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)
I was waiting for friends in Ueno, in the street next to a big toy store called Yamashiroya. He was there too, talking to himself or the air. He looked rough as hell and put out his hand when I asked if I could take his picture. I gave him the four cigarettes in the remainder of the pack I had.
We were both still waiting there a few minutes later, me for my friends and he for whatever wisdom or truth he expected the breeze to blow his way. He was enjoying one of my smokes. So I decided to give him a ¥500 coin, though it was an odd thing to do. Tokyo street folk don’t generally ask for nor accept money.
But in the moment it just seemed to make things better for both of us. So I rolled with it.
(Pictures taken in Ueno, Tokyo on September 13th, 2013)
Kids are cool. I don’t always relate well to them even though I used to be a school teacher, but kids are cool. The small but agreeable crew pictured below have taken a liking to me and enjoy coming by to say hello when the glass door of the apartment I’m renting is open. This might have something to do with that fact that I gave this guy a toy earlier today. Hell, they’re more entertaining than Japanese TV. And they remind me of one of my favorite songs. So in my book the kids are alright…
(Picture taken in Nakano, Tokyo on September 15th, 2013)
This pretty cool kid, the Nakano Bicycle Defender from my work last year, was in the street outside my apartment playing with his friends. He let me go about my business, but made it very clear who the master of the asphalt was. And I had no choice but to respect that.
(Picture taken in Nakano, Tokyo on September 15th, 2013)
I’m a huge fan of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design collective Devilrobots. I’ve paid specific tribute to them on these pages a couple of times, which you can see here and here. And in May, 2012 I got to visit the Devilrobots’ offices in Tokyo and hang out with Kotohiro Nishiyama, who is really the just nicest man. And because I’m a fan, possibly even a borderline obsessive, I sometimes post pictures of items from my Devilrobots collection on Facebook. What follows is a collection of my favorite and most “liked” Devilrobots Facebook photos. Perhaps after looking through them, you might understand why I love the color, attitude, and anthropomorphic whimsy of their creations. Enjoy.
Be@rbricks, also by Medicom. First two are Series 3.
(All pictures taken at the Abiko Free Press Brisbane Bureau in Brisbane, California)
My friends took me to lunch today. We went to my favorite noodle and donburi shop…
The green tea was beautiful. I wanted to get in it like it was a hot onsen bath…
My favorite lunch is oyakodon. I had a giant bowl all to myself. I was very hungry…
After lunch, my friends went shopping. I went to see an old friend…
In Japantown, there is a beautiful concrete pagoda. We went to see it. The sky was very blue…
To help save forests, I read news online. This newspaper machine was a strange sight to me…
I am very green, so I picked up trash on the way home. San Francisco can be very dirty…
But I am relaxed now and home with my friends. We do yoga. It was a good day.
Sometimes Tokyo is the cigarette you toss
into an ashtray full of garbage and water.
Sometimes Tokyo is the restaurant
you pass by every day but never go in.
Sometimes Tokyo is toys you see in a school display
while walking from Nakano Station to Shinjuku.
(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku and Shinjuku-ku in April, 2012.)
Anpanman and a bunny, dangling from a bike in the rain. The bike didn’t look discarded, but it didn’t look too well cared-for either. I imagined a happy child in the seat, riding in the sunshine with his father pedaling through warm air in a better part of town.
There are families in Sanya, of course, not just hopeless drunks and desperate men hiding from loan sharks and debt. But it is a hard place to casually walk through in the rain. The rain doesn’t seem to ever purge the place, even though there are reminders that children are around who have toys to make them happy.
(Photo taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in April, 2012)
These replica guns, in a Tokyo toy store, they bothered me.
But maybe they shouldn’t have.
After all, I’m an American.
(Pictures taken in Nakano Broadway in April, 2012.)
It was the Monday of Golden Week, and he was sitting quietly by himself playing with a puzzle-form toy at the end of a table on a sidewalk in Ueno. He reacted as if I had distracted him from the most important thing in the world, but also as if he was slightly bemused by my presence.
I was glad when he relaxed and smiled a little for me. During my infrequent adventures as a six-foot tall American in Tokyo, I have mostly seen kids get tense around me, which means they’re uncomfortable. Or they stare at me like a I’m a space alien in a human suit, which makes me uncomfortable. But this boy didn’t tense up or stare, so I thanked him profusely and sincerely in my broken Japanese for letting me take his picture.
Upon reflection, though, I wish he hadn’t flashed me the peace sign. Because I have since given it some thought and decided we Americans have not been too good about earning that salute lately.
(Pictures taken on April 30th, 2012 in front of Yamashiroya, an amazing toy store across from Ueno Station and very close to the Ameyokocho marketplace.)
