Behind this glass
you look at us.
And we look at you.
But to you
we are just
some scenery you chew.
Pass by, pass by
we are now done with you.
I come for the soju,
I stay for the pictures.
The entire fucking history of Japan,
and of Tokyo,
is in the eyes, the skins, the frosty cocktail glasses
in these pictures of the lives of the
people on these walls.
I like it here.
(Picture taken in Seoul Bar, Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
I had a finished poem written about this photo, and what might be going through this man’s head. It started with the line “I am stranded in my own blood” and got weird after that. But I scrapped it because I don’t think words can entirely convey how cosmically tired this fellow looked. He looked tired in a way that didn’t suggest utter defeat, but also didn’t suggest he was on an upswing. The kind of tired where you just have to sit quietly for a bit and take the time to consider which limb to move next, which finger to flick. The kind of tired that emanates from you so perceptibly that some schmuck standing near you only long enough to snap a few pictures of you can feel it.
That kind of tired.
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
This is the seriously-no-bullshit soup plate,
Where it all falls asunder into metal,
and I don’t mean angry white men playing guitars.
It’s peaceful, the undying here,
and I’m trying to figure out how to make some art out of this monstrous tranquility.
I throw compassionate grenades,
and perform brutally humane triage.
I’ve crushed my skull for genius
and I’ve banished my excellent demons for you.
There is no distance I would not
throw my combat liver over the Sea of Japan for you.
I will become a great ape for the sight of you,
and holler my guttural mating call
down into Tokyo’s darkest gutters to summon you.
There is dark growth here in my muddy extremes,
and the old Edo gods who once bore you you bear,
and I still think I’ll start drinking before noon today.
It is raining today in Brisbane, California.
I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.
Because Tokyo taught me
to love the space between the drops and
to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and
to love the rain like it was my mother
who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down
the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
This winter is hitting Tokyo hard. Friends in the Tokyo metropolitan area and nearby Chiba prefecture have reported impassible streets, shut down highways, and commuter trains delayed for long periods or cancelled due to accumulations of ice and snow. And this has me windering how Tokyo’s homeless population is dealing with this winter nightmare.
My guess is the city’s street folk are scrambling for cover under bridges, or for warm, dry digs in Tokyo’s larger JR and Metro stations. If that is even an option. I haven’t spent a winter in Tokyo since early 1988, so I don’t really know any more how Tokyo’s homeless and destitute deal with weather like this. Realistically they can’t sprawl out and crash on the streets the way they do in warm weather, as shown in my photographs below. And if Tokyo is anything like most major American cities, there aren’t enough homeless shelters or temporary housing facilities available to accommodate everyone who needs to get off the freezing streets.
But I do know of one organization that I would bet hard cash is doing everything it can to get homeless and chronically alcoholic people into as many warm beds as possible. It’s the Sanyūkai NPO down in Tokyo’s Sanya skid row area. The non-secular NPO is run by Deacon Jean LeBeau, while Sister Rita Burdzy manages Sanyūkai’s small free medical clinic. They’re both Christian missionaries, and are pictured below.
What I urge you to do, after looking through these photos and perusing Sanyūkai’s English-language page, is make a donation to this small but very important charitable and homeless outreach organization. Tokyo’s streets are killing cold right now, and Sanyūkai NPO could use your help in helping others.
–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, 02/16/14
Sanya in April, 2012…
Sanya in September, 2013…
At Sanyūkai NPO…
Sister Rita Burdzy
Deacon Jean LeBeau
(Pictures taken in Sanya, Tokyo in 2012 and 2013)
Perhaps on their way to go shopping, a mother leads her brightly-dressed little girl along a quiet but well-traveled street in Nakano-ku…
(Picture taken in Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo in September, 2013. This was published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
She passed me.
She didn’t see me.
I remained still.
I didn’t see her.
in the grotesque way
of all the crowded heavens in Tokyo,
I saw her delicate passing
non-substance downloaded on
my tengu-blue digital screen.
(Picture taken in Nakano Broadway, Tokyo in September, 2013)
It was a warm, sunny day in Shinjuku, and I was on my way to meet a friend at Kinokuniya. As I was waiting to cross Shinjuku Dori, I noticed this thoughtful-looking fellow next to me. For the five or six heartbeats I was near him before the pedestrian light turned green, I thought he looked like the smartest man in the world.
