Tokyo Stories from Curious Outsiders

026 : Darryl Wee on a slope in Hiroo, Minato-ku
Born 1981 in Singapore, Darryl Wee currently works as a translator, writer He came to Japan on a international services visa. Why Japan? Something in the air (and the water and food). He digs the following Tokyo bits: trains, bicycles, stray cats, walking around and civilized kissaten. He, however, is a touch miffed by zombie commuters, pachinko, 'Chinese' food, unending packaging and the heartbreaking ironies of robotic keigo For more info on Darryl Wee you should send an email.

image: Yuki N.

“Nostalgia isn’t an easy indulgence for amateurs”

Nostalgia is a different color, and camera angle, each time you try to revisit it. This is a problem if, like me, you try very hard to be proprietary about it and keep scrupulous tabs on your memories. Tracking down your own past is a treacherous task, though. Things never quite look the same as your memory each time you try to track it down in ‘real’ life.

Coming back to Tokyo nineteen years after I spent a year here as a seven year-old, I tried to retrace the old hill route near where I used to live. A gentle slope near Hiroo Station, past the park strewn with fallen pinecones opposite the Red Cross building, to and from the Jewish Center where the school bus would pick me up. The problem was, my approach was wrong. My playback memory unfurls uphill, from Hiroo station past Hiroo Garden Hills. Nineteen years later, I decide to come from the other direction, from Ebisu station, downhill towards Hiroo. I walked in a daze past shopping streets I forgot I remembered. 

It’s a different film. Or rather, just an unfaithful remake by a different director taking too many liberties with the screenplay.

Also, I’m not nearly as small as I used to be, so instead of an Ozu-type[2] waist-high tatami[3] view, I now have a view that’s too high by half, too much overhead vision. Also, the beautiful sugi [4] lining the slope on the way to my house, just like me, have grown up. They now form a canopy that interferes with the lighting. 

There were other problems with the light on that slope. 80’s-memories, like the films from that era, are saturated with color. It must be something to do with the film stock. That day, though, Hiroo looked too subdued; the summer’s woolly light, bleached and overcast, failed to replicate my ‘nostalgia’. What I needed was a better location scout sensitive to the nuances of season, aspect, walking speed, and angle of approach. I felt frustrated with myself. With a professional studio shoot I would have been able to control these things, edit sounds, tweak the lighting, and then later in post-production, colorize or decolorize the film stock as necessary.

But I had only a fading film negative in my head, poorly resolved, made on the clunky technology of the eighties. Better to borrow your nostalgia from the professionals, I thought. Is there a better common-use archive than film? It’s well-curated, organized, and endlessly replayable, to recolor our own blotchy memories with. Nostalgia isn’t an easy indulgence for amateurs with little technical skill. Maybe its source image should be locked into a time capsule and stowed away, with no intention of a later rediscovery. See it only once, roll it over again in your head now and then, but make sure that repeat viewings don’t cloud that first, enchanted screening.

referenced works

  1. Hiroo is a tony area of central Tokyo to which a large number of expats call home. Just a brief walk from the station brings you to the fashionable Nishi-Azabu, Roppongi, Ebisu or Azabu-Jyuuban neighborhoods. Nearby is also Arisugawa Park, in which, if one looks hard enough, one might find a bearded Japanese man in his late 20s, playing a bongo and trying to raise a garden in the middle of the park.
  2. Japanese director perhaps most well known for his Tokyo Monogatari, or Tokyo Story as the translated title reads.
  3. Woven mats used for floor coverings in traditional Japanese style rooms. They come in a variety of grades which are in reference to the qualities of materials and skill used in production. While standard tatami mats are rectangular, Ryu-kyuu tatami mats from the Okinawan islands are square.
  4. Japanese cedar

location information

  • Name: a slope in Hiroo
  • Address: Hiroo 4-chome
  • Time of story: afternoon
  • Latitude: 35.654282
  • Longitude: 139.720945
  • Map: Google Maps


019She laughed at my effort and responded in English, ‘Long time, no seduction.’ — Qi Rari

018In my dreamy state, oblivious to signs and announcements I often boarded the wrong train.— Momus (aka Nick Currie)

017I was fifteen years old and it was one of those nights.— Yuko Enomoto

016That ear of corn just wanted to go home— Guttersnipe Das

015With his painstakingly coiffured mane blowing in the wind— Digits Wolfowitz

014Her voice, even across languages, betraying her worry.— Olly Denton

013I saw them drawing bamboo sticks from a silver rectangular box.— Daphné Haour

012A simulacrum of someone else's home, equal parts comfort and loss.— Adam Greenfield

011Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geo­graphy in any traditional sense ceases to exist.— Joseph Badtke-Berkow

010I could hardly make out anything apart from his glowing eyes...— Uleshka

009Shibuya was like a stroke.— Alice.d

008I cried for a while and wiped the dead bracken off my karate pants.— David Cady

007Both my tie and my disposition hang limp as I calculate the remaining distance to the station.— Chris Tobber

006I once read about a Chinese maiden whose feet were unbound by a cruel man …— Claire Tanaka

005The Bad Girl strutted off and I was left with a ham egg pie.— Guttersnipe Das

004I arrived expecting an irritated Japanese person to step out of the crowd and identify himself as Hideki.— Ashley Rawlings

003The woman at the ticket window seemed surprised to see another human being. I was the only visitor.— Andrew Douglas

002Flanked on either side by adult manga shops and the like, the smell of yakitori in the air.— Jean Snow

001For two weeks the day began with this morning walk, our shared routine.— Joseph Squier


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