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

About Dan

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.)


This ride is ending

It has been a shitty year.

My beloved father-in-law died, my “Tokyo Panic Stories” book is WAY behind schedule, my chronic depression got particularly aggressive during numerous week-long periods, I made a few enemies online and in the town where I live, I drank and smoked too much, I exercised too little, and during November and December my wife and I have been sharing a real mucous festival of a respiratory virus, while I developed a painful tooth abscess that recently required a root canal.

So, like the seemingly impatient man in the photograph, I can’t wait for this 2014 train to stop and the doors to slide open so I can jump the hell off of it onto the platform for 2015. And I don’t exactly know where the 2015 train is going, but I am sure I will see my 51st birthday, and the publication of “Tokyo Panic Stories”, and continued love and support from my wife, and Tokyo.

Yep, I will see those things and knowing this maintains my optimism and hope. I’m not sure of the exact how or when on Tokyo yet, but I know I will soon see those things too…

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(Picture taken on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo between Takadanobaba and Shibuya in September, 2013)


Part of my past is a hotel sidewalk where pretty girls still walk by every now and then…

When I first moved to Tokyo in mid February, 1987 I stayed in the Akasaka Yōkō Hotel. My room there was a fine little place, and I stayed in it at my company’s expense for about a month until I found my own apartment in Yushima.

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I hadn’t seen my first “home” in Japan since I moved out of it in late March, 1987. So the last time I was in Tokyo in 2013, I made a point of going to Akasaka to see the place for the first time in over 26 years. It was still nice, still monolithic and rust orange-red.

And I didn’t go inside the hotel, but I lingered in front of it for awhile and admired the occasional pretty girl passing by it like I used to do when I was a much younger man.

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(Pictures taken in Akasaka, Tokyo in September, 2013)


Evening and Ameyayokochō

I am so fond of Ameyayokochō, a place in Tokyo where I spent a lot of time in my twenties. It is so vibrant, metal blue, and beautiful, full of the street-level life and kinetic personal frenzies that are the very blood pumping through Tokyo’s many mythological hearts…

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(Picture taken in Ameyayokochō, Ueno, Tokyo in September, 2013)


Tokyo is my happy place

My father-in-law died recently. His memorial was only a few days ago. And while I was editing some photos of that event, I decided I needed a mental break and began looking at some of my photographs of Tokyo. This is just a natural instinct to me. And it is very comforting to know that the happy place to which I look for comfort in my mind remains a real place to which I will one day return.

But for now, this brief photo tour of Nakano Ward, where I find even the mundane to be lovely, will have to do…

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


Nattō worry

Do you like soy sauce, tofu, miso soup? The humble soybean gives us so many edible wonders that you probably didn’t know it is also used to make what Westerners consider to be one of the foulest foods ever to come from Japan.

It’s called nattō, a food of the Japanese gods made of fermented soybeans, which can never be an “acquired taste” because a Westerner is either going to love it or hate it the very first time they try it. Personally, I have never seen another food spat immediately out of non-Japanese mouths more than I have seen this done with nattō. One friend of mine went so far as to deposit this wonder food in his napkin and dispose of it in a restaurant lavatory waste bin. He didn’t want to leave it on the table for the wait crew, so hideous he thought the substance.

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(Nattō from my grocer’s freezer about to get mixed with raw egg. This mixture is one of my favorite toppings for rice.)

Oh, lovely nattō! I keep a steady supply in my freezer, to appease my frequent craving for nattō’s salty, stanky, gooey taste. The stuff I buy at a little grocery in San Francisco’s Japantown comes in many varieties: minced, whole bean, black soy, whole bean with red cabbage sauce, and others. Typically, though, nattō from the grocery store comes with a small packet of horseradish mustard and a larger packet of soy-based sauce with bonito or other variants. The soy sauce alone is delicious enough to covet, but with these three ingredients mixed together in a bowl, or over white rice, you have some happy snacking. That is, if you like the smell, and the taste, and don’t live with someone who abhors either. My wife prefers that I not prepare nattō while she is in the house, and if I have eaten nattō, she won’t kiss me for about 30 minutes afterward. And I must brush my teeth. And I don’t blame her, because if you don’t like this stuff, you really don’t like this stuff.

Which, of course, means more for me

(This was originally published, as is, on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency in 2005. I reprinted it here on these pages a few years ago, but it was rightfully ignored because I posted it on March 12th, 2011, one day after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Also published on Scholars and Rogues.)


DAN, seriously

It was a clothing store in the Ameyayokochō district in Ueno in April or May of 1988. I got my father to shoot this photo for two reasons: the obvious name of the shop; and memories of David Byrne’s big suit in the movie “Stop Making Sense”, which I’d seen in a South Street movie theater in Philadelphia four years before.

I went back to look for this shop twenty years later when my wife and I were on a 10-day vacation in Tokyo, but it was long, long gone. The memories and this picture remain, though.

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(This image looks crummy because Costco does a rotten job of digitizing old Kodachrome slide images.)


Before things got really bad

For my mother, on her 72nd birthday…

This was 1988, in Tokyo, and my parents came to visit me. My mother was in her forties then, still vibrant and drinking from a cup that was full of the life of the world. I don’t know what happened. At the end of October I moved from Tokyo to my parents’ house in Maryland just outside the D.C. beltway, and everything turned to shit. Early in 1989 I tried, and failed, to get into Yale photography school, and my father’s alcohol abuse got so bad my mom and I had to force him into a rehabilitation hospital. The kind where you don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt, but a cotton robe and a printed plastic and paper wrist band. That was the beginning of a downward spiral that left my father functionally dead on his feet until his de facto death in 2008. In all those intervening years my mother was his muse, babysitter, lover, wife, and emotional triage for a man who took nearly two decades to die.

