FireCat of the Tokyo Hotel, Chicago

FireCat of the Tokyo Hotel, ChicagoThe Tokyo Hotel on Ohio, in Chicago, is a shithole.  It’s the kind of place I once feared I’d be found dead in.  The customer reviews for this place are hysterically funny; descriptions of odd stains on the sheets and walls abound in these accounts.  Lots of kids from other countries wind up being suckered into staying there as it sells itself as a “hostel.”  They usually flee after a day or two.  The signs outside advertise fish tacos and aushi.   Um. . . no thanks.

It was originally the Devonshire Hotel years ago, but it’s been the Tokyo for as long as I can remember.  I always thought it was more of a wino SRO-type place like the Twain or the Abbott, but evidently it is one or two roaches short of that distinction, qhich is not to say it is a bad place; it’s not outside, and in Chicago weather, you do not  want your ass sleeping on the frozen ground.  So you share a blanket with some cooties–it beats freezing to death.

This is the time of year the city for which this hotel is named celebrates the cherry blossom.   The blooming of these remarkable trees happens in late April and early May for a period of 3 or 4 weeks.  It is the time of year when young men in Tokyo take their girlfriends to the park and lay a blanket under the trees and open a bottle of sake and listen to the myriad of concerts in Ueno Park in the middle of the city.  This is a very popular time of year to get engaged and this park is the place a great many couples do this.

The poor bastards.

A glance across the park is breathtaking; shimmering whites and pinks and reds, as far as you can see, music and joy and the coming of spring.  I’ve noted before that public parks in Japan are quiet places; sanctuaries for  reflection and solitude.  I wish I were there right now.   I miss the kites and cranes and giant ravens gobbling cicadas in mid-air; the quiet musicality of the place. . .the mammoth koi in the pond gliding silently, some of them so translucent they seem to glow in the dark water.   I miss Ueno Park.  It is one of those places where you feel good about the world’s chances and your own.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 12:24 am  Comments (1)  
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Ueno Park Red Bird

Ueno Park Red Bird

I was thinking of my friends in New Orleans as I made this piece, the beads and ornamentation, the echo of Lafcadio Hearn who left New Orleans to live in Tokyo, find much alike in those places.  Some of my collectors have whined that the Japanese things have been too decorative and too pretty.  Maybe there is something to that…who knows.  Myself, I feel like they are good representations of the Tokyo I experienced, as elegant and ornamental as that place may be.  I love the graphic sensibility of Japanese comics and graphic art; the more, more, more of it.  If it is not for you, well, this is what makes a horserace, and I give not a fuck.

New Orleans is also like this ñ color and shapes and sweat and nature all commingled into a lovely kind of sweet gumbo for the eyes.  I’m especially happy for my other city in the wake of the SAINTS . . . BOO YAH!!!!!!  It is the indication that this holy place is back.  My friends from NOLA texted, called and e-mailed their collective joy from all parts of the city yesterday, and I was overjoyed and over the moon for them.  I also made a neat pile of cash on the game ñ the Saints being 6-point dogs.  I’m betting more than one bookie lost his shirt yesterday.

I go to places like New Orleans, Tokyo and New York for sanity, for the joy and the mysterious poetry of those streets.  It is odd how I feel at home on the streets of New Orleans and Tokyo, and like a foreigner on the streets of Chicago lately.  At times there seems to be this untethering of my belonging to this city.  The desire to wander is more and more part of my work and make-up.  I have been the dutiful son to Chicago; I feel like I have done my bit here and I want to put the rest of the world in my work and see it with my own eyes.

I enjoyed performing This Train so much because I feel like it was a fair look at this place.  I love and hate this city, and I’ll always need it, it is my home.  But I also feel tremendously at home in New York and New Orleans, Tokyo and Austin.  You couldn’t give me other places, but these ones I dearly treasure.  This spring I’ll go to Prague and Istanbul, and I hope I love those cities as much.

In Ueno Park in Tokyo, all manner of gorgeous songbirds can be found and actually heard.  It is a magical place.  See it before you shuffle off of this planet.  You’ll thank me.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Shinjuku Sparrow

Shinjuku SparrowIn the Shinjuku district, there is most of the cool shopping in Japan, with bold graphics and bling everywhere.  You can walk by a window of a dizzying variety of Nike shoes, complete with every color of the swoosh one can imagine.  There are watches upon watches upon watches.  The weirdest ice-cream cones imaginable; not really cones the way we know them, more like sweet, thin wraps  stuffed with every kind of sweet cream and fruit and nuts and syrup.

Shinjuku is blinding color and motion, though not nearly as loud as other cities.  It is a culture of consumers, just like ours.  There are odd knock-offs of American products and Hello Kitty shit everywhere. I have to admit, I rather like the Hello Kitty stuff, as it is very comics-like.  There are a lot of young Japanese artists whose styles are greatly indebted to comics and manga.  It is the visual lingua-franca of their culture; much like comics, tattoos, Mad Magazine, and horror movies were for me.

As a kid, I remember having a Ratfink figure, one of those masterpieces of hot-rod culture that Big Daddy Roth gave us.  I was seven or eight and this was my favorite thing in the world.  I remember having to fight this oafish asshole who tried to take it from me on the playground.  Eddie Josephi tried to  grab it from me.  The prick. Needless to say, I left the playground with my Ratfink and Eddie ran home like a bitch with a bloody nose.

Shinjuku made me think of childhood a lot.  This part of town is very rooted in youth culture and you can find comics and books everywhere here and in the Chiyoda district, I found three volumes of gorgeous Japanese birds and paid a fortune for it and lugged the heavy bastards back to Chicago.  But what a score!  Whoever illustrated this book really loved birds.  As a kid, I drew birds incessantly.  Our yard was full of sparrows and finches and cardinals, red-wing blackbirds, and mourning doves.  The birds of Japan are exotic to me.  I don’t know a lot about them, and when I look in these books, it is like being there.  The parks are full of ravens and cranes and every kind of songbird.  In Ueno Park you can watch ravens gobble down cicadas in the late summer, and see cranes standing still as glass in the lagoon.  I think Japanese parks are quiet so one can hear the birds and the water.  In what little public space there is in Tokyo, nature is observed and revered.

Small ghost singing
In a Tokyo alley
Broken mirror songs.

Published in: on September 19, 2009 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ueno Park Goldfish

Ueno Park GoldfishIn Tokyo, there is a lovely, lush public green named Ueno Park.  It is full of beautifully sculpted trees; pines pruned to mimic bonsai motifs and ponds full of koi and carp and goldfish who come up to the surface and make sucking sounds that entreat tourists to feed them.  They will eat anything; hot-dogs, crackers, pretzels, cigarette butts; you name it.  The turtles also come over and mooch food as well.  Ueno Park was established by an imperial land grant in the 1920’s by Emperor Taishō. The official name of the park is “Ueno Imperial Gift Park,” lest anyone forget the largess of the Emperor.

It is a huge park complete with shrines, museums, a concert hall and a lovely grotto. If you are homeless in Tokyo, you probably live here. Though I didn’t notice a huge homeless population, people assure me it exists there.

Every spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, the park is a magical burst of pinks and reds and the Japanese travel from near and far to sit under the cherry blossoms and picnic and drink wine and listen to music.  This is a centuries old celebration.   My next-door neighbor, the fine Chicago photo-based artist, Doug Fogelson, went for the spring this year and told me how magical it was.  Doug’s enthusiasm for this is part of why I went to  Japan and I’ll be forever grateful to him for  making me aware of this.

Ueno Park figures prominently in much of the native fiction and manga.  It occupies the former Kan’ei-ji,  the temple of the Shoguns, who’d built the temple to protect the Castle of Edo.

The carp are huge and beautiful and have as much personality as a fish can have, they have it.  One is struck by the reverence the Japanese have for their parks.  They are very quiet places; serene really, and not full of douche-bags throwing Frisbees to their dogs. Nor does anyone let their dog shit in the park.  Or if they do, they probably toss it to the carp.

Flying back from Tokyo is sad; first because I’m sad to leave that place I am so fascinated by.  Secondly, because the movies on the plane were Sandra Bullock movies, and my iPod ran out of juice an hour into the flight.

When I got back, my dog, Chooch, jumped all over me and was thrilled to see me. . .at first.  About an hour later, he started giving me the shit-eye for being gone so long.  Three pieces of salami fixed that.  Once I left Tokyo, I started missing it.  It is one of those places, like New Orleans, where square-pegs like me actually kind of fit in.

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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