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

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So happy and blue

In Sanya there is, in fact, warmth in the shaded gutters and thermal uplift from cans of varying liquors.

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And if the sky is clear on a given day or not, the blue streets can take its place, and one can soar in them, as this man seemed to do in whatever happy reverie put peace and contentment on his face…

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(Pictures taken in Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo in September, 2013)

Peace of Ueno

In the heart of a gigantic and mighty city Shinobazu Pond seems both immense in its own way, but also quiet and very peaceful. In late summer the water is covered with fully-grown lotus plants that seem to stretch on for a small version of forever. It isn’t hard to imagine walking upon the tops of the huge lotus leaves from the edge of the pond to the pagoda on the small island in its center without getting one’s feet wet.

It is a good place to daydream and to gaze, to forget how vibrant yet unruly Tokyo life is not that far from the edge of the lotus forest water…

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(Picture taken at Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Tokyo in September, 2013)

All the happy toys are here

So, this is Nakano Broadway.

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There are toys here. I must secure my pants to prepare myself.

 

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This one? I brought it with me. Now I must leave to find more.

(Pictures taken in Nakano Broadway, Tokyo in September, 2013)

Kamiya Bar (神谷バー)

Dedicated to my wife Michele, to whom I have been married for 15 years as of today, and who lived and inspired this story and so many others in my heart’s yet unwritten library…

The old timers had been going there for over one hundred years, and I was finally back after more than twenty.

It was Kamiya Bar, in the Asakusa part of Tokyo, and in 2008 it was the oldest western-style bar in the city. Western as in high ceilings, with wood-veneer wall panels, chrome light fixtures and those patterned tin ceiling tiles you see in old saloons in Tombstone, Arizona or Virginia City, Nevada.

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But I don’t mean it also had brass spittoons and buffalo horns on the walls. Kamiya Bar is western in contrast to the small izakayas and tatami-mat sake parlors scattered all throughout Tokyo. The main drinking room is more like a European beer hall, with elongated tables often shared by strangers. Condiment stations and menu holders are placed on the tables the way they would be in a typical American diner. Everyone wears Western clothing, and foreigners are not only a common sight, the Japanese welcome them quite warmly.

Sometimes in unexpected ways.

I had been dreaming of returning to Tokyo for many years. I was a bachelor here, fresh out of university, working for an American company for a few months shy of two years. During the course of our relationship I had told my wife many stories of the happiness I had found here. So we had decided, six months before this day, to pool our resources and use her frequent-flier miles to take a grand 11-day trip to Tokyo and my old haunts.

Which included, of course, Kamiya Bar.

And actually, this was our second visit to the place. We had come to Asakusa a few days before to see the temple and do some shopping. My wife was utterly charmed with Asakusa and its more traditional appearance and overall feel. Before leaving Asakusa that day, I wanted to show her Kamiya Bar, where we had many drinks and several plates of excellent fried potatoes. Most of the food in the drinking rooms is western-style. Most of the drinks are large mugs of Asahi Beer and small, elegant glasses of denki bran, a luscious, fragrant brandy made and served exclusively by the bar.

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On our first visit, my wife and I had a smaller table to ourselves along the wall of the main drinking room. This visit I wanted to go to the bar before she was done with her shopping. When I got there, the place was very crowded and I ended up sitting at a table with an elderly Japanese man in the smaller front drinking room. Our table touched another where a middle-aged Japanese couple were seated.

At first I thought all three of them were together, from the way they were talking and being friendly to each other. Empty food plates on the seam between the two tables made it look like these had been shared. Because of my perception, I used my poor Japanese to defer to the elderly man when asking if I could sit at his table with all three people.

It turned out the middle-aged couple spoke some English. So while the old man waved me to a chair without batting an eye, he spoke through the middle-aged lady who told me I was welcome to sit with them. There were many empty beer mugs and denki bran glasses on the tables, and I have often wondered since how much of a factor they played in the wonderful hour which was to come.

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When you first enter Kamiya Bar, you have to buy drink tickets at the front counter before taking a seat. In addition to the shopping bags which were now tucked behind my chair, I had tickets for two large beers and two denki brans, which I placed on the table in front of me. That’s how it works: the waitress comes by, takes the tickets you’ve put out, and then comes back with your drinks. For subsequent rounds, you just put your cash on the table, and the waitress replaces the drinks you’ve had with fresh ones.

