They don’t want to be salarymen. The 4 or 5 young men I am standing with are tattooed, nattily-dressed punker types with gangster hats and highlighted hair. We are standing at the entrance of the Ameyoko market where you can by everything from big-eyed, cartoony redfish, to primrose-colored Ramones T-shirts, to epicurean green tea. It is a bit of the new economy’s Wild West, with guys hawking everything out loud , specially the fish guys, who pick up their catch every morning from Tsukiji market.
These young men want none of the stoic and sober countenance of the quiet, brief-case carrying commuters they eye walking briskly toward the trains. They walked up and started asking me about my tattoos and we, as best we could, talked about what they were up to. One young man with a DMX T-Shirt told me he was an aspiring rapper, and his first love was American hip-hop and rap acts like 50- Cent and Snoop Dogg. He even did a bit of Snoop for me; “Snoop upside, Snoop upside, Snoop upside yo head. . .” Seeing this from an earnest Japanese teenager is screamingly funny, and even he thinks so. The other guys weren’t sure about what they wanted. As much as they understood what I was getting at.
I showed them a book of some of my work and via the miracle of pantomime, we were able to communicate. These guys all love Scarface. I know this because when I told them my name was “Tony,” they started saying “Tony Montana. . .Say hello to my lil friend. . .bang, bang, bang.” When I told them I was from Chicago, they said “Al Capone,” to which I nodded and replied “Fuckin’ A. . .except now we call him Mayor Daley.”
I got a lot out of talking with these kids. In some ways they want to be like us. In other ways, they’re rightly appalled by us. One of them went to great pains to show his dismay at the reports of people showing up to our President’s speeches with guns. This idea gives him the idea that we are crazy. And they are aware of the racism cloaked in much of the anti-Obama sentiment. Outside of our borders, I thought, maybe people are able to see this better than we, ourselves do and perhaps able to take a longer view of us.
These guys are also bat-shit for comics and were trying to ask me why I didn’t do comics. I tried to explain that this was what I’d wanted to do as a kid. In this culture it is not unusual for grown men to read and buy comics and Manga. In fact, it is a bumper industry over here and sometimes the fans dress like the Manga characters and get together in the parks. Get on any train and you see men reading comics. The comic stores in Chiyoda are always full of mostly men and boys and they wait with baited breath for each new installment.
The market here is almost impossible to describe as it sells everything. A young man with a shaved head and a Drop-Kick Murphy’s T-shirt is hawking styrofoam cooler after cooler of eel’s, remora,and baby octopus. Two stalls down there is an older women offering seaweed and kelp; next to her is a guy with knock-off Dolce & Gabana products. There is no rhyme or reason to how this thing works, but it is wonderful and I realize that for about a week, I’ve not been chained to my cell phone or e-mail, and I have the luxury of watching like a fly on the wall; granted a 6’3″, 250 pound fly (it’s not like I go un-noticed), but nobody knows me here and beyond my freakish large size, nobody pays me much attention and I am able to use my eyes and ears and decode what is going on around me in my own way and on my own time. I don’t know that I completely get Japan, but I like it. There is a dreaminess about it that I respond to and a lot of this population often seeks its own world to disappear into. Nobody understands this desire like I do.
There is a term used to describe certain elements of Japanese art called “the Floating World.” It was often used to describe narrative art in this country over the last few centuries and it is thought that a great much of Japanese comics and manga come out of this tradition. It is not unlike how European whites describe some Latin-American writing as “magical realism.” The two are not unlike each other. There is a real world feeling of that in this country; that amid the salarymen and a culture that seems to adhere to almost arcanely comformist behavior; there is a wild imagination woven into the human experience.