Posts in Category: Tokyo, Japan

Darkness/lightness

This is brief recounting of two men from very different walks of Japanese life, whom I encountered near Ueno Station within 45 minutes of each other. The first, an older and somewhat rugged-looking salaryman, stopped for a smoke on the south end of Ueno Station by a ramp which descends down to the Tokyo Metro…

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The second, a monk holding out a bowl for alms on a street corner across Chūō Dori from Ueno Station. Monks with such bowls are a familiar sight in this spot…

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I wondered if the monk was a fake, for in Tokyo these men are sometimes convincing imposters who collect money from unsuspecting passersby for no legitimate religious purpose. But about the salaryman I had no doubts. He was who he appeared to be, and I respected the miles I saw in the lines on his face and the battle his hair was losing to age.

Ultimately, however, the contrasts between the two men captured my attention. The differences between their appearances, apparent professions, and between Japan’s new ways and old ways.

(Ueno Station, Tokyo 2015)

The Ueno Ameyayokochō Time

Nihonzutsumi retail

Sundries, wares, liquor, and Kleenex, you can find everything you need for normal everyday happy life on the Irohakai shōtengai (いろは会商店街) in Nihonzutsumi, which used to be known as Sanya.

I wasn’t sure what she was browsing for. She had a jittery way about her, perhaps because some big damn foreigner was pointing a camera at her and taking her picture. For me in Tokyo that’s sometimes an unintended consequence.

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But once she composed herself she was cool. And she was generous with both her smile and the peace sign the Japanese love to make when being photographed. Sometimes that peace sign makes me squirm a little, like I’m some American soldier running around Tokyo taking happy snaps during the post-war U.S. occupation.

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I’m probably reading too much into my own presence on Tokyo’s streets. But my own discomfort is a price I gladly pay for the enrichment I get from being in this city and among these amazing people.

And I sure as hell hope that after I walked away, this nice woman found what she was shopping for.

(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2015)

This beautiful man…

Look at this unconventionally beautiful man, and what he was willing to share with my wife. She and I were at a festival at the Ohtori Shrine in Asakusa on a Tuesday…

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To this man we were strangers, foreigners to him, and that mattered for nothing. When I asked to take his picture, he agreed. Then he saw my wife and insisted she borrow his shimekazari so that I could take a picture of her holding it…

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The Japanese are often the most warm, generous people you will ever meet. And because of this man, that day in the Asakusa sun with my wife was one of my best days in Tokyo or anywhere ever.

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(Asakusa 4-chome, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—13: Yasukuni rain

Yasukuni Shrine is an interesting place, but I won’t make more of visiting it than doing so deserves. The truth is, my wife and I went there on a rainy Sunday primarily to browse a weekly flea market on the shrine grounds. We arrived around 9:45 a.m. There wasn’t much right-wing nationalist activity, just five or six men in olive-drab uniforms sitting out the rain in two black propaganda vans. They drove away 20 minutes later.

Everything at Yasukuni was wet, the sky was uniformly dour and grey, and the immense Daiichi Torii gate looked as if it was indifferent to who walked under it that day and would maintain its indifference for the next 1,000 years…

Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo 2015

(Yasukuni Jinja, Tokyo 2015)

25 days in Tokyo—12: behind the kōban

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs. This series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching person or scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries.

If you’ve been shopping in Shibuya even once you’ve probably walked past the kōban (police station) in Udagawachō. It’s hard to miss, and the Tokyo cops there are rumored to generally be very helpful. So these two guys were sitting behind it at a quarter to 10 on a Saturday morning. They might have just finished work at a local nightclub, or been homeless. They might have been co-workers, good friends, or lovers. But the man’s hair was very blonde, they both were very nice, and sometimes in Tokyo not knowing is good enough…

Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo 2015 (Story:

I know you know I’m not really blonde, but I am really blonde for you. I’d be anything for you. In Tokyo, I can be anything for you. The trick is, and I’m sure you can relate, I need to figure out how to be what I want for me…

(Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—11: Big issue

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs. This series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching person or scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries.

He was selling The Big Issue Japan on the south side of Nakano Station, so despite his immaculate appearance I knew the man was homeless. Only homeless persons are authorized to sell The Big Issue on Tokyo’s streets. It’s a legitimate way to earn money to mollify the effects of the predicament they’re in. My wife was with me and I described to her what the man was doing and why. She immediately said “I hope he doesn’t have to be out here selling that paper for very long.”

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(Nakano Station, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—10: Fish man

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs. This series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching person or scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries.

Just a young man taking a break from his job at a seafood izakaya not far from Nakano Station. I stayed close to my apartment this day, to rest up because I had to pick up my wife at 11 p.m. from Haneda Airport. But Nakano is a vibrant place where there’s always something or someone worth photographing…

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(Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—9: Grand dame

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs, and this series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries in this series.

In the New Shimbashi Building, you can buy most anything. Its lower floors are a salaryman haven filled with ramen shops, shoe shops, dress shirt haberdashers, video game parlors, news stands, golf shops, and bars. It was only two p.m., but this grandly-dressed lady was already preparing her tiny tavern for the waves of men in cheap suits who later that afternoon would descend into the building’s foundations to drink their evenings away until it was time to go home, sleep it off, then put the cheap suits back on and take the trains back into Tokyo to do it all again the next day…

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(New Shimbashi Building, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—8: Relief

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs, and this series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries in this series.

When I visited Tokyo in 2012 and 2013, across the street from the building where I rented an apartment I’d frequently see an old man in the early morning doing calisthenics in front of his house. Sometimes in the late morning or early afternoon, I’d see the old man having a cigarette in the same spot where he exercised. I’d always see him when I was outside smoking myself, since I couldn’t smoke in my building. We became familiar sights to one another, typically either smiling or waving at each other, or exchanging spoken greetings like ohayō gozaimasu (good morning).

In 2015 I stayed once again in the same building and expected to see the old man doing his familiar things again across the street. But I didn’t, and I became upset about it. I was genuinely worried that the old man had moved away, or been put into a rest home, or had died, and that the last time I saw him in 2013 was the last time I was ever going to see him. A week passed during which my concern grew, until finally on my eighth day in the city I saw my beloved old man across the street sweeping up leaves that had fallen in his courtyard.

Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015

I was so relieved I wanted to cry. Instead, I grabbed my camera and approached the old man to ask if I could photograph him, something I’d never done before. I wanted a souvenir of him, something I could have to remember his face, his wrinkled beauty, to remind me of how a small, almost non-existent relationship spread out over a number of years could have weight and comfortable importance. At least to me.

I asked him in broken Japanese for a pikuchā and he happily agreed while a wave of recognition passed across his face. Then I said thank you to him and went back to my apartment while he continued sweeping. I didn’t see him again for the remaining 17 days I was in Tokyo. Once had to do. I really hope I see him again when I go back to Tokyo in 2017. But if I don’t I’ll imagine that it’s because of bad timing, and say a silent Buddhist prayer that if he died he died happy and easy.

Then I’ll say another prayer thanking karma and good fortune that I carry a camera, if the Buddhists even have a camera prayer.

(Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015)

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