Donald’s talk with Shinzō

Wiggy Leaks: there’s a bug under that rug

Donald: I have great respect for the Japanese. You draw the best titties. I’ve heard you make the best cars, but they’re made in America. Is that correct?

Shinzō: Yes.

Donald: So you’re basically the Asian America. Your people lost their jobs. Yes?

Shinzō: No. We automated those jobs years ago. We were creating jobs in the US. You are a job creator, yes?

Donald: Sometimes. Other times I’m a hatchet man. I’m a stellar golf buddy. Do you play golf?

Shinzō: Yes. Japanese love golf. I play. What’s your handicap?

Donald: This changes everything. Bannon, cancel the Godzilla menace ads. Would you be interested in a Trump resort in Japan? Continue reading

“Tokyo in the Underbrush”: ArtsWeek

Pictures and poems from Japan’s bubble years…

In January, 1987 I graduated from Lehigh University with a B.A. in journalism. By the first week of March I was in Tokyo, Japan to start my first real adult job and the rest of my life. I was 23 years and two months old, and had decided I wanted adventure instead of an entry-level stateside newspaper job. So through some business contacts of my father’s I secured an entry-level marketing position with an American information services company in Tokyo.


What I present to you here are poems and photographs I created while living and working in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. All the images are of Tokyo drunks and homeless people because, at the time, I was naïve and couldn’t believe this aspect of Japanese society existed. I felt I had to document it.

Poverty and homelessness still persist in Japan, of course, and through some strange twists of fate I resumed documenting Tokyo street life four years ago. This has resulted in a book I’m trying to get published called “Tokyo Panic Stories.” You can see samples my recent Tokyo work here and here.

So please enjoy this 28 year-old folio of words and images. And keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still pleased with some of it), the poems were written by a man less than half his current age of 52 years. Also note that each photo is paired with the text right beneath it, and click any image to see it full-size.

Tokyo in the Underbrush


Akihabara—May, 1988

Humor of the ‘surd

When you stare straight ahead, people love you. Continue reading

Scenes from a Tokyo skid row clinic

by Dan Ryan

This is a condensed, reworked excerpt from my recent Amazon Kindle photo essay book “Ningenkusai: A Tokyo Panic Stories Mini-book.” I prepared it for exclusive publication by the Japan Subculture Research Center. But, happily, it was then picked up and republished by Zero Hedge. You can buy a copy of the full book at Amazon.


You’ve probably never heard of Sanya. The Tokyo City Government doesn’t acknowledge its existence, and you won’t find it on any official maps. Sanya is more or less Tokyo’s skid row, where people, mostly men, end up when the other parts of this immense, gleaming city have stopped offering comfort and opportunity.

Sanya is where the Japanese outcasts, food animal butchers, leather tanners, and other professions considered “unclean” by Japan’s traditionally Buddhist ruling class, a.k.a. the burakumin, or dowa, plied their trades for centuries. These tradesmen may mostly be gone, and the smell of the blood they spilled long-since drifted away, but the stigma of what Sanya once was remains, and it clings to the many of the people who live and work here.

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Sanya is a blue-collar place, where an aging population of day laborers lingers on the fringe of Tokyo society. Many laborers have drinking problems, and they’ve ended up in Sanya to hide their abuses from their families. Sights like this fellow are pretty common, except in rainy weather.

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And even then Sanya has a shōtengai dotted with little bars and liquor stores.

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For many men in Sanya, government welfare assistance is available but is a problematic thing. Applying for it requires identity verification by contacting an applicant’s family. Most Sanya men who have fallen on hard times and taken to excessive drinking don’t want this. They would rather their families not know where they are or how they live. Revealing this would mean bringing unbearable shame upon their loved ones.

So when you’re down in Sanya and public assistance isn’t an option for some reason, what do you do? You go private, to a small outfit like Sanyūkai NPO, a non-religious non-profit organization. The Sanyūkai NPO and the free medical clinic within it is run by a couple of foreign missionaries who have been doing charity work in Sanya since the early ‘80s.

