4 minute read
Reality On The Ground
September 16, 2017
This fourteen-part series is based on our journey to Japan and Indonesia, beginning September 13, 2017. In each post we use our presence in Asia as a broader background to the usual exploration of how we fit into this world. Welcome to our private life.
Before we left the us we read a lot about Japan, and now I realize we learned very little. For instance, food isn’t really that expensive. Yeah, in shibuya around the high-end shopping areas we did see kentucky fried chicken meals for ¥1600 (about 15 dollars), but for the most part where we stayed in Ueno the food was very reasonable at about half of the us cost. Yes, half.
Also, overcrowding and living in cubicle-sized apartments is a myth. I suppose maybe it exists somewhere in the city but we didn’t see it. We did stand nose-to-nose with passengers on the subway a few times, but that was rare and only happened between a few stations during the rush hours. No one ever got shoved into a car by subway attendants wearing white gloves, but they did actually wear white gloves.
What we didn’t expect to see was a certain pervasive consideration among fellow Japanese. Whether you call it a strong etiquette or simple thoughtfulness, there is clearly a collective rule set, or innate social structure, apparent among the Japanese. Unlike people big American cities, no one in crowds is belligerent or loud, and on the trains no one even speaks on the phone. No one. Even when we were all standing painfully close together people never held eye contact or even acknowledged the crowd existed. Yet adolescents traded seats for the elderly and riders entering train cars actually wait for passengers to exit before entering. Not even Europeans are so patient.
The awareness for fellow Japanese is the kind of humility we identify with more than the aggression of our western culture, making it easier for us to relate to the strangers here in Tokyo than with people in America. We’ve written before about why we tolerate living in the us where we don’t fit in, and of course it all comes down to the job I can’t detach from.
Near Shibuya Station, Shibuya, Tokyo
Realistically, it’s impossible for all five of us to be interested in the same things all the time. For instance, I didn’t find the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection in shibuya very impressive, but that’s just me. Call me cynical. What I appreciated more than all the people there was the fact our very enthusiastic friends can see past my lack of curiosity about some of their highlights. They continued to track down all the things they wanted to find, ignoring whatever they might see in my demeanor, and that made me happy.
Shibuya 2-Chōme, Shibuya
Sometimes accidents work, and these are two examples. I shot both of these only to check exposure, but the rhythm worked for me when I saw the captures. Of these two “accidents,” #2 has stronger graphic elements and I like it better.
I throw down the gauntlet to chance. For example, I prepare the ground for a picture by cleaning my brush over the canvas. Spilling a little turpentine can also be helpful. Joan Miro
25-5, Sakuragaokacho, Shibuya
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
What a pleasure it has been traveling with this guy and his wife. Aside from building camaraderie, traveling with friends is great because it helps defray cost and expands the scope of exploration. But two weeks is a long time to spend with anyone other than immediate family, and sometimes it’s a trial even with them. There’s no sugarcoating it, more people means more complications, so prolonged cohabitation requires a similar disposition.
6 Chome-4 Jingūmae, Shibuya
This is one of only a few images I made of the 35+ million people around metro Tokyo. We love Asian kids, and Vassar was in the frame so it worked for me. Also, it’s not considered racism if we like the race, right? Ha, credit: Seinfeld
4 Chome-2 Jingūmae, Shibuya
On the street I normally look for architectural details, interesting patterns, or memorable people. Making an unsolicited portrait is a rarity for me, although I do it occasionally if I can justify the image in a confrontation. Spontaneity presents a real dilemma for me. Sticking a lens into someone’s face without permission is obnoxious, and it feels like theft to shoot with a longer lens from far away… I guess at some point I’ll probably stop shooting altogether without asking first, but I’m not that self-righteous yet.