Between Brisbane and Japan, some whimsy and Dan (All contents © 2013 by Dan Ryan, unless noted)

Tokyo, Shibuya

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.)

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The Giant Pink Bikini Women Of Shibuya—A small large

You can’t pass a day

of insane madness,

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in this world encrusted on water,

without wondering

how much fertilizer it takes

to grow the huge watermelons which,

anthropologists have observed,

are the only food eaten by

The Giant Pink Bikini Women of Shibuya.

(Picture taken in Shibuya, Tokyo during Golden Week, May 2012)

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Passing Shibuya—A small big kitty and people

It was the first week of May in Shibuya, Tokyo, near the end of  Golden Week. The shopping crowds were heavy, and you could hear the right-wing nationalists at Shibuya Station spewing enough loud propaganda to make Hachikō melt on his pedestal.

But there’s something about Shibuya during the middle of spring. The air is warmer and the people are more casually dressed and free with their smiles and movements. It’s easy to pick a spot to stand and watch not only the people but the places they move past. So I found myself across the street from a giant funky kitty. It seemed as if both of us were watching the people passing through the wedge of sunshine warming the crowded street late on a Saturday afternoon.

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I stood there for awhile, taking my measure of the movement of people. What made me happy was I was totally alone in one of the most crowded places on Earth. I like that feeling. Everyone moving by ignored me and the giant kitty.

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It was a good day to be alive, to be in Tokyo, and to be on the thin line between shadow and sunshine.

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(Photos taken across from the Big store in Shibuya in May, 2012)

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Tokyo Do Change—A small temporal observation

I had both a curious and a funny moment today that I did not expect. Right now, I’m too tired from lunching with friends in Roppongi and visiting the Popbox Jump! event at Shibuya Loft to throw anything deep, hard-hitting, or poignant at you. The curious moment was when I went looking for a shop (shown in the second picture below) that my wife and I saw on our visit four years ago. I wanted to photograph it again, but do a better job. Well, that shop isn’t there anymore. The shop in the picture immediately below is.

Looks like just another hip, urban Tokyo clothing shop. I didn’t find it interesting. This town is lousy with hip, urban clothing shops.

May, 2012

But I was, for lack of a better imagination, rather blown away that the shop from four years ago was gone. It was not very dramatic, but was definitely a “hit-me-over-the-head” moment. Tokyo is dynamic, organic, changing, and fleeting. The low level of change, and even permanence, in the parts of the city I know well is truly offset by the rising and falling of structures, and the coming and going of businesses. This is just one example. Another is that my favorite Shibuya Indian restaurant in the ‘80s is now a Shakey’s Pizza.

March, 2008

The funny moment today came when the tout for the Hood shop came up to me in the street. She asked me in English if I liked how the shop looked. I started to tell her that her shop used to sell condoms. She didn’t know the word condoms. So I thought about how to explain. Because her English was good, I thought about trying to put an imaginary condom on my right index finger and telling her “To protect during sex, you know?”

But then it occurred to me that talking about sex and making a clinical explanatory gesture that could be seen as obscene to a young woman could get me yelled at or beaten with a police nightstick. So I stopped myself from doing something potentially really stupid. Rather than attempt to explain ‘condom’, I told the Hood tout girl never mind and to have a nice day.

And I walked towards Shibuya Station. And that’s it.

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