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Deacon Jean LeBeau, the director of Sanyūkai NPO, is a French-Canadian Catholic with the Quebec Foreign Mission Society. Deacon Jean has been in Japan for 41 years, including 28 years in Sanya. He’s a humble, affable man, who would rather speak Japanese than either English or his native French.

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Sister Rita Burdzy, head nurse of Sanyūkai clinic, is an American from St. Louis, Missouri who came to Japan in 1981. She is a nun with the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic of Ossining, New York, a Roman Catholic order whose members devote their lives to service overseas in specialties such as medicine and agriculture. Sister Rita holds a Japanese nursing license and is the nurse in charge of most of the activities at the clinic.

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It’s a small facility, with only two beds in the examination room. Hundreds of ailing men have passed through this place since it opened in 1984. And somehow it manages to keep doing the job.

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In addition to Sister Rita, medical services are supplied by a volunteer roster of over 30 medical doctors and registered nurses. Doctor Kanade Hagiwara, an urologist at a general hospital in Tokyo, is one of those volunteers. She treats patients at the clinic on the fourth Saturday of each month. The NPO is not a religious organization, and therefore does not insist that either volunteers or clients adhere to any one faith, or have any religious faith at all.

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Within the clinic, the one concession to spiritual matters is this hand-made banner and the shrine beside it, which is dedicated to recently-departed clients and patients of the clinic.

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Since Sanya does not officially exist, Sanyūkai clinic has an address in Kiyokawa, in Taito-ku ward, on a small street that could easily pass for an alleyway. Outside the clinic, unless it is raining or bitterly cold, men in need of clinic services sit on benches and wait, often with Sister Rita and Deacon Jean (whose back is shown) somewhere nearby.

Pic 10

But the men who gather outside Sanyūkai clinic tend to make it more of a social venue than the dreary medical waiting-room scene you might expect. They’re a diverse group, even though most are older day laborers who get less and less work as they age. The men in the middle and the right fall into that category. The guy on the left is a transplant from nearby Asakusa, whose reasons for ending up in Sanya are not entirely clear.

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But this man, who died of a brain hemorrhage in June 2012, used to own a bar next to the clinic.

Pic 12

While this fellow is a professional cook who does not always get daily work.

If the men who frequent the Sanyūkai clinic share one thing, it is a quality Sister Rita calls “ningenkusai” (人間くさい), which she says “is a quality of being very human, of smelling comfortably human. Of being full of human traits.” She adds that this is the best English translation she could offer for a concept that she says is uniquely Japanese.

With obvious fondness, Sister Rita goes on to say that despite their backgrounds and personal secrets “these men have a purity of heart and are very charming. There is no guile in these men.” She sums things up by saying when men come to the clinic off of Sanya’s streets and ask for help “no questions are asked. We’re a family.”

And you can feel the truth of it when she says it.

So, there’s no crime story here, and no breaking scandal. It is surprising, and shameful, that a city like Tokyo has had a problem like this for so long. But at least the phenomenon of homeless and chronically drunk and unemployed street men isn’t being ignored. Good people are on the case. People like Sister Rita and Deacon Jean.

Reporting and photography for this story was done in Sanya, Tokyo in April, 2012.

The incomplete transsexual: a small tale from the Seoul Bar

by Dan Ryan

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It was a little like the scenario in that Kinks song “Lola,” but only in passing. I met her in a little place called Seoul Bar, which is in a rundown section of northeast Tokyo called Sanya. At first I thought her was a him, and she sounded like a man but…

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The lipstick should have given me a clue, but it was confusing initially, even more so because his, sorry, her English was pretty rusty, and my Japanese was horrible. She took an interest in me because I was American. When she was still fully he, he used to work for Americans in the ‘60s. Or the ‘70s, but doing what I never completely figured out. But we managed fitfully to communicate, and after a few minutes I thought he was a pretty interesting woman.

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She’d had the money at some unspecified point in the past to start the process of becoming her true self, to transition from male to female. Her family, which might have included a wife and kids, never understood nor approved of what she needed to be. They disowned her many years ago.

