Tuesday, February 28, 2017

March 1, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

March 1, 2017

My last full day in Moji-Ko.  Sometime tomorrow we will go back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).  I spent the last hour or so at the arcade, revisiting old stationary shops and one crucial music store called Nitchicu.  In 1989, I wandered into this store to look for some Enka cassettes.  What I found on CD is the Japanese edition of the first two Honeycombs albums on one disc.  The first is "The Honeycombs" and the second and more obscure album is "All Systems Go!"  The only song I remembered was "Have I The Right," which was and still is my favorite record.   At the time I was having severe feelings of being isolated, not only due to being in Japan but the fact that my wife had to go through a period of time getting her papers in order to come back to the United States.  The whole process took a year.  So when that happened, I was forcibly exiled in Moji-Ko.  My second home became a precious image to my writing and in essence, my heart as well.  Purchasing The Honeycombs CD was not only a pleasurable surprise but also a direct connection to my youth.

At the time, I had a portable CD Walkman from Sony.   The Honeycombs CD was the only music I had in this city, and therefore when I went on my daily long walks through the town, I would play this album.  It shouldn't be a shock to anyone that the entire album is a masterpiece.  Also, it was the first time I was introduced to the world of record producer Joe Meek. I discovered him at The Wave Record store the following year but didn't realize the connection between The Honeycombs and his other recordings.  "All Systems Go!" was the last album he made with a band.  After that, he shot his landlady and then killed himself.  At the time, I wasn't thinking of Meek, but more of the emotional power of the music as I wandered through the streets of Moji-Ko.

I didn't bring the CD or music with me on this trip, but I did revisit the spaces I spent time.  Oddly enough, very little changes here.  To be kind life is slow, or to be honest, perhaps died.  For reasons I'm not clear about, I find Japan to be a mixture of sadness with a touch of happiness.  There is little youth activity here.  I mostly see old people wandering around, and I realize that perhaps, I'm the same age as them.  A collective decay that is tattooed on the moldy side of the building structures.   There is a cat cafe located in a very dark area of the arcade.  Even the kitties here are as old as the residents of Moji-Ko.

One is never aware of the present.  The future is non-existent, but there are traces of the past throughout Moji-Ko.  Some on purpose and others to remind one that there is no future.  The present is the past, and the future, who knows?

I come upon an old coffee shop that has been opened since the 1920s. Perhaps using the same cups from that decade.   I ordered hot coffee because, for one, it is the only thing I can order using the Japanese language.  I was asked to choose a cup that was hanging by the entrance. I spent a full minute before choosing the striped cup from the bottom, the second cup.   When I sat down, it felt like I was in someone's living room.  There was a TV set playing old Astro Boy black and white cartoons, and as I sipped my coffee, I found myself totally engrossed with the images coming off the TV screen.  Science makes Mighty Atom (the proper term for "Astro Boy"), and there are touches of the wonderment and optimism of that period when things can get better.  Now, I think we all feel differently where that confidence was placed.

After finishing the coffee, I walk down the arcade, and I look up, and I notice a window on the second story that is covered with books and what looks like manuscripts.   I did see the entrance, and it seems to be a private residence.  No signage by the door, and if you look through the door opening there is a very steep and dark staircase that goes up to that room.  What kind of person would leave such a stack of stuff by the window, for everyone to see?   A writer of course!  It doesn't take that much of imagination to know that there are empty sake bottles and cigarette smoke in that room.  The poet of Moji-Ko is probably the same man who wrote "The Plum in Mr. Blum's Pudding."  A groundbreaking book of poetry that was written in 1990 at this very location.

I wander down the arcade, and I can hear the rain hitting the tin roof.  It's not loud but very rhythmic, and I can imagine the poet using the sound like a rhythm to his poems.  One hopes that there are more stores open here, but everything is from the past.  "Last Year at Moji-Ko" comes to mind when I think back at the time I have met a young student here.  I was looking for some girl to penetrate and release the tensions within me, but alas, we talked about literature and drank coffee till 5 pm.   She may have been a teenager, but her use of English as a second language was very sophisticated.  She told me she learned the language by watching various plays by Shakespeare on film.   Her "this" became "tis" but otherwise totally understandable and charming.  I had the feeling that she wanted me, but it is hard to tell from my point of view.  It's a crap shoot to acknowledge desire when one thinks too much about the cultural difference between us.  Although she spoke English, I can tell her thinking was in another frame of mind. I remember after finishing her coffee, she said goodbye and left the coffee shop not giving a farewell glance.  More like there is no future, and there is the present, and one will think of this as the past.

