Tokyo Kameido | Marshmallow Supremacy & The Samurai Cafe

This past weekend I sat in a rocking chair and drank whiskey. The room was smoky in a way that I like. And I truly came to appreciate the word senmon (specialty) in Japanese. Not too long ago I was contacted by Johannes who runs a YouTube channel called Japanese Journey. He wanted to do a collab and I was happy to oblige. He creates very well produced videos and even after meeting him for a very short time, I could tell, he shared my same interest in videography. I, in the not too distant past, enjoyed creating neighborhood videos which featured areas of the less explored variety. I thought that for our getting together we could return to that style. After talking a bit with Eiko she suggested we return to where she used to live by a station called Kameido.

She specifically suggested that we visit the Samurai Cafe. I am so happy that she did. We would of course need more to cover and research revealed there a specialty marshmallow shop. The fact that they made a set number of batches for the day, and once sold, they closed down, really appealed to my sense of exclusivity. That—care enough to get it early—or don’t get it at all vibe. Deciding that I would cover the Samurai Cafe and the marshmallow shop, Johannes set his sights on covering the quite beautiful shrine the area was known for as well as a business co-op street. In Japan they’re known as shotengais and created to retain the often ancient mom and pop shop history of certain areas.

First stop was the marshmallow shop. After circling the block it was on, and starting to worry that perhaps it had shut down, we found it, not yet open. You could however, see through a crack in the not quite lifted protective shutter for the building, people working away in preparation. They were at once friendly, and when I waved to them through the crack they waved back and although they were wearing masks I could tell by their eyes that they smiled. That kind of wonderful openness would be the hallmark of this whole outing.

While filming the intro for the video Eiko attempted to elaborate on the kind of feel you could expect in a place like Kameido. She described it as Shitamachi – which in literal translation means under-city. The sounds far more devious than it actually is. More accurately it simply means away from the central core of the city and as a result of that the people on average are more welcoming and open. I found that description particularly interesting as this is more the sort of contrast that you’d expect to hear in comparison of the city and the countryside, but here it is, within the city itself. And after experiencing as much friendly charm as I did I wouldn’t argue with its accuracy.

Case and point, when we went to the Samurai cafe, a place Eiko had not been for five years, one of the serving staff recognized her. Heartwarming stuff. Not to mention that the way that member of staff behaved was the rule not the exception. Everyone was so kind. I cannot emphasize this enough. Naturally as a YouTuber, or maybe not so naturally? I worry about making people I film around feel comfortable and not intruded upon. Samurai Cafe as well as the marshmallow specialty shop made it abundantly apparent that they not only endorsed my filming but that they would love to see the video once it was uploaded. The man working at the till at the marshmallow shop specifically asked for channel and went so far as to ask if he could take a picture of it on my phone so he wouldn’t lose it. If I am making it sound like I would hang out at one of these places much as eat anything, it’s because I would.

That said, the marshmallows were on another level totally earning their description as a specialty shop and Samurai Cafe somehow turned toast lunch items into the most beautifully presented thing I had ever seen. The lunch special at Samurai Cafe was 780 yen. That included a drink and I am not exaggerating when I say this food looked and tasted incredible. Usually when you say the words pizza toast it summons up the image of some cosco slice of oily bread, an impoverished amount of tomato sauce with a suggestion of cheese and at best two or three meager grade F salami or hotdog slices for protein. Samurai’s pizza bread, holy shit! The bread itself, thick and fluffy, the toppings generous and of a high quality. When you peeled away a slice from the main section you got to enjoy watching thick hot melted strands of cheese clinging to the rest, as though from some carefully edited food commercial. Sometimes you have a feeling that a place will be amazing and you are disappointed. Then there are those rare times when your expectations are left in the dust. Samurai Cafe pulled it off with style.