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However, it was obvious she was accepted in Seoul Bar, but also treated a bit like an oddity. When another bar patron took a schoolboy jab at her breasts, it bothered me. It was playful, but far from respectful. But it was nearly 13:00, in a bar in a crummy part of town, and everyone was drinking. So maybe my standards were unrealistically high. Hell, she even wanted me to take a feel of her tits. She was proud of them. I declined.

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She was also proud of her hands, justifiably I thought, but seemed frustrated by lingering facial hair. My guess is whatever hormones she used to take had worn off some time ago. She also said she still had the male parts she’d been born with.

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I left the Seoul Bar when the karaoke was about to start and went out to the shōtengai to take more pictures. After about five minutes,  I noticed my ladyfriend walking in the same direction I was. She had bar-snack crumbs on her face, and in the outdoor light I could really see how worn- and shabby-looking she was. Yet as she waved her hands around at my camera, her manicured nails were still noticeable, as were her few female bumps and curves. She looked more like a woman standing up outside than she had hunched next to me in a chair in the dark little bar we’d been in.

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She and I walked together for a few minutes. She didn’t mind me taking pictures of her. In fact, she carried herself with a little bit of the vanity some women seem to naturally have, whether their looks entitle them to such vanity or not. But the fact that this woman, this shabby, incomplete woman, carried herself in this a way instantly earned a small measure of my respect. It took, for lack of a better term, balls.
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We came to a stop when she spotted a man she knew, a friend I suppose, a guy I had photographed previously. He was pretty goddamned drunk. But she wanted to go talk to him.
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Like I said, she was proud of her breasts and not shy about playing with them in public. I didn’t ask her to do this. I don’t know enough Japanese to get that far. But she posed for me a few times out there in the street, and this is where her hands always ended up. You’ve got to roll with these things in some parts of Tokyo street life.

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Then she walked over to talk to her friend. It was a short conversation. The guy in the gutter made a slow lunge for my ladyfriend’s crotch. Her response, as I barely understood it, was to offer to show the man that he would have gotten a handful of male goodies if she had let his fingers reach their target. This was a little bit too much for me, the idea that this incomplete woman was prepared to whip out her male equipment in the street.

So I walked away. But you know, I never even got her name.

(Pictures taken on the shōtengai in Sanya, Tokyo in April, 2012)

The shooters: a photoessay

by Dan Ryan

They were young boys shooting corks from toy rifles at a street fair in a poor Tokyo neighborhood. It was a sunny, gorgeous Saturday in late April, 2012, the beginning of an extended holiday called Golden Week. And the gunplay was an innocent thing, just kids having fun taking harmless pop-shots at a child’s treasure trove of prizes. My only agenda when I took these photos was to record happy aspects of street life in Sanya, a grubby section in northeast Tokyo that has been shunned and ignored for decades due to its association with professions Buddhists traditionally consider unclean, such as butchering food animals. Sanya isn’t even on any official maps nor recognized by the Tokyo city government.

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Here in the United States, Sanya would probably be riddled with gangs, guns, drugs, and crime, instead of an aging population of day laborers, many of whom stumble about the streets drunk on cheap beer and rice wine. But since the December, 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, these particular photographs have acquired a new context for me.

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Japan’s gun laws are far more restrictive than ours in the US. I can look at these photos and be nearly certain that these children will never own an actual working handgun, shotgun, or assault rifle. They don’t live in a culture where gun murders and school shootings occur with enough regularity as to have become tragically commonplace.

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Forty years ago when I was a boy of eight or nine, I could have been one of these Japanese kids. I remember having a cap-gun battles in a friend’s back yard, or trying to win a prize with a cork bullet at a schoolmate’s cowboy-themed birthday party shooting game. It isn’t like that in America anymore. Our culture has changed. Guns have become so prevalent in the US, and so easy to get, that children bring firearms to school to deal with bullies or get revenge upon other students who have treated them as social outcasts.  Or even just to show off.

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We have lost control of our American gun culture, so much so that toy guns are widely considered distasteful and politically-incorrect. And they should be, even though a child can get in almost as much trouble bringing a toy gun to school as he or she would for bringing a real gun. The link between childhood toy gunplay and irresponsible gun use or ownership in later life may be problematic and difficult to prove, but many of us know we have a huge gun problem in America. Unfortunately it is easier to control the toys our children play with than to demand our elected officials and judicial appointees look after our safety and best interests the way they are supposed to.

