you know the basic dish is wonderful during colder weather, the spicier the better.

Dan’s Tokyo Curry

I call this Tokyo Curry because Tokyo is where I discovered and fell in love with Japanese curries. But I’m sure this very basic variation of this dish is made all over Japan.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes of Japanese curry cubes (I prefer House brand Java Hot, or Vermont if spicy is an issue for your guests. Your local Japanese or Korean food market should have these products.)

  • 2 to 3 large white onions, cut or diced into medium- or small-sized pieces.

  • 2 to 3 large carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices.

  • 1 pound shiitake mushrooms, with stems, cut into bite-sized pieces. (I have also used oyster, buna shimeji, and enoki mushrooms in this. They’re all excellent.)

  • 1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, cut in half or in thirds, depending on size of each potato.

  • 2 pounds of rib eye beef, cut into bite-sized chunks (Note for vegetarians: bite-sized cubes of firm to-fu can be substituted for the meat. Simply skip the meat-browning step and start with the veggies instead. Add the to-fu towards the end so it gets hot but does not become goo. This dish is fantastic with to-fu!)

  • ¼ cup good sesame oil for browning the beef.

  • As much tap water as is needed to cover all ingredients in the pot and bring them to a boil. You can also use ½ chicken broth for richer overall flavor.

  • 4 to 8 cups of cooked Calrose rice, or equivalent Japanese rice variety. (This can be prepared on the stovetop or in an electric rice cooker. Prepare the amount of rice you think you will need for the number of people you are feeding.)

  • Fukujinzuke, the (typically) red Japanese pickles that almost always garnish Japanese curry. Fukujinzuke are essential to appreciate the full sensory experience of this dish. But if you can’t get fukujinzuke, beni shōga (pickled ginger) works well as a tasty garnish for this.

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Equipment:

  • A large steel stew pot or Dutch oven, but not an enameled pot because these run too high a risk of scorching.

  • A big, long metal spoon or wood spatula. This dish needs to be stirred frequently.

  • A good chef’s knife for cutting the beef and the vegetables.

  • Rice pot or electric rice cooker.

 

Process:

  • Put the sesame oil and a small piece of the beef in the pot and heat the oil until the beef starts to fry. If you overheat the oil it will start to smoke, so monitor this carefully.

  • Put all the rest of the beef in the pot and brown it in the oil.

  • Once the beef is browned, put all the onions in the pot, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook until onions are tender and starting to turn clear.

  • Then add the carrots, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook for three to five minutes.

  • Add mushrooms and repeat, cooking for three minutes.

  • Add potatoes and enough water to cover all ingredients, plus another ¾ to 1 inch of water.

  • Stir thoroughly and bring to a full boil.

  • Add curry cubes, stir, and allow to boil for about 30 seconds.

  • Stir, reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the beef is very, very tender.

  • While the dish is simmering, stir often. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as curry gravy will stick to it. But this flavorful goo needs to be reincorporated into the mixture.

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The Payoff:

  • Once the beef is as tender as you like it, turn off heat, and prepare to eat.

  • Serve this curry over a bed of hot, steamy rice and serve with a generous little mound of the fukujinzuke or beni shōga or both. The pickles can be mixed into the curry, or kept on the side as you wish.

  • Prepare to want seconds, if there are any.

And there you have it. Let me know what you think of this concoction if you make it. May this dish take your taste buds to one of my favorite culinary corners of Tokyo, a town I love so well.

–Dan Ryan, Easter Sunday, 2014

P.S. If by some miracle of nature you are a genius of Japanese cooking who makes your own authentic curry seasoning mixture from scratch instead of cheating with pre-mix cubes like me, I’d love to get your recipe.

“For My Next Trick…”—A small preparation

I figured that after participating in Brisbane’s annual Artists Evening of Sharing event for the last three years it was time to finally show excerpts from “Tokyo Panic Stores” publicly.  So that’s what’s going to happen next month at Brisbane city hall. Below is the official announcement in Brisbane’s official monthly newsletter.

Last night I spent two hours getting an old Hewlett-Packard 8250 photo printer to produce eleven 8 1/2” x 11” borderless copies of “Tokyo Panic Stories” photographs from 2012 and 2013. The 8250 is notorious for having faulty paper feed rollers, so it was a time-consuming pain in the ass to get each photo paper sheet to load properly into the machine by pushing every one with my fingers. In the end, as you can see below, I got the job done, and I am very pleased with the results. The next step is to mount the photos on some kind of rigid backing so they can hang properly in Brisbane city hall’s main conference room.

If you live in the Bay Area near San Francisco, I do hope you’ll come by for the official reception for my work next month. I haven’t shown my work in any kind of public space since 1989, and I am really looking forward to this.

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My Former Hanami—A small handful of grace

I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone

but

I was never really alone or ever am.

The city was with me.

A god-pigeon was with me.

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We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,

as the city shook the petals loose.

I took them from the ground,

petals like silken snow

falling on harsh pavements and concrete.

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Enjoy hanafubuki.

It can be just as beautiful as hanami.

There are patterns to all of it,

everything has a place randomly assigned.

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As I stood there at Kandagawa,

my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,

I looked nearby to the street,

and saw

the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.

