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

Tokyo, Minami-senju

Daruma street panic

A colorful mural in a generally drab part of town, this Daruma artwork in front of a cheap business hotel on Tokyo Route 464 is on the Kiyokawa side of what used to be called Sanya. Route 464 cuts through the heart of Minami-senju, dividing the Sanya area into the Kiyokawa and Nihonzutsumi districts. This depiction of Japan’s beloved good luck symbol looks over all who pass by, including the cops who also look over everyone from the police station across the street…

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(Picture taken in Sanya (Kiyokawa), Tokyo in September 2013)

The Kozukappara Jizō still does its job and forgives the blood of 100 ghosts per day

Centuries past

in the streets of old Edo,

what blood and meat was spilled then…

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…when swords equalized and ended

the lives of whole nations of men.

The blood must be traveling still…

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…past the corpse-rich soils of Tokyo

and ever downward towards

the Earth’s own living, glowing bones.

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This jizō guards over Kozukappara, one of the most historically filthy and notorious execution grounds from Tokyo’s Edo Period (although it ceased operations at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration). The statue caught my eye as I was leaving Minami-senju Station one hot September day on my way to photograph the living, although it can be convincingly argued that they don’t live well.

I didn’t linger here long, and at the time I didn’t know the significance of where I was. To me it was just an impressive statue in a Japanese graveyard. And normally I feel peaceful and calm in Japanese graveyards, but those feelings eluded me here. Perhaps it was the hot and oppressively muggy weather in Tokyo at the time. But very rarely when I am standing in a place and judging it do I feel like the place is judging me back. I had that feeling here, and even the presence of the jizō didn’t make me feel welcome.

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(Pictures taken near Minami-senju Station, Tokyo in September, 2013)

Long-gone Japanese news

There’s no intended purpose for this photo, and certainly no social agenda. It’s just a weathered newspaper covering part of a reinforced glass window in a rundown building in a dingy part of Tokyo. But the texture of the glass and the way it distorts the beautiful Japanese text caught my eye, so I took a picture of it. I think preserving beauty (as I perceive it) for its own sake is, well, kind of a moral obligation.

I just hope the newspaper in this photograph isn’t some right-wing, ultra-nationalist Japanese fish wrapper…

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(Picture taken near Minami-senju Station, Tokyo in April, 2012)

The Lovely Reverie—A small toast

She’d been lovely once, and she knew it. But in the middle of this sunny Saturday morning in Sanya, she was passing sips of Asahi past her lips and cigarette smoke down her lungs. The world turned for her in the company of men, at an open-air stall selling cheap sushi, shōchū and beer. And the look on her face suggested to me that she could drink every man in the place under each flimsy folding table.

And she knew it.

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I Gave Tokyo—A small outpost

In the morning of my end days, Tokyo,

I gave you everything.

Thirty years in your dingy bars,

surfing edamame pod skins in foamy grease

and Injecting the veins in your streets

with flea-flowing whiskies and American peanut beers.

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I was a doorman once too,

at the palace of the Emperor’s gate,

but got better tips at the Imperial Hotel.

(Not the one downtown, the smaller love hotel version in Ueno.)

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So after all of that, I am here,

under this metal children’s monkey skin,

taking in the sun and the exhaust of numerous Fukushima pipelines.

But I have Jinro, black tea and tinned gumption today,

so I guess I just have to laugh.

(Picture taken near Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in September, 2013)

The Sanya Blur—A small passing

One strives for crystal-clear perfection, but the world isn’t circuit-board mapped that way. Sometimes even slow-moving men are a curious blur passing in front of street wreckage or orderly decay. Sanya in Tokyo is a mixture of both, as this man also seemed to be. But the ironic thing about him is he looked better blurry than he did standing perfectly still…

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(Picture taken in Sanya, Tokyo in September, 2013)

Pink Pachinko Flowers—A small intense

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.

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(Picture taken in Sanya (Kiyokawa), Minami-senju, Tokyo on September 19th, 2013)

Winter In Summer—A small imagination

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.

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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)

Wheels Going Nowhere—A small handicap

On the shōtengai in Sanya, a very sad scene. I would have felt like an absolute shit-criminal taking the man’s dignity with this picture, but I don’t think he had any left…

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(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)

Language Barrier—A small expressiveness

Early on a Sunday afternoon, the Sanya shōtengai was all but lifeless. But Seoul Bar izakaya was open and doing lively business. Customers at Seoul Bar tend to be older, are very welcoming, and don’t hesitate trying to get their point across even when speaking to someone with almost no Japanese…

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(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on September 29th, 2013. No, the man in the photo was not angry at the photographer.)

The Most-holy Lie In—A small, harsh tableau

It’s a kind of Christian church down in Sanya, and these men were asleep upon its steps at 10:30 on a Saturday morning.

