Tokyo photos by Stefan Stenudd
Tokyo photos, 2000.
Strolling the streets, I came across a number of scenes, which I found if not dramatic so talkative about the city life of Shinjuku, Tokyo. This powerful landscape of commerce and despotic architecture, could easily make its people suffocate — but it does not.
Mainly, but not only, youngsters find ways around it all, find room for their own expressions and entertainment without price tags. That's what makes Shinjuku come alive.
Still, like just about any other city in the world, this takes place in the very borderline of what the metropolitan authorities accept.
Why is it always so, that society has the least patience with its citizens, when they struggle to make their lives pleasant through their own talents?
Here are some examples of what happens outside of the malls, at no cost to anybody but the constant appetite of the money-making machinery. The life in between.
Shinjuku Central Park
It's not the biggest park of Shinjuku area, but it sure is the most central — right next to the enormous city government buildings, reaching for the sky as if to pierce it. There is, of course, a lot of green in the park, but its main attraction seems to be the open space in front of the waterfall, although this is right by one of the busy streets.
On this area, there are lots of activities taking place. The citizens of Tokyo seem to go to the park, not to relax, but to indulge in hobbies of theirs. Kids, teens and adults come here to play, in whatever way they prefer to. And they do it with a concentration which must be admired.
Well, that's also a way of relaxing.
I thought the yo-yo was completely out, practically since I was a kid, and we played with it for a while. Little did I know.
These kids in the park, were definitely cool — and very good with their yo-yos. They used two, nothing less, one for each hand. I can't remember that I was able to, when I was a kid. And more — they did all kinds of tricks with them, some things even making you doubt your own eyes.
There was one star of the group, a boy who did everything so much more skillfully than the others, and being infinitely more cool about it. Listening to music through the headphones, swinging those yo-yos, and dancing too.
Also in dancing, he performed very well indeed.
Outdoor acting classes
One of the days I wandered in the park, the students of an acting school were using it for their rehearsals. They worked in small groups, here and there over the open space, on differing levels of enacting — and of skill.
I had no way of understanding what was said in the dialogues, but pretty much about what was being said, I thought myself able to make out from expressions, gestures, tone of voice. Maybe I was completely wrong, in each case. But I did recognize the dramatic technique from all those Kurosawa movies.
is the Japanese word for training, used for example in Budo, the Japanese Martial arts. It implies working really hard, no matter how difficult or demanding the task may be, to one day be able the most remarkable feats.
These skateboard teens in the park were showing that very stamina, although the sunshine alone was enough to make everybody sweat. Trying, trying, trying.
Sure, they took some breaks, but very short ones indeed, and then back to exercising the tricks with the board. And their dedication was evident also in the fact that when they rested, they did this too on the board.
All by himself, right in front of the waterfall, this man was practicing tricks on his bicycle. He was good at it, but something in the solitude of the scene, the introversion with which he was focusing on the dance of his bicycle, made it all look a bit sad.
Somewhat like a caged hamster running in its treadmill.
It used to be the part of Tokyo called Harajuku, hosting spontaneous rock concerts on the street and in the parks, but the police stopped that. I don't know why. Instead it seems to have moved to the shopping district Shinjuku, as far as from what I witnessed.
Several nights, and in the weekends also the afternoons, bands put together their equipment, turned on their petrol driven electric generators, and struck their chords. Substantial crowds listened to them.
All kinds of bands — country & western, glossy pop, different styles and eras of rock music. The performers always took their job very seriously, working hard to give their audience a good show, although no tickets were sold.
I even got the impression that the free, moneyless form of it was an important part of the whole thing, to the musicians even more than to the audience. Nevertheless, they had CD's for sale and gladly accepted members to their fan clubs, sometimes I guess such members would be the founding ones.
Here are pictures from two of those concerts — one in the daytime, and one at night, both with fitting genres of music.
Funky street music
In the Sunday afternoon, the cars are banned from the street in front of department store My City, and bands take the opportunity to rig their stages on the free pavement. This one played funky music with a lot of skill, its leader the tireless black base player from America.
Also his fellow musicians of the band knew very well what they were doing, and they all could do it for quite some time, without dropping the beat.