While a video is always satisfying when things go your way of course a little challenge will sweeten the final result. Japanese summer provided that in the form of stifling humidity. When we did finally get to the park at sometime around 2 o’clock the mid-day heat had come on and I began to melt. I have not begun editing but I am pretty sure there is going to be some supremely unflattering sweat to deal with. Such is life though. I am telling myself that it adds character. The lies that I believe are beautiful. Whining aside, the shrine actually was really cool. Sometimes in Japan you get that feeling like you’ve seen one shrine you’ve seen them all. That would be a horrible mistake and you’d miss out on seeing some very cool places if you give in to this way of thinking.

Kameido’s shrine was fantastic. Two red moon bridges were the feature design points. But in addition to those, water features and to bloom next year wisterias added to the scenery. In my research I learned that Kameido, like many places in Japan, is quite seasonally focused. I do think it would be worth coming back to check it out when the season better suited it. But for the time being I was happy with the experience. Finishing my filming at this point I finally had an opportunity to become more photographically focused. I even got a bad-ass #photographer4life shot by laying down on my back and framing these very cool looking cranes hanging from one of the many prayer placard stations found around the shrine.

Final note about this shrine. The pigeons are fucking Nuts. That capital N is to emphasize the degree to which these pigeons have lost their goddamn minds. One landed on Eiko’s head and I was accosted by two others that had come straight out of a come-at-me-bro meme. I swear they were stalking me. I felt at a loss. They were getting crazy close, threateningly so! But what was I gonna do? Punch a pigeon? I was seriously considering it to get these things to leave me alone but then someone of course is gonna see me without context and now I’m the foreigner who punches birds. Canadians have been doing horribly in Japanese media this year and I don’t want to add to the doggy pile so I stowed my rage and opted to flee in terror from these alt-right pigeons, with their extreme beliefs and acts of aggression.

I’ve covered another shotengai in the past and had an incredible time doing so. It was with Victor and Charles from Yummy Japan when they still ran that channel. For that reason I am usually quite optimistic when I check out a new one. I think Johannes did a good job of finding interesting places to go but we had somewhat restricted options in the form of time. It was at that point nearing five-thirty and being on your feet filming all day does, much fun as it is, wears you down some. I say time restrictions not only for the fact that it was later but that for the true specialty of the street, Horumon (guts), you would need to sit down. This did however give me inspiration. Horumon is a Japanese food not for the feint of heart. I’ve overcome most things that might intimidate people when it comes to Japanese cuisine but Horumon has yet eluded my. I think then, what possibly could be better than that for a video idea? You have something extremely exotic that is going to push me far outside my comfort zone. Perfect. That is next up on the list. To Kameido I say in closing. I’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Collaboration: Delusion’s Cure

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Old paths to publication and creativity are dieing while connectivity and collaboration grows. This is for the better. But first I must acknowledge in myself the strangest habit— I battle it even as I write this. I battle self-delusion. The erroneous thinking which leads one to think they are competing against something as opposed to participating in it.

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I’ll clarify this thought. I am a writer and traditional authorship paths would have me believe that there is a three-step routine to having your book published: write it, get an agent, get it published. I’m not sure what it is about the human condition but I’d always framed this as me against a rigged system. Without even applying much effort I’d come very quickly to the conclusion that getting an agent is like winning a lotto. It is a true a large amount of good writing (not necessarily my own) is consistently passed over. However, the greater realization I’ve been trying to accept is that in no way is a system that is difficult to succeed in, a system that is attacking, you, personally. Ultimately your manuscript’s rejection is impersonal.

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I remember a conversation on the phone with a good friend of mine, pumping myself up, saying, “No matter what people say or think, I will write and publish this book!”. My more level-headed friend on the other end of the line responded, “Who exactly is preventing you?” When confronted by that question I realized I could identify maybe two nay-sayers. And even then, they were more commenting on the known difficulty of getting published. Not directly saying to me you have no hope.

