I think she was his teenaged granddaughter. This was the impression I got. And she was helping him negotiate the crowded backstreets of Nakano on a Saturday night. She didn’t seem happy about it, but family duty likely left few options for a high-school girl with an ailing granddad. The people passing by them acted like they were in the way. But that’s typical of the way human obstacles are regarded in Tokyo, especially when you’re due to meet friends at an izakaya or karaoke joint…
(Picture taken in Nakano-ku on September 21st, 2013)
Gaudy or pristine, the setting doesn’t matter much to kids when they’re in the show business of their own minds…
(Pictures taken at Tokyo Sky Tree, Oshiage, Tokyo, on September 19th, 2013)
Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.
I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…
Whether smoking by the train…
…or boozing a bit at the station…
…these old men in Minowa were cool and relaxed and probably didn’t give a damn what I thought anyway.
(Pictures taken at Minowabashi Station, Minowa, Tokyo on September 29th, 2013)
In her little lunch place in Nakano Broadway, she was just opening up and getting ready for the day’s customers. As she went about her business, she looked up and smiled even though she didn’t have to.
And that is exactly how the world should work.
(Picture taken in Nakano, Tokyo on October 3rd, 2013)
Down in Sanya, around the corner from the Sanyūkai NPO clinic, there’s a pachinko parlor that’s small and old and dingy and a bit dimmer than comparable places in other parts of Tokyo. It’s a sad place, but colorful in the ways a pachinko joint must be. A row of players ignored me when I walked into the place one day, and I smiled as I thought how each man looked like a honeybee transfixed by the pollen within his own pretty pink flower.
(Picture taken in Sanya (Kiyokawa), Minami-senju, Tokyo on September 19th, 2013)
I didn’t get much sex in Tokyo this year. That is to say, unlike the risqué series of photos I took last year , in 2013 I think I unconsciously decided there were things I wanted to include in my photographic Tokyo explorations other than additional copious evidence of the unabashed Japanese attitude toward retail sexual entertainments. But when I passed this window one sunny September day in Shinjuku, well, I just had to marvel at these sizes and imaginative shapes…
(Picture taken in Kabukichō, Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)
It is four
or five ‘o’ clock of morning.
Dawn, she is coming.
And I have nowhere else to dream
but in these great gutters
of the mighty champion Tokyo.
I have loved her so long,
she has loved me so bad.
And I am her grand sumo champion,
kicking so much ass that
there is no parity to be consumed.
And there is lymph fluid on my keyboard.
(Picture taken at Seoul Bar, Sanya, on September 18th, 2013)
I passed though Shinjuku several times in September, and once in October. At a particular exit from Shinjuku Station, this man was always there. I don’t know his story, but his life seemed less that perfect. And still people passed him by…
(Picture taken at the east end of Shinjuku Station on October 5th, 2013)
It has never been in my karma to meet famous people. It just never happens to me*. But in 2012 I had the good fortune to meet “Tokyo Vice” author and enemy of Japanese crime Jake Adelstein at a sports pub in Roppongi. That was a wonderful gathering, during which the best-selling author autographed two books for me and I met some excellent people who are now friends. But because we were in a group and Jake was pressed for time, he and I didn’t really have a chance to talk privately.
However, fortune or fate paid me the rare compliment of granting me the chance to meet up with Jake again. We had breakfast together recently at a nice hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. We talked of many things, from cameras to conspiracies, and the hotel bar even had Dr Pepper. As ever Jake was gracious and accommodating and let me take his picture. I suppose it is my way of boasting that I am publishing a couple photos of him here for you to peruse.
Thanks, Mr. Adelstein, and I look forward to next time, whenever that may be…
(Pictures taken at the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, on November 6th, 2013)
* I was within five feet of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens at Ueno Park Zoo once, but I didn’t have the courage to walk up and shake Tyson’s hand. The couple was, ironically in Tyson’s case I thought, looking at the gorillas. This was in March, 1988, a couple of days before Tyson destroyed Tony Tubbs in two minutes and 54 seconds at the Tokyo Dome. I heard Tyson left Tokyo pretty quickly after the fight to avoid the wrath of Japanese fight fans and promoters, but that may be apocrypha gathered from the Tokyo gaijin grapevine that existed at the time.
