Not long after moving to Tokyo I started following someone called @ihatesteelydan on Instagram because he posted good pics of street art here, and I'd decided I was interested in that.
One weekend late last year Hannes went out to a show by himself while I stayed home sick. He came back pleasantly drunk and drunkenly pleasant and said, "Oh, and I uhh, I met the guy. I think. From Instagram. Leaf. Leaf Lifeguard or whatever. He was doing some crazy, like, windmill thrash dancing shit in the pit, it was weird."
I was like, whaaat!
We had been going to shows at different venues in this way-too-fucking-big city for over 6 months at this point and hadn't made a single friend. We were starting to wonder if we were going insane. To put that in perspective, even though I've mentioned it before, we made about a half dozen new friends - including one who is moving here in a few weeks - during a single weekend back in Seoul, in spite of the fact that the entire scene there and all the venues had changed. The best time we'd had in Tokyo up to that point was when a French guy were were acquainted with through said Seoul scene came through Tokyo as Octopoulpe and played at Hatsudai Wall.
Japanese people universally refused to talk to or in many cases even look at either of us, because they're a bunch of antisocial elitists who won't interact with outsiders (one more whiney, apologetic, pretentious "it's their cul-tuuuure, you have to learn/appreciate/accept/respect" and I'll lose it, don't test me, that shit's not normal or healthy) and the only non-Japanese people we met were on vacation. We constantly asked out loud where all the other foreigners were, reasoning that it was statistically impossible to be the only ones frequenting underground shows in the largest urban area in the world.
It was a revelation that there was definitely someone out there we could potentially be friends with, someone with common interests, because after so long, we were starting to think that it just wasn't going to happen.
Toward the beginning of this year, I think it must have been in February, I was home sick again, and of course, Hannes solo once again sighted the rare beast in its natural habitat, trying to do somersaults into his trucker hat, which he'd very drunkenly positioned (and was repeatedly repositioning with each failed attempt) open-side-up on the floor, to the point that the band, which had stopped to monologue and tell their entire backstory a la David Copperfield as Japanese bands are wont to do, stopped and were like,
-snatches up hat, staggers away-
He and Hannes had both been very drunk again, of course, but chatted for the second time, and Leif commented on one of my recently-posted American Christmas vacation photos, saying that he'd seen me there and thought of saying "Hi," but didn't want to seem creepy. That's pretty fucking magical, I replied, because I definitely wasn't there. Well, good thing I didn't try to talk to that girl then, came the response.
At this point there was a clearly-established pattern: if we had a social circle, this guy was very much in it, and we'd been following each others' image posts for months, but seemed doomed never to meet, just barely missing each other every time I caught something and Hannes went out alone, two ships in the night, like there was some annoying but not-actually-harmful curse on the whole thing.
Or, well, on me, that is. You have to understand how frustrated we were at this point; I occasionally hung out with my former coworkers NiQui and Rejon and Hannes with his coworker Akim, but the underground music scene is always what you make a beeline for in a new city, a lighthouse in a storm of unfamiliarity, in order to find people with corresponding leftist political views, similar taste not only in music but also movies and books; the dissidents, the artists, the photographers, et cetera. Did that just not exist in Tokyo? It seemed completely unreasonable that it felt more like tracking a rare and elusive snow leopard than simply going out and meeting up with acquaintances for drinks.
Then, through the friends we finally did make and events on Facebook, I found out that Leif was leaving.
Of course he was.
His band was playing a goodbye show, but after a bit of waffling I opted for a free one at Ruby Room with Jharrod instead (Hannes was still in Berlin), inviting one of my coworkers along. We ended up meeting and hanging out with a designer for Lego who was in town from Copenhagen just in case they decided they needed him at the Legoland Discovery Center in Odaiba, and all in all it was a memorable and entertaining night.
But it didn't sit right with me that I should never meet this Leif guy. It seemed completely ridiculous, actually, considering how many times we almost went to the same shows but then didn't, which turned out to be the story with everyone else we hadn't met those first several months, too.
Okay, I thought, I'm going to hang out with him.
This also ended up being a Monday, but my schedule was empty and Leif was leaving the country at the end of the week, so both had plenty of time, met in Harajuku, and promptly walked directly away from Takeshita dori so he could show me his favourite graffiti walk.
This one you should really view larger if you can.
One of the more unique designs I've seen for sure
Leif pointed these out to me, which I might never have noticed, even from the Yamanote line. Shaking fists, like an old guy on his porch yelling, "Damn kids!"
This looks like Ilse Valfre to me but I don't know for sure,
and she didn't answer when I asked online. Anyone?
We continued walking past the famous graffiti walls and murals in Shibuya,
down through Ebisu, and over to Hiroo, talking all the way.
Yay, another Invader!
Leif doesn't like this one as much, but I love the entire primary-coloured,
building block-esque thing this corner has going on.
And another one!
Vinos Yamazaki is right across the street from National Azabu, the famous import grocery store, which I'd somehow managed not to visit until then. I spent all my cash on rice bread, and we sat on a bench in the park across the street drinking ciders and somewhat awkwardly waiting for the guy in the Mexican food truck parked out front to buy some more avocadoes and make more guacamole. Eventually I got the chips and dip I'd been waiting on and they were delicious. Leif lent me an oversized flannel shirt he'd been carrying the whole time in his duffel bag (he was going to stay with a friend that night) because it was cold.
We were both going to Ikebukuro before calling it quits, so after a lot of indecisiveness we decided to go to the Penguin Bar, even though, to be completely honest, it wasn't exactly on anyone's bucket list.
It's hard to see, but the hand towel is folded into a penguin.
They had four of these little fuckers, in a tiny plexiglass enclosure that really needed to be cleaned. It was decidedly depressing, and the bar itself is pretty much just a massively overpriced hole in the wall with a too-high seating charge, so don't go.
You're not missing anything.
I stood there looking at them sadly for a while, and the one on the right dozed off while placidly gazing back.
There, that's better.
Maybe the penguins would be happier if they had moustaches..?
We fucked off from the Penguin Bar pretty quickly and opted for cheap convenience store gin and mixers, which we took to Ikebukuro West Gate Park and drank during the thunderstorm that had started as we left the bar and was then directly overhead.
We talked about Leif's plans for when he got back to the States after 3 1/2 years teaching in Tokyo, and some weirdo who may or may not have been pretending to talk on a phone neither of us could see gave us a dark chocolate bar.
Actually, Leif's from the Bay Area and had decided that he wanted to ride his bike cross-country from there to Maine, and he's not only started but is in Portland right now. You can keep up with his blog, though the updates are a little spares and his posts are short. I mean, not like, 7-weeks-of-nothing sparse -ahem cough ahem-, but you get the idea; can't type while keeping an eye on traffic, can you?
All in all, I give Leaf Lifeguard 5/5 stars.
See you if you end up coming back for a visit before we move on!