It has been a shitty year.
My beloved father-in-law died, my “Tokyo Panic Stories” book is WAY behind schedule, my chronic depression got particularly aggressive during numerous week-long periods, I made a few enemies online and in the town where I live, I drank and smoked too much, I exercised too little, and during November and December my wife and I have been sharing a real mucous festival of a respiratory virus, while I developed a painful tooth abscess that recently required a root canal.
So, like the seemingly impatient man in the photograph, I can’t wait for this 2014 train to stop and the doors to slide open so I can jump the hell off of it onto the platform for 2015. And I don’t exactly know where the 2015 train is going, but I am sure I will see my 51st birthday, and the publication of “Tokyo Panic Stories”, and continued love and support from my wife, and Tokyo.
Yep, I will see those things and knowing this maintains my optimism and hope. I’m not sure of the exact how or when on Tokyo yet, but I know I will soon see those things too…
(Picture taken on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo between Takadanobaba and Shibuya in September, 2013)
It is the holiday season, specifically the week between Christmas and the New Year. These gnomes were on display in a Tokyo department store in September. But if the viewer chooses to regard their gnaughty gesture as a repudiation of the Christmas holiday, or as a fitting way of saying goodbye to 2014, well, you will get no argument from this photographer…
(Picture taken at Shibuya Loft, Tokyo in September, 2013)
I love to cook, and I am told I’m pretty good at it. The one thing I cook for people most often is this Japanese curry. I’ve been making it for nearly a decade, but I really got serious about it after my wife and I went to Tokyo in March, 2008. I make it four or five times a year. Amongst my neighbors and friends it has become my signature dish. If you are familiar with Japanese curry at all, you know the basic dish is wonderful during colder weather, the spicier the better.
Dan’s Tokyo Curry
I call this Tokyo Curry because Tokyo is where I discovered and fell in love with Japanese curries. But I’m sure this very basic variation of this dish is made all over Japan.
2 to 3 large white onions, cut or diced into medium- or small-sized pieces.
2 to 3 large carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices.
1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, cut in half or in thirds, depending on size of each potato.
2 pounds of rib eye beef, cut into bite-sized chunks (Note for vegetarians: bite-sized cubes of firm to-fu can be substituted for the meat. Simply skip the meat-browning step and start with the veggies instead. Add the to-fu towards the end so it gets hot but does not become goo. This dish is fantastic with to-fu!)
¼ cup good sesame oil for browning the beef.
As much tap water as is needed to cover all ingredients in the pot and bring them to a boil. You can also use ½ chicken broth for richer overall flavor.
4 to 8 cups of cooked Calrose rice, or equivalent Japanese rice variety. (This can be prepared on the stovetop or in an electric rice cooker. Prepare the amount of rice you think you will need for the number of people you are feeding.)
Fukujinzuke, the (typically) red Japanese pickles that almost always garnish Japanese curry. Fukujinzuke are essential to appreciate the full sensory experience of this dish. But if you can’t get fukujinzuke, beni shōga (pickled ginger) works well as a tasty garnish for this.
A large steel stew pot or Dutch oven, but not an enameled pot because these run too high a risk of scorching.
A big, long metal spoon or wood spatula. This dish needs to be stirred frequently.
A good chef’s knife for cutting the beef and the vegetables.
Rice pot or electric rice cooker.
Put the sesame oil and a small piece of the beef in the pot and heat the oil until the beef starts to fry. If you overheat the oil it will start to smoke, so monitor this carefully.
Put all the rest of the beef in the pot and brown it in the oil.
Once the beef is browned, put all the onions in the pot, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook until onions are tender and starting to turn clear.
Then add the carrots, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook for three to five minutes.
Add mushrooms and repeat, cooking for three minutes.
Add potatoes and enough water to cover all ingredients, plus another ¾ to 1 inch of water.
Stir thoroughly and bring to a full boil.
Add curry cubes, stir, and allow to boil for about 30 seconds.
Stir, reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the beef is very, very tender.
While the dish is simmering, stir often. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as curry gravy will stick to it. But this flavorful goo needs to be reincorporated into the mixture.
Once the beef is as tender as you like it, turn off heat, and prepare to eat.
Serve this curry over a bed of hot, steamy rice and serve with a generous little mound of the fukujinzuke or beni shōga or both. The pickles can be mixed into the curry, or kept on the side as you wish.
Prepare to want seconds, if there are any.
And there you have it. Let me know what you think of this concoction if you make it. May this dish take your taste buds to one of my favorite culinary corners of Tokyo, a town I love so well.
–Dan Ryan, Easter Sunday, 2014
P.S. If by some miracle of nature you are a genius of Japanese cooking who makes your own authentic curry seasoning mixture from scratch instead of cheating with pre-mix cubes like me, I’d love to get your recipe.
