I think she was his teenaged granddaughter. This was the impression I got. And she was helping him negotiate the crowded backstreets of Nakano on a Saturday night. She didn’t seem happy about it, but family duty likely left few options for a high-school girl with an ailing granddad. The people passing by them acted like they were in the way. But that’s typical of the way human obstacles are regarded in Tokyo, especially when you’re due to meet friends at an izakaya or karaoke joint…
(Picture taken in Nakano-ku on September 21st, 2013)
Gaudy or pristine, the setting doesn’t matter much to kids when they’re in the show business of their own minds…
(Pictures taken at Tokyo Sky Tree, Oshiage, Tokyo, on September 19th, 2013)
Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.
I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…
Whether smoking by the train…
…or boozing a bit at the station…
…these old men in Minowa were cool and relaxed and probably didn’t give a damn what I thought anyway.
(Pictures taken at Minowabashi Station, Minowa, Tokyo on September 29th, 2013)
In her little lunch place in Nakano Broadway, she was just opening up and getting ready for the day’s customers. As she went about her business, she looked up and smiled even though she didn’t have to.
And that is exactly how the world should work.
(Picture taken in Nakano, Tokyo on October 3rd, 2013)
It is four
or five ‘o’ clock of morning.
Dawn, she is coming.
And I have nowhere else to dream
but in these great gutters
of the mighty champion Tokyo.
I have loved her so long,
she has loved me so bad.
And I am her grand sumo champion,
kicking so much ass that
there is no parity to be consumed.
And there is lymph fluid on my keyboard.
(Picture taken at Seoul Bar, Sanya, on September 18th, 2013)
I passed though Shinjuku several times in September, and once in October. At a particular exit from Shinjuku Station, this man was always there. I don’t know his story, but his life seemed less that perfect. And still people passed him by…
(Picture taken at the east end of Shinjuku Station on October 5th, 2013)
It has never been in my karma to meet famous people. It just never happens to me*. But in 2012 I had the good fortune to meet “Tokyo Vice” author and enemy of Japanese crime Jake Adelstein at a sports pub in Roppongi. That was a wonderful gathering, during which the best-selling author autographed two books for me and I met some excellent people who are now friends. But because we were in a group and Jake was pressed for time, he and I didn’t really have a chance to talk privately.
However, fortune or fate paid me the rare compliment of granting me the chance to meet up with Jake again. We had breakfast together recently at a nice hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. We talked of many things, from cameras to conspiracies, and the hotel bar even had Dr Pepper. As ever Jake was gracious and accommodating and let me take his picture. I suppose it is my way of boasting that I am publishing a couple photos of him here for you to peruse.
Thanks, Mr. Adelstein, and I look forward to next time, whenever that may be…
(Pictures taken at the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, on November 6th, 2013)
* I was within five feet of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens at Ueno Park Zoo once, but I didn’t have the courage to walk up and shake Tyson’s hand. The couple was, ironically in Tyson’s case I thought, looking at the gorillas. This was in March, 1988, a couple of days before Tyson destroyed Tony Tubbs in two minutes and 54 seconds at the Tokyo Dome. I heard Tyson left Tokyo pretty quickly after the fight to avoid the wrath of Japanese fight fans and promoters, but that may be apocrypha gathered from the Tokyo gaijin grapevine that existed at the time.
They were like soldiers encamped between battles, resting within an outpost of rough comfort. Up against a lavatory, which may as well have served as a mausoleum for interring human doubt, these men were surviving in Ueno Park. And it didn’t seem a big deal. Their ritual was normalcy, and their shield a cloak of invisibility woven from the indifference of passersby.
I admired these men their geography and relaxed Saturday pursuits. I felt like I was in the living room of all mankind. The tableau seemed an example of a Japanese concept I have encountered before: ningenkusai (人間くさい), the quality of a person’s odor that makes them very comfortably human to others. I have started to consider that ningenkusai may be as much a visual quality as it is an olfactory one, although the proximity of these fellows to a public lavatory wasn’t particularly unpleasant.