They were like soldiers encamped between battles, resting within an outpost of rough comfort. Up against a lavatory, which may as well have served as a mausoleum for interring human doubt, these men were surviving in Ueno Park. And it didn’t seem a big deal. Their ritual was normalcy, and their shield a cloak of invisibility woven from the indifference of passersby.
I admired these men their geography and relaxed Saturday pursuits. I felt like I was in the living room of all mankind. The tableau seemed an example of a Japanese concept I have encountered before: ningenkusai (人間くさい), the quality of a person’s odor that makes them very comfortably human to others. I have started to consider that ningenkusai may be as much a visual quality as it is an olfactory one, although the proximity of these fellows to a public lavatory wasn’t particularly unpleasant.
Though indifferent to me and my camera, I admired them. They were some of the most peaceful-looking men I have yet encountered in the photographic work I do in Tokyo. And though it may have been delusion or wishful thinking, I took from them a feeling of peace which lasted long after I left Ueno Park that day and went back to my rented apartment in western Tokyo.
(Pictures taken in Ueno Park, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
I’m not an expert on dreams. I’m not really even that interested in the subject except in a limited way that might help me eventually understand the strange adventures my brain often creates within the confines of my skull. I bet hundreds of years ago, before human beings began to understand dreams are natural and have biological origins, that dreams were interpreted with fear and suspicion, violations of whatever spiritual or religious norms to which a given primitive society adhered. I bet hundreds of years ago a lot of people were shunned, exorcised, or even killed for revealing their dreams and seeking to understand them. I’m glad most human societies have outgrown that now.
I bring this up because I’ve been having the same dream for the past three or four months. It’s more of a nightmare, really, because of the darkness and the beasts it contains. But to be honest, the building and the landscape in my dream have become familiar to me, even though I’m still afraid of the things that repeatedly occur there. The intensity of the darkness and the menace of the beasts don’t vary, but I have become almost adjusted to these. And though it may sound perverse, I sometimes look forward to the horrors of the dream each night. I think it is better to dream of horror and know one is alive.
Here’s how the dream typically plays out…
My eyes open and I am standing on asphalt. I can smell fresh and salty sea air. It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to nighttime darkness. There is always a full moon off to my right, a full moon in a cloudless sky with fewer stars than there should. The moon and stars reflect off the surprisingly calm waters of a the Pacific Ocean. The asphalt I stand on is a road, which runs along the edge of a seawall, which in turn runs along the edge of the shoreline.
On top of the seawall is a meter-wide sign fixed to two stout and square wooden legs. In the usual mixture of kanji, hiragana and katakana the sign says “DANGER: Strong undertows! Swimming prohibited for persons 13 and under. Swimmers over 13 strongly cautioned.” And this text is signed ‘Minamisōma City Government’. So I’m certain where I am in my dream is that little piece of the Japanese coast where my parents and sisters and I used to spend several weeks in the summer until I was 13. I never got to swim in the ocean I always see in this dream, but my sisters did because they were old enough. In the dream I always, always, think how bitterly I resented that and how much I hated summers in Minamisōma because of it.
Still standing on the asphalt road, I look away from the seawall sign and hard to my left. Here is an empty lot filled with scattered clumps of natural local weeds and long grasses, growing from the soil and in many places up through small piles of rock that look like chunks of granite. The lot is about 25 meters deep, and there is a blood-brownish six-story building on the other side of the lot from the road. In the nighttime of my dream the building looks dark and menacing, even though I can see light from some of its windows and in what looks like a hotel lobby entry on the ground floor.
It is in this vacant lot that I see the first of the beasts. It is the size of an Asian elephant, but is the shape of a dark grey Siamese house cat. On top of the cat-beast’s head is a bright orange reptilian crest that runs down its neck and back and ends just before where the tail protrudes from its backside. The beast also has large wings that resemble those of a bat, but also remind me of the wings on that movie monster Ghidorah, the three-headed thing that used to fight Gojira in those movies I loved when I was a kid. This cat beast also has eyes, many eyes, forty or fifty of them, red-orange lumps distributed symmetrically on its giant cat face the way the eyes appear on the head of a tarantula spider.