P.P.S. This recipe was published on April 27th, 2014 on Scholars and Rogues.
I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone
I was never really alone or ever am.
The city was with me.
A god-pigeon was with me.
We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,
as the city shook the petals loose.
I took them from the ground,
petals like silken snow
falling on harsh pavements and concrete.
It can be just as beautiful as hanami.
There are patterns to all of it,
everything has a place randomly assigned.
As I stood there at Kandagawa,
my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,
I looked nearby to the street,
the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.
(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)
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…
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)
It’s quiet here
at the galaxy’s core.
I don’t suppose the stars would stop moving
even if we asked them to.
I have considered doing so.
Night after night we bathe in ever-moving light,
some of it from the sun we abandoned
so many birthdays ago
surely it must have extinguished by now.
If you had never been born
I would have found you anyway,
used the machines we have spun
from neutrinos and platinum and DNA
to go back in time and find a way to make you exist.
The centuries, they are mere miles for us,
and the best ones we lived, we lived on Earth.
No, I don’t miss it, I would rather be here with you,
even though it amazes me that we still have to change cat litter.
And other corporeal things, this ring.
I shall always wear it.
Remember when I lost the stone that Christmas in the 21st century?
I’ve beat the hell out of this ring, but I shall always wear it.
The circle of it remains perfect,
the nicks in it are the hieroglyphs of our history.
And on your birthday, like it is today,
I look where the stone was
and remember that the love which first set the stone remains,
after all this time it remains.
And that, as ever,
is always good enough for me.
—Love, Dan, January 9th, 2013
On the whole
I’d rather be in Japan,
but of course that’s always true.
But no matter where you are
in the world tonight,
I will drink a toast to you.
If I had spent New Year’s Eve 2012 in Japan, I would probably have been in Tokyo buying and sharing beers with the displaced and homeless drunks that hang around Shinobazu Pond in Ueno. Or I would have done some volunteer work for Sister Rita Burdzy and the Sanyukai NPO. Perhaps in 2013. You never know. 2012 was a great year for me, creatively probably the best ever. But there were some rough spots, and like most humans I am instinctually eager to push forward through this artificial construct we call time. So goodbye to 2012. I hope I can make 2013 even better. Because it is, after all, entirely up to me. And in the bigger picture, it’s up to us all.
(Picture taken in Yanaka, Tokyo in April, 2012)
There’s a map of everything to everywhere…..
….on my front porch.
There’s nothing deeper here than that
a lesson I may have learned while I was out past my porch running some errands for my in-laws.
needed me to dispose of a stiff, dead opossum she had found in her yard.
needed me to buy him some Duracell 312 hearing aid batteries and three packs of True menthol 100 cigarettes.
So, the opossum ended up in a bag which I tossed into a dumpster behind our local grocery market here in Brisbane,
ended up in a run-down CVS pharmacy just off the El Camino Real in South San Francisco, California.
Cigarettes and hearing aid batteries for the elderly are always in such places. It is the joy of these places.
And they have El Jimador tequila, which I have never tried.
But I have smelled it because of the weaving-drunk man who was behind me, even though I didn’t ask.
We were both in line, and I had
my cigarettes and batteries.
He had his fifth of El Jimador tequila, and a copy of Maxim magazine
(which I found pleasing because it had a picture of a lovely woman with enormous tits on the cover.)
And this guy looked rough, and he was Latino, and that didn’t matter
because he looked my age
and it was Friday night
and the only thing he could weave about to plan and do was to buy El Jimador tequila and Maxim magazine
and go off wherever he had to go in the rain.
My birthday is upon me.
I’ll be 48.
And I don’t pray but I did make a sort of vow to myself that,
for the rest of my life,
I will never be the kind of man who swerves into a run-down CVS pharmacy in South San Francisco, California on a Friday night
a bottle of cheap tequila and a big-titty-girl magazine
and then shuffle off into the rain and the night.
The tombs of the pharaohs aren’t this quiet, even this close to a Mormon temple…..
The street is quiet and it is Christmas Day and for the first time I see in the landscape and the architecture something of the neighborhood in Richardson, Texas where I spent part of my youth.
My niece and her husband live on this street and I have known them for twenty years and they have lived here for at least that long and I have never noticed until today that this place in Hollister, California could be the street upon which my middle-school friends and I played in the wintertime when ice freezes the vibrant heart and most of northeast Texas.
It surprises me the things I see for the first time after so many years of knowing family in this place.
The wintertime in northeast Texas will freeze the skin, but some families celebrate Christmas until it freezes the soul. My family was a bit like that, because when I was growing up there was only me, my sister, my mother and my father. There are greater burdens of love and appreciation placed upon each member of a family at Christmastime, usually in inverse proportion to the number of members in that family.
