You see your share of homeless men and women near the river. At least the worst of the cold is over for the time being. Spotting the aloha shirt makes you feel breezy. This guy is a bit of a fixture, one milky eye, height about 4 feet, brown as a nut. I am in a hurry to pick something up when I pass him in the shabby shopping street on Hisago-dori, behind the temple. His drawing makes me stop.
I thought I had never seen him draw, but later the image comes back, his felt pens beside him on a wet day some months ago, at the crowded Shin Nakamise arcade near Asakusa station. There he looked more destitute. Here he looks composed and focused. He is not begging. The drawing is what he does. (Even so we attract a few scowls from a shopkeeper as we talk here.) He moves his black texta with quick scrawls, drops it decisively for another colour, or maybe gold.
Age 73, Tsuneyasu Yamatomi is a former construction worker. No kids. Doesn’t drink. Smokes and hacks a mean cough. He has lived around Asakusa for 50 years and says, I love it. He comes from Kumamoto though it’s a long time since he went back. There’s no one left anymore, he says. My Mum is gone. He gets meals from volunteers. Every Thursday there’s a massive rice ball.
I like the dragon he is working on and tell him I’ll buy it after my errand. He says, Sure, I’ll finish quickly. I say, I’ll be back in 10. When I return he pulls out other pictures torn from his big spiral notebook and says, Would you like them? As a memory. He says, You know, a weekly mag ran my work. I’ll draw you a God of Plenty next time.
Today I passed the spot again, and in the space where we chatted, someone has parked so many bicycles, all lined up perfectly at 60 degrees, that it is completely obstructed and impossible to sit. Deliberate? Who knows. But wherever Yamatomi is, he is probably drawing.