We roam Asakusa,
We are ghosts of clown.
You can see us,
And we love you;
You are human
of warm summer days
and cold Tokyo beer.
And happy Buddha
is inside you all
in ways we street-play ghosts
will never know.
We pacify the street
and tell the street stories
of how it must love your feet.
You can see us,
We make sure of it.
We are cramps
in a leg you no longer feel,
the laughter that
results from great pain.
You give us hope,
so we paint ourselves,
and cherish our time
on the man-made
crust of the Earth,
and hope that
you give us money
which we can use to buy a new god.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I had never hoped to convince you
of my place as a giant in this world.
I appear as a dumpy man, a man of spent substance,
and I hide in plain sight amongst Tokyo’s Sunday multitudes.
There is a kangaroo on my head, and I’ve never even fucking been to Australia.
I pass as so many gods do, looking down at the pavements of man.
Humans have built a crust encasing the earth
and they think I can’t punch through it
and swim like an effortless dolphin through the mantle
down to the planet’s core where I was incubated and born.
And that’s okay, really, it’s fine.
You took Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad for granted,
and they actually told you all who they were.
I am, at the very least, a god of all Tokyo’s streets
but I won’t make the mistake of revealing myself.
You wouldn’t believe me anyway.
There are more of us in the Tokyo city limits than you might think.
Men seemingly of little actuality and no style
wearing Western baseball caps and Velcro Nike shoes,
sparring with their wives over pension money
and how much shōchū they can drink before izakaya curfew at midnight.
Anyway, that’s enough about me, but you asked.
I’m standing here smoking because I like it.
It won’t kill me.
In fact, the smoke I suck in, process, and exhale
is more pure and sweet than the delivery room air you first breathed
inside whatever hospital in which you were born.
The younger man, calm and still, in the more traditional garb of a rickshaw puller. And the older man, speeding along, dressed in more-or-less modern street fashion…
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013)
All the wide happy and the scattering crowds,
these are which I watch over.
For I am police, I am law.
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,
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.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
Asakusa near Sensō-ji on a warm and dry Sunday afternoon in October is one of the best places to be in the world. On this day, after a long and often furious rainy season, so many relaxed and smiling people were in Asakusa’s streets they seemed as uncountable as the stars.
And there were plenty of street performers, like this fellow, who kept the passing crowds continuously entertained while earning a bit of cash on the cuff. This guy’s shtick was plastic road cones, a fairly ubiquitous symbol of construction, progress, and inconvenience in Tokyo. As he chatted up the crowd, he prepared the cones…
And he kept talking as he positioned the cones above his face and established his balance…
Then it was done. It was, as most of the folks in the crowd probably knew, a foregone conclusion that he’d succeed. There’s no point in trying to make money this way if you aren’t quite good at it.
Still, it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch…
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 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)
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)
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)
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)
There was joy in Asakusa today, but someone wasn’t feeling it completely…
(Picture taken Asakusa, Tokyo (near the Sensō-ji) on October 6th, 2013)
It’s a simple thing and a piece of genius, watching people at Kamiya Bar. And I’ve had the most wonderful conversations in English there, with people who only spoke Japanese.
I didn’t speak to these gents, sad to say; I was mostly too busy swimming in a hootenanny nocturne with my American friends. But if these guys were watching me watching them, they didn’t mention it nor act as if they minded.
Kamiya Bar is good like that, as good as the people, who will love you like a lost family member for an hour, and then forget you after one of you leaves. I didn’t know if these men were brothers, or co-workers, or on a first date of some kind. I’ll never know.
But it didn’t matter. The beer was cold and the “denki bran” (electric brandy) was dangerous. Everyone at the table we shared was having a good time, not a hint of regret showing on anyone’s face. Well, maybe a little bit of regret. Denki bran has a bite. Beer helps with that.
The important thing is to enjoy the moment, enjoy the place. And if you’re at Kamiya Bar with professionals, they’ll know how to help you get far enough into the night to hate yourself a little the next morning.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Tokyo, on May 3rd, 2012. A good time was had by all.)
There are so many
different planets on Earth.
