The Hairy Homes Of Tokyo

The Hairy Homes Of Tokyo

I am a collector.  It is a gene that I was born with.  When I was young, I started in on bottle caps, excited to pry a champale top out of the asphalt; I moved to baseball cards — no greater pleasure than the smell of stale bubble gum seeping out of that waxy packaging.  I had moments with Empire Glass, art deco tsochtkes, Italian ashtrays — combing through yard sales and creepy apartments that advertised in the Chicago Reader.  Records and books were always a constant. Jamaican 45s took me over in my 20s and never released their hold.  I loved digging, searching through basements, moldy stacks of thrown-away garbage and hauling off that sweet black gold.  I organized my records, created data-bases for riddims and producers and made up genres that only I understood.  The thrill of a Sparky Lyle Topps card straight out the pack was resurrected in unearthing Monty Alexander’s ‘Summertime” in a pile of 1990s dancehall.

In college, I had a sideline habit — I collected images.  A friend and I — a dangerously smart, seriously crazy guy — formed the pretentiously named WB Image Collective, named in honor of our hero Walter Benjamin. The idea, fuelled by Marxist theory, was that a revolutionary history needed to be expressed by revolutionary methods i.e. collage.  We combed through old books in thrift stores, ancient magazines, postcard shops, unearthing imagery that we felt told of an alternate American history.  We plastered our walls with these images until our apartments became multi-media exhibitions; we cajoled professors into accepting final papers done in the manner of collage.  While our “revolutionary method” did not bring on revolution and we actually did not unveil anything other than we really liked cutting things out of old books, the exercise was interesting and that bizarre turn-of-the-century book of lithographs of Civil War monuments will forever give me a chill.

When I was young, my mother was a working photographer.  To make a little extra money at the age of 11, I was her assistant.  I learned how to develop photos in our basement darkroom and I helped to carry her camera bags when she was shooting.  She and I developed a running joke about the “furniture” that adorned the parking garages of New York: mismatched sofas of bizarre patterns and stultifyingly ugly colors; arrays of barely usable chairs. We dubbed them “Sad Furniture” and always made sure to point them out, even when they showed up in someone’s house.  When Instagram became a thing, I started collecting snaps of chairs, discarded in the streets of New York as a sort of inside joke between my mother and I.  I wrote little, sad poems about them and posted them under the account @sadchairs.  Moving to Tokyo was not good for #sadchairs.  There are just not a lot of abandoned chairs here.  What I have found, what aroused that deep collector’s bug that lives in my heart are Hairy Homes.

In our first week of living in Tokyo, I took a walk on the residential streets around our house.  The streets were devoid of all garbage, old ladies swept daily in front of their homes, trees and hedges were manicured.  The majority of homes seemed built in the 80s and were — on first glance — quite similar in style and very different in terms of design and materials to homes in New York.  About a block from us was the exception.  A two-story house that was simply alive with greenery.  From top to bottom, every inch, minus the door was covered in plant matter. This was not ivy — which I had seen previously in Brooklyn — but a leafy tree that had somehow merged with the home.  It was wild and dense.  As I studied it, I noticed how the owner maintained order within the chaos — gardening tools were neatly hung, space was cut out for the air conditioner, a pathway to the back of the house was kept clear.  Within the context of the block, it appeared someone had dropped a terrarium.  If there is anything that I did not understand about Tokyo (about Japan really!) and that has made me fall in love with it, it is the wealth and acceptance of complete contradictions within the heart of the city and its psyche. Tokyo is neat, organized and clean; and yet, the opposite is so often the case: Haphazard gardens of potted plants resting on old bricks and styrofoam packing cases; Showa-era homes seemingly tacked together with rusted zinc pan and old boards. The same contradictions exist within the population. Reserved, calm, polite can quickly transform into bawdy, exuberant and eccentric.

When I excitedly asked my wife and mother-in-law about the house, they claimed ignorance.  The house and its eccentric existence had simply gone unseen for decades.  As the years have gone by, I started to see these homes all around Tokyo.  My daughter, noticing my excitement when I came across them dubbed them “Hairy Homes.”  They were everywhere and ranged from elegant and manicured to abandoned and lush, thick flora reaching out from roofs to engulf neighboring power-lines and street signs.  During these last strange months of COVID 19 induced isolation, I found myself taking long walks and bike rides, photographing everything that I found interesting in my forays.  When I came across a hairy home, I considered it a sign of luck — a talisman that life was not going to be denied.  Recently, I started a new Instagram account to focus on these hairy homes: @hairyhomesoftokyo .  Please check it out if you like.

The other day, my daughter and I took the train to Ikebukuro to check out the Frank Lloyd Wright designed school Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan aka The House of Tomorrow.  If you ever want a great bargain in Tokyo, this is the place.  For $6 you get to walk through one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most human creations which contains all the original fixtures and furniture, all of which have been worn and used to a lovely patina.  Included in the price, you get an iced coffee and pastry to eat in the soaring cafeteria lit by some of the coolest lights I have ever seen.  When we left and walked around the neighborhood, we kept coming across incredible Hairy Homes as if we were winners of some great treasure hunt.  However, when I went to photograph a house that was surrounded by trees and dozens upon dozens of lush, potted plants, my daughter admonished me.  It was a “fakey” she told me.  A Hairy Home is A Hairy Home, she said.  It cannot be anything else.  It is a pre-ordained state, a home’s true nature revealed in the merger between the living and organic and the dead and manmade.  It is a spiritual transformation.

Where my daughter is a mystic, I am a collector and together we hope you enjoy some Hairy Homes.

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