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Bags of Fun

Golden Week means Mr and Mrs Hirata of Kuramae get to shut the handbag wholesale shop next door to Sol’s coffee, and enjoy lunch with their daughter Hana, a Ringling Bros. ice dancer based in the US. It’s a free-form occasion with snacks including fast-food spread across the table, and grandma and aunty, from around…

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Wollemi Pine, Asakusa

So you’ve noticed similarities in mood, but it’s not till you stumble across the Australian pine on the Sumida River you learn you’re living in the sister city of the town where you grew up. Taito Ward, Tokyo: in the city but not of the city. A faded amusement park, a river breeze, tourists and…

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Went to the Fortune Teller

You don’t have to believe Housen Murakami and her charts of Chinese shichu suimei, four pillars of destiny, in this soft, somewhat David Lynchean chamber she has named Maya (after Buddha’s mother). But fortune telling is not just for the superstitious. Murakami’s cool, matronly empathy lets you look at your life differently. For 3,000 yen,…

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Underground Movie

Oh look fancy that, it was made in 1953, the year I was born, says Toshio Nagai, holding up the DVD box for Gate of Hell. This won Academy Awards you know, he says, putting it down again. It’s not the film you want, but there is plenty more at J-Price, Nagai’s discount kiosk. Not…

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Street Frypan

Hitomi Shibata says, We’re not like a married couple we are like a team. We help each other through the tough bits. She makes a gesture as if pulling a rope. She and her husband Mutoyoshi live behind Sensoji temple, but were born and grew up three houses apart on nearby Kappabashi kitchenware street. Mutoyoshi,…

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Remain in Light

It takes time to adjust to the darkness inside Hakujitu. The irony of this is that the name (pronounced Hakujitsu) means “broad daylight”. But Kouichi Nishizaka says it also means, to bring to light things that are hard to see. He says, These items may never find buyers if I don’t offer them. Objects made…

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Kabuki’s Beans

Yusuke Kabuki is a Renaissance man of coffee and cocoa. He constructed this atelier-cafe inside an old building. He wrote a book about chocolate; its history, how to make it. He is enthusiastic and artistic. Temperature and timing is everything, he says. He began roasting coffee after graduating from high school, about 13 years ago.…

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Looking at the Stars

The crowd blocks the street at a neighbourhood festival. (This happened last summer.) There’s a smiling stranger on the fringe, watching the action. Tanned and weatherbeaten. Hey, he says, catching your eye. He points across the road, up a sidestreet, where the scene is bustling. People are hoisting a portable shrine. There’s a man riding…

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Pinch Me

You regularly pass this place, but have never thought to enter. An old-fashioned massage clinic at the end of the Asakusa subway Eki-chika arcade. For some reason, the pictures on the sandwich boards speak to you today. They pull you in. Vigorous handpainted watercolours. The fleshy skin being kneaded and pushed. How about it? Three…

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Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

You might see Mt. Fuji. Out there in the red dusk beyond Skytree, beyond soapland, beyond this weekend’s art event. Or look down six floors, and the straight road leads your eye between the Yoshiwara brothels, the willow trees and lamp-posts, head- and tail-lights of the dark-windowed people-movers with their human cargo; shipping the girls…

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