A reflection in verse
There’s not a lot each day that doesn’t make me want to die
Last year, I tried hitting up Three Tides Tattoo when I was in Osaka. But it just didn’t happen. I was mostly too busy getting lost. So I made a point to set a day aside in Tokyo, before I left, if I could manage to find an appointment, because the artists working at their spot by Harajuku are some of the best in the world. I’m aware that’s an impossible thing to quantify. But here I am, doing just that. Their building sits nestled just off of the main strips, and if you blink, you’ll miss the alley that leads to their street.
The studio’s success is sort of a catch-22: tattoos in Japan aren’t entirely outside of the social lexicon, but they’re mostly shunned in daily life. You’ll find most of your visible sleeves and scattered tags in the larger cities, or in their trendier (younger) pockets, like Daikanyama or Dōtonbori or Shimokitazawa. Beyond that, an exposed heart on your wrist or a phoenix or whatever is liable to prompt some whispers. For the most part, inked folks take the time to cover themselves, or dress around their art, but if you’re a foreigner with tattoos the stigma is dramatically lowered. It’s expected that you’d do that thing to your body, because it’s a little strange that you’re here anyways. You are an outsider. You clearly didn’t know better.
Japan has a very long, very nuanced history with tattoos. Much like everywhere else in the world, the reasons for getting inked have ranged from the punitive to the celebratory. Most folks who care know that there’s sometimes the implication of gang-ties; but it’s simply not true that a half-sleeve immediately implicates you with the Yamaguchi-gumi. But a larger source of dismay is that they imply an attempt to stand out: Japan’s a pretty homogenous country. And you here, displaying a very private, individualized thing.
“Who should we blame for the Government Shutdown?” —Political Pete
Blame the Founding Fathers. I know they were supposed to be revered, infallible geniuses. But they really left us with a lot of bags of burning crap to hold. Slavery being the main and most terrible one. Yes, truly, all men were created equal, Jefferson, except the ones you owned! You creep! Can you imagine the #MeToo Moment they could have had back then? “Anyone here been whipped by George Washington? [Everyone’s hands go up.] Oh, you, too?” They should have been much more specific about the 2nd Amendment referencing guns that took a half an hour to reload and were unreliable past 50 feet. I guess that didn’t sound aspirational enough. If they could have predicted AR-15 rifles, don’t you think they would have kept them all for themselves and not allowed any yahoo to walk into a gun show and walk out with one?
And why didn’t they give women the right to vote? Imagine if women had voted in the first 30 or so Presidential elections? Maybe we would have had some actually good Presidents instead of Andrew Johnson, Andrew Jackson, Millard Fillmore and Kevin Spacey. We didn’t know when we were watching American Beauty that that dude was getting exactly what he deserved. If women had help draft the Constitution we’d probably have Health Care for everyone by now, Social Security forever, and a much better National Anthem than “The Star Spangled Banner.” There would still be insane high notes, but there would be a much more danceable beat, too.
★★★★ The sun came on so pure and unimpeded that rooftop steam plumes cast meaningful moving shadows into apartments. The ground was clear and dry. Pigeons’ wingtips looked translucent; zippers on coats glittered. The brightness was expansive, unfaltering. It was cold enough to numb the face—correctly, appropriately, perfectly cold. A whole solid winter might be built of days like this, if only there were enough of them to find and stack together.
EVERYONE is hungover from the Fake Media Awards, even the staff who don’t drink. JARED is reclining on IVANKA’s fainting couch, a damp cloth on his forehead, and a pack of cigarettes on his chest. He doesn’t smoke; he never has. But on the way into the West Wing this morning, he thought, what if he did, he could if he wanted to, and the thought made him feel lighter. Even though his feet were dragging from the contact hangover, he felt in control, cocky even, for the first time since [redacted]. Plus, IVANKA isn’t at work today. The government is shut down, she murmured earlier that morning, as he laced up his new sneaks, head pounding, so there isn’t much to do. She isn’t wrong. She rarely is, JARED thinks. He pretends not to hear as his DAUGHTER asks why he’s on mom’s chair. She’s flipping through a book, Facts and Fun About the Presidents, and appalled by how little her grandfather has in common with his predecessors.
KUSHNER DAUGHTER [provocatively]: According to this book the only thing Grandpa has done that other presidents have also done is get stuck in a bathtub?
JARED [to himself]: That’s not true. [JARED wracks his brain.] Is that true?
KUSHNER DAUGHTER [nodding]: He’s stuck now. I can hear him yelling.
GENERAL MATTIS [while removing a lamp shade from his head, and startling EVERYONE because they didn’t realize he was present]: No. Taft never got stuck in a bathtub. His political enemies made that up. Each Gilded Age has its own Pizzagate.
If you climb the C5 exit from Shinjuku-Sanchōme Station, it’s basically a straight shot to Ni-chōme. That’s Tokyo’s gay hub. Mostly just a cluster of alleys, tucked on the edge of this winding road. If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’ll miss it on your way around. It’s surrounded by the usual assortment of FamilyMarts, 7-11s, and Lawsons grounding life in the city, but then you turn the corner and all of a sudden you’re elsewhere. A lot of my nights in Japan have ended here. And the trains stop running around 1. So it’s where, for better and worse, a lot of those mornings have started, too.
Ni-chōme probably boasts Earth’s highest concentration of gay bars. They’re scattered across two blocks, sometimes one on top of the other. Some fit six or seven bodies, and others fit nine or ten, and you’ve got bars for bears and bars for twinks and bars for guys that are really into yukatas. There’s karaoke. There’s a hot spring. If you’re looking for something, or someone, you’ll probably find it. And the area is mostly foreigner-friendly, but the sheer quantity of queer spaces shouldn’t be confused with queer visibility: while some of Tokyo’s more dubious enterprises are loud on the street (the “massage parlors” in Shibuya; the dudes hawking binders of women by the stations), gay life in Japan is almost entirely under the radar. If you’re not seeking queer spaces out, you won’t even remotely run the risk of finding them.
15. The Heat
14. Murder By Numbers
13. While You Were Sleeping
12. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
9. Love Potion No. 9
8. The Blind Side
6. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
5. Hope Floats
3. Speed 2: Cruise Control
2. Miss Congeniality
1. Practical Magic
★★★★ The seething bleak gray going by the windows turned white and more opaque, and a layer of white began to appear on the fallen icy mush. There was no developing emergency, nothing to prevent the child who wasn’t coughing from making it to school. The flakes turned fatter and prettier for a while, then the light became brownish and the snowfall looked seedy again. By the time the storm had really stopped, leaving a dimpled surface of clouds overhead, it took a careful eye to pick out the traces it had all left. The pavement was clear and drying out, in an ordinary dark and damp afternoon. Wavy stripes of rose appeared through the lingering gloom at sunset, and downriver was near scarlet.