I’ve taken tons and tons of digital shots and I have no earthly fucking idea how to load them onto my computer, because I am a moron. I walked at least 5 miles today all over Sinjuku and Shimboyu and tonight in the Ginza district. I also spent a little time in one of the parks which are gorgeous in Tokyo, and oddly quiet. Public space is revered in this city because there is so little of it and parks offer respite from the crowds. People are very quiet in the parks and these immaculately manicured places are sanctuary and lend themselves to reading and meditation. The trees are carefully pruned and sculpted and every park is tended to like a giant garden. They are beautiful.
I walked a great deal today and saw a lot of Tokyo in a shopping district right by Shiboyu. There is a youth culture that is hard to discern the look of; part punk, part slacker, part skate-kid. It is an amalgam of all of these things. I have stumbled onto something my host country really likes though–buttons. They are bat-shit for buttons.
My friend, Beth Keegan had a button made from a detail of one of my Drawing-Collages for the publication of Polyphony, an anthology of writing by high school kids that I provide the cover for every year. After the opening party of the new issue, Beth gave me a baggie full of these buttons and said I ought to hand them out to friends. On a whim, I brought them with me. They were in my bag anyway and just for the hell of it, and I started handing them out in Tokyo. Tipping is not accepted here, so mostly I’ve been giving out the buttons and, Jesus Christ. . .you’d think I was handing out the Hope Diamond. They LOVE them. And I began to notice lots of people have buttons with manga characters, Hello Kitty, monsters, anime, comics; these are some seriously button-happy motherfuckers. From sushi chefs, to doormen, to hotel maids, to art-kids, the buttons are a huge hit. Every time I hand one out I make a friend. I speak no Japanese at all and I’ve managed some marvelous conversations with people about these buttons and Tokyo and art and what they like. I am so grateful to Beth for giving these to me and I think I’m going to have some more made. We’ve been treated with such kindness here and such amazing goodwill. I think to our hosts, maybe the buttons represent a talisman of goodwill. I certainly mean it this way and it is understood.
Tonight, I ate the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life. Back home I am a middling fan of sushi. I can kind of take it or leave it. My daughter loves the stuff, so I go out for it fairly frequently and the experience varies from pretty good, to just okay, to dog-shit. I never got what the big whoop about sushi was.
Once I got it here, I understood. This place is the mecca of sushi and a sushi chef here is a combination of things; an artist, a dinner companion, a griot, and, the good ones, educators. You learn a lot about the Japanese in a really good sushi restaurant. One learns of the high premium placed on the idea of civility and kindness; that over the sushi bar, one does not merely have a meal, but also forges a communal conversation and fosters goodwill. At Kyubey in the Ginza district, I ate with my friends and had another of those marvelous conversations in which neither participant spoke a word of the other’s language. Oh,I know, “Ka ni chi wa” and “Arivato,” but the conversation I had with the sushi chefs was more nuanced than many I’ve had with people I’ve know for 10 years. It was a conversation held almost in pantomime and smiles and gestures and nods. And it was warm and fine and good. Watching these guys prepare food was like watching Yo Yo Ma play a cello, or Oscar Peterson, the piano. It is the difference between watching an artist and a hobbyist. There are no wasted movements in the preparation; every element is prepared with an economy of motion and speed and temperature. Every bite was different.
Tipping is not allowed, so we bought the chefs beers (and so did everyone else) and these guys toast their benefactors and then hammer the whole glass down in one sip. Though I’ve not had a drink in 25 years, I still admire guys who drink like they absolutely mean to, and they mean to enjoy it, as well. After their toast, they go right back to work preparing delicately realized, and perfect sushi. My friend, the chef, John Hogan, once told me that every great meal teaches you a new lesson. I’m beginning to know what he means.