Though indifferent to me and my camera, I admired them. They were some of the most peaceful-looking men I have yet encountered in the photographic work I do in Tokyo. And though it may have been delusion or wishful thinking, I took from them a feeling of peace which lasted long after I left Ueno Park that day and went back to my rented apartment in western Tokyo.
(Pictures taken in Ueno Park, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
Your camera captured me.
Your eyes see what I really am.
It’s okay, it’s okay.
I’m not a harmful spirit.
Some days I just need the company of humans, like I used to be.
I tire easily of parallel Tokyo, the spirit city for the wide Kantō Plain.
No one ever ages there.
No one ever eats there.
Babies are never born there.
Memory is currency there, and sometimes we collect it.
We pass down into real Tokyo,
where for us every day is Halloween.
We disguise our transparency with the solid illusion of flesh.
We lustfully absorb human energy and life,
the kind you share so freely among yourselves,
and we remember the warm meat lockers we used to be.
We come here for the festive, the happy, the joyous.
Never the sad.
Death is for other angels.
Tokyo is our spirit vacation, where we sleep on futon instead of photons.
The lives you lead save us from the eternity we have earned.
We love you, so we visit you.
So do me favor.
Wait a week to publish your picture.
I’ll be back at my desk in parallel Tokyo by then.
(Picture taken at the base of Tokyo Skytree, Oshiage, Tokyo, on September 19th, 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)
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.
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)
It was late on a clear, bright September Saturday morning at Yushima Tenjin, and a Shinto wedding ceremony in the main shrine had just ended. Visitors near the shrine fell silent and watched as members of the newly-wedded families passed over a bridge from the temple to a private chamber in an administrative building.
Participants in the procession walked in silence and held themselves with dignity. The bridge allowed them to pass over the pavement and seemed to temporarily elevate the wedding party above the lesser stations we lookers-on occupied with our shoes upon the ground.
It was as if the bride and groom and everyone with them were on a path of enlightenment between the earth and the sky. As I watched them all, I silently hoped everyone who crossed this bridge in those few minutes was continuing on an established path towards a peaceful and happy life.
(Pictures taken in Yushima, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
I had photographed a hard case at this exact location eight days earlier, but that was on a raucous Friday night. It was surprising to see this frail-looking man asleep against the exterior of Uniqlo at lunchtime on a Saturday. This is a high-traffic area right across Chuo Dori from Ueno Station. The sidewalks were crowded with shoppers.
A few people noticed him, but most did not. And Saturday progressed the way Saturdays do when folks are out shopping in Tokyo.
(Pictures taken in Ueno, Tokyo on September 21st, 2013)
(Picture taken in Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)
The older men were indifferent. But although the young man eyed me with obvious doubt, his argyle socks clearly marked him as the Japanese intelligence agent I had traveled to Nakano Station to see…
(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 9th, 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)
On a street of mostly restaurants and bars just east of Nakano Broadway, she was shopping with some friends her same age. While she was looking at her shopping bags, her friends wandered off. They weren’t more than a couple of yards from her, but she got confused when she looked up and the friends weren’t immediately next to her. But she found them soon enough and all was well…
(Picture taken near Nakano Broadway, Tokyo on October 3rd, 2013)
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…
(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)
It isn’t the best picture I’ve ever taken. I took it unintentionally while this very nice fellow was actually telling me he didn’t want his picture taken. But I liked the way it turned out, so I am sharing it with you. Doing the work I do, one has to have some kind of an amoral streak from time to time…
(Picture taken near Nakano Sun Mall on October 3rd, 2013)
Next to Keisei Ueno Station, on the steps leading up to Ueno Park, a man whose face probably tells you everything you need to know. And you can guess the rest by looking at the assortment of modest possessions on the wheeled cart he had with him. Unhappiness personified…
(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 30th, 2013)
Maybe pink is my Tokyo color. It brought me a lot of comfort last year, and my encounter with that color a couple of days ago in Ueno brought a wide smile to my face…
(Picture taken outside Ueno Station, Tokyo on September 30th, 2013)
I find something peaceful and angelic in this man’s face, even though he was sleeping on rags and cardboard….
(Pictures taken in Tokyo on September 30th, 2013)