With those thoughts in my head, I realized I was walking not being aware of direction or where I'm.  I found myself in a small street that I have never seen before in Moji-Ko.   There is an old bicycle on my left, with a notice of some sort, I think it's a menu.  I went straight through without thinking of anything.  Andre Breton wrote about this feeling in his novel "Nadja."   Here he was looking for a girl throughout Paris, but now, I'm looking for nothing, just pushing my body through the narrow streets like there is a magnet down the street.

Around the corner, I came upon a man wearing a white waiter's jacket and a blue cap.  He had a bow-tie and a soft yellow button up shirt.  He didn't say anything, but with his gesture of the left hand told me to have a seat at his table.  His face reminded me a bit of the artist Paul McCarthy, but then again, after awhile, all foreigners to me looks like Paul McCarthy.   He didn't say a word to me, and I just acknowledge him by going to the cafe behind him and purchasing a glass of draft beer.  I put it in front of him, but he didn't say anything.  As I sat there nursing my glass of beer, I realized I never felt so content with the present.  I have this whole history behind me, and I can't see anything at the head of me.  I realize at that point and time that I'm going in the right direction, and when I look back, it's either death chasing me down, or something there to remind me of various things I have lost throughout my life.   It was then that I got up and realized I must leave Moji-Ko.  Like a stray cat that keeps coming back to its abandoned home, I will do the same.

- Tosh Berman, Moji-Ko, Japan

Monday, February 27, 2017

February 27, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

Albert Einstein's room in Moji-Ko, Japan

February 27, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

For the last couple of days, I have been in Moji-Ko, which is part of the southern island of Kyushu in Japan.   I'm here with my wife, and she is from this town.  In 1989, I lived here for a whole year.  It's ironic that I have always tried to avoid small towns, yet, always end up in one.  Moji-Ko is technically a port city, where across from the Japan Sea there's Korea.  Before World War II, Moji-Ko was the location to go back and forth to Korea.  It was a lively town full of adult entertainment as well as cinema, live theater, and Geisha action.  Albert Einstein came through Moji-Ko and stayed in a structure that is technically the next block where I'm writing this piece.  There's a plaque announcing the visit, but no image or photograph exists that I know of, having him here in the city.   When in doubt I always go with the narrative.  So there is no reason to question that he was here in Moji-Ko.

Moji-Ko Retro Observation Room, Japan

Compared to Kyoto or other parts of Japan, Moji-Ko's structures are not that old.  My guess is that the oldest building here is about 105 years old.  Still, there is a particular Meiji period feeling in the structures as well as the roadways.  I'm writing this report on the 31st floor of the observation deck.  The city is very much laid out in front of me, and it looks like I'm observing a google map, but I'm really here.  But have I ever been anywhere?

Dead Fugu, but still deadly, in Moji-Ko, Japan

I had dinner last night at a local restaurant.  Blow-Fish (Fugu) is the main specialized dish in Moji-Ko.  The fish is very toxic and lethally poisonous if you eat the wrong part of the Blow-Fish.   People in the West are alarmed, but the Japanese seem to take it in the style that nothing will happen to them if they eat Fugu.  The fish itself is delicious.  I ate it in many ways.  Sashimi style as well as cooked and served in soup.  I never felt in danger, because the people around me took it as being prepared by an experienced chef.   If you do get poisoned by eating the fish, the effects are similar to nerve gas such as Sarin or VX.  The victim is conscious, but their muscles will be paralyzed and eventually, one can't breathe and will die from asphyxiation. This happens time-to-time, but what are the chances of that happening to me?

Gentlemen who ate at the same restaurant

Back to the restaurant, we were sitting at the counter eating Fugu, when I notice the party next to me was sending a bottle of Shochu to another table.  They were drinking beer and what looked like bottles of Shochu.  They were bottle-keep, which means the customer buys the bottle and keeps it at the restaurant for themselves.   Hardcore Asian tradition of drinking in bars.  There were three of them.  One was a young woman, who looked like she killed a man or two.  Beautiful but I sense a hardness in her attitude.  The two guys she was with had various forms of jewelry on, including one who had two watches attached to each wrist.  He also had what looks like a diamond stone around his neck.  The other thing I notice is that anyone who walks into the restaurant made a gesture of being a friend or bowing to this trio.  To not to acknowledge them in a specific world would have been a deadly mistake.

