I’m home alone on Friday night after a trying week, trying due to too much exposure to, and consideration of, both the presidential election and the effort I put into being a writer, a photographer, and a fledgling business owner versus the financial reward I have thus far enjoyed from any of these creative things. The fiscal reward so far hasn’t been much.
I could proceed as if this was going to be me bitching about these numerous and myriad things, but there are too many numerous and myriad things to bitch about. So I figure finding some level of contentment in the state of this living is more rational, logical, and, frankly, humane. It’s just easier on me to do so, and is probably good for my cholesterol or some goddamn thing.
So my wife is off now at a social engagement to which I was invited but in which I chose not to participate. The television is on, tuned to some Japanese game show which I don’t understand but am enjoying nonetheless. I’ve had a bit too much Dr Pepper, so my jelly-bean brain is off its moorings and bouncing around the inside of my skull just a little bit. Hell, I’ll probably have another. I don’t drink the adult stuff alone anymore. There was never any money in it. Besides, I’d rather be in Japan drinking with some of you.
And it’s all pretty damned un-bad. I’ll get back to Japan eventually, my wife lovingly understands when I’m feeling anti-social, and I figure the creativity and business will only grow in depth and value as long as I maintain an objectively-true confidence that I’m doing good works and that I love what I do now more than anything else I have ever done. Because I think both are true.
So there you have it, my solitary Friday night. As for the pretty girl in the picture, well, she’s kind of a reflection of me. Because I can honestly say, whether you know me personally and believe this or not, that in a small corner of my mind there is always a happy, cheerful person clapping and smiling after winning a silly game show in front of millions of people.
Yep, it’s been that way for decades. And it’s good shit, Maynard.
You’ll figure it out…
Red City is a visual poem or “artoon” I devised when I was doing graphic design and marketing work for EDS Japan in Tokyo in 1988. Red City isn’t hand-drawn. Using an IBM PC at my job (an AT or an XT, I forget which), I drew each panel in a program called GEM Draw+. Then I printed the entire work on a Hewlett-Packard 7475A plotter. I still have the original GEM Draw+ files on a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk. But with no way to read the disk anymore, I can’t access the files.
I created Red City for myself, out of boredom (my EDS job was not always demanding). But I showed the “artoon” to my Canadian girlfriend, who thought it was marvelous. She convinced me to enter it in a UNESCO-sponsored art show in Ueno, Tokyo, which I did.
Admission to the show was ¥500. Yeah, I know. The price I put on Red City for this art show was dipshit insane. I was 24 and didn’t know what I was doing.
This is the certificate I received for participating in the art show, which was in October of 1988. My name is on it in katakana. Honestly, I think I could have submitted a kindergartener’s refrigerator drawings and been accepted. But after all these years I am still very proud of Red City, of this certificate, and of the effort I made to participate.
And I hope you have enjoyed exploring Red City. Keep in mind, I created this in Tokyo, where isolation and loneliness was, and still can be, very profound. Put Red City in that context, and take from it what you will.
(Also published in modified form on Scholars and Rogues.)
It’s easy to be a holy man on the top of a mountain—Larry Darrell (Bill Murray), “The Razor’s Edge” (1984)
Twenty-five years ago this week, my Australian boss from my job at the Tokyo office of an American computer services company convinced me and a co-worker it was a good idea to scamper up the side and to the top of Mount Fuji. And on August 16th, 1987 that’s exactly what we did. It wasn’t a big life-changing thing, but I have fond memories of the event and of my old boss. So with the passage of a quarter century I think I should commemorate going up the mountain just a little. I am as ambivalent about telling this small story as I was about getting to the top of Mount Fuji. To me, it was just something to do to get out of Tokyo during a typical sweltering August weekend. And for the first and, so far, last time in my life, I enjoyed hanging out with a boss and making him happy. So I agreed.
We left on Saturday, August 15th. Since I lived in Yushima in northeast Tokyo and my fellow travelers were in more centrally-located Roppongi, we met at our company office, the Ando Building in 3-1-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. From there we drove southwest out of Tokyo to Mount Fuji in my boss’s company car, which he wouldn’t let me drive. I got bored waiting in the car for my boss to make a couple of overseas phone calls at the office, and took the picture ^ above.