All those years killed her too, in a lot of ways. Emotionally, anyway. She’s dying for real now, of primary biliary cirrhosis. She continues to pray this hereditary disease does not strike me. So far, so good, my doctors say. Her doctors can’t seem to figure out how long she has to live. Another year or two, perhaps. My mother is resigned to her fate. She told me when I visited her in Dallas last year that life without my father has dried up of any happiness and meaning. They were married for 45 years. She said she has seen all she wants to see and done everything she wanted to do. “I’ve had a rich life,” she said to me. I have known since the day she told me she was dying about a year ago that her mind was made up and it was pointless to try to force her onto whatever liver transplant list her hospital maintains. Such is life. Its wildest variables are always other people.

So I don’t know if this is my mother’s last birthday, but it is her 72nd. I doubt she will ever see this, as my mom isn’t the most digitally wired of people. She has an iPhone but getting her to look at web links on the damn thing is hit and, mostly, miss. So I wanted to honor her a little, with images from some of the best of my days with her. In another place, on another planet, when my mom and I were both younger and had more of our lives ahead of us than we do today….

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My mother in Uenohirokoji, not far from my apartment in Yushima.

 

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Mom and me in my apartment in 1988. I wish I still had that Clash poster.

 

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Mom’s red hair on the Imperial Palace Grounds, against a sea of Japanese schoolgirls.

 

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Mom and me on the ground floor outdoor lobby of my apartment building.

 

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I can’t remember where this is, possibly Ueno near Ameyayokochō.

Most of these images look like crap because Costco did a rotten job of digitizing these photographs from slides that my father shot. I’ve put my copyright on these images because, well, my dad is dead and these are my memories and streets and places. They’re mine.

Thanks, mom, for being an everlasting part of happy memories of the Tokyo that I love so well.


Ladies in passing

It was a beautiful September day and the world was wide open and I was back in my old Tokyo, the places in Ueno where I spent so much time when I lived nearby in Yushima. The day was warm and I felt young and carefree again, in a place that created me as much as did the flawed swirls of DNA I inherited from my mother and father.

In the middle of the wide street, with the whole of the world’s greatest city before me, it was glorious this day and the women in passing were all goddesses…

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(Picture taken on Chuo Dori, near the south end of Ueno Park, Tokyo in September, 2013)


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 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.

P.P.S. This recipe was published on April 27th, 2014 on Scholars and Rogues.


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.)


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.)


My Tokyo Bubble Years—A small ‘80s flashback

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Sister And Subtle Bubble Boy—A small playtime

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.

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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.

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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.


Shinjuku Pensive—A small crossing

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.

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(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)


My Former Address—A small panorama of Yushima

“I used to live in Yushima, near this amazing temple place. It was a quiet neighborhood, and amazingly full of grace…”

In 1987 and 1988, I lived in a part of northeastern Tokyo called Yushima. I had the good fortune to secure an apartment right next to Yushima Tenjin, one of the oldest Shinto temples in the city. It was, and still is, a quiet neighborhood and a wonderful place to live. I returned to check on my old digs when I was in Tokyo in September of 2013. And while I was there I took the time to see if the view from the top of my old building was still as beautiful as I remember. I was happy to find that it is. Click on the image below to share a little bit of the experience…

Yushima Panorama (6000x766)

 

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Yushima, Bunkyo 3-chome, 28-18, Tokyo, Japan (文京区湯島3丁目28-18)


Tokyo, With Friends—A small thanks

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…

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@billyj41

 

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@jljzen

 

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@geekpondering, @Tokyo_Tom, and @warpedgaijin

(Unfortunately not pictured because of beer and poor focusing ability, @gullevek and @tokyorich)

 

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@kengtwo

 

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@tokyotimes

 

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@ourmaninabiko

 

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@Durf

 

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@loveartblues

(Pictures taken in Ameyayokocho, Ueno Park, Nakano, Nihonzutsumi, Shinjuku, and Kamiya Bar Tokyo in September and October, 2013)


A Nakano Nightlight—A small beacon

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.

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(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)


Home—A small return

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…

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ダメ! (No Good!)—A small mistake

It isn’t the best picture I’ve ever taken. I took it unintentionally while this very nice fellow was actually telling me he didn’t want his picture taken. But I liked the way it turned out, so I am sharing it with you. Doing the work I do, one has to have some kind of an amoral streak from time to time…

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(Picture taken near Nakano Sun Mall on October 3rd, 2013)


Pink Tokyo—A small colorful

Maybe pink is my Tokyo color. It brought me a lot of comfort last year, and my encounter with that color a couple of days ago in Ueno brought a wide smile to my face…

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(Picture taken outside Ueno Station, Tokyo on September 30th, 2013)


A Rose Garden Of Memories—A small dedication

It’s a little restaurant called Rose Garden, not far from Nakano Station in Tokyo. They serve western-style food here. I particularly recommend the hamburg set for lunch. And I’ve eaten breakfast here (which is also nice and inexpensive) a couple of times during this trip. In fact, I did so with a friend this very morning.

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But the other day as I was eating my “morning set”, I looked out the window and I remembered how it was my wife and I who discovered this place in 2008. Then I looked down from the window at the empty seat beside me, and I smiled while picturing her face and I was missing her like the world was on fire.

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That’s why these pictures and words are dedicated to her, my love, who would make Tokyo so much brighter if she was with me here now.

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(First two pictures taken in Nakano, Tokyo on September 10th, 2013. Last picture taken in Uenohirokoji, Tokyo in March, 2008.)