Posts in Category: Photo Essays

My day of shooting

Yesterday, Saturday, I didn’t even leave the Brisbane city limits. I had no ambitions, no agenda, so I just tooled around town, doing various little things and taking photographs as I went. Bopping around Brisbane isn’t like prowling the streets of San Francisco or Tokyo, but this town is visually rich if you just stop to take a considered look. Here are some samples of what I shot yesterday…

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Midtown Market

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Beautiful hair, Sierra Point Road

Brisbane Marina, California 2016

Brisbane Marina

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Brisbane Marina docks ↑

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Sierra Point Yacht Club ↑

(Brisbane, California 2016)

Golden Guys

My wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.

And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.

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The place is called Yoshida Shōten (よしだ しょてん). This is Getta, the bartender and, presumably, the owner of the joint. He charged my wife and I ¥500 each for cover, and ¥700 apiece for two Japanese whiskies and a regular bottle of Asahi Super Dry. He knew some English, was very accommodating, and had a wry sense of humor. His place had various types of garishly-colored Japanese toys pinned to the walls, and small baskets of packaged sweet and savory Japanese snacks on the bar. He seemed to know what he was doing and how he wanted his place to be.

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One of Getta’s customers, who didn’t give a name but whom Getta described in English as ‘a crazy boy’. I sat next to this man, who also spoke a little English. He was quite nice and outgoing, though shy of my camera, and I think he told me he had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, which I won’t name here. But it did make me feel like an asshole for smoking a cigarette next to him. He didn’t seem to mind, though.

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Another customer with whom my wife and I drank. A handsome fellow, also outgoing and friendly, but I don’t recall if he gave a name or not. He did most of the singing when Getta had the music playing over the bar’s speaker system. And he had a pretty good voice.

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My wife and I were delighted to have the chance to drink in a Golden Gai bar, but it was early in the day for us and after sharing two whiskies and a beer we knew we had to press on with our day. So we paid Getta what we owed him, and said our goodbyes with smiles and our cameras. Despite having lived in Japan in the late ‘80s and visiting Tokyo four times since 2008, I had never had drinks in Golden Gai before. So stumbling across this lively little place was a real treat for me. What made it so special, of course, was the friendly warmth of the people there.

So, thanks gents.

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(Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo 2015)

Yakuza leisure dōjō

In Asakusa at Kamiya Bar (神谷バー) you never know who you might meet. My wife and I were drinking there one night last November with an Australian friend and her Japanese husband. The tables in Kamiya Bar are packed closely together, so we couldn’t help notice that the people at the next table were having a hell of a good time.

I took a chance and asked if I could photograph them. They happily agreed.

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The fellow in the hat seemed to be the leader, or at least he was paying for most the drinks. He was particularly friendly, so I asked for his photograph as well. He smiled and agreed. I got up from my chair and prepared to take a few shots.

But as I did my Australian friend pulled me close and said quietly into my ear “Careful, Dan, those guys are dangerous.”

“What do you mean?” Then I thought for a second and it dawned on me.

“Yakuza?” I said.

She pursed her lips and nodded, then let me go about my photographic business.

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When I finished I sat at our table and spoke again quietly with my Australian friend.

“How do you know they’re yaks?”

She said “I used to work as a secretary for a Shinjuku real estate rental company. When they hired me, I just thought they wanted a white foreign girl who could speak fluent Japanese.”

Then she lowered her voice to an almost inaudible whisper. Whispers are almost impossible to hear in Kamiya Bar, but we managed.

She said “After a few years, I figured out yakuza owned the company. I was working for yakuza. They were in and out of where I worked all the time. So I know them. Those are low-level guys, but they’re still dangerous.”

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She had lived in Japan for 18 years, and I trusted her implicitly. Yet her concern didn’t match the friendly, easy-going vibe I felt from the table next to us. I didn’t feel threatened, but I also didn’t want to keep imposing my camera upon yakuza having drinks. So I shot one last photo of them, thanked them in the best horrible Japanese I could manage, and rejoined my wife and our friends at our table.

After that we drank more beer and laughed, and even had a denki bran or two. I looked over at the yakuza every few minutes or so, raising my glass to them when they noticed me. I was happy I had met them, intrigued when my Australian friend told me what they were, and overjoyed that I was with my wife and my friends at Kamiya Bar.

(Asakusa, Tokyo 2015)

Daniel walks to Santa Cruz

He asked if he could bum or buy a cigarette, so after I bought a fresh pack I gave him two. He said his name was Daniel, “but most people call me Fish”, and that he was walking to Santa Cruz to attend the funeral of a close friend the next day. The friend had committed suicide, Daniel said. They had served together in the U.S. Army.

He didn’t mind being photographed. He laughed and said “I used to model for Lacoste before I had tattoos, if you can believe that.”

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Daniel said he’d been in the Army for 2 1/2 years and served in Kandahar, Afghanistan “in a communications capacity”. He added that he “was fooling around off duty on base one day” and caused an accident (which he did not describe) that severely injured himself and two other soldiers.

“Because I got hurt too, they gave me an honorable discharge. If it hadn’t been for that I was fucked,” Daniel said.

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The Army discharged him six years ago, and sends him disability checks twice a month. He also periodically visits a VA hospital for treatment of PTSD. Daniel said he “thanks God” for the disability income but dislikes the psychiatric methods the VA uses to treat discharged soldiers like him.

“They make you wear slippers, and those gowns, and tell you to relax. They treat you like a baby. Grown men, soldiers, and they treat you like a baby. And those drugs they want to give you, lithium, Mirtazapine, Lorazepam, they fuck up your liver, your kidneys, you have to get your salt levels checked constantly.

“If it wasn’t for weed and Coors, I’d have fucking blown my top years ago. Seriously, I would have lost it,” Daniel said.

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Still, he was pretty upbeat despite the fact that he still had to walk another 70 miles to attend his Army buddy’s funeral. He said after he buries his friend, he’ll head back home to Massachusetts to marry a girl named Kelly. His face lit up when he said her name. Then we shook hands, and I gave him my email address and told him to be safe in his travels.

Daniel said “I’ll be fine, bro. I got family in Massachusetts and friends all over. I’m gonna be okay.”

(Midtown Market, Brisbane, California 2016)

The aluminum goldmine

The Recology buyback recycling center in San Francisco is only a couple of miles from my house in Brisbane. I drove over there today to unload a bunch of aluminum cans that had piled up in my basement in the last year during periodic late nights watching movies and playing video games. It’s an interesting place, and I thought you’d like to have a look around…

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A woman bringing her bags of recyclables to the facility on foot. ↑

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Cars and pedestrians waiting to get in. ↑

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Where recyclables are weighed to determine their cash value. ↑

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This guy had many cans and plastic bottles. ↑

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The very cool Recology guy who weighed my aluminum. ↑

(San Francisco 2016)

For Children’s Day (子供の日), 2016

It’s Children’s Day in Japan. So here are some children, in Tokyo, Japan. And what I wish for them is that they grow into happy adults living in a better world than the one we’re currently destroying. But the older I get the more likely it seems that they’ll end being some kind of global janitorial guild charged with cleaning up our mess.

Or maybe they’ll have to give up and terraform Mars…

Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015

Nakano 5-chome ↑

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Nakano 5-chome ↑

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Minami-senju Station ↑

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Hanazono Shrine, Shinjuku ↑

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Akagi Shrine, Kagurazaka ↑

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Yamashiroya, Ueno ↑

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Takadanobaba Station, Tōzai Line

(Tokyo, Japan, October & November 2015)

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