When we got to Fuji we hiked up the side of the mountain to a sleeping hut about 30 minutes from the summit, to spend the night. We wanted to arise before dawn and walk to the summit to see the sun rise. As I recall, it took us four or five hours to get to the hut, which was basically four wood walls with a three-person futon inside and a squat-toilet outhouse. When we got there, it was almost sunset. So we each drank a couple of large cans of Asahi Super Dry, I think, and passed out fully clothed together in the futon until about four the next morning. The picture ^ above is the three of us freezing our asses off on the way down from the summit. I’m on the left, my boss Andy the Australian is on the right. The guy in the middle is the co-worker, a really nice guy whose name I cannot remember.
And ^ this, basically, is what you see when you stand near the torii on top of Mount Fuji at five o’clock in the morning and look to the east. This picture is old and isn’t the greatest version of the sunrise I beheld. There is a better one here. But the sunrise view from atop Fujiyama is very beautiful, and I understand why people consider it holy. There were a lot of apparent religious types on top of Mount Fuji that morning, and hippies and New Age-types as well. It was the Harmonic Convergence, you see, and in Japan the top of Fujiyama was a white-hot location to participate in the event. In fact, I think it was a big reason my boss Andy wanted to hike up the mountain in the first place.
So, we looked around for about half an hour, watched the sun come up, felt in vibrating synchronous harmony with the cosmos and our fellow man and whatever. On the way down, I took this ^ picture of Andy the Australian. He was a great boss, and it was an experience I treasure. But I can say I’ve been to the top of Mount Fuji and don’t really need to do it again. I’d rather go back to Lake Ashi in nearby Hakone and ride the pirate boats across. Still, memories are memories and thus a part of me. I’m happy to have them, and these few photographs of a time when I came pretty close to touching the sky.
Hello, and welcome to Tokyo. My name is Television…
…and I’ll be your host.
It would be my honor to entertain you today. Would you like to start with the news…?
You don’t even need to go outside, because I can show you the weather too…
Tired of the weather? How about a movie?
Or if you like I can show you cartoons to make you happy…
And sometimes, when you’re happy, I can even show you…
(Photos taken in 5-28-1 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo (about five minutes from the Life store) in April, 2012)
Footnote: Believe it or not, Japanese TV saved my sanity when I was very sick in Tokyo for nearly two weeks in April of this year. This is kind of an appreciation of that, and also an acknowledgement that you can start to feel like TV controls your life when you’re cooped up with it for too long. But I’m sure you got that. –DR
I don’t believe in god, but I believe in Mount Fuji. I hiked to the top of it once in 1987, with my Australian boss and another American guy who also worked for our American information services company.
Initially I regarded the trip to Mount Fuji as just something to do to get out of Tokyo on the weekend to avoid a couple of sweltering city summer days. And to stay on my boss’s good side. But when I got to the top of the mountain sometime Sunday morning between 04:30 and 05:00 and looked toward the sunrise , I realized that I did not have to believe in god in order to believe that some things can be holy.
The title of this photograph is “The Zen of Boredom”. You can call it what you like. I never wrote a poem to go with this picture. The picture itself is the poem, I always figured.
She passes and glows, she has no time for you.
She passes and glows, but her speed causes no time warp.
She passes and glows, and all of Japan’s radio photons contract around her
pulling the whole world out of focus.
As she goes you can’t be sure who she is,
what she was,
or if she was ever going to be the living-ghost mother of your blurry children.
(Picture taken at Nippori Station, Tokyo in April, 2012)
I am to embark upon a journey soon. To another planet, a planet I have visited before.
A planet where I once lived,
and felt comfortable.
I left under a cloud of things which can only be described
by fanatical men in bowties made of glass.
They reflect the things they observe, therefore they see very little.
This is the way of things where I live.
I see people I know in the streets of my town.
I know their names and ailments and favorite types of heart bypasses.
And I have grown tired of caring about their problems. I need a break from them.
I want to go someplace else and misunderstand another culture’s problems.
It’s easier that way.
I have to go pack my bags, for I always take part of my world to another.
So while I get ready to leave my world, I will listen to what I assume will one day be
considered classical music much as Brahms and Scott Joplin are today.
