I had a nice surprise the other day when I visited my favourite bookstore, Libro in Shibuya Parco Part 1. While browsing the photography section I stumbled across a book by Nobuyoshi Araki that I hadn't seen before, called Dirty Pretty Things. Basically a photodiary, the book records his trip to London and Paris in October 2005 with hundreds of black and white, and some colour photos.

Araki's books (and he has published more that 300) tend to be divided loosely into those that focus on sex and those that don't – although even his most pedestrian work is infused with eroticism. This collection is pretty much what you would expect from one of Araki's more documentary style books. Lots of candid snaps of the people he met on his trip and great street photography interspersed with nudes of the models who accompanied him. Not surprisingly all the photos documenting the circus his presence inspired are shot in black and white, while the most erotic shots – of his muse Kaori stripping in front of a huge crowd in Paris – are shot in colour, the sudden flesh grabbing your attention as you flick through the book.

While it's a good change to see Araki focusing on cities other than Tokyo, the reason Araki went to Paris and London that year was to oversee the installation of a huge retrospective of his life's work. It was while he was in London that I had the chance to interview him for The Financial Times newspaper. Over a two hour lunch in the Barbican Art Gallery restaurant we had a good chat about the influences behind his work and the controversy that it sometimes causes. As we ate, he wrote some kanji on a napkin to explain his relationship to Hokusai, then paused to pick up his camera and take a photo. Which, to my surprise has made it into Dirty Pretty Things along with the following quote:

"This is my lunch at the Barbican. Beans. They were sweet. I was being interviewed, and I was writing something on my napkin for them. We were talking about art maniacs and photo maniacs. You know, I said I liked Picasso and Bacon just for the hell of it. I told them my rival isn't Bacon but Hokusai. So I said Hokusai was an "art maniac" but I'm a "photo maniac".

He is too. A complete shakyojin.

Now if only I can remember what I did with that napkin?!

For more of what Araki said that day you can download a PDF of my interview with him here...


J-Girl Nihongo Watch

GIZA = a new slang prefix that basically means "very, very...!"

Commonly used by high school girls with such words as "kakkoi" (cool) or "oishii" (delicious).

My source tells me it comes from "giga" as in gigabyte but the first person to attempt to use the word mistakenly said "giza" instead of giga and it stuck.

Whether that's true or not... it's giza-cool!


Video Jazz Bar

I remember the first time I found my perfect bar. It was about fifteen years ago and I was wandering the streets of Shibuya alone, in search of company. Not necessarily sexual company either – the warm touch of a woman in a nearby Love Hotel would have been nice – but really, I just needed a place to be near others. I didn't care if I spoke to anyone. I just wanted to be in a room, with music and people and wine. If someone wanted to strike up a conversation, then fine. But it wasn’t important.

Eventually, not far from a huge DIY store called Tokyu Hands I found a place. The sign was what caught my attention, Video Jazz Bar it read, the word “jazz” leaping out at me. “A jazz dive will do just fine” I thought, and followed the arrow on the sign down an alley until I heard the faint, sweet sound of a tenor sax.

I opened the door and went in. An old Japanese man, several heads shorter than my 6 foot 3 greeted me at the counter. He was wearing a warm smile and a black beret. He ushered me to a table and set down a small bowl of spicy Japanese snack mix. Rice crackers and beer nuts with a kick. Then he brought me two menus. I opened the first, had a skim, and ordered a large glass of Australian Shiraz. As he went to fetch it I opened the second menu.

It was a bit like a Karaoke menu. Lists of musician’s names and the tunes they perform. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bird, Dizzy, Chet Baker – they were all in there and I was a bit puzzled as to what to do.

Until then the room had been pretty quiet. Just a touch of jazz playing in the background – the tenor sax that had lured me in. But as my glass of red arrived, one wall of the bar suddenly lit up and I realised it was a screen. In the reflected light I noticed a few other patrons. Old Japanese jazz dudes much like the host, and some younger cats. Goatees, a couple more berets and lots of smoking cigarettes smoldering before glasses of wine the same shade as mine. This was a jazz geek’s heaven, and as the screen flickered to life I realised that the menu was a list of live jazz performances recorded on video or laser disk.

On the screen the credits rolled and suddenly I was transported back in time watching Miles Davies play with John Coltrane. It was New York, April 2, 1959 and they were playing on The Sound of Miles Davis with host Robert Herridge, on CBS-TV. It was sensational. Low-fi virtual-reality lo-tech jazz style. I was swept away…

I sat thinking about what it must have been like to be there, but also how amazing it was to be here. The way technology and memory mingled, I felt I had found something intrinsically neo-Japanