Just a hard-working kitchen hand, who was bringing boxes of seafood in through the back door of this Nakano-ku restaurant. It’s across the street from the Life store…
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in November 2015)
Just a guy, a bit too much in his cups perhaps, that I photographed in Nihonzutsumi in Tokyo. He was next to a vacant lot where this liquor monument used to stand. I liked him. He was a nice, chemically happy man…
(Picture taken in Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo in November, 2015)
As I did for my trips to Tokyo in 2012 and 2013, I want to pay visual tribute to the excellent friends I met up with during my 2015 trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s my way of saying thanks to these excellent people, who merely by having a drink or a meal with me added to the happiness and rich experiences I always have when I’m in Japan.
2015 was an odd year for me, full of more downs than ups, but the ups were significant. I finished Tokyo Panic Stories, for one thing, and I hope it will get picked up by a publisher in 2016. And I hope to get back to Japan in coming year and see the friends in the photographs below.
We shall see. Life is a coin you flip into the air that hits the ground and stands stone still on it’s edge. Your actions then decide which way the coin lays on the ground. Or something like that…
Mark, also on Halloween in the same joint in Shinjuku.
Ricardo, taking a pensive break from being in a beer-soaked Shinjuku izakaya on Halloween.
Patrick, leaving the Shinjuku joint.
Nancy in Ameyayokochō.
Thank you, my friends, and Happy 2016.
(Pictures taken in Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan in October and November, 2015)
A small collection of street cat photographs I shot in Nakano-ku, Tokyo in October and November, 2015…
(Pictures taken in Tokyo, Japan in October and November, 2015. There’s another 2015 cat picture here.)
Yasukuni Shrine is a controversial place, but in the Tokyo rain my wife and I found it to have interesting vistas…
(Picture taken at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in November, 2015)
I have been down Tokyo’s darkest streets for you.
I have lived in those streets for you.
Now I require your presence.
So you will come to me,
for I am the king of you,
and I will show you.
The years have done this to me,
put a pregnancy upon my shoulder.
It isn’t pretty, but it isn’t entirely ugly.
There is horrible and organized smoothness to it all.
And that basically sums up Tokyo’s darkest streets for you.
(Pictures taken in Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo in November, 2015. Also published on Scholars and Rogues)
Look at this unconventionally beautiful man, and what he was willing to share with my wife. We were at a festival at the Ohtori Shrine in Asakusa on a Tuesday…
We were strangers, foreigners to him, and that mattered for nothing. When I asked to take his picture, he agreed. Then he saw my wife and insisted she hold his shimekazari so that I could take a picture of her holding it…
The Japanese are often the most warm, generous people you will ever meet.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in November, 2015)
In one of Haneda Airport’s cramped, hard-to-find smoking rooms, me and my fellow smoker quickly glanced at this advertisement. For me it really drove home how full of shit tobacco companies are. I can’t speak for the Japanese fellow. And in that moment at least, I couldn’t recall wanting a cigarette less in my life.
I really need to quit these damn things.
(Picture taken at Haneda Airport, Tokyo on November 20th, 2015)
Late on a Thursday morning, she was walking south on a street in Kichijoji that leads to broad steps down into Inokashira Park. She had style, but stood out because she was a little too made up, her hair a bit over-sculpted. But her fundamental beauty was unaffected, and was something to see in the bright Tokyo sun…
(Picture taken in Kichijoji, Tokyo on November 19th, 2015)
My wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.
And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.
The place is called Yoshida Shōten (よしだ しょてん). This is Getta, the bartender and, presumably, the owner of the joint. He charged my wife and I ¥500 each for cover, and ¥700 apiece for two Japanese whiskies and a regular bottle of Asahi Super Dry. He knew some English, was very accommodating, and had a wry sense of humor. His place had various types of garishly-colored Japanese toys pinned to the walls, and small baskets of packaged sweet and savory Japanese snacks on the bar. He seemed to know what he was doing and how he wanted his place to be.
One of Getta’s customers, who didn’t give a name but whom Getta described in English as ‘a crazy boy’. I sat next to this man, who also spoke a little English. He was quite nice and outgoing, though shy of my camera, and I think he told me he had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, which I won’t name here. But it did make me feel like an asshole for smoking a cigarette next to him. He didn’t seem to mind, though.
Another customer with whom my wife and I drank. A handsome fellow, also outgoing and friendly, but I don’t recall if he gave a name or not. He did most of the singing when Getta had the music playing over the bar’s speaker system. And he had a pretty good voice.
My wife and I were delighted to have the chance to drink in a Golden Gai bar, but it was early in the day for us and after sharing two whiskies and a beer we knew we had to press on with our day. So we paid Getta what we owed him, and said our goodbyes with smiles and our cameras. Despite having lived in Japan in the late ‘80s and visiting Tokyo four times since 2008, I had never had drinks in Golden Gai before. So stumbling across this lively little place was a real treat for me. What made it so special, of course, was the friendly warmth of the people there.
So, thanks gents.
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai, Shinjuku in Tokyo on November 15th, 2015)
One Saturday morning my wife and I were walking through Nakano Sun Mall on our way to Nakano Station. As we passed a ramen joint we saw a man sitting, looking dazed. He had blood around his nostrils, blood-smeared paper on his knee, and there was a woman standing near him speaking frantically into a smartphone.
