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.
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.
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)
How do I pay tribute to a man who both enriched and destroyed my life? If I had never read his work I’d be less of a boozer than I am, but also less of a human being. Charles Bukowski would have been 96 years old today, and I have praised and cursed his very existence with every gulp of cheap beer or sip of fine rum that I have ever taken.
(↑Kiyokawa, Tokyo 2012)
So what do I do here, Hank? Praise the fucking gods that I finally decided to get sober, or laugh at my own stupidity for leaving behind your horrible, desperate, inspiring, and beautiful world? I don’t really know. This is the kind of thing I used to have to consider over a cold beer.
(↑Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2012)
I would have liked to have had a drink with you just once, to probe with some sort of scientific accuracy the reasons why demons chew on my testicles and nap on my liver and never pay one fucking penny’s worth of rent for the spaces they take up in my soul.
(↑Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2013)
It would have been nice to talk with you about that. But you’re not here, and some days I’m not either, and who gives a shit anyway? It was your nihilism, probably more than anything else, that I admired most about you.
(↑Seoul Izakaya, Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2013)
The Art of Not Giving a Fuck, you were a master of it. You were a horse’s ass in a pasture full of donkeys, and therefore owned the patent on a certain type of irony.
(↑Freedom, Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015)
And I love you, and I hate you, and to honor you I offer up these photographs of people whose beauty and tragedy not only rivals but exceeds your best writings about how our human condition is both wretched and worth living in defiance of sorrow and hope.
(↑San Bruno, California 2015)
I’m a better man because of you, Mr. Bukowski, but I am a worse person. I love human beings more because of you, but I also feel better when they’re not around…
(↑Brisbane, California 2016)
(Also published on Scholars and Rogues.)
My cheekbones feel like
Hollywood marbles to me.
You’ve never been on
skid row in Tokyo so
similes or metaphors, or whatever the fuck,
are likely totally lost on you.
We like them.
Food is a simile for food, and
food is a metaphor for eat.
And we’re about to do that.
The Christians are making paella,
with lots of hot dogs,
and we’re gonna feast our asses off
and be okay.
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, September 2013)
Physically handicapped, or afflicted with cancer, or merely very intoxicated, I didn’t have the chance to discretely ask why this man was in this wheelchair on a Tokyo skid row shōtengai. His friends in the background didn’t want me around him, but I shot this photograph anyway with my camera under my armpit while his guardians were briefly distracted. And I left quickly after taking it. Ethically this is a questionable picture, and I’ve never been entirely comfortable that I shot it. I’ve debated myself as to whether this photograph stole some of this man’s dignity, an issue of justifiable importance among photojournalists and street photographers concerning the destitute and the homeless.
I’ve concluded that this man, in the circumstances in which I encountered him, really didn’t have much dignity in the first place. That does not necessarily justify this photograph’s existence, and I still argue with myself about it. But what this picture shows about a dark side of Tokyo life is inherently important, the kind of thing people wish to ignore but need to see. So I may forever have problems with this photograph, and you may really dislike it, but I stand by it.
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, October 2013)
Just a guy, a bit too much in his cups perhaps, that I photographed in Nihonzutsumi in Tokyo. He was next to a vacant lot where a Nodaya liquor store used to stand. I liked him. He was a nice, chemically happy man…
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, November, 2015)