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But due to their laws, the Japanese don’t have these problems. And thanks to that these photographs will always bring me happy memories. Because when I look at them in a week or a decade from now, I won’t wonder if any of the children in my pictures caught a stray bullet in his local park or school, or grew up to become a murderous gun-toting thug or schoolyard shootist. These toy guns are almost certainly the most threatening firearms these kids will ever have to face.

So take that picture of your beloved kids out of your purse or wallet, my fellow Americans, and tell me with fear-free confidence that they won’t ever be touched by some kind of gun violence.

(Pictures taken at the Iroha shōtengai in Sanya, Tokyo on April 28th, 2012)

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #107: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #104: Large Marge Sent Me

“Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #100: Il Planetario di Figaro

Wow, 100 issues of Nota Bene! Props to Russ for helping me for a while with this nifty little S&R feature. Never mind all that now, let’s get on with this issue. “What splendid buildings our architects would be able to execute if only they could finally be less obedient to gravity!” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #97: toDwI'ma' qoS yItIvqu'!

“To be truly free, and truly to appreciate its freedom, a society must be literate.” Continue reading

I am no better than George Will. And it sucks.

by John Harvin

“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas,” supposedly said Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, first woman governor of Texas, in opposing the teaching of foreign languages in Texas schools.  In fact, the college-educated Ferguson probably didn’t say it. But the misquote endures because it captures pretty well one particular segment of the American population – those who are almost always against learning and science, particularly when that science is “inconvenient.”

Whether it’s evolution or landing on the moon or daylight savings time or climate change, there is always a group of people who are just plain agin’ it. Continue reading

Meanings, pt. 2: a crisis of prevailing values

by Michael Tracey

It isn’t just that there is an appetite for scandal, sex, sleaze, death narratives, it is also that feeding such appetites can be very profitable. The fact is that an essential problem with today’s media, one that has been gestating for many years, even decades, lies with the families and trust-funders that own media chains, and with the media moguls that, like great beasts, roam the landscape of a new grim cultural ecology, gobbling up this and that tasty morsel, a television station here, a newspaper there, forever seeking to sate their own insatiable appetite. Continue reading

Obama and racism around the world

As of last week, we here at S&R decided to yank the hood off of racist America during this Presidential election. To that end, we’re going to be exposing racism wherever we find it and shining a bright light into the dark corners where it hides. But the United States isn’t the only country that has a problem with racism among its various ethnic groups. Most of humanity has issues with the “Other” that people with different shaped eyes, different skin color, or different faiths represent.

And, as the first black candidate for President of the United States, there’s an excellent chance that Obama’s candidacy, and especially his Presidency (if he wins, anyway), would be an amazing opportunity for both the U.S. and the rest of the world to do some soul-searching about racism in their own societies. Continue reading

War and Postwar: a look at LIFE and technology

Part three in a series.

In an age and a culture dominated by scientism, the word “sample” tends to invoke the adjectival “representative,” and I cannot begin to imagine culling a meaningful representative sample from LIFE’s 400-plus issues. Still, it seems important to devote a few pages to what happened with LIFE and technology between the Fort Peck Dam and Apollo 17. I will center this discussion on innovations and events that, from our perspective here at the end of the century, appear to have left significant marks on history.

The Medical Morality Play

LIFE’s coverage of medical technology began early and covered, through the decades, the research, development, and application of treatments for a variety of diseases and disorders afflicting humanity. Continue reading

Saturday Video Roundup: be afraid – be very afraid

Hi folks, and welcome to SVR’s Halloween in March special. Today we’re going to have a look at things that just scare the bejeezus out of us. First up, Tiny Toons. I was never as big a fan of the series as some of my friends, but it did have its moments. The subtle homomegalomaniacism of Pinky & The Brain, for instance, never ceased making me wonder “how the hell did they get that past the censors?” But as the original Warner toons taught us, the best kids’ shows are really aimed at adults, anyway. Continue reading