I am midway between 48 and 49 and still enchanted with and charmed by toys. I suppose in a perfect world I would be over my love of toys by now. But I don’t want to live in that world.
Happiness is where you find it, even it it’s in a bit of plastic or vinyl molded to look like a non-existent creature. And when it comes to such toys, my greatest admiration is for the weird, whimsical and very Japanese toys designed by my personal heroes, the Devilrobots.
Mannnn, I just love their stuff. I have quite a bit of it here at the house, though modesty forbids posting pictures lest it be considered a vulgar display. I’ve been a fan for about 10 years, but Devilrobots have been around since 1997. I can’t quite remember exactly how I stumbled upon the toys and trinkets they design. But I do remember making a conscious effort to meet up with my heroes when I was in Tokyo in April and part of May this year. And, lucky me, on May 3rd, 2012 I got to travel to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward and have a look inside the creative world of a small group of geniuses.
And I’d like to share that world with you. So have a look, and enjoy.
My host, Kotohiro Nishiyama, is really just the nicest man. That’s him in the picture below. Due to scheduling conflicts, Koto-san was the only team member who was able to meet me and let me look around Devilrobots’ headquarters. And he didn’t just meet me at the office like anyone else might have. He met me in the rain at Kagurazaka Station on the Tōzai Line and guided me to the Devilrobots’ building near Edogawabashi. He was such a gentleman, letting me wander around as I wished while he did some work in his office. And at one point we sat for a good spell at the Devilrobots’ coffee table (pictured later) and had some cigarettes and talked of toys and the time we both spent in Minnesota and some silly things I don’t exactly recall. His company was delightful and his hospitality was wonderfully generous. And he’d never even met me before.
After meeting Koto-san, well I went a little nuts and took pictures of almost everything I saw. And it started with this To-fu Oyako display right outside the Devilrobots’ front entrance.
Detail from the previous photo.
A beautiful assortment of wonderful characters greets you when you enter Devilrobots.
The reception area and lounge. No receptionist nor sign-in book here. Note the coffee table in the lower right.
Marshmallow princess Maffy, my wife’s favorite character. This is to the right as you enter the Devilrobots’ front door.
The fully-loaded shelves of toys in the Devilrobots’ lounge will blow your mind.
And on the floor, there are Japanese-style To-fu Oyako slot machines.
Devilrobots have designed a whole menagerie of vinyl creatures and characters. The pink figure in the center is a To-fu Oyako x Gloomy Bear mashup.
A crazy-wonderful Devilrobots version of Mickey Mouse.
The entrance foyer, because I forgot to show this previously. Sorry. I got distracted.
The Devilrobots’ Jedi coffee and meeting table.
Just a trinket on the table which Koto-san showed me.
A prototype for the new To-fu Oyako color vinyl figure series. (The figures are now available from Play Imaginative.)
To-fu vinyl and ice water await patiently for attention and consumption.
The two great Devilrobots characters, To-fu Oyako and Evirob, in vinyl on the table. The Evirob figure is also available from Play Imaginative.
Koto-san and I, we had a few cigarettes together when I took a couple of breaks from taking pictures.
Koto-san looks a little like a Japanese Abraham Lincoln.
And except for the unhappy expression, this hirsute to-fu sculpture kind of looks like Koto-san.
To-fu Oyako happy figure madness.
To-fu Oyako “Toy Story” UFO catcher alien.
Devilrobot’s Medicom Toy 100% Be@rbricks. These are kind of rare. I’m lucky to have all three (the first one is the same as the third, but showing the back of the head.)
There is whimsy at every turn where the Devilrobots live.
In a snow globe of his own, lonely Kiiro-chan.
400% be@rbricks and other figures. Does the one on the left look familiar?
A prestigious award that lead designer Shinichiro Kitai won with his To-fu Oyako character in a design competition before founding Devilrobots in 1997. I would have met Shin-san but for the scheduling conflicts, both his and mine but mostly mine, mentioned earlier. I regret this missed opportunity, but I hope to compensate by meeting Shin-san the next time I’m in Tokyo.
Well, that’s it.
I shot a hell of a lot more photos than the ones you’ve just seen. But even the internet can only hold so much data. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour and commentary from me about my wonderful time visiting the Devilrobots.
(And Koto-san, from me to you I say thanks. Meeting up with you that afternoon in Shinjuku was one of the happiest experiences I’ve had in Japan.)
Every picture tells a story, and with me the story is usually boredom.