The Author's laptop while writing this essay in the Observation Room in Moji-Ko

I made the Mojiko Retro Observation Room as my office while here.  I find it suitable to be on the 31st floor looking out to the Japan Sea and commenting on the town and people down below.  It's an idea space for a writer to do his or her's work.  From here, I can see my home in Moji-Ko. My wife and I live on the 13th floor of that building.   So at nighttime, I can sit in the outside hall and look at the place where I do my work. And oddly enough, I sit in the Observation Room watching the place where I live.
The Author lives on the 13th Floor of this buiding

I have a deep interest in my culture, especially when I'm in a foreign culture. It is what makes Americans so unique.   I had a beer, drinking some coffee now, and just had a chocolate cookie.  I'm all set, and about to go into the sunset and become one of the small people down below.

Moji-Ko Retro Observation Room at night; Photographed from my 13th Floor apartment across the way

Images of Japan by Tosh Berman

Portrait of Tosh Berman, Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Bus, Meguro, Tokyo

Western style wedding party, Tokyo

Piss Alley, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Messed-up face display for manga series: Shinjuku, Tokyo

Bar entrance, Nakano Broadway area, Tokyo

Harajuku, Tokyo

Bar in Nakano Broadway area, Tokyo

Hotel in Broadway Nakano, Tokyo

Window display for music shop, Ginza, Tokyo

Meji Park, Tokyo

Music Shop (floor-by-floor) window display, Ginza, Tokyo

Wedding Ceremony at Meji Shrine, Tokyo

Aoyoma, Tokyo Abandoned home

Naked Dolls, but can add clothing, accessories, etc.

Ginza coffee shop, Ginza Tokyo

Ginza Street, Ginza Tokyo

Ginza, Tokyo at dusk

Tom Cruise

Brad Pitt

Doll Faces, Tokyo

Yakuza Dolls

Mid-Century design house items doll size

Rabbit Shrine, Kyoto

Kyoto Burial Grounds

Kyoto Burial Grounds

Meguro, Tokyo, Japan

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February 24, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Shinkenshan Train ( Tokyo - Kyoto)

February 23, 2017

On the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto.  There is something so civilized when one travels on a train compared to a flying machine.  For one, I can watch the landscape unfold onto another world.  It's a leap into the future as the Shinkansen moves at the speed of  200 mph.   From my window, I can see Mount Fuji, which is a ghost mountain.   Osamu Dazai wrote this amazing short story about Mount Fuji, "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji,"  and how it is so prominent in one's life.   The last scene of the story is when tourists come upon the narrator (who we presume is Dazai) and ask him to take a photograph of them with Mount Fuji in the background.  He gave them time to pose, and then without them knowing,  Dazai focused the camera upward on taking a  photo of the mountain, leaving the tourists out of their photograph.   Sometimes a location is even greater than the individual.

February 23, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

February 22, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

When I want to feel someone, not like me, I go to the Ginza district in Tokyo.   I like to go window-shopping and imagine that I'm purchasing objects that I can't realistically afford.  I have always been attracted to music shops that sell not only CD's but also instruments that I can't play.  I live in an imaginary world where I'm a master musician.  The great thing about Tokyo is that there are endless things to see, and therefore worlds that one can enter, without the knowledge of that world.  I'm also fond of the neon lighting in the Ginza.  Soft compared to the harsh light of such locations as Shinjuku or Shibuya.

Ginza to me represents 1960s gangsters hanging out in a bar.  I only know this due that I have watched many comedies as well as gangster films that take place in the Ginza.  Whatever this is true or not is not something I'm concerned about.  It's similar to going to Disneyland and being a concern if Mickey Mouse exists or not in real life.  I'm blessed in the sense that I never care about the reality of the place or situation, but what is important is how I imagine the place.

I leave Tokyo today for Kyoto.   I often think that there is a connection between the two cities.   Again, my knowledge is only attached to what I think - it could be just the name "Kyoto" that brings up images in my head.   I'll let you know when I get there.