This first beast I encounter is always standing still in the middle of the vacant lot on its four feline legs. It growls but never makes a threatening move towards me. This is a constant in my dream. Its numerous spider eyes pulsate a bit with a dull orange glow while looking at me intently, and the beast always opens its mouth wide enough for me to see two rows of ten-centimeter-long fang-teeth protruding from the top and bottom of its large mouth.
By this time I have been in my dark dreamland long enough for the full moon to have shifted in the sky a few degrees and for a faint but rosy pre-dawn glow to have appeared on the horizon over the nearby ocean. This lights the landscape and constructs around me enough so that I can see more clearly; but overall the surrounding vegetation I see in the rest of this dream remain covered with darkness and hidden from a distance in deep shadow.
I am still on the road near the seawall, looking at the cat-beast. Sometimes the beast is alone in the vacant lot, but this time, and I have seen this before, another of the creatures swoops down nearly soundlessly from the moonlit sky and lands about ten meters away from the first beast. The second beast stares at me, then looks to the first beast, and finally fixes its gaze at the six-story building.
I always walk towards the building from the road. Always. There is nowhere else to go. Thick vegetation blocks the seawall road going north and south away from the vacant lot, so the dream never gives me any choice. The distance from the seawall to the building is about 40 meters, not a huge distance but a distance I travel with dread. I can still see lights in the windows, and I cover the distance to the building in less than 30 seconds.
I realize the building is a hotel each time I reach it. The entrance to the place is at street level, with a smoothly-finished segment of concrete connecting the hotel to the asphalt road I traversed to get there. The hotel itself has many small windows, some of them still glowing with light, in a grid pattern along its upper exterior. Each window is about a meter or so square. It reminds me of a business hotel I have used many times over the years in Akasaka in Tokyo. Like that remembered hotel, the doors of this one are beautiful clear glass. But when I approach these doors they don’t automatically slide open the way they should. The dream never lets me actually enter the hotel. I am always stuck outside looking in.
And each time I am there looking in, I see a brightly-lit lobby decorated in a vaguely English Victorian style. It has wood walls of a dark brown, tables with bronze metal legs and white marble tops, burgundy leather wing chairs, Persian-style carpets, and several of those odd curved-back chaise longues upon which Victorian ladies would faint in old black-and-white movies. In the center of the lobby is a large oak table, upon which there are foods of a typical afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches and the like, and a samovar for beverage service.
On one of the chaise longue, I always see my children. They are dressed in the proper uniforms of the schools they attend where we live in a suburb of Tokyo. They sit quietly reading English lesson books. And their mouths are sewn shut with thick black thread. Almost the very instant I see my children, a boy of 10 and a girl of 13, they look up from their books and stare at me. They are beautiful, except for the constrictions on their mouths. But their mouths are turned upward into strained, contorted smiles while red drops of blood run down their cheeks from the bright eyes I have stared into so many times. It is as if, I always think, they want to show me their love despite the pain. There is always pain, and I look away from them at this point.
It is then that the dream always shows me the long oak and brass-railed bar near where my children sit. My wife is always standing next to it, serving drinks from an expensive bottle of Suntory Hibiki whiskey to four gaikokujin men who wear clothing just like Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone in some old Sherlock Holmes movie. My wife, however, is dressed like a traditional Tokyo geisha, the kind of true courtesan I used to see in Akasaka when I was a young university man.
My wife bows and is perfectly demure as she serves the men their whiskey. The men in turn seem gracious towards my wife, but return to talking amongst themselves after their glasses are full. It is then I always notice that the talking men are bleeding from holes torn in their Norfolk jackets and tweed sport coats. When I look at my wife, who by this time has stopped pouring whiskey and is looking directly at me, I see that the traditional ornaments in her carefully-coiffed geisha hairdo are long, thin knives that appear to be crusted with dried blood. I see further that her mouth was also sewn shut with thick, black thread at some point, but the stiches are now cut and her mouth is drawn into a broad smile which reveals numerous needle-sharp teeth similar to the larger fangs of the cat beasts.
At this point in the dream I always feel a strange mixture of attraction and dread. My wife keeps staring at me, she is more beautiful than I have ever seen her, and her mouth starts to move. She must be speaking to me, but I cannot hear her through the hotel’s immovable glass doors. And her eyes don’t run with blood as my children’s do, but start to glow hot and orange as she continues to look at me. The glow from her eyes becomes so intense that I can see the orange light from them illuminating her entire skull.
