Tokyo Kills Me: Photos

Tokyo Kills me, 2008

Ongoing Updates (5.26.18). Snapshots from daily life in and around Tokyo, a.k.a. “The Big Sushi,” at the end of the second millennium and the start of the third.

Check out the most recent pictures posted, circa 2007-2008, at Tokyo Kills Me: Photos


Home Sweet Home Nerima 2011 — ???

This is not my house…

At first, my new neighbourhood in Nerima comes across as any other near-city suburb in western Tokyo. Acres of boxy, two-storey houses with blue or rust roofs and little or no yard radiant from the train station. Functional low-rise walkups with open hallways and stairwells. Light-industry factories and warehouses. Grim schoolhouses. And in the between-spaces, fields of cabbage and onion and corn.

So very, very different from the hip, upscale neighbourhoods in central Tokyo, aka The Big Sushi, where R., my wife, and I commute every day for work.

We moved here, bought a house and everything, after eight years in nearby, semi-rural Kodaira. And that – eight years – is the longest I’ve lived in one place. Ever. So much for my “three-year adventure in Japan! Sorry, Ma. But that’s another story…

Compared to Kodaira, Nerima at first feels claustrophobic: houses, fields, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, all share too little space. Stepping out our front gate the first night in our new home, SUVs menace on the narrow, poorly lit, sidewalkless streets. Headlights swerve to the left of us, to the right of us, straight at us… and that was just in front of our house!

As we settle in, however, and on laid-back weekends explore our new surroundings, the character of the place starts to open up. Across the street from our house a spooky parkette with the copper-green statue of a child but never any real children — or anyone else, for that matter. The Muscle Gym around the corner — that’s the name, by the way, in English and Japanese — with a jacked-up 4×4 in front, a middle-aged guy with a punch perm and sweat suit smoking by the door and joking with a knot of young men. Next door two kindly obasans, middle-aged women, make bento box lunches by hand among great dusty sacks of rice from all over Japan.

Mornings, I wake before dawn brightens the skylights. A rooster crows as I hit the shower. By the time I start my walk to the station, the farmers are already hard at work trimming cabbages with long knives and loading the heads into barrows. Back from the road carrots, cauliflower, broccoli are left for sale on tables and clear-fronted, coin-operated vegetable lockers. Only in Japan….

A forty-minute commuter express ride each way takes us to and from the sky islands and neon canyonlands of the Tokyo that you, gentle reader, likely imagine. We squeeze into trains packed tight as sushi rolls, jack into iPods same as everyone else, do our best to tune out the discomfort. Lately I’ve taken to passing the time with meditation podcasts.

After a day in the workaholic city, I return to our quiet little home and even quieter neighbours, mostly retirees – or gentlemen farmers. Sometimes I catch a sunset, all cherry-blossom pink; other times I watch the moon rise through the skylights.

R. has a different schedule from me, so weeknights I am often in bed before she gets home, dreams of cabbages dancing in my head…

Maybe this isn’t the adventure I expected when I left family and friends back in Toronto all those years ago now. But as I become mindful to the details of this residential suburban life, I find myself growing and deepening in experience. And isn’t that what adventure is all about?

(With thanks to Amanda “Ax” Castleman for help with the edits…)

Tsuyu Rainy Season Day One


June 8th is the official start of the tsuyu rainy season in Tokyo. Ironically, today is also the first break we’ve had from the rain in three days. Here some of my neighbours take advantage of the weather to… well i don’t know what they’re doing. Anyway, for those of you skeptical that there’s any countryside left in Tokyo, this is the scene R. and i passed today on the way tp the library and supermarket.



Guardian Fox at Night
Guardian Fox at Night

a disturbance in the force

a tremour in the ‘hood

no sleep for me tonight

2:30 a.m.. Restless thought syndrome. Body willing but monkey mind still chattering away, I let my wife sleep in peace and head downstairs. I’ll pay for this tomorrow, I know, when the adrenaline finally wears off and I’m left all raw and jangly at the front of a classroom full of teenagers flush with spring and hours still left on the clock.

the house spirits make room for me

pull back to the shadows

as I pass

Continue reading “3:30am”

Extreme Weather: Typhoon Wipha Update

Bike Lot, Post-Typhoon Wipha
Bike Lot, Post-Typhoon Wipha

… just back from walking R. to the train station. Our commuter line is delayed, but not cancelled, because of Typhoon Wipha, which means she’s expected to show up at the office.

Walking out of doors in extreme weather can be exhilarating. Even on a say like today, when the worst we got of it in this area was leaf, twig, and small branch litter on the road, and a patch of flattened bikes near the station, the suck and surge of the heavy air still reminds us that wind is called a FORCE of nature for a reason: it can blow you around any time it wants, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Still, by the time we got to the station the worst of it had passed, and R. made her way to her job in The City. My school has cancelled the day, so I sat at a cafe in the station and watched a diminished but steady stream of commuters – some doubtless my neighbours – flow through the ticket gates.

By 10 am the sky was clearing to the west. Now it’s 11:30 am, and its almost as if nothing happened.

Snow Day Redux!

One snow day, that’s rare enough in Tokyo, but two within a week of each other! 2012, The Year of the Dragon, has certainly gotten off to an auspicious start.

Here, reprinted from my flickr page, are some of the most popular pictures, along with a few personal favourites, I’ve taken during Tokyo’s mid-winter snow season.

I love snow, especially when it falls in big, wet, heavy flakes that settle on everything, and transmogrify the everyday into a fantastical alternativer universe. Guitars make texture not music, and a subway station is the threshold before a winter wonderland.

Snow Guitar
Snow Cabbage
Snow Tree
Snow Tracks
Snow Leaves
Snow Berries

Come in, Nerima!: the morning commute

Morning Kitsune, Nerima

Weekday mornings quickly settle into a routine.

I pull a hoodie over my head as I leave home for the train station in the early morning cold.

At the kitsune temple fox I hang a left and walk roughly westward, the warming sun on my back, towards the station.

Along the way I pass a she-goat eating the bottom leaves off a “brother tomato tree,” as we call them in Japan, a persimmon tree. Garbage crows are already scoping the neighbourhood for any trash or other goodies not covered in the strong blue and yellow mesh of the crow nets.

This early in the morning, there are not so many others about, just a few salarymen in dark blue or black or grey suits, sans overcoats, hustling for the station.

Depending on the route I choose, it takes me about twenty minutes from my front door to the station if I hustle.

As I approach the station vicinity, more commuters emerge from the labyrinth of roads, apartment buildings and housing complexes. As I merge with the flow, it’s a steady stream of dark suit jackets, with the occasional splash of colour: a university student in a bright overcoat; me in a firecracker-red Ternua Primaloft jacket.

Entering Hoya station, commuters make their way though the turnstiles like salmon ascending spawning ladders.

There’s plenty of seats on my train at this time of day, heading out of the city. On the train going in the opposite direction, the busy one, into the city, the riders look like lobsters crawling over each other in green restaurant tanks.