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

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Daruma street panic

A colorful mural in a generally drab part of town, this Daruma artwork in front of a cheap business hotel on Tokyo Route 464 is on the Kiyokawa side of what used to be called Sanya. Route 464 cuts through the heart of Minami-senju, dividing the Sanya area into the Kiyokawa and Nihonzutsumi districts. This depiction of Japan’s beloved good luck symbol looks over all who pass by, including the cops who also look over everyone from the police station across the street…

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(Picture taken in Sanya (Kiyokawa), Tokyo in September 2013)

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Ameyayokochō time warp

Tokyo changes so rapidly. Parts of it, anyway. Although this photograph of Ameyayokochō on a Tuesday afternoon is from April, 2012, it could well have been taken in 2002. or 1992, or 1982, or….well, you get the idea.

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(Picture taken in Ameyayokochō, Ueno, Tokyo in April, 2012)

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(Ashita no) Joe from Sanya

He stands with confidence and rugged style on Dote Dori not far from the western end of the Iroha shōtengai in Nihonzutsumi, part of modern-day Sanya. His name is Yabuki Jō, a.k.a. Joe, and he’s the lead character in a popular and highly regarded boxing manga from the late ‘60s called “Ashita no Joe”.

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In the manga, Joe hails from a slum district of Tokyo named Doya Town, which is widely believed to be based on the areas of Nihonzutsumi and Kiyokawa which now comprise Sanya. Doya Town is the English version of the Japanese term doya-gai, or skid row district. But folks in Sanya are proud of Joe’s origins and use images of characters from the manga, as well as the statue pictured above, to promote the Sanya shōtengai and hopefully generate a little commerce.

These photographs are just a very small sample of the visually-prominent ways Joe and characters from his world still inhabit the streets of what they used to call Sanya…

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Tange Danpei, Joe’s boxing trainer and mentor, drawing attention to a well-stocked liquor store.

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Tōru Rikiishi on the front of a shuttered business. Tōru was Joe’s first boxing rival, and Joe is still haunted by his death.

(Pictures taken in Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo, Joe in September, 2013, and Tange and Tōru in April, 2012)

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Tokyo Freedom

The tiny neighborhood bars and watering holes distributed throughout Tokyo are probably as numerous as the stars on a clear night in the Himalayas. Perversely, they’re often the kinds of places that are easy to miss, at least in the daytime, even if a given joint is open when one happens to walk by.

But sometimes one can pass a Tokyo bar, even a run-down looking place, and feel strangely drawn to it somehow. Something about it catches the eye, perhaps the way it’s painted or how the bar’s name is displayed on the street. And suddenly one finds oneself walking into the joint even if one wasn’t originally in the mood for a drink.

Freedom in Nakano 5-chome is that kind of place, an unassuming little neighborhood bar that doesn’t look like much on the outside, but had an allure that made going inside an unexpected but rich Tokyo experience…

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Freedom is on the eastern edge of Nakano 5-chome, near a place called Kitano Shrine. The combination of its severely-faded blue color, arched window, and the liquor bottles on the curb made the building stand out.

 

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The katakana and phone number were missing from the front of the building, revealing the more vibrant color the place used to be and begging the question as to whether Freedom was actually still named Freedom.

 

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But once inside, the outside didn’t matter much. Even to a foreigner with very limited Japanese, the folks in Freedom were warm and welcoming. Mama-san, the owner, is the lady laughing.

 

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One of her customers, a garrulous and inquisitive older fellow, was quick with questions in limited English about California. And with the universal sign that he was Japanese and posing for a picture.

 

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Mama-san showed obvious pride in her place, and it showed in the service she provided.

 

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As to the interior of Freedom, it was like being in an artist’s teeny world where the artist serves up booze as a way of saying thanks for visiting.

 

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With the front door open and light from an overcast sky seeping through it and the window, Freedom had a comfortable, glowing beauty within that a photograph almost can’t convey.

 

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Mama-san enjoyed her place and her customers. One got the impression that her customers were more than regulars, but friends on whom she relied not only for income, but also for a reason to even own and run a bar in the first place.

 

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Along almost an entire wall there was a more fiery interpretation of Mount Fuji than one typically sees. It was obviously Freedom’s visual centerpiece.

 

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Even while relaxing with a beer, Mama-san paid warm attention to everyone in her bar, even those shooting flash pictures while barely being able to speak Japanese.

 

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Freedom had little artistic flourishes almost everywhere, from the walls…..

 

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….to the various objet d’art which contributed to Freedom’s quirky beauty.

 

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But the true quality of a Tokyo bar begins and ends with the people one meets there. And judging by the folks at Freedom, it was a rather exceptional place.

 

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Freedom is the kind of place one is glad to have found, and feels reluctant to leave. Freedom and the little places like it throughout Tokyo are showcases for the kind of hospitality for which the Japanese are famous, and for their often-overlooked friendliness and warmth.

In a sense, one hasn’t really discovered Tokyo, or Japan, until one finds one’s own kind of Freedom.

(Photographs taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)

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Tokyo Gone Street

No big deal

just the passing of time

and a flesh suit

going for cigarettes

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while I hang back and watch.

Normally I’m the ghost in him.

But today he left me behind

so that I could watch the street

and then

when he gets back

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I will once again

meld my ghostly membranes to his meat frame

so I can make him remember who he is

and we can be whole again.

(Pictures taken in Sanya (Kiyokawa 2-chome), Tokyo in September, 2013)

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