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If I were more familiar with the Christian bible, and a more talented writer, I’d be quoting chapters and verses specifically-related to scenes of poverty and drunkenness like this.

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As it stands, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking and allow you the leeway to imagine what life is like for these poor bastards in this rough section of Tokyo.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on September 28th, 2013. Amen.)

A Literal “Money Shot”—A small, strange transaction

His hair was as you see, and the nails on each of his ten fingers were about an inch long and filthy underneath. He didn’t have a problem with me taking his picture, but he wanted money for it. I started to give him a ¥500 coin, but he kept saying “paper, paper” in English. I thought he meant a ¥1,000 bill, but he took the coin and kept saying “paper, paper” and was cagey as hell about anyone seeing me give him money. So I took his picture, said I didn’t have “paper”, and left for Minami-senju Station.

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Thinking about it a short time later on the subway, I figured “paper” was probably a model release, and he was weird about the money because he didn’t want the regular folks in his part of Sanya knowing he had money for booze. I’m guessing this guy is maybe a handful when he has a load on, and the neighbors don’t like dealing with him when he drinks. The whole damn thing was just weird.

(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 28th, 2013)

Seoul Bar Fascinates Me—A small dive returns

Welcome back to Seoul Bar, the little dive in Sanya where I found some very interesting stories last year. It’s still rough and its atmosphere hasn’t mellowed in the year and a half since I was last there. I have a longer upcoming story to tell you about that. But the folks who run Seoul Bar and the people they serve are still friendly, so I plan on another visit while working on my Tokyo Panic Stories project. Hell, it’s part of that project. So have a quick look at the place for now. You’ll be seeing more of it…

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(Pictures taken on the shōtengai in Sanya, Tokyo on September 19th, 2013)

Back In Sanya—A small disabled

Sanya, near Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, is a hard place. With a cane and two foot braces, it’s probably harder for this man than most.  Perhaps his feet were broken, but hopefully his spirit hasn’t been.

But he did look tired.

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(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on September 19th, 2013)

The Dreaming Beast—A small drowse

I never jumped in the Sumida River

but I thought about it

many times.

Not to die, but to float,

float down to the sea.

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Where the birds go

to have lunch on spring days

when the trash we leave them

isn’t quite enough to take home to the family.

The floating idea,

it’s all about the dream time,

the closing of eyes,

of being borne by Earth’s amniotic fluid

to the place where we all come home.

It’s a place we don’t want to go

but can’t help desiring.

It’s instinct, like picking our teeth with a knife.

It’s stupid

but we do it

because we’ve been dreaming of

floating down rivers

for so many thousands of years.

(Picture taken at Minami-senju Station, Tokyo, in April 2012)

It Was Happy—A small nosh

It was just a food truck. But on an overcast early Spring day in Sanya, it glowed. It was god-like cheesiness. It was as if an entire amusement park had rolled down the street and parked at the curb. Well, a cheap amusement park. Not all the lights on the truck appeared to work.

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But I didn’t walk away easy. In Sanya I never do. My friend and I were starving, but we didn’t buy hot dogs from the food truck. We found a nice mom-and-pop joint nearby, and had the best ginger pork I’ve ever had. But still, it was Sanya, and I felt guilty about passing the food truck by for a good part of the rest of the day.

(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012. You can read another short bit about food in Sanya here.)

Wander All Your Sons Away From Us—A small lineage

There’s something my great-grandfather

is reputed to have said when he died at 101.

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Loosely translated from late Edo-period Japanese,

he said: “I’m a coward when it matters,

and a hero when it don’t.”

This may be apocryphal family history.

Most family history is.

It’s blended from different sources like bad scotch,

being as it is neither comfort nor condemnation.

But on days like this in the chump streets,

I know how the old man felt.

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Yes, in this place where I live,

I know how the old man felt.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo, in April 2012)

Long-gone Royalty—A small false truth

I opt, for my stellar convenience,

to live somewhere between god and the streets.

I am no dharma bum,

I am the son of Tokugawa courtesans

and the wealthiest Burakumin slaves.

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My family wove silks made of leather,

and spry kittens from straw in the emperor’s stables.

For feudal times my family wove

potato fibers into tatami mats,

so the lord-ladies and children could pull up their floors

and boil them into a most tasty survival soup.

This was when arrows flew

in the wind like cherry blossom petals,

and the servants could not be sent out for meat.

Those days, they were my days;

but in agony, days I never lived.

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They are before my time, even though I am beyond time,

here in this street, with you,

telling you stories of the gods I knew,

and other lies that are not exactly false.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012.)

Author’s note: This man let me take his pictures because the cigarette in his hand came from me. Fair trade, I figured. Also, there is no historical evidence I have been able to find that tatami were made of potato and used for siege food in feudal Japan.