Our guess was he’d gotten punched in the face after a night of drinking, but we’ll never actually know why we saw this odd scene…
(Picture taken in Nakano Sun Mall, Tokyo on November 7th, 2015)
I hadn’t been to Shinbashi since the late ‘80s, so I was delighted to be meeting a respected friend there for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon. And Shinbashi was what it has always been, a ground zero of sorts for Japanese salaryman life and culture.
But there were presences from another side of Japanese life, and I couldn’t help wondering if the rough-looking men in these photographs were once members of Tokyo’s business suit legions and how they might have fallen from those ranks…
(Pictures taken near the New Shinbashi Building in Tokyo on November 4th, 2015)
Yesterday there was a J-pop concert right in front of Nakano Sun Plaza. The singers were cute girls (ブラック DPG I think) but all the people in the audience were men. Including this guy, who looked ready for the beach and had band-aids on his nipples for reasons I cannot fathom…
(Picture taken in Nakano, Tokyo on November 2nd, 2015)
When I lived in Tokyo in the late ‘80s, the Japanese didn’t pay Halloween any attention at all. However, in the years since they’ve embraced the holiday to some degree, as you can see in the image below and in a collection of my pictures here.
Being on Tokyo’s streets for Halloween was delightful, and the only trick I had to deal with was a tout in Kabukichō asking me if I wanted a sex massage.
(Pictures taken on the Yamanote Line near Sugamo, Tokyo on Halloween, 2015)
After buying cigarettes at a nearby Mini Stop convenience store, I took a quick look inside this izakaya because it still appeared to be open at a quarter past six in the morning. The few remaining customers were yukking it up, and this being Japan I really wasn’t too concerned when the owner of the joint pulled a gun…
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome in Tokyo on Halloween, 2015)
I was passing through Los Angeles on my way to Tokyo. As I was waiting in line to board my Delta flight, I saw this beautifully frumpy old man. And when I saw the yarmulke, I knew, so I left my place in the queue to approach him.
I said “Are you a rabbi?”
“Yes,” he said.
“May I photograph you?”
He didn’t say anything, but lifted his arms up wide in a gesture of acceptance and agreement.
I shot a couple of pictures of him, and when he saw that I was finished he asked me if I was Jewish.
“No, rabbi, but I respect your faith.”
“Respect is enough,” he said, then added “I am eighty-one years old.”
I didn’t respond, but his comment made me wish my own father had lived that long.
By then the Delta staff were about to close the departure gate, so I left the rabbi sitting where he was and hoped he realized I wasn’t rude but just late.
(Picture taken at Los Angeles International Airport on October 26th, 2015)
We are uniform.
We are precise.
We will take you for a drive,
and it will be very nice.
(Picture taken at Haneda Airport, Tokyo on October 26th, 2015)
I had just walked from Yushima and was nearly to Shinobazu Pond when I saw this guy and his overflowing and disorganized-looking cart. Both of us, along with a young couple, were waiting for the light to change so we could all cross Shinobazu Dori into Ueno Park.
After we crossed the street, I followed cart man out of curiosity. We ended up at a public restroom, which I stopped to use. But cart man kept going, so I lost him after I finished my private business.
I could’ve kicked myself for having three vending machine cans of royal milk tea for breakfast.
(Pictures taken in Ueno, Tokyo in late September, 2013)
In 1987, Yushima was my first home of my own.
Yushima was the surgeon that injected Tokyo into the marrow of my bones.
In Yushima I was a free man of movement,
isolated by my eyes and skin and falling in love with people who wouldn’t speak to me.
Tokyo did more than my father to make me who I am.
Yushima was where I slept well, sometimes in a love hotel,
dreaming of the lives I’d lived in Japan decades before I was born.
I’ll be back in Tokyo soon, and I will go see Yushima.
I’ll take a bento to the temple, the way I used to do.
I will eat while I try to sense if the Zen acolyte ghosts I once knew still linger
and are willing to speak to me again.
(Picture taken at Yushima Tenjin, Tokyo in September, 2013)
But sometimes when I was in their bar they fought with each other. Hell, when I took the picture below she even whacked me upside the head…
(Pictures taken in Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo in September, 2013)
On this day in Tokyo two years ago, I stumbled across a little bar in Nakano-ku 5-chome called Freedom. It was a wondrous little place. Finding it and having a couple of beers there made the day one of the best I ever had in Japan.
I intend to revisit Freedom when I’m back in Tokyo in about a month. I hope it’s still there. I want to see mama-san again, and buy her a beer…
(Pictures taken at Freedom in Nakano 5-chome in 2013)
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)
“During my first-contact away mission to Planet Tokyo, I captured many images such as this which clearly show the sentient species native to this planet have invented and regularly utilize many advanced technologies. Here a young female prepares to obtain a form of encapsulated liquid refreshment from a beverage replicator installed on a public linear transportation platform. As local temperatures at the time were uncomfortably elevated, but still within parameters acceptable for this species, it was only logical that the young female would wish to cool herself before boarding the next available public linear transport. These transports are admirable for their punctuality and speed, but when crowded have rather poor interior cooling capabilities.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spock.”
(Picture taken at Nakano Station, Tokyo in September, 2013. 長寿と繁栄を.)
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.