Quite a few in the audience were just as tireless, some of them young musicians full of admiration, hugging their instruments — hidden inside cases and bags — while staring at the man snapping the strings of his base.
When the night deepens, of course, the heavy metal band Kami Kaze begins their show — a show indeed. They work as if they've performed hundreds of times, and maybe they have — on the street, in small clubs with no pay, and so forth. One day, that is sure to change for them.
They even have a manager, and after the intense concert, they sit down by a table, to write autographs, sell CD's and receive questionnaires that their friends handed out to the audience. Numerous girls return the forms, full of admiring words, perchance an occasional phone number — if so, surely to a cellular.
But mainly: what a fully loaded concert they gave.
When they're done, they bow politely, shouting a spirited "Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!"
Dancing in the street
This lady was dancing in the street with such rage and expression, I do not understand how the policemen dared to approach her, much less interrupt her. Well, they were three at it. They had to be.
What is even less understandable, is why they had to intervene at all. She was giving a performance, and a skilled one, its artistic sharpness and energy unquestionable. What could possibly have been wrong with that, especially since it was taking place at the time when the street was closed to cars, in the weekend.
Anyway, in her artistic professionalism, she immediately incorporated the policemen and their intervention into her performance. Wow — they did not stand a chance. At the moment one of them touched her, she burst out in movements resembling the struggle of somebody drowning, and when they let go of her — in an instant — she continued with the weirdest steps and turns.
To some people, normal rules just don't apply.
I didn't understand a word of it, so the jokes passed me by, completely. But when those young and eager Tokyo standup commedians did their routines on the street, I was mesmerized by their physical expression. Especially this guy, not standing still for a second. I didn't need to understand the words, his body language being spoken so loudly. Bottom line of it — he had fun. So I did, too.
Samurai TV shoot
I came across a film team working on a TV ad. A samurai with the new fancy video camera. The message is clear — any samurai would want it.
Shinjuku con man
When one of the wide avenues was closed to cars, in the weekend, they were instead crowded by pedestrians, performers and vendors — some less trustworthy than others.
Less, I would say about the man who sold a little puppet, which seemed to obey his commands, doing somersaults, playing dead, even halting in mid air — all without any strings or other visible means.
It was done by a magnetic field, I would guess, through an apparatus concealed by clothing and controlled by a partner pretending to be an innocent bystander. Kind of reminds you of Times Square, New York, does it not?
Shinjuku is the foremost Tokyo district of shopping and amusement, which would in any other part of the world make it full of robbers, pickpockets and such, as well. Not so in this country. That would be too rude.
Still, there are countless businesses, trying all legal means to find customers. One of those is the Karaoke bars, where teenagers go to sit in cozy booths, sing their favorite pop songs, and to make out. The equivalent of the back seat of an American car.
For some reason, only boys are cruising the streets in search of girls to convince to visit these bars. Maybe that will automatically lead to boys coming, as well.
These boys are numerous, all over the Shinjuku central shopping area, and they all look like members of boy bands — dressed like dolls, shirts more or less unbuttoned, with rascal smiles and a good tan. When one of them hooks on to a girl, or a group of girls, you cannot help but think of crocodiles. It must be hard to say no.
A different cup of tea
I don't know what he was selling, the boy on the photos below, with a towel around his neck, but I have my thoughts on the subject. He was strolling around by the backside of My City department store, where the cars could come up right to that entrance and make short stops, without blocking traffic.
Well, not strolling, exactly — more like dancing, in a cool, semi-intentional way, although hearing no music, and doing so more on the street than on the pavement beside it. Looking very happy. He was not alone, a couple of older men were standing to the side, always keeping their eyes on him. One of them appears in the last photo.
I asked him. He would not tell me what he was doing there, said that it was a secret. He was very friendly about it, though, as if keeping me in the dark for my own good. As if it would be too much for my innocent ears.
His own ears were frequently occupied by his two cellular phones, ringing all the time. A busy boy.
The constant flow of people, searching for their delights.
People enjoying themselves. Events taking place on the streets and in the park.
The skyscraper celebration of the right angle.
Nocturnal spirit of those same buildings and their habitat.
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.