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This is the way of our fears. They have the power to turn our inner monologue into an extroverted perception of what surrounds us. We turn a matter of personal perception (something we very much have control over) into something immutable, outside ourselves, and thus, difficult to influence in a meaningful way. Admittedly the current system’s difficulty to penetrate lends itself to this flawed way of thinking. Human nature compels us, likely as a defense mechanism, to externalize most challenges: a kind of mental off-loading of responsibility. Life is stressful enough without realizing how lazy we are.

But that’s enough self-flagellation. The reason I wanted to write this was to point out which changes in human connectivity are making the creative process far more exciting, collaborative, and somehow paradoxically, an independent endeavor. The big ones you know of course: e-publication, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, and a slew of others. They all contribute to author’s success, if only for their power to advertise. Much more exciting in my mind however are the social sites I’ve found which go beyond basic advertising, and can actually make you a better writer. I had no idea they existed up until roughly a year ago.

I’m referring to peer review writing sites. These social networks are an invaluable resource if you which to do more than show people what you are creating. They are inherently smaller (any community that actually creates as opposed to consumes always is) but the intense passion for the craft you will find in these places is humbling. Your computer screen becomes a portal to like-minded up and coming authors who all want to help each other grow.

The process on these sites is simple. Participants connect via the forums and offer to critique and review each other’s work. The grammatical comeuppance when I first arrived served as a reminder, we all have much to learn. Having taken my initial lumps I’ve learned an immense amount and networked with people who already have successfully published, be that independently or through a major house.The two I would recommend people use are Figment or Wattpad. Each has its strength.

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Figment’s community is more hardcore and if you wish to have professional critique that’s where you will find it. Again its specialized community of more intensely driven writers means there are less of them but this as well becomes a benefit. With any regular reviewing and effort you become a true member of the community and not so easily lost in the crowd which can occur in the latter I will describe.

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If you wish to go for exposure and more opinions of your work as opposed to full review, Wattpad is the clear winner. Not only does it have a larger community but the site designers quite brilliantly have also designed a mobile application for the site. A mobile application equals—you guessed it—more exposure. The education offered through these sites, let alone the exposure, would have costs thousands in a not so distant past.

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This relates as well to my point regarding the paradoxical independence granted to us by a greater availability of collaboration. There is no longer one path. An abundance of choices leads to far more individualization. Yes you are networking and interacting with more people than ever before, but now you are able to do so on your own terms. You personalize the questions you want answered. Finally you’re free to tailor and define the sort of engagements you want to take part in. It can be a bit disorienting at first, lacking the direction traditional methods offer, but I believe this greatly benefits innovation. It’s the classic idea that because you never learned what was ‘impossible’ you pioneer something everyone else gave up on.

Now with the peer review out of the way I can discuss my favourite part of new-age collaboration: the kind you never saw coming. You might be wondering, what was that cover up at the top of this post? Well aside from being the recently completed cover for my first book ‘Stone Heart’ it is the result of a random collaboration.

I have a Youtube channel called ‘DaveTrippin‘ (shameless plug is shameless). On this channel I try to help people to move to Japan or find work, or basically answer any questions about Japan that people may have. I get lots of emails asking many questions and I am more than happy to make videos answering them. It’s how my channel grows.

One day I got an email which for the first half read like all the others. This fine gentlemen asked if I would mind making a video to answer a few of his questions. Nothing new there. The shocker came in the second half of the email when he offered to design me a cover for my recently completed book. I’m amazed with what he produced and I think you would agree, he did an excellent job. This kind of collaboration was not possible before and is a testament to the better world we now live in as artists.

The string of events which led to this wonderful moment baffles me: a peer review site which never existed until recently has made me a better writer. In turn creating an unrelated Youtube site has put me in contact with an amazing graphic artist. That artist noticed I had a website. A website which I could have only made with the ease of recent technology and the now readily available online tutorials. On that site he sees that I am an author and wants to help me.

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The lesson here is obvious and something we’ve known all along. Humans wish for a world in which we do not hate or repress each other. We wish to reach out, to help, to see ourselves in one another, and with the amazing leaps forward made each day by collaboration, that dream will not one day become reality, it is now, already come.