And I will wonder what it would sound like if
Elton John had sung “Rocket Man” in Japanese.
More words and pictures forthcoming from
I need a new passport for an upcoming trip to Tokyo, Japan. So I sent in my application two Fridays ago.
And the State Department rejected it, the bastards. They didn’t like my photo. Said the dimensions or background were wrong. I have the memo. No biggie. I’ll just pay closer attention to the required photo specs, have my wife take another picture of me, and re-send the application in a couple of days.
I’ve got 2 1/2 months until I need the document anyway. Maybe I should get a haircut first.
But this upcoming Tokyo trip is a huge deal for me, a potential life-changer. So for a few minutes this morning I felt impatient and considered trying to re-shoot my passport photo myself.
And while I thought about how to take the passport self portrait, I looked in my bathroom mirror to see how presentable I was.
Then I remembered it was Martin Luther King Day.
So as I looked over my face, noted my features and how they have aged in nearly 48 years, I asked myself a pretty serious question: Does the color of my face matter any more now than it did when I was four years old and this great man was still alive, still fighting for all of our rights and, more importantly, for our dignity?
“Yes,” was the brutally honest answer I gave myself, as my eyes welled up with tears.
And they were tears for this great man, tears for myself, and tears for the state of things that makes the color of my skin perhaps more important to some people now than it was when that coward shot my hero down in Memphis on an April evening in 1968.
Grief is an unconquerable emotion. You can only manage it…..
I am both embarrassed by this thing, and rather proud of it.
You can have a closer look at….everything. If you’d like. The whole thing, each small packet. You can think of it as a mixed-media piece, which some proud but confused parent has displayed on the front of a very large refrigerator. And if you look long enough, you’ll easily figure out the overall subject of the piece.
But the context of this is mostly explained at the end of Part II.
Fleeting Thoughts on a Solid Core in its Entirety:
Packets of the Main Board, Part I:
Go on to Part II
Grief is an unconquerable emotion. You can only manage it…..
Part II, and Coda:
The Hanging Chad Addenda
My father died in the early hours of May 18th, 2008. We did not get along, but I loved him. I did not go to the funeral. This was a stupid decision. The circumstances of both his death and my decision to skip his funeral are private. I started this….”bulletin board of the Id” around June or July, 2008 and pinned my last packet to it in January, 2011. Creating this was just an odd thing part of my mind told me to do, some way of coping with the reality that my father was gone and I would never get a true chance to understand him. So I guess a part of my mind told me to try this method to understand myself. I’m not sure it worked. It hasn’t made the grief or anger go away.
Some packets depict happy things I thought of when my grief overwhelmed me. Some depict just weirdness or sorrow or booze or a combination of the three, all steeped in a kind of momentarily controlled and channeled darkness. The strings connect packets I think are linked in terms of contents or theme. Yeah, I know, it’s weird.
If you don’t understand this, I hope you still enjoy it in some way. You might think this work is amazing, or it might make you want to disdainfully laugh your ass off. Either reaction, or a reaction somewhere in between the two extremes, is fine with me. As long as I made you think.
–Dan Ryan, December 2011
What it is is a palindrome, and hopefully not some heinously offensive word in Japanese. See, I used to draw quite a bit, but nothing all that great or accomplished. I’ve never had any formal art training, and it shows. For example, if you look at the drawing below, you’ll see that the banners with the Japanese text on them are flying the wrong way over the heads of the samurai. At least, those are supposed to be samurai heads. And the business ends of decorated yari (spears).
Anyway, this is one of my favorite drawings I have ever done, so I figured I should post it and tell its story. It comes from a sketchbook I used and completely filled a long, long time ago, after I lived in Japan and had been in California for a few years. The Canadian woman I dated for a time in Tokyo gave the blank book to me. The simple but beautiful leather-bound, Japanese-made sheaf is the only thing of any weight or substance that survived the relationship.
This is the sketchbook▲, currently sitting on my desk waiting for me to do something with it. I’m currently reading A Drifting Life by Japanese mangaka (comics artist) Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and found in that story some inspiration, if not courage, to dust off and promote my old drawing work, and perhaps get a new sketchbook in order to create new work.
Hmmm, leafing through the sketchbook again. There are actually some good graphic design ideas in here. Stay tuned.