I’ve been shooting photographs of varying interest and quality since 1975. That was the year my father brought two brand-new Olympus SLR cameras to our home in Richardson, Texas, after one of his first business trips to Tokyo, Japan. The cameras, an OM-1 and an OM-2, were for him, of course. The best toys always were. But he let me use the OM-1, since it was a less complicated and costly device because it only had manual light-meter reading. After we moved to Singapore in 1978 and my passion for photographing that city became demonstrable, dad let me have the OM-1. He eventually let me have the OM-2 as well, after he upgraded to a Nikon F3 High-Point in 1980, when that camera was first available in Singapore and Southeast Asia. And some years later, right before I moved to California in 1989, my dad gave me the F3 too, since his interest in photography had begun to wane as the years passed and the stacks of fully-loaded Kodak Kodachrome and Ektachrome slide carousels grew larger and less manageable.
Anyway, enough of that. The point is that when I take a break from my work, or have some down time, or get distracted by something shiny, I grab one of my current cameras and try to produce something interesting or useful from the distracting stuff I hyperactively perceive all around me all the time. As I said, I get bored, basically, and use the camera as an excuse to fuck off.
So that’s it. Take your time, have a look around, enjoy.
For the sake of a faster loading time in your browser, I’ve left the images on this page small. Click on each one to see it in its original size. You will notice that the original images are of two sizes. This is because some were taken with an older Canon PowerShot S330 set at a medium resolution, while others were taken with a recently-acquired Canon PowerShot A110 IS set at a higher resolution.
Descriptive captions precede each photo.
In vino veritas at PJ’s, a now-defunct San Francisco Cajun-Creole restaurant.
Shiny things, in this case chunks of glass left in my street by careless garbage collectors.
Toys in my office, ever vigilant, ever watchful.
I monitor San Francisco very closely.
Joaquim de Almeida is a favorite actor of mine, particularly when he’s holding a gun.
It looked to me like an escape pod from an odd alien spacecraft, landed gently before my house.
A haphazard and (to me) contrived-looking shot, playing with depth of field and color.
This Devilrobots To-fu Oyako unhappy Santa Claus Christmas plush toy seems to say “Merry Fucking Christmas!!”
I don’t really have an explanation for this. I was bored, and was throwing out the razor anyway.
The toy, named Sumo, looks like it is about to be enveloped by atomic fire.
This is Clive, a pewter hedgehog. A gift from my mother, who collects elephant icons.
I love Omodaka, but can’t remember why I shot this image of my iPod. Roll with it.
Harrison, one of the beloved cats I share with my wife.
Daffy is my idol. Daffy is my muse. Daffy is god. And god comes in different sizes.
Medicom Toy be@rbricks of Spock and Iron Man.
Just a healthy part of any nutritious breakfast. Actually, it was for ramen, I think.
Just more toys, but in an oddly dramatic light.
California Department of Forestry chopper, buzzing my neighborhood looking for fire hazards.
A Tony Tony Chopper pin from Japan. Chopperman is another of my animated cartoon heroes.
The telephone/cable TV/electric/street light pole next to my house.
Like I said, I get bored. When I do, flowers sometimes suffer.
A hanging metal lamp outside my front door.
I have no idea why the chair armrest is the only thing in focus, but the result is perfect.
The Chopperman pin, again. And part of a ramune bottle.
Vinyl Disney toys, presents from my wife, in a light I had heretofore not seen them.
Indy, the other beloved cat I share with my wife. Indy sometimes literally gets right in my face.
Fish sticks. That is, edible sticks made of fish. We like them.
This made me think of that Toto song.
A dead part of a plant, throwing a familiarly-shaped shadow. The best still-life photos are never staged at all.
(And that’s the end. For now. This may be an ongoing series. Thanks for looking around.)
As usual, my buddy and I weren’t red carpet paparazzi, we were security.
It was the only time I could ever see her, ever get close to her.
She had her new beau on her arm tonight. It was my sworn duty to ensure their safety.
I’d lay down my life for her. I always would. I wanted her, would never again have her, and that’s just how it was.
I keep an archive on my computer of all the photos I have taken with my current cell phone. And I probably shouldn’t save as many as I do. Too many of them are, like the photos below, on the ragged edge between garbage and art. Oh well, no one hates my work as much as I do. Short descriptions follow each image.
Really annoying Japanese actress from Wasabi, starring Jean Reno.
I sorta, kinda collect World War 2 propaganda cartoons. This is from one of my favorites, Daffy the Commando.
Walken, on my iPod. ‘Nuff said.
An actually very beautiful, sad and scary Halloween puppet I made for my wife a couple of decades ago.
The greatest actor of my generation, saying one of his greatest lines. From the film Into the Sun (which I am not ashamed to say I have on DVD).
Science! with Doc Brown in the form of a Medicom Toy kubrick.
Quite often the thing you need to do….
….is the last thing you usually consider.
And that is: Always watch out for the toys.