I had just gotten my beer and brandy when the middle-aged couple asked me some of the standard questions. Where was I from? How did I like Japan? I told them that I used to come to Kamiya Bar when I was a young man many years ago, and this made them delightfully surprised. The old man asked the lady what I had said, and when she told him he nodded approvingly at me and raised his glass to the one I had just picked up. When our glasses clinked, we drank and he nodded again. Then he put another bite of fried potato and croquette into his mouth.

For the next few minutes, the middle-aged couple and I talked, with the lady translating for the old man and I when we had questions for each other. Although far better than my Japanese, her English was not that great, but here is what I learned:

The couple were married, but lived separately during most of the month because he had to stay in a company dorm for his job in Tokyo. The lady and their children stayed at the family home far outside the city. The couple and the old man did not know each other, had only met that very afternoon at the tables we now occupied. I had thought the old man was a father or elderly uncle, but the lady said no. And the old man was a veteran of World War II. He had served the emperor.

By this time my wife had arrived, and I tucked her packages and shopping bags behind my chair with mine. In busted English and broken Japanese, my wife, the married couple, and the old man managed to introduce themselves. The lady and I further summarized for my wife the conversation she had missed before arriving. My wife was very taken by the fact that the old man had served in the war.

She asked the lady what the old man had done in the war, something she and I both wanted to know. The lady asked the old man, but he apparently wanted to dodge the question. I watched him as he spoke, and he didn’t show any shame or embarrassment that I could see. He acted like a man who had happier things on his mind and didn’t want anything but light-hearted talk to carry our little drinking session forward. Through the lady he said, while smiling, that he preferred not to say. That settled it for me.

Then the waitress happened by and the old man ordered another round of beer and brandy for our group. The drinks arrived a minute later, and he pushed his pile of cash yen towards the waitress. I motioned for my cash, to place it with the old man’s, but he gently patted my hand down and away from his money. He was buying, and that settled that for us.

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As we reached for our drinks, my wife asked the lady to tell the old man that her father had served in the U.S. Army during the war. It hadn’t occurred to me to mention that, but it did not surprise me that my wife did. After the lady spoke to the old man, he looked at my wife and seemed to beam at her. A very warm look. He then touched glasses with my wife as he had with me earlier, and toasted the rest of the table. He noticed that I was looking at his fried potato and croquette and offered me his plate. I was so full of beer by then I had no room for his kind offer. He smiled at this after the lady passed it on to him.

And as we had asked him, the old man asked my wife what her father had done in the war. Through the lady, my wife said her father had been an airplane mechanic but that he really didn’t like to talk about his role in the war very much either. The old man nodded and smiled at this. And perhaps it was the beer, but I suddenly noticed, except for the almond eyes and the lack of a mustache, my wife and I could have been sitting at this table with her father. Both men were the same age, about the same build, and favored long-sleeved dress shirts with sweater vests. At least that is what our Japanese old man was wearing, along with a grey wool driving cap.

And again maybe it was the beer and brandy but for the rest of our little drinking session I could sense real warmth between my wife and the old man. He bought another round of drinks for the table, and another plate of croquette which I agreed to share with him. He seemed pleased that no one had to suggest I put tonkatsu sauce on my food. Upon noticing, I asked the lady to tell the old man that all properly-trained gaijin know the value of tonkatsu sauce on croquette. The lady, her husband and the old man got a chuckle out of this. It made me happy to make them happy.

By this time about an hour had passed, and the old man announced that he had to go home and get some sleep. He had to spend the day with his grandchildren tomorrow. It was only six in the evening, but he got up and reached for the grey suit coat on the back of his chair. He had one arm into one sleeve, and seemed to be struggling with the rest of the process, when my wife quickly reached up and helped him into the suit coat. When the old man reached for his overcoat, my wife stood and helped him on with that.

For her help, the old man bowed to my wife and reached his hands to shake hers. My wife took the old man’s hands into both of hers and kissed them as the old man bowed a little extra bow to her. The kiss ended quickly, and my wife looked up smiling at the old man. He in turn was smiling at me as we reached out with single hands and shook. He had one of the most confident grips I have ever felt.

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The drinking session had ended.