She is not smiling now. Her mouth closes. Although she still stares at me, she reaches to her hair and removes the thin knives from it. My wife then turns to the foreign men and starts stabbing them furiously and faster than my eyes can follow. The men express shock and pain, but cannot defend against my wife’s attack. They drop their whiskey glasses and all collapse to the lobby floor, dead upon Persian carpets. Then my wife turns at starts walking towards me, knives in each hand. She isn’t smiling now, and I am truly terrified.
I back away from the glass doors, and as I do I hear growling. I look to my right and see one of the cat beasts staring at me with its fangs exposed and all of its spider eyes glowing the same intense orange as my wife’s. It is always my assumption that the murderous wife creature within the hotel is unable to leave it, and the cat beast manifests itself outside where it can do me the harm my dream wife seems intent upon doing me.
I back away from the hotel and the beast. I turn around, and in the end I am running with the beast now screeching behind me. It never catches me, but in the end I am always running back up the asphalt road towards the seawall. When I reach it, I climb up over it and dive into the waters off Minamisōma.
And that’s always when I awake, jittery and a quite terrified. Fortunately, my real wife is always next to me in bed. All I have to do is look over at her and I know where I am and that she is no monster and that everything will be alright. After the dream, I never disturb her. I let her rest while I get up and go to the kitchen to get coffee and clear my head a bit. When I’m fully awake, I always go back to the bedroom to make sure she is safe where I left her.
She always is, of course, resting as still and beautifully as the first day I placed her on our bed six months ago. She is showing signs of wear, though, and I fear I may not have embalmed her as well and as permanently as I hoped. But it’s okay. If she starts to sag and decompose too much, I can bury her out in the back yard under the plum tree next to the children. And they will all still be near me and we will still be a close and happy family.
Your camera captured me.
Your eyes see what I really am.
It’s okay, it’s okay.
I’m not a harmful spirit.
Some days I just need the company of humans, like I used to be.
I tire easily of parallel Tokyo, the spirit city for the wide Kantō Plain.
No one ever ages there.
No one ever eats there.
Babies are never born there.
Memory is currency there, and sometimes we collect it.
We pass down into real Tokyo,
where for us every day is Halloween.
We disguise our transparency with the solid illusion of flesh.
We lustfully absorb human energy and life,
the kind you share so freely among yourselves,
and we remember the warm meat lockers we used to be.
We come here for the festive, the happy, the joyous.
Never the sad.
Death is for other angels.
Tokyo is our spirit vacation, where we sleep on futon instead of photons.
The lives you lead save us from the eternity we have earned.
We love you, so we visit you.
So do me favor.
Wait a week to publish your picture.
I’ll be back at my desk in parallel Tokyo by then.
(Picture taken at the base of Tokyo Skytree, Oshiage, Tokyo, on September 19th, 2013)
In between what he had been doing and what he had planned for the rest of the day, a lone fellow on an empty side street spent some moments of a crowded Asakusa Sunday afternoon chewing roasted corn and sipping canned chūhai. His clothes were neat enough, but his exposed feet were rough and battered and his bulging backpack indicated he had a more of his life within it than the typical snacks and happy snap supplies carried by regular day trippers.
A lone man enjoying a quiet moment, and it looked to me like he had probably well earned it.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
Cats abound in Tokyo. But they tend to be skittish and as a result are a pain in the ass to photograph. This is the best feline rogues gallery I could come up with in a month. If these aren’t enough for you, I previously published kitty pictures here and here. Enjoy.
(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku, Tokyo in September and October, 2013)
There seem to be a hell of a lot more dogs in Tokyo now than when I lived there in the late ‘80s. A friend of mine explained the recent surge in dog ownership occurred because it was the Year of the Dog in Japan and the rest of east Asia in 2006. This made sense to me, as it was easy to absorb without being intellectually complex. But whatever the reason, it was obvious that these dogs I saw in Asakusa one October Sunday were taking pretty good care of their humans.
A fellow shouting to some nearby friends in front of Kamiya Bar. His dog ignored basically everything.
The lady was having a meal. The man had a cocktail. The dog had pretty obvious desires.
