This Mormon boy
(I didn’t get his name and it doesn’t matter)
was on his mission at Nakano Station
handing out tickets to god and scattering seeds of fertilized Jesus.
The Japanese soil won’t take those seeds.
The Japanese never needed a long-haired hippie foreigner to tell them
how to fear death and ghosts.
Besides, Japan’s gods are legion,
tend to be more entertaining,
and bring darker blood and better humor to dinner parties.
And they’re good for a short loan and fast drink on payday.
What this Mormon boy didn’t understand,
will never understand,
is Jesus will never get more from the Japanese than a 90-day visitor’s visa.
The Japanese love their ancient gods so much
they’ve made them characters in video games.
And how is Jesus going to bring devout people
closer to heaven than that?
(Nakano Station, Tokyo, September 2013)
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…
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…
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)
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)
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…
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…
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.
(Asakusa 4-chome, Tokyo 2015)
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…
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)
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.”
(Nakano Station, Tokyo 2015)
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…
(New Shimbashi Building, Tokyo 2015)