(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)

This Building Endures—A small time passage

In Udagawachō, Shibuya there is this very narrow building that has existed at least since I lived in Tokyo in the late ‘80s. Back then it was a dark, dimly-lit place. I stumbled into it one summer night in 1988, attracted by an exterior sign that said “imported video” in English. I made my way up to the video store, which was on the third floor. The place did indeed have American VHS tapes for sale, factory sealed and pristine. But each tape cost the yen equivalent of about $100. The two shopkeepers, young men who both wore dark suits and sunglasses even though it was around 21:00 and 35 degrees Celsius, looked and acted uncomfortable that I was in the place. Very uncomfortable. Their shifty vibe made me nervous and I quickly left empty-handed to go drinking at a place I knew closer to Shibuya Station.

In recalling the incident from time to time during the last quarter century, I’ve become convinced the young men were yakuza and the video place was some kind of front.

Nevertheless, the memory of this building’s location and narrow profile always stuck with me, always intrigued me. I have been back to Tokyo three times since I moved away in late 1988, and during each return trip I have made a point of finding this building and photographing it to note any changes to its occupancy and appearance. This has become a kind of side project while visiting Tokyo for other purposes. Anyway, this is the building and how it has looked at various times in the last six years. Consider these images to be the kind of happy snaps one might take while dropping in on an old friend from time to time…

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March, 2008

 

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May, 2012

 

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May, 2012

 

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September, 2013

 

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September, 2013

(Pictures taken in Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo. I previously used the image from 2008 and one from 2012 in this post.)

The Big Issue—A small hand-up

What caught my eye during a transfer from the Tōzai Line to the Yamanote Line was the Osamu Tezuka mural across the street from Takadanobaba Station. What held my attention was the lone man selling a street magazine called The Big Issue. This magazine is sold exclusively by Tokyo’s homeless, who have to provide proof of homelessness in order to become a Big Issue vendor. The Big Issue Japan Foundation oversees this magazine sales program in order to offer a “hand-up rather than a hand-out” by providing a means for Japan’s homeless to have a personal source of income.

Now I don’t know how well-regarded or effective this program is, but I have a lot of respect for the concept. And I have even more respect for this lonely fellow, selling magazines on the streets of Tokyo, trying to rise up and out of whatever hole life dropped him in.

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I wonder if he chose the location in front of the Tezuka mural for the quality it added to his work environment. I imagine whatever gives you a sense of happiness and hope when you’re trying to raise yourself up makes the hard days on Tokyo’s streets pass more bearably.

But I could just be projecting how I think I would feel in this man’s place.

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(Pictures taken at Takadanobaba Station, Tokyo in September, 2013)

“These just became very precious photos to me.”

Life With Her—A small marriage poem

After 14 years of marriage

I wish I could say

that we made each other breakfast in bed

or that she bought me a fob chain and I bought her a set of combs.

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But it is, on the raining surface, just another day,

and in the forthcoming movie

she gets ready for work

while I edit photographs and

dream of making love to her in Tokyo

under this cherry tree I know in Ueno Park.

The loving endurance is the thing, the gift,

the brilliant flawed red ruby

that shines in the eyes and makes all tears

ever

things of value, grit, beauty.

It is the sunshine the gods weren’t smart enough to invent,

It’s taking out the garbage when the corpses are stacked like cord wood.

It’s laundry in an abattoir where your heart will always beat on a wood table

because you trust her never to cut nor damage it.

It is eggs in a silver cup

and ramen in a bowl of the finest paper-thin jade.

It is not a technological turn-key solution,

where you put on the rings

and suddenly stop growing together

and there are children and babies and

every in-law loves you and

you are suddenly serious contenders for a Nobel Prize.

There are fewer integrated circuits to the thing than that.

And really I wish

we could talk about this more but

I have to go make her a cup of coffee right now

and give her a hug

and kiss her goodbye.

Because you don’t just send the greatest person you’ve ever known

out into the world

without some love

and the power it gives them

to be immortal for just one more day.

(Pictures taken at the San Mateo County Fair, sometime in the 1990s. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)

Ordinary Things—A small weariness

I have been a bit depressed lately. Well more often than usual, considering depression is a chronic medical condition with me. I miss being in Japan. I miss my dad, though we did not get along all that well. I miss, as I said a few days ago on various social networks, being able to see the magic in ordinary things. I miss a sense of inner peace. I haven’t felt that in a long, long time.

When I get like this I take a look at my work, at photos that bring happy, or at least satisfying, memories to me. I stumbled upon this, just a throwaway shot of a faceless young man playing with his smartphone in the street outside an apartment I was renting in Tokyo last year. It’s not a prize winner, but the shot is simple, the scene rather peaceful. And it just might help me feel better and make it through the day. Maybe it can make your day better in some way too.

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(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013. Photo also published on Scholars and Rogues.)

“Know what a turtle is?”—A small annoyance

The girl and some younger neighborhood boys were playing with a turtle in the street. But as young kids do, they boys lost interest in the turtle and moved on to other distractions. This left the older girl, who clearly was not the turtle’s owner, to deal with the small reptile as it found its way into the moist gutter along the street.

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She was angry when she stood rigidly in the street and called to the boys, who had gone inside for a few moments, to come get their turtle. The boys ignored her.

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(Pictures taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013)

Street Repairs—A small cleanup

I came upon the scene after the hole had been dug and then filled in. I was passing by the Nakano Life store on my way to get some cheap kakiage soba at a place I like in Nakano Sun Mall. The workmen had finished the street repairs and were just cleaning up when I got there. But the Japanese can be so meticulous that even watching some men cleaning up a mess in Tokyo can be a thing of interest and even beauty…

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(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013)