Man and dog at peace. The beer from the empty mug may have helped the man with that some. The dog got treats from the man’s plate.
The same gent and pooch from Kamiya Bar, strolling through Asakusa’s Sunday crowds.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
See this picture?
It’s not a very good picture. It’s grainy, and the sensor in my Nikon DSLR did something weird to the bottom sixth of the image. But this picture means a lot to me, because the bright object on top of this building was like a warm, bright friend on the numerous times I stepped out of my rented Nakano apartment at night to go have a smoke in the street. It’s a picture with good memories locked within each pixel of its form. I just wish it had turned out better. But we take what we can get of memory and happiness.
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
I am no owner of clandestine property,
I take my leisure in ancient streets
that have been paved for centuries
with blood, stone, and alcohol.
All of Tokyo belongs to me
except where I happen to be sitting
every minute of every day in every place of my life.
I can’t imagine how it got this way.
But I live with it,
and I often imagine that it is winter
and I am dreaming of summer, and
I often imagine that it is summer
and I am dreaming of winter.
(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)
It was late on a clear, bright September Saturday morning at Yushima Tenjin, and a Shinto wedding ceremony in the main shrine had just ended. Visitors near the shrine fell silent and watched as members of the newly-wedded families passed over a bridge from the temple to a private chamber in an administrative building.
Participants in the procession walked in silence and held themselves with dignity. The bridge allowed them to pass over the pavement and seemed to temporarily elevate the wedding party above the lesser stations we lookers-on occupied with our shoes upon the ground.
It was as if the bride and groom and everyone with them were on a path of enlightenment between the earth and the sky. As I watched them all, I silently hoped everyone who crossed this bridge in those few minutes was continuing on an established path towards a peaceful and happy life.
(Pictures taken in Yushima, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
Kamiya Bar in Asakusa is one of my favorite places in Tokyo, and has been since the late ‘80s. I have written about it and photographed it numerous times in the last five and a half years. During my most recent trip to Tokyo, I was delighted to have a last-minute chance to visit the place one more time to have a quick drink with a friend.
But something had changed.
Oh, the strangers you meet and sit with are still very colorful and very friendly. That has not changed and probably never will.
But the first floor, which is always where I meet people for drinks and snacks, is now partially obstructed by a white-walled structure.
Kamiya Bar management must be remodeling the place. To be honest, I was surprised by the walls right in the middle of the first floor drinking areas.
It was a bit like having a white version of the “2001: A Space Odyssey” monolith in the middle of the room.
But even though the white walls have diminished available space for customer seating, the loud and happy ebb and flow of Kamiya Bar seems the same as ever.
This white tunnel near the front and the lavatories seemed particularly odd. I have no idea when the changes behind these walls will be completed.
Thankfully, Kamiya Bar is still Kamiya Bar, and the connection it provides between me and some of my happiest days in Tokyo is still as strong as ever.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
I got back from my 2013 trip to Tokyo a week ago. It feels like a month, but only in the sense that I have enjoyed returning to Brisbane more this time than after my previous two trips to Japan in the last 5 1/2 years. I’ve been visually drinking in my surroundings, catching up with favorite TV shows, and spending more quality time with my wife than our busy schedules typically allow. But part of the grind of coming home after a month in Japan is that I am still getting over jetlag. Another part of the grind is the daily reminders of the numerous things that piss me off about living in the United States, such as the GOP-induced government shutdown. But this really isn’t a political publishing venue and I have no real interest in, nor talent for, writing about such things anyway.
So to give my feelings physical substance and to make myself feel better today, I took this picture of my cat Indy. His facial expression is eerily similar to my own…
I had photographed a hard case at this exact location eight days earlier, but that was on a raucous Friday night. It was surprising to see this frail-looking man asleep against the exterior of Uniqlo at lunchtime on a Saturday. This is a high-traffic area right across Chuo Dori from Ueno Station. The sidewalks were crowded with shoppers.
A few people noticed him, but most did not. And Saturday progressed the way Saturdays do when folks are out shopping in Tokyo.
(Pictures taken in Ueno, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
(Picture taken in Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)
The older men were indifferent. But although the young man eyed me with obvious doubt, his argyle socks clearly marked him as the Japanese intelligence agent I had traveled to Nakano Station to see…
(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 9th, 2013)