Posts Tagged: Asakusa Tokyo

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)

Rooster hawkers

Anpanman on the job

On a warm November day in Asakusa, street vendors were out in the Senzoku district selling food and souvenir items during the Tori no Ichi (rooster) fair hosted by the nearby Ohtori Shrine. Among the vendors was Anpanman, and his human sidekick, keeping passersby safe from hunger when they stopped to sample his wares…

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(Asakusa 4-chome, Tokyo 2015)

Old birds

They moved and talked the way old Japanese ladies often do, a bit hunched over but with animation and purpose. The sidewalk was crowded with people, most of them heading to a nearby Asakusa shrine for a ‘rooster’ day street market fair. But these ladies kept walking and talking, focused on intently each other, protected by that particularly Japanese force field which prevents anyone on a Tokyo sidewalk from getting in their way.

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(Asakusa, 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)

Squinting at another reality

She was shuffling around Nakamise Dori, the shopping boulevard that leads to Sensō-ji in Asakusa. She touched a lot of elbows trying to speak to people who pulled away and ignored her. This did not phase her. She kept moving through the crowd, sizing up the passersby with a laser-sharp focus that seemed to cut through the communal illusion that we are all okay and everything will be fine…

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(Asakusa, Tokyo 2015)

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