I landed in Japan in pursuit of love and to escape Thatcher. After my Japanese
girlfriend left England and came home, I decided to visit for a few months, and 16 years
later love is still holding me here, with the same woman.
I' done a lot here in Japan I'm a photojournalist, a performance artist (I was the
first overseas artist to give a performance at the New Tokyo International Forum), and an
actor (playing Einstein in NHK's six-part series about his life). But basically, I am an
avid writer and photographer for newspapers and magazines, including Tokyo Classified,
whose varied readership is always a great challenge.
When I first came here, I wanted to carry on as a freelance writer and I had to take the
bottom end of the work, which was small magazines, and supplement this with English
teaching which became quite tedious. Fortunately, my writing abilities began to be
noticed, and I could afford to stop teaching and make a meagre living as a writer.
I then took up photography, because being a trained artist, I already had the
compositional values and other esthetic aspects of image making. Technique was lacking and
I taught myself over a period of one year by shooting one or two rolls every day no matter
the weather conditions, and analysed the bad results, rather than feel pleased with the
good ones. Within a year, I had developed a technique reliable enough to produce 70% of
the roll as good photographs.
My development as an artist in Japan has been more than I dreamt of. In the West,
nature is seen as something separate from art or indeed man. Because of the Buddhist
influence of nature within Japanese tradition, I began to fully appreciate nature as an
inherent part of art. Hence, I had much more freedom as an artist to exploit my natural
eye as opposed to the Western intellectual who had to put art into words as a concept.
Another thing I liked about Japan was the fact that there was no religion being thrust
down your throat, except by Western missionaries. The Japanese believe that it doesn't
matter which train you take if they all go to the same destination. Even as an atheist,
I'd buy that!
Tokyo seems a city without a past, apart from the Imperial Palace and the modern
reproductions of ancient shrines and temples. I love the way a shop can boast of being
founded in 1990. In contrast to London, where I can see buildings and rituals dating back
to who cares when, in Tokyo I've seen nothing but things being pulled down and things
going up. I think this is a much healthier approach in the modern world because this is
precisely how evolution works to cope with a rapidly changing environment. Everything in
Tokyo clashes because it has no direction. Yebisu Gardens, for example, is a disastrous
hodge-podge that insults my senses. But somehow, I would hate to see uniformity determine
Tokyo is a good place for me to be in, because if you've got the money, you can obtain
anything in the world -- if it's not here already. When I arrived 16 years ago, Tokyo was
at the edge of the map. Now, it has become one of the major crossroads of the world and I
don't feel like I'm out of the world by living here. Cyberspace is also a great equalizer
in this sense.
I have great hope for Tokyo -- eventually! After many years, commuters are learning to
stand on one side of the escalator, allowing others to walk up. I never thought it would
happen, and now it's spreading as a form of common sense. I hope eventually Tokyoites will
learn to use the same common sense as pedestrians.
Mike Jacobs spoke to Chang-Ran Kim (chan!)
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