My wife and I were in Tokyo three years ago, staying in Nakano near Nakano Broadway in a vacation rental apartment. We didn’t go out much at night, mostly because we were too damned exhausted from hoofing it all over Tokyo during the day. And when you combine all that activity with middle age and the ungodly amount of salt in Japanese food, we typically returned to our Nakano digs in very achy, swollen condition. Nights in Nakano were for relaxing and recuperation, usually after a quick meal at a nearby noodle house or izakaya, and maybe some poking around in the Broadway. There was (is) a Life store between Nakano Station and our apartment, so we stopped there almost every evening to gather snacks, soft drinks, and Japanese alcohol for the evening. And when we got home, my wife would read and have sake or plum wine, and I’d turn on the TV to channel surf while I enjoyed some unusual or exotic brands of Japanese beer.
And with my Japanese being as poor as it is and considering that there wasn’t much English-language programming on TV during our stay, I’d get bored. I would get bored, grab my Canon digital, and start taking happy snaps of things all over our apartment, including the odd shiny image that happened to be on TV at the moment. Then after a few hours, we’d go to bed. That’s all. Here you go. Click to enlarge:
Playing a Tony Tani CD on the DVD player.
A TBS morning program, I think.
I…have….no….idea. I was in my cups a bit, and the channel was scrambled. I call the first image “Greetings from Television”.
Some Nicholas Cage movie I flipped to briefly. It probably sucked.
A Japanese period drama on TBS, I think. There was blood.
A beautifully shot feature film from the ‘50s. I watched almost the whole movie. I forget what TV channel it was on, and I wish I knew the title of it and where to get it on DVD with subtitles. The film appeared to be about a platoon of Japanese soldiers trying to figure out what to do several days after the end of World War II in the Pacific. I saw some beautiful images and performances in this movie, so if you know this film please tell me where I might get hold of it.
They come in the night.
Sometimes in the rain.
The lights and the steel and the noise and the power. It makes you feel safe.
But after they roll up, do their job, and roll away, you’re just glad they weren’t there for you.
It seems nice today.
My friends. We have been cold.
We tire of the winter.
Where does the warm come from? We are not sure.
Then we look.
And we decide.
*Author’s note—Devilrobots is a Tokyo graphic- and toy-design team that created the figures pictured, which are part of their very large “To-Fu Oyako” set of products. I discovered Devilrobots’ work back in 2002 while looking for some Star Trek thing on eBay that was totally unrelated. The whimsical anthropomorphism of their to-fu designs hooked me immediately, and caused me to seek out not only more of their work and merchandise, but also to delve deeper into the wonderful world of modern Japanese toys and graphic design. Yup, it was one of those life-changing discoveries, for which I am very grateful. To Shin, Yoshizo and all of the Devilrobots I say: Thanks, guys.
Brisbane is only a few miles south of San Francisco. The streets in the night here are quiet, and the signs glow.
They advertise or offer different things. The neon eyes, the promise of liquid calm.
Happiness for the hungry in a shop of comfortable food.
But me, I’m not interested in these things right now. In fact, I could use a bit of your blood.
I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Superbowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured large amounts of tequila and 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. As of 2008, my old building was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
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 must have mixed 2 litres of Diet Coke with almost a whole 750 ml bottle of white 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.
(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine, not because it did a great job, but because it reminded me of the computer screens in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. And 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 round-eye there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired of sitting at the table where these old salarymen were buying me beers. They gave me the creeps.
And, of course, I was more pissed off my ass than ever.
So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men, and 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.
Thank whatever this was all happening on a Friday. I was so drunk I could never have shown 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 the following Tuesday. 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.
(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in 2008. Outside and inside it looked exactly the same, just barely out of focus, as it did twenty years before.)
I stocked up on cold 2 litre jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near Yushima Station before I finally went home. When I did get home, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before crashing around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. Amazingly, I had almost no hangover. I also had no idea who won the Superbowl. But I did have lots of yummy beer and no plans for the day. So, 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 Saturday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. The next day, Sunday, I mostly took a break from the beer and walked to Akihabara to poke around. I knew I didn’t need a CD player, though. That night, I had lots of tempura soba, cold beers, and caught “Miami Vice” on TV. Two episodes, I think. That was a nice night.
On Monday at work, of course, I realized what an idiot I had been on Friday with the CD player in Shinjuku. 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. Yeah, it had been a pretty good weekend. At least from what I remember now.
I still think the bar was for gay salarymen, though.
I sat on the roof of my apartment, and admired Peter Jennings from a distance most of the day. People milled about him, of course. Cameramen were always near him. I think I formed my first man-crush that day, for he was a beautiful island of calm and confidence in a sea of confused and frantic people. I wanted to go down to the street and meet him, but the crowds around him were thick. And from where I was sitting, it seemed almost as if Jennings was doing holy work, and I didn’t want to encroach and spoil that.
Tom Brokaw, however, was very accessible. In a way. It was easy to get close to him, which I did. But his demeanor was…different. Tense, hostile, as if he was absorbing the agitated energy of the displaced citizens all around him. I think he ended up eating the face off the man who appeared just inside the edge of my camera lens as I shot this photo.
The crowds on the street were tough. I was beginning to absorb some unwelcome frenetic energy myself. So, I went back up to the roof of my apartment building and just watched Jennings some more. That’s were my friends and the warm beer were anyway.
(Author’s note: These photographs were taken at or near 15 Cervantes Boulevard, San Francisco, California in the days following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I saw Sam Donaldson too during that time. But when I tried to take his picture my camera lens started to crack.)
THIS JUST IN!! Actually, it’s no big deal. I found another shot of Jennings doing his job. This being San Francisco, I savor the irony of the No Left Turn sign.