The middle-aged couple said they had to go as well. My wife and I were bone-tired and a bit tipsy. We decided to leave Kamiya Bar and head back to our vacation rental across town in Nakano to regroup before planning the rest of our evening. We ended up staying in, having a snack dinner from the local combini and good beer and sake from a store called Life. We didn’t regret staying in, for we still had a few nights left in Tokyo. And one night out in Tokyo can often be worth two or three in any major western city.

But we didn’t go back to Kamiya Bar, though we talked about it. Even if we had, there probably would have been little chance of seeing the old man or the middle-aged couple again. I did give the couple our address and phone number with instructions to call us and stay with us if they travel to the States. But it has been seven years now and my wife and I have not heard from them. That’s okay. We have already made plans to return to Tokyo this year.

But I have thought often about the old man since we returned from that trip, and I think of the bond he and my wife seemed instantly to share. I found it beautiful, but still don’t quite understand it. But I have never been a daughter, or the child of a war veteran, so perhaps real comprehension of this will always elude me.

But from my point of view it doesn’t matter, because I know this:

I don’t care what the old man did in the war, if he was a medic, a cook, a commando, or a pilot who strafed Pearl Harbor. For a short time he was our benefactor and our friend. And he was Japanese and we were Americans and it was Kamiya Bar.

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(This story was written in 2010, although the photos are from 2008. Uh, except the first photo, that’s from 2013. Kamiya Bar was undergoing some changes last time I was there. I’m looking forward to seeing these changes with my wife in November, 2015. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues. Kampai, kids.)

“Blade Runner” On (Nakano) Broadway

Blade Runner” is my favorite movie ever. I even wrote a sequel to it, which you can obtain here. The film has cult popularity in Japan, where the cityscapes of Osaka and Tokyo have long been compared to the dense, neon-lit street scenes in Ridley Scott’s film. Over the years the Japanese have produced some fantastic “Blade Runner” memorabilia. In 2013, a shop I really like in Nakano Broadway called Mandarake had some very nice “Blade Runner” gear on display, which is presented here for your pleasure…

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Deckard’s rather pricey LAPD service pistol.

 

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Two-headed Deckard and a spinner. I love the accuracy of Deckard’s necktie.

 

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Mr. Batty, a blaster, and some unfinished Batty and Deckard chibi figures.

 

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Items you might find in a blade runner’s coat pocket.

 

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A spinner, as close to flying as it is likely to get.

 

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“Have a better one.”

(Pictures taken at Mandarake Special 5 in Nakano Broadway in September, 2013)

Tokyo the Blade Runner

So I heard about this photo contest where I could win some “Blade Runner” swag. The limit for entries is three images per person. As a U.S. resident I’m not entirely sure I qualify to enter, but I’m going to send these three pictures anyway. The first two, which have never been published before, are from Tokyo in 2013. The last one is from a project I did for the Lions Club here in Brisbane.

Let me know what you think…

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(Pictures taken in Tokyo, Japan in 2013 and Brisbane, California in 2014. Have a better one.)

Life at the kōban

All the wide happy and the scattering crowds,

these are which I watch over.

For I am police, I am law.

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It is good I do this,

for there is no better humble god of justice

than me when I am on duty.

In Tokyo we have guns,

yes,

for we are police and

they are subtle extensions of sword

and I see them as

metals from repurposed katana

beaten into tiny rocket-spitting machines.

Musashi used guns.

I read this once in torn manga-page literature.

To me this brings honor to the idea,

and grinds nothingness into fine subtlety.

For if you can kill disbelief,

you can kill injustice.

When this is done

my work will be over,

I will no longer need to be police.

I would like to put myself out of a job,

I would like to always go fishing

in the Sumida River

and hook all the gold rings the yakuza ever dropped into it.

It would be a good thing to be with my son every day,

to know I will never need a gun to protect him.

To never need updated training

on the best American ways to shoot people in the head.

But these times are not here yet.

So I will guard you,

and you will love me for it,

and I will love you back because you give me purpose and honor.

And money.

(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)

Old men in Tokyo are monsters of subtle beauty

I watched him. He watched me…

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Then he yawned, and the boredom spreading radially out from him was like a superhero power which placed into my mind the compulsion to walk away…

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The old men in Tokyo always catch you in the lie you tell yourself that you’ll never become one of them.

(Pictures taken at Nakano Station, Tokyo in October, 2013)