I’ll Call You Yesterday—A small chat

In the sun, gleaming,

I see a strand of spider silk,

connecting a telephone pole

and an Asahi beer machine.

There aren’t too many  of those beer machines left.

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The spider hung a single strand

between the two objects.

Spiders often do this.

They get from one place to the other

then decide to go somewhere new

leaving their strands hanging

like incomplete roadwork in an half-built suburb.

The spider’s strand gleams in the sun, but not completely.

You never see it whole.

You only see part of it glint

when a breath of breeze or gust of wind catches it,

pushing it into the sunlight.

Then the flexible fiber of the spider’s construct

explodes into brightness and light

hanging and shining in mid-air

with, it seems, no support and no gravity for the visible part.

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Shining and incomplete and impossibly suspended.

Most days my life is just like that.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)

Tokyo Has Your Back—A small posture

Stand like superhero in your own time.

Pose as if your feet are the only things

keeping the planet from drifting into

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the burning sun.

Marvel at the birds of the air,

and the leaves on the ground.

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Choke back the tears of joy,

where they drop could make roses grow.

Be a champion, you don’t need a cape,

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only enough frozen pizza

to feed the whole world.

(Pictures taken in Sanya and at Minami-senju Station, Tokyo in April, 2012)

Sanya Squatter—A small passing by…

The times are running,

but I am not.

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I have clip-cashed all my coupons

for extra time and value.

They are in my wallet

and I don’t see me spending them anytime soon.

I am crushed to know you.

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I am devastated that we can’t be friends.

I am simply passing the times of day

for all the multiple dimensions I pass through

before lunchtime.

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I sincerely hope that we never meet again,

and I very much look forward

to seeing you here tomorrow.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)

The World’s Greatest Exit—A small bar tab

I am the king

of nearly all that you possess.

It’s ever and it’s ugly

and very often always a mess.

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Sifting through the tasty,

that’s me,

disguising guns as flowers

and hollow dreams as property.

Or was it poverty,

something belched unto god with a bellows?

It’s hard to say,

time shifts and time mellows.

And I am asleep now at this table,

typing gibberish,

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recalling my waking life in hearses,

smacking myself far away from, and into, the cradle.

Drill a joyful noise into, or unto,

the lord of cherry rubbish snacks,

a grave disappointment to

my cliché skull and its liquid heart attacks.

They’re all normal.

I sit here and take ‘em,

take them for all that I’m worth.

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I’m not cuddly in that regard.

I work too little and

I work too hard.

(Pictures taken in this bar in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)

I Haven’t Spoken That Language For 1,000 Years—A small party time

Welcome to the Never-ending Tokyo Boogie-down Matsuri,

the most officialest unofficial thing of whatever

that you are ever gonna see.

We pride ourselves

on its deeply disorganized nature.

We humble ourselves

before the gods who refuse to attend.

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We all lived by ourselves

down in the depths of the darling sea

near an island they say looks like a battleship.

We found Tokyo by following the sounds of taiko.

We smelled whiskey infused

with the petals of plum blossom flowers.

We have rocked and rolled

in ways even the Devil would be embarrassed to try.

We have surmounted

and become champions of concrete

and smudged glass.

The shiny stuff doesn’t reflect us as well.

We look like fat babies smoked over

hibachi fires made with imported American mesquite.

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But here at the Never-ending Tokyo Boogie-down Matsuri

you can cook in a different way,

on a grapefruit-sized stone from the finest Zen garden,

made so hot it can melt cattle fat and all your regrets.

And a slurry of fat and regret

slides down the sidewalk into the gutter with the rain.

And the Never-ending Tokyo Boogie-down Matsuri

starts all over every day

because it never finishes before it begins anew again.

(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)

One Of My Fears—A small concern


gaijin tourists come through here

taking pictures of me or my friends.

No big deal.

Half the time we’re passed out.

The other half the time we’re asleep.

And the third half of the time

we don’t give a shit.

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I worry, though.

Where do the pictures go?

I think about these things, see.

If they end up in a magazine, or a newspaper,

or some idiot’s book,

a couple of things could happen.

These men I used to know,

men who could sharpen their tantō knives

with their tongues,

they might see my picture and

decide to play ninja for my cold, indifferent guts.

I could deal with that.

These things happen in the third half the time,

deep in the Tokyo night,

when babies crib-suffocate,

lovers take each other’s lives,

and old men cough up all their organs

then merge so perfectly with the concrete

even their friends never knew they were there.

I can deal with that.

But my family,

me gone from them for years,

I can’t squeeze enough nightmares out of my thoughts of them.

They might see my picture,

and decide they don’t care.

Or worse, they might see my picture

and decide to come find me.

(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)