I’ve seen a few and liked them.
I just read about them in the paper.
Because there is no reason
You can’t get good ramen
on every planet on Earth.
I am looking away from you
and I am looking right at you.
That is the Japanese way.
There is no reason to stare.
I see what you do and are.
You can keep staring at me
My wife will be out shopping
with her friends,
and I may again
be wandering these streets,
like I often do,
dressed as a floating-world geisha.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.
I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.
@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.
@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.
I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.
What the hell, shoes are boring. Looking at shoes is boring. But they can suggest to you who the person wearing them is, or wants to be. And sometimes pictures of shoes make for interesting photographs. Perhaps not great photographs, as my examples below show, but interesting. Because, basically, taking pictures of shoes is boring.
A girl and a guy, who looked to be on a date. It wasn’t going to work out, because I think he was too hip and urban cool for her, who seemed too much the Loli-girl type.
I have written about these golden beauties before. I wish I had a pair. All that’s missing are little wings flaring out from the upper sides of each shoe. A cloud dancer, this guy…
I figure she upon the left could have at least painted her toenails. She upon the right was some goth high school girl. High school or perhaps college…
The shoes and stockings of a very reserved but not entirely wealthy woman….
The owner of this foot was drunk and passed out, so the cockeyed angle of this is rather perfect…
And that’s pretty much the best of Tokyo shoes from my last trip.
(Pictures taken on various days on the Ginza Line and the Tōzai Line in April and May, 2012)
You find me charming?
I am charming.
Since there’s no more money in my pockets
all I have is this smile to share with the world.
I figure there’s no point in fucking around
I may as well make it a good one.
I bet the boats today,
but tomorrow maybe the ponies.
In Japan, race horses can be considered fast food.
Heh, heh, do you get that joke?
Good, good for you.
For a foreigner you’re not as dumb as you look.
I have to go home now, sorry.
I have to go home and tell my wife
that my pension is still safe,
but I need more of her household cash to gamble.
She won’t mind.
It keeps me out of the house.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Tonight I stepped out of the Kamiya Bar
Into rain a thousand feet deep.
The Sumida River was, oddly, a cinder
Dry and glowing like a beacon to our colony on Mars.
I saved a month’s pension to come here,
To drink with normal people,
To love the smell of them hating the smell of me.
It’s the price I pay fishing for loan sharks.
It’s the love I have for my fellow man.
It’s the way, I’m told, of the Western Christ,
Creeping up my spine and telling me life is good.
The grasp of genius ever eludes me;
The depth of hatred always deludes me.
I drank, once more, electric laser-sharp brandy
And thanked the deep rain for at least trying to wash me clean.
It never worked when I was alive.
Maybe it will work when I’m dead.
I’ll let you know.
So, shall we meet here again next month?
(Pictures taken at Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo in May, 2012)
The overall comfort found on the seats of the many subway lines in Tokyo is pretty consistent.
Most people, even if they nod off, prefer to sit upright. However, that doesn’t work for everyone.
In the end, comfort is a matter of what seems to work best. Fortunately, being left alone in Tokyo often works best.
(Pictures taken on the Ginza Line near Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Trying to love you in Tokyo
is like three ladies crossing the street,
or waiting for a cab.
And yet with the timing of the lights and the passing of the cars…
it is still a possibly hazardous adventure.
(Pictures taken across from Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Days in Asakusa, Tokyo are marvelousness, the people watching is genius. The surroundings are frequently sensory feasts of color, glory, and majesty. And sometimes the people you watch are the ones watching you (make sure you click on the photo to get a close look).
But that’s okay when you understand the irony sometimes in Japan is it’s the foreigners moving with blurry speed while the Japanese relax waiting on line and looking on. Well, at least I think it’s ironic, considering all the unusable pictures I’ve taken of frenetic, kinetic, fast-moving Tokyo folks during my two trips there in the last four years.
(Picture, featuring @tokyotimes, taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April 2012)
In Kamiya Bar, things move fast…
And that’s just the way it is.
(Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo, May 03 2012. Post updated on March 24, 2013)
In Asakusa two days ago, I just paused long enough to take the picture. The boy behind the plastic filled my head with memories of that horrible TV movie from the ‘70s starring John Travolta. I didn’t realize until I’d seen the image on my computer that the women, like the boy, were watching me too, like I was an odd sight to them.
And I am, of course, totally cool with the idea that they are on the protected inside, looking out at me, the zoo creature.
This superhero is just the four- or five-year-old neighbor boy who likes to play in the street next to our apartment building in the afternoons. I took his picture just a few minutes ago. Since it was raining, he was quieter than usual. I was thankful for that, since I had quite a bit of thinking to do.
Some of the deepest thoughts I have ever had have been in Japan.
One of those thoughts today was that I wished I had a cool Japanese superhero mask instead of plastic Superman when I was five years old. Okay, not a deep thought. But I take what I can get.
At Kamiya Bar you just never know…
…who will share a table with you from one moment to the next.
Updated on January 28th, 2014
I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Super Bowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured a 750ml bottle of white tequila and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.
(▲I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
(As of September, 2013, my old building ▲ was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin.)
I was an American, damn it, watching an American thing, getting pissed on imported booze and American soda pop. It almost made me homesick. I had one of those TV magnifiers back then. I remember zooming in on the instant replays until the TV screen looked like housefly vision. I mixed the whole 2 liters of Diet Coke with almost all of the tequila that morning. I was a chemical disgrace. When the game was over, I watched a Japanese tape of R.E.M. videos for awhile (I still own the tape). And then the booze was gone, and that’s when I decided to go out. I planned to only go to the beer machines nearby to buy some Asahi Super Dry. Maybe a jug of Kirin with the plastic dragon head spout. I loved those things.
(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine. It made “Blade Runner” look very interesting.)
Somehow, though, I ended up in Shinjuku, in a bar near Golden Gai. Or maybe it was in Kabukichō. I think it was a retired salaryman bar, actually. A tout led me there. It might have been a gay bar as well, because all the men in the place were definitely looking me over. I was the only gaijin there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired being there, even though I was at a table with old salarymen who were buying me beers. To this day I remember how they gave me the creeps. So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men and left. But of course I was more pissed off my ass then ever. And so I did the next logical thing: I went shopping for a CD player at Marui. I didn’t need a CD player, but I went shopping anyway. By this time it was two in the afternoon.
This was all happening on a Monday. I was so drunk I knew I wouldn’t be able to show up for work the next day. Anyway, with my drunken, broken Japanese I ended up buying a $600 Nakamichi CD changer from a nice salesgirl. Hope her commission was good. I vaguely recall it was to be delivered from new stock on Tuesday of the following week. I put the CD player on my American credit card.
Somehow, I don’t know how, I ended up back in Yushima by about 5 that evening. I think I made a side trip to Kamiya Bar in Asakusa. I think. But if I did I have no clear memories of it.
(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in October, 2013. My 1988 memories of the bar’s exterior are a lot more fuzzy than the clear image you see here.)
I stocked up on cold two-liter jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near my Yushima Station exit before I finally went home. When I got there, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before passing out around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. As expected, I had a massive hangover. I also had no idea who won the Super Bowl. But I had lots of yummy beer and was too much of a mess to go to work. So I called my American boss to tell him I was still sick, then I packed the beer into a cloth bag and wandered over to Ueno Park around lunch time. I had cold beers in the winter sun that afternoon.
I remember loving that Tuesday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. That was one of my best afternoons in Tokyo.
The next day, Wednesday, I went back to work in pretty good shape. And I realized I didn’t need the Nakamichi CD player, that I had bought it in a stupid drunken fugue state. The exchange rate on the purchase with my American credit card would be insane!! So, I asked one of the Japanese secretaries to call Marui and cancel the purchase. She did it, and there was no problem.
From what I remember now, that Super Bowl Monday and the Tuesday that followed had been pretty good days. And although I still think the Shinjuku bar I ended up in was a gay bar, I was, for whatever ulterior reasons may have existed, treated with kindness and free beer.
And really, when you’re drunk off your ass in Tokyo there really isn’t anything better for which to ask.