My father, for example, read large-print storybook copies of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and “Santa Mouse” to my sister and I on Christmas Eve every year up through 1976, when I was twelve and my sister was nine. They got to be a bit much, those books. But my dad had some need from his own childhood to lavish upon my sister and me things he felt he missed or did not receive in suitable abundance from Santa Claus. My mother was raised in the Christian Eastern Orthodox Church, so she indulged my dad but really didn’t give a shit one way or another. I always rather respected that about her.
1976 was an unusually cold, icy year in northeast Texas. It was also the year my sister and I each got our first cassette tape recordings for Christmas presents. I got Wings At The Speed Of Sound and she got Destroyer by Kiss. I don’t know if my parents had foreseen something most parents cannot, but the tone and musical style of the tape my sister and I each received that year were superb indicators of the personality types we grew into as teenagers and adults.
Strange how these things grasp me now as I stand on this quiet street in Hollister, California and wonder at the temporal and physical distance between this day and Christmas Day in northeast Texas in 1976 and it is a surprisingly happy reverie that holds me for the time it takes me to light and smoke two cigarettes down to the fingertips on my right hand.
And then I’m done.
So I just stare down the quiet street one last time and I am very thankful that I cannot see any cars in the nearby Mormon temple parking lot nor hear any Mormons singing.
Updated on January 28th, 2014
I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Super Bowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured a 750ml bottle of white tequila and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.
(▲I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
(As of September, 2013, my old building ▲ was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin.)
I was an American, damn it, watching an American thing, getting pissed on imported booze and American soda pop. It almost made me homesick. I had one of those TV magnifiers back then. I remember zooming in on the instant replays until the TV screen looked like housefly vision. I mixed the whole 2 liters of Diet Coke with almost all of the tequila that morning. I was a chemical disgrace. When the game was over, I watched a Japanese tape of R.E.M. videos for awhile (I still own the tape). And then the booze was gone, and that’s when I decided to go out. I planned to only go to the beer machines nearby to buy some Asahi Super Dry. Maybe a jug of Kirin with the plastic dragon head spout. I loved those things.
(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine. It made “Blade Runner” look very interesting.)
Somehow, though, I ended up in Shinjuku, in a bar near Golden Gai. Or maybe it was in Kabukichō. I think it was a retired salaryman bar, actually. A tout led me there. It might have been a gay bar as well, because all the men in the place were definitely looking me over. I was the only gaijin there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired being there, even though I was at a table with old salarymen who were buying me beers. To this day I remember how they gave me the creeps. So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men and left. But of course I was more pissed off my ass then ever. And so I did the next logical thing: I went shopping for a CD player at Marui. I didn’t need a CD player, but I went shopping anyway. By this time it was two in the afternoon.
This was all happening on a Monday. I was so drunk I knew I wouldn’t be able to show up for work the next day. Anyway, with my drunken, broken Japanese I ended up buying a $600 Nakamichi CD changer from a nice salesgirl. Hope her commission was good. I vaguely recall it was to be delivered from new stock on Tuesday of the following week. I put the CD player on my American credit card.
Somehow, I don’t know how, I ended up back in Yushima by about 5 that evening. I think I made a side trip to Kamiya Bar in Asakusa. I think. But if I did I have no clear memories of it.
(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in October, 2013. My 1988 memories of the bar’s exterior are a lot more fuzzy than the clear image you see here.)
I stocked up on cold two-liter jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near my Yushima Station exit before I finally went home. When I got there, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before passing out around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. As expected, I had a massive hangover. I also had no idea who won the Super Bowl. But I had lots of yummy beer and was too much of a mess to go to work. So I called my American boss to tell him I was still sick, then I packed the beer into a cloth bag and wandered over to Ueno Park around lunch time. I had cold beers in the winter sun that afternoon.
I remember loving that Tuesday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. That was one of my best afternoons in Tokyo.
The next day, Wednesday, I went back to work in pretty good shape. And I realized I didn’t need the Nakamichi CD player, that I had bought it in a stupid drunken fugue state. The exchange rate on the purchase with my American credit card would be insane!! So, I asked one of the Japanese secretaries to call Marui and cancel the purchase. She did it, and there was no problem.
From what I remember now, that Super Bowl Monday and the Tuesday that followed had been pretty good days. And although I still think the Shinjuku bar I ended up in was a gay bar, I was, for whatever ulterior reasons may have existed, treated with kindness and free beer.
And really, when you’re drunk off your ass in Tokyo there really isn’t anything better for which to ask.
Quite often the thing you need to do….
….is the last thing you usually consider.
And that is: Always watch out for the toys.