(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)
It’s no great revelation to state that one doesn’t even need to enter Kamiya Bar to see interesting people…
The intrepid barkeep manning his post and watching passersby in Kamiya Bar’s outdoor liquor sales counter. I photographed him previously in 2012.
Just some ordinary guy captured in an interesting pose after he crossed the street. I can’t remember why he was gesturing in this manner.
An old fellow who was wandering around in front of Kamiya Bar. He seemed as if he was waiting for someone, but he also acted confused and disoriented. He may have been intoxicated, and might also have been homeless. I am not entirely sure. But I felt sympathy for him, and I hope he either found his people or had a safe place to stay.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013)
Tomorrow night (January 25th, 2014 for those of you reading this after the fact) I am appearing for the third year in a row at Brisbane’s annual Artists Evening of Sharing. I’ll be showing a video montage of images I took in September and October of last year for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project. I’m pleased with this video, so please have a look and leave a comment below if you care to to let me know what you think…
As an additional bonus, I’ve compiled the videos I shot last year in Tokyo for your viewing pleasure. They’re not of the highest quality, and they don’t have any big revelatory importance. They’re just short slices of motion and sound that I managed to capture during some long, hot days when I was in Tokyo and life was good. Because Tokyo will always be a home and haven for me…
Thanks for having a look. I intend to do more videos in the future. Probably. I think.
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.
I like Tokyo cops. Even though I have heard they can be real pricks to foreigners, Tokyo cops have always been helpful and kind to me.
The two officers pictured here were working out of a kōban on Route 464, about a block south of Meiji Dori at the entrance to a street that leads to the shōtengai in Sanya. If you’re unfamiliar with my previous work on Sanya, it’s a rough neighborhood.
These officers must spend their shifts dealing with all manner of ragged and drunken citizens. The boozing in Sanya is an almost 24-hour activity.
Knowing little of how the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department works, it’s easy for this American TV cop drama junkie to imagine that assignment to the Sanya police station is a penalty for police force veterans and a trial by ordeal for rookies. But I hope not, because true to my experience these two cops were friendly and accommodating.
And I think they photographed very, very nicely.
(Pictures taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo in September and October, 2013)
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.
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.)
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)
Yes, the leisure of holding up walls
marks the important things I do
since partaking of retired life in Sanya.
I retired early,
having made a fortune in my my twenties
in shōchū vapors and hangover science.
I invested my wealth
in degrees all Japan’s great intellectuals
could never have received at Tokyo University.
I am smarter than them.
Yet I am unknown.
But you will always find me here.
Here I am holding up walls.
I am ever holding up walls.
(Picture taken in Sanya, Tokyo in September, 2013)
My “Tokyo Panic Stories” Kickstarter campaign was a success, and so was the trip to Tokyo that it funded. And even though Japan’s humid early fall weather and the gritty locations where I did much of my work both kicked my ass, I came away from my month in Tokyo with some of the best photographs and memories of my life. Presented here are 10 of my favorite images from the work I did in Tokyo in 2013. Clicking on an image will take you to the original post in which it was used. I hope you enjoy this work, and I look forward to showing you much more throughout this shiny new year.
I had just gotten off the Tōzai Line after a hard day of shooting, mostly in Sanya, when I saw her. She could have been a Japanese gypsy fortune teller. All she lacked was a crystal ball, and I’m still not sure she didn’t have one tucked somewhere in her robes. Now, seeing unconventional things like Mormon missionaries and goofy advertising tactics isn’t unusual at Nakano Station. It’s a delightfully vibrant place. But this lady, this mystically-fashionable hippie who stood confidently and patiently while I took her photograph, she was something else…
(Picture taken at Nakano Station, Tokyo in October, 2013)
In a small part of the big Tokyo city…
…it takes no casual intention to make yourself smaller.
And there was nothing for it but to respect her effort.
(Pictures taken in Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo in September, 2013)
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…
(Picture taken in Sanya, Tokyo in September, 2013)
I sizzle strange orbs unto you
I fillet your brain with my electric aura surround
I am the secret agent blurring your vision
I am the God of Tokyo
And you can’t capture me on film.
(Picture taken in Nakano Sun Mall, Tokyo on September 11th, 2013)
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…