Tokyo and its environs are so vast and diverse that you could write a separate book about the blocks around each individual train station, and there are a lot of train stations.

Here are some images of Shinjuku. A central hub itself divided into distinct districts, making it a city within a city.

It doesn’t sleep, but it ebbs and cycles. It generates its own energy, perpetually.

Have faith in Shinjuku. No matter how long or how far you are gone, or what you do while you are absent, it will never judge you, and it will always take you back.



Golden Gai, in East Shinjuku. A couple of blocks of narrow, interconnected streets and alleys in which are clustered almost two hundred tiny, fascinating bars. As you sniff whisky, sake, or over-carbonated lager, you can listen to heavy metal, jazz, Japanese folk music, or just drunken rants and smoky laughter, depending on which door you happen to have tentatively creaked open. The area attracts misfits, bohemians, tourists, and on Friday nights nearby nine-to-five workers who are through with social fakery, for a few hours at least.




The grounds of an urban temple, Tenryu-ji. Just a few doors down from the temple is Antiknock, a basement punk club. A little further and you’ll come to Takashimaya, a huge, upmarket department store. Traffic speeds by on the busy road at the front, heading toward the expansive station complex. But in here are stillness, gravestones, protective statues in a row, and a large temple bell. On the rear side of the grounds, a residential block contains aging apartment buildings and houses that back right up to the graveyard, their curtained windows overlooking rows of grey stone, before which are incense, flowers, and other left offerings: cans of coffee and beer, packets of cigarettes, the everyday items the departed once enjoyed.




Gunkan Higashi Shinjuku. Constructed in 1970, the building’s name means Battleship East Shinjuku, and it was designed by Metabolist architect, Youji Watanabe.

Having fallen into disrepair, the naval-inspired structure came close to demolition, but its unique presence was saved, and in 2010 it underwent renovation and now contains living and commercial space.

Commanding and bizarre, yet slotted neatly into a perfectly normal row of nondescript urban architecture, it creates an imposingly memorable juxtaposition.

And when you’ve had a look from every perplexing angle, and Shinjuku offers–knowingly, inevitably–the timely pull of abandonment, you will be just a few minutes tread from the wayward, drunken swagger of Kabukicho, and all its wasted reminders.



Good Intentions

“Robert Oppenheimer, a little while before he died, said that it’s perfectly obvious the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so. Because you see, all the troubles going on in the world now are being supervised by people with very good intentions. There are attempts to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this and prevent that, possible horrendous damage. And the more we try, you see, to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes, and it gets worse, and maybe that’s the way it’s got to be. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right, but simply on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.”

That’s from a talk by the masterly Alan Watts, a compelling philosopher and Bodhisattva. I don’t know when the talk was given, but Alan died in 1973, and it’s striking that what he says here seems so operative and resonant, given the decades that have passed since he articulated such ideas.

Is it better, then, not to do good? Certainly, that phrase, a do-gooder makes me shudder a little. No-one wants to be a do-gooder, and not a goody-two-shoes either. Where would be the fun in that?

And at an institutional level, it becomes not just tiresome and graceless, but impositional, restrictive, and ultimately dangerous. Institutions have power. The authorities have clout. When they decide that a certain behaviour is good, it means other ways of conducting oneself might be bad, which means they may not let you do them for much longer.

Or in this age of self-censorship, you may not let yourself do them.

And it might then follow that English author TH White’s words become unfortunately relevant.

“Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory.”

So how do we avoid such a future?

Let’s turn to a contemporary figure, who got to the essential core of how best to proceed from here in a single word:

And since we’re on the topic of Yeezy, and I can’t help but detect a certain mysticism in the air at the moment, let’s work with this too:

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