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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone
I was never really alone or ever am.
The city was with me.
A god-pigeon was with me.
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.
It can be just as beautiful as hanami.
There are patterns to all of it,
everything has a place randomly assigned.
As I stood there at Kandagawa,
my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,
I looked nearby to the street,
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)
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.
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…
(Pictures taken in Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo. I previously used the image from 2008 and one from 2012 in this post.)
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.
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.
(Pictures taken at Takadanobaba Station, Tokyo in September, 2013)
“These just became very precious photos to me.”
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.
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
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.)
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.
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013. Photo also published on Scholars and Rogues.)
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.
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.
(Pictures taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013)
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…
(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013)
Behind this glass
you look at us.
And we look at you.
But to you
we are just
some scenery you chew.
Pass by, pass by
we are now done with you.
I come for the soju,
I stay for the pictures.
The entire fucking history of Japan,
and of Tokyo,
is in the eyes, the skins, the frosty cocktail glasses
in these pictures of the lives of the
people on these walls.
I like it here.
(Picture taken in Seoul Bar, Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
I had a finished poem written about this photo, and what might be going through this man’s head. It started with the line “I am stranded in my own blood” and got weird after that. But I scrapped it because I don’t think words can entirely convey how cosmically tired this fellow looked. He looked tired in a way that didn’t suggest utter defeat, but also didn’t suggest he was on an upswing. The kind of tired where you just have to sit quietly for a bit and take the time to consider which limb to move next, which finger to flick. The kind of tired that emanates from you so perceptibly that some schmuck standing near you only long enough to snap a few pictures of you can feel it.
That kind of tired.
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
This is the seriously-no-bullshit soup plate,
Where it all falls asunder into metal,
and I don’t mean angry white men playing guitars.
It’s peaceful, the undying here,
and I’m trying to figure out how to make some art out of this monstrous tranquility.
I throw compassionate grenades,
and perform brutally humane triage.
I’ve crushed my skull for genius
and I’ve banished my excellent demons for you.
There is no distance I would not
throw my combat liver over the Sea of Japan for you.
I will become a great ape for the sight of you,
and holler my guttural mating call
down into Tokyo’s darkest gutters to summon you.
There is dark growth here in my muddy extremes,
and the old Edo gods who once bore you you bear,
and I still think I’ll start drinking before noon today.
It is raining today in Brisbane, California.
I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.
Because Tokyo taught me
to love the space between the drops and
to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and
to love the rain like it was my mother
who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down
the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
In Ueno Park on the last day of September, 2013, a friend and I were drinking Suntory Premium Malts after a heavy lunch in a nearby joint under the JR train tracks. It was a beautiful day, warm but less humid than September had been overall.
As we sat with our beers and watched people come and go, two kids who were obviously brother and sister caught my eye. I don’t have children, but sometimes in watching kids mill about and play I see glimpses of the innocent, goofy things I used to do as a child. These recollections are small treasures of happiness scattered infrequently amongst the other memories of a less-than-happy childhood.
Yes, these two youngsters made me smile. I felt bad for the boy, though, because the slow, delicious breeze blowing through the park that day rapidly scattered the bubbles he created. He really didn’t have time to enjoy them. But my friend and I did. And I’m pretty sure watching this kid made my beer taste better.
This winter is hitting Tokyo hard. Friends in the Tokyo metropolitan area and nearby Chiba prefecture have reported impassible streets, shut down highways, and commuter trains delayed for long periods or cancelled due to accumulations of ice and snow. And this has me windering how Tokyo’s homeless population is dealing with this winter nightmare.
My guess is the city’s street folk are scrambling for cover under bridges, or for warm, dry digs in Tokyo’s larger JR and Metro stations. If that is even an option. I haven’t spent a winter in Tokyo since early 1988, so I don’t really know any more how Tokyo’s homeless and destitute deal with weather like this. Realistically they can’t sprawl out and crash on the streets the way they do in warm weather, as shown in my photographs below. And if Tokyo is anything like most major American cities, there aren’t enough homeless shelters or temporary housing facilities available to accommodate everyone who needs to get off the freezing streets.
But I do know of one organization that I would bet hard cash is doing everything it can to get homeless and chronically alcoholic people into as many warm beds as possible. It’s the Sanyūkai NPO down in Tokyo’s Sanya skid row area. The non-secular NPO is run by Deacon Jean LeBeau, while Sister Rita Burdzy manages Sanyūkai’s small free medical clinic. They’re both Christian missionaries, and are pictured below.
What I urge you to do, after looking through these photos and perusing Sanyūkai’s English-language page, is make a donation to this small but very important charitable and homeless outreach organization. Tokyo’s streets are killing cold right now, and Sanyūkai NPO could use your help in helping others.
–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, 02/16/14
Sanya in April, 2012…
Sanya in September, 2013…
At Sanyūkai NPO…
Sister Rita Burdzy
Deacon Jean LeBeau
(Pictures taken in Sanya, Tokyo in 2012 and 2013)
Perhaps on their way to go shopping, a mother leads her brightly-dressed little girl along a quiet but well-traveled street in Nakano-ku…
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013. This was published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
She passed me.
She didn’t see me.
I remained still.
I didn’t see her.
in the grotesque way
of all the crowded heavens in Tokyo,
I saw her delicate passing
non-substance downloaded on
my tengu-blue digital screen.
(Picture taken in Nakano Broadway, Tokyo in September, 2013)
It was a warm, sunny day in Shinjuku, and I was on my way to meet a friend at Kinokuniya. As I was waiting to cross Shinjuku Dori, I noticed this thoughtful-looking fellow next to me. For the five or six heartbeats I was near him before the pedestrian light turned green, I thought he looked like the smartest man in the world.
(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)
So I have compiled a book of the short stories I have written in the last four years. It is available as Kindle book from Amazon. Here’s is how I have described it:
These eight very short stories, written between January, 2010 and October, 2013, run the gamut from a simple tale of friendship in a Tokyo bar (“Kamiya Bar”) to the horrors in the mind of a warped Japanese family man (“The Water and Plum Dream”). In between are tales of detective work, teleportation, alcoholism, Wyatt Earp, and a sequel to the movie classic “Blade Runner”. Short but bittersweet, “Kamiya Bar and other stories” won’t take long to read, but will have you thinking for some time afterward.
Interested? Okay, then click on the image of the cover below, and get yourself a quick but thought-provoking read….
It’s no great revelation to state that one doesn’t even need to enter Kamiya Bar to see interesting people…
The intrepid barkeep manning his post and watching passersby in Kamiya Bar’s outdoor liquor sales counter. I photographed him previously in 2012.
Just some ordinary guy captured in an interesting pose after he crossed the street. I can’t remember why he was gesturing in this manner.
An old fellow who was wandering around in front of Kamiya Bar. He seemed as if he was waiting for someone, but he also acted confused and disoriented. He may have been intoxicated, and might also have been homeless. I am not entirely sure. But I felt sympathy for him, and I hope he either found his people or had a safe place to stay.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013)
At a playground between Nihonzutsumi and Minowa, some youngsters do what kids do on a fine sunny Sunday afternoon in September, 2013…