Journey in Japan Part 36: A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness

I walk the twenty minutes to Kuramae Station. On the way I pass the Bandai Headquarters; a huge banner tells me that Tamagotchi is making a comeback at the end of this month. At Kuramae Station I wait patiently for the train, and laugh to strange looks at the following sign:

I hop on the train without taking any notice of the time. It is of course 9am. Rush hour. The train is packed. I learn today that this train goes all the way to Shinjuku. At every stop more people get on. The crushing gets worse and the oxygen levels deplete. It all becomes too much after about ten minutes, so I squeeze my way out of the train at Kachidoki Station. I need air.

Kachidoki is in Koto, and is the nearest station to the Tokyo Port Terminal. Whilst I am here I decide to have a little wander around the docks and the small interconnected islands. All of the streets here are lined with shrubberies and are swarming with mosquitoes. A sign warns me to, “Be careful with mosquitoes!” Joking aside, it is actually pretty serious, and the warning is heeded.

I head toward the Harumi Railway Bridge.

The bridge is no longer in use. Barbed wire warns me not to cross; although I wouldn’t anyway as it doesn’t look very safe. The thing I find interesting here is that from this bridge I can see both Tokyo Skytree, and Tokyo Tower. I suppose it makes the trip worthwhile, maybe not. After I photograph the bridge, Tokyo Tower in the distance, I head back to Kachidoki Station. Rush hour is now long gone.

I take the Toei Ōedo Line all the way to Shinjuku. I end up getting lost in the station, then get back on the same train as before, taking it to Tochōmae Station. Here I change trains but stay on the same line, and head to Higashi-Shinjuku Station. Outside, I walk around looking for something to do. There isn’t a lot here, just restaurants, shops and plenty of bars; a good place for a night out if I didn’t live so far away. I cross under the Yamanote Line and see children painting the wall beneath the tracks.

I follow the wall of graffiti to the entrance to Shin-Ōkubo Station, before taking a multitude of more trains, until I reach Shinbashi Station. The plan here is to visit the Vanilla Gallery; the number one gallery in Tokyo for eroticism, fetishism, and sadism. And I’m already late.

Despite having visited the Vanilla Gallery before, it remains difficult to locate. I get a little lost but eventually find it hidden away on an inconspicuous street. This month, the theme is artwork that tells the tale of time and sorrow. “An exhibit of illustrated stories and dolls pertaining to madness and sadness.” The entry fee is a pleasing ¥500.

The exhibition is called, Der Tilgung, which is German for, “The Repayment.” No where else in Tokyo can you experience such a vortex of phenomenal imagination.

Room-A features a collection of artwork and imagery from MoriKaoru. I am surprised to find that most of the paintings have sold out. The work focuses on desolate women surrounded by monsters depicted as men. There is an uneasy emphasis on slavery and torture. One of the exhibits is iron shackles laid to rest on a leather sofa. Another is a drawing of a young woman bound at the wrists sitting in a cell surrounded by decapitated limbs, whilst a male figure with a menacing grin watches her through the bars.

Room-B is slightly less horrific, but is disturbing in other ways. Suna-mura Hiroaki is the artist. The display features half-naked corpses of woman. Dolls. A child lies still in a coffin. Two dolls hang from chains, beautiful flowers blossom from their dead faces. A doll of a nurse has her chest cut open, held open by wire; inside many small minacious demons live. Trees grow from faces. Dolls scream in anguish. Some dolls are made from the skulls of unnamed animals. Despite the theme, the craftsmanship here is incredible. My favorite piece is a naked woman, half her body covered by flesh, the other completely skeletal; half her face a picture of harrowing decay.

Most of the exhibits are for sale, and prices range from ¥50000 to ¥300000 a piece. Haunting music floods the gallery. Sadly the Vanilla Gallery forbids photography today, so my only photographs are from the entrance and the flyer. I will probably have nightmares for a week thanks to what I have seen here. We stay for maybe twenty minutes before heading to the station.

I take the Ginza Line for fifteen minutes and as I exit the station into the crowds of Shibuya Crossing, it begins to rain. I have arranged to meet some friends outside Hachikō, a statue of a dog. The dog belonged to Professor Ueno. Hachikō would meet the professor at the end of each day outside of Shibuya Station, until one day, in 1925, the Professor died. Hachikō continued to wait for his owner outside of Shibuya Station, but he never appeared. It is said that the dog returned to the station at the same time every day for nine years, but Professor Ueno never came back. Then one day, in 1935, Hachikō sadly perished.

Our evening starts in an absinthe bar that is exclusively playing the music of The Smiths, and ends in a cheap Izakaya style bar. Artwork and literature are the topics for this evening. An enjoyable night washed away with rain and ¥450 Suntory Highballs. I don’t take a single photograph; much like Hachikō, my camera is dead. With no photographs of my own, my friend kindly lets me use one of his; Neon Nirvana:

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit Project Eat More Mushrooms, before heading over to one of my favourite Japanese gardens to witness a moon viewing ceremony by clicking here.

Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.

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From England, Luke is a writer and editor living on the edge of Tokyo. He enjoys finding the strange and wonderful amongst the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life and travel, and writing about them.

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