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Felt Tips of the Gods

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…

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Michio Yamauchi Photographer

I ran into the street photographer Michio Yamauchi outside the Hanayashiki amusement park. I knew him from a book project I had worked on, but we had barely spoken. He said, Asakusa during the holidays is a good place to shoot. I said, Sometimes I stand here to snap the roller coaster. He seemed willing…

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Kimchi Cherries Lizard

I asked for it spicy and the master of this small Korean BBQ restaurant in east Ueno, who wore a chef’s hat and also took my order, put it through to his wife behind the kitchen window, and she made a stewed beef claypot lunch that was powerfully hot, just right for this warm afternoon…

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Watching the Wheels

I jumped as the traffic lights changed and an oncoming horn blast caught me taking a picture of these buildings, standing in the middle of Meiji Dori in Higashi Mukojima. Couldn’t resist the rust and corrugated iron. Not to mention this fellow, who waved at me. Takao Iida was born and grew up in this…

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Sesame Mucho

The family that sells oil together sticks together. Masajiro Isomura began wholesaling sesame oil and other cooking oils in 1935 at a building across the main road from here, but it was destroyed in the US wartime fire-bombings. Friends lent him new premises to help him restart, and now his eldest son Kyoichiro – the…

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Life’s Work

Went to an exhibition in some abandoned nagaya houses on this rainy day in Sumida Ward, came across this dog-legged lane, a jumble of corrugated tin-clad factories merging with clapboard houses and some piles of stuff. As with many districts where people make things, there seems to be no council zoning. The neighbourhood feels as…

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Climbing Frame

I chanced across a row of prewar nagaya, long houses, in working-class Kyojima, Sumida Ward, a couple of years ago, and wrote a short post lamenting their inevitable doom. Some are now scheduled for demolition within weeks. In the meantime, artist Haruchi Osaki has adopted three of them as part of a local project. He…

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Oranges and Lemons

The last Sunday of last month I met a man selling oranges and mandarins at Shirahige Park, north of Asakusa, from a truck marked Kitagawa Pig Farm. His wife makes jams from mandarins and figs. Her mandarin jam is something else. Sweet and bitter like marmalade, but delicate. Yoshihiko Naito is a fourth-generation farmer from…

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Pink Portal to Time

Tumbledown drinking house standing alone near the Yanaka graveyard, a woman tending a pot-plant in the doorway, light snow flurries, a brown and white cat sips water from a plastic basin. Pink peeling signboard, the lettering fading to the west up Kototoi-dori, a long way from Kototoi bridge and the Sumida River back at Asakusa.…

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Draining History

They’ve pulled the plug at Asakusa Kannon Onsen bathhouse, the Waters of the Goddess of Mercy. You might hope with a name like that, this fountain of youth could live forever. But the truth is, it was long circling the drain, with broken glass bricks, dripping water and crumbling concrete. The cloudy spring water and…

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