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.
Halloween in Tokyo, 2015 was a gas. I had not been in the city for this holiday since 1987. Back then Halloween wasn’t a big deal in Japan, and you were lucky to be invited to a gaijin friend’s costume party or find an American horror movie from the ‘30s on Japanese TV. Anyway, in 2015 I bopped all over the city, from Nakano to Ueno to Shinjuku and back to Nakano. I was delighted to see many people dressed up for Halloween, and not surprised the Japanese had adopted it and turned it into a marketing revenue stream.
Here’s some of the sights I saw during my Tokyo Halloween…
▲A neighbor living next to the Nakano apartment building I stayed in. He’s not in Halloween costume, but I love his face.
▲Young men on the Yamanote Line platform in Ueno Station.
▲On the Yamanote Line near Ōtsuka. The fellow wearing the bloody white tie spoke excellent English.
▲Costume problems for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man somewhere on the edge of Kabukichō at 11 p.m.
(Various locations, Tokyo, Halloween 2015)
My father-in-law Jesse passed away three years ago today. The photograph just below is of him and my mother-in-law on August 1st, 2014, a week before he died.
I miss him, more than I often admit. A year after his death my wife and I weren’t dealing with it very well. Three years on and the sting and sorrow are easier for us to bear. But during the past few years months my mother-in-law has been remarkable, a steady, consistent rock who as endured rather than fall apart. Having her around gives my life needed perspective since I’m 53 and starting to wonder more often when the ride’s going to end.
Several days before Jess died, I got to really see what champions my family are. I wasn’t born into a particularly close family. But my wife, the woman below on the right, had better luck. That’s her sister on the left. My brother-in-law is in the next photograph, holding his father’s hand four days before the end.
You only think about the dying when death is near, not the people you look to after someone’s gone and say out loud “Shit, I guess we should have a drink.” My wife, her sister and brother, and my mother-in-law showed me how to face the fading and passing of a human life. At the time I didn’t cope with it well and hid behind my camera. Thankfully I had superior family examples from which to draw strength.
On the day Jess died, August 8th, 2014, my wife was a genius of calm. She was collected and circumspect. The old man passed about five hours before I shot the picture immediately above. I had never before been in a room with a deceased person who wasn’t shut tight in a coffin.
I was uncomfortable and squeamish about it. My wife’s behavior showed me how to man-up and deal with it. Women can be so superior in this department, probably for the same reasons that men make war while women clean up the emotional messes afterward.
My wife’s sister, above on the right, and my wife’s step-sister, on the left, also showed me how to confront the death in the room, and how the love of siblings not born of the same parents can be a source of connection and strength.
About six hours after Jess died, two nice men came to his house, put him on a stretcher, covered him, and walked him down to their hearse.
After Jess was secured, I told the undertaker, pictured above, that I was squeamish about my father-in-law’s death. I asked him how he dealt with hauling corpses for a living. He looked at me with genuine sympathy and said “You get used to it.”
Yeah, I guess you do. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t fucking know if I could. I just had to take the man’s word for it.
(Photographs taken in Brisbane, California in August, 2014. Text updated on August 8th, 2017.)
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…
Midtown Market ↑
Beautiful hair, Sierra Point Road ↑
Brisbane Marina ↑
Brisbane Marina docks ↑
Sierra Point Yacht Club ↑
(Brisbane, California 2016)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo 2015)
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.
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.
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.”
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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 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…
A woman bringing her bags of recyclables to the facility on foot. ↑
Cars and pedestrians waiting to get in. ↑
Where recyclables are weighed to determine their cash value. ↑
This guy had many cans and plastic bottles. ↑
The very cool Recology guy who weighed my aluminum. ↑
(San Francisco 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 ↑
Nakano 5-chome ↑
Minami-senju Station ↑
Hanazono Shrine, Shinjuku ↑
Akagi Shrine, Kagurazaka ↑
Yamashiroya, Ueno ↑
Takadanobaba Station, Tōzai Line ↑
(Tokyo, Japan, October & November 2015)