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For Whom the Bell Tolls

On a normal day Kanegafuchi’s prospects look bleak. Stores stand shuttered down the long straight shopping street. The two-lane thoroughfare crosses a sort of isthmus west-to-east, above Asakusa, almost connecting the rivers Sumida and Arakawa. The direct morning and evening sun have hammered the buildings and awnings, fading the paint and fabric. Some of the…

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Enough Rope

You don’t really want to buy string. You just want to luxuriate in some shadows in this minimally stocked store. Away from the humid clutter of Edo Dori. The front part was originally a barracks, temporary housing, erected after the 1945 US bombing raids. Katsuo Uchida’s father began business in 1948. The district was only…

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Left Right In

The aisle at this used-books shop in the former redlight area of Hatonomachi separates more than the shelves; on the right are titles on nationalism and on the left are socialism and freedom. Owner Shigefumi Inaba coined the name, Usami-do, literally Right Left Look Store, to cater to everyone. Of course, left and right are…

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Ryo Watanabe Metalworks

These quiet objects by Ryo Watanabe are made of metal, the noisiest material to work with. Watanabe treats it like a living thing. Some effects he gets by scorching, others by a slower form of chance; stacking his sheet steel out of doors under the elements, moving it once in a while. It might take…

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Read Write

Hiroshi Ochiai was a sports journalist until March of this year, when he reinvented himself as a bookstore owner, opening Readin’ Writin’ near Tawaramachi Station, behind the Lemon Pie cake shop. The shop is in a former lumberyard building and is entirely self-funded. His renovations make the most of the height of the room, with…

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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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