It seemed warmer when I stepped outside this morning, so instead of taking the subway, I decided to just walk and see where I ended up. As I proceeded south, more people began appearing on the deserted streets. By the time I came upon a series of shops selling snowboarding equipment, and then a group of music stores, the sidewalks were actually kind of crowded. Young people sat outside a coffee house taking hits of an espresso bong, while a cavalcade of black cars with the Japanese flag and the war flag drove by, loudspeakers blaring shouting and music. Japanese nationalists, I assume. Nobody seemed to be paying them any attention.
I found myself near the Imperial Palace grounds, so I went in to have a look. I was disappointed to find that, although the grounds are nice, there are precious few old buildings left inside, and none of those that are still around are accessible. There’s a large base with nothing on it near the center of the park. Apparently a large castle stood there for a few years hundreds of years ago before burning to the ground. I sat on the concrete at the top of it and figured out exactly where I was with GPS, and then took a picture for a couple of Australians.
After finding my bearings, I walked across the highway bordering the grounds to see the Budokan, which I’d read about and seen in various martial arts publications since I was a kid. What I didn’t expect was to hear be-bop music coming from inside. It turns out that there’s a concert series being held there, and I heard a ripping harmonica solo issue from within. I have to say, however, that it did somewhat lessen the solemn image I had of the Budokan in my mind.
More popular was the Science Museum. So popular, in fact, that there was a long line of cars waiting to get parking spaces there. The drivers were amusing themselves by reading, watching TV, texting, or just staring into space.
I went back to the Palace-less palace grounds and listened to the crows for a bit, as they are the only birds you can hear in winter here. Then I walked across the spongy yellow grass and down to the front gate, where a guard yelled at me to get off the edge of the moat where I was taking a rather mediocre picture. The grounds are strictly patrolled, on foot, bicycle, car, and camera, to keep people from going places they shouldn’t be. As it happens, the original guard stations are some of the few original structures to survive, and they seemed familiar to me in their placement and arrangement, perhaps because I spent a lot of time in various guard posts when I was in the army.
On Sundays the city government shuts down many major thoroughfares in the city and opens them up for bicycles and pedestrians, which is quite cool.
I’d arranged to meet Yas at his shop at 3:30, but I keep forgetting how big Tokyo is. The efficient subway system makes it seem smaller than it really is. I walked to the Tokyo Station, which looks like the mother of all old Taiwanese train stations (and I guess it is, in a way, as the Japanese built them all), and got on a train about 15 minutes later than I should have. Consequently, as soon as I walked in the door, Yas said, “Let’s go.”
It turns out the festival was held basically where I’d been walking this morning, in a small theater in an alley in the Kanda district. Yas introduced me to an actress named Aya, as well as another director. A heavyset man with long hair was busy threading the projector and setting up things while occasionally filming things with his handheld 8mm camera. Eventually he put it on a shelf and left it, but it was still taking a frame every five seconds. I guess he was making a time-lapse thing, so I played around with it, moving incrementally every five seconds so that it would look like I was moving at normal speed for a second or so.
The heavy guy made a short speech, the lights went down, and the first film played. It was quite terrifying and very abstract. The second film opened with a woman giving a guy a blow job, after which they had naked, black-and-white sex. Nothing was omitted. In another shot, I realized that the guy having sex was the projectionist standing just behind me. The film was processed in a really strange way I assumed was on purpose, but later Yas told me that it was because he developed the film in his bathtub to save time and money. He also said the guy has won a lot of awards in Europe for his experimental work.
Then Yas’ film, Carnophobia, played. It was both claustrophobic and extremely disturbing. Later I made some suggestions about how the knife should sound when it…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The first part of the show over, I talked to a jazz pianist Yas knows for a bit, though his English is not really, uh, existent. He did give me a CD, though; I gave him a name card, hinting that the Muddy Basin Ramblers would really like to play a gig in Tokyo sometime.
I had to get something to eat as I hadn’t eaten all day, and some of the films in the second half seemed pretty guaranteed to make me lose my appetite, so I skipped out during the break, feeling very disoriented when Yas pointed me in the direction of the subway station. I think it was the films, which weren’t bad, just…really, really…bizarre.
Originally I had planned to go to a bar in Shinjuku, but I ended up walking around Kanda some more, taking pictures of trains and tunnels near the medical university and St. Nicolai’s ornate Russian Orthodox cathedral. Nearby I found a restaurant called “Gorilla Curry” or something like that; you know I had to have me some o’ that, and it was delicious. Ads for the restaurant played on a TV inside, which I thought kind of superfluous; if you’re already in there, you probably don’t need convincing.
After dinner I walked around the area some more, thinking I would go back at 10pm and talk with Yas and the portly guy again, but when I got there it was closed; they’d finished early and left. I didn’t feel like taking the subway and walked all the way back to my hotel, admiring the three-dimensional nature of this great city, with its elevated trains, subways, and multi-level architecture, its tiny restaurants crammed into every nook and cranny, it’s apparent complete lack of roaches, rats and smoking scooters. The Japanese people, however, are still mostly a mystery to me:
The police stations all have a sign outside counting the number of injuries and deaths in the district the day before.
Workers are some of the most stylish I’ve ever seen, with wonderful baggy pants, tabi shoes, bandanas and trendy long hair and goatees.
The first thing the staff says to a customer entering a store is “Sorry!”
Instead of coming upstairs, I walked around the streets behind, which I hadn’t seen before. It was oddly empty; nobody was around at all. I stood in the middle of an intersection, filming the lights turning red and green. It was eerie. The sound of my shoes squeaking echoed in the silence, and I halfway expected someone to open their window and shout, “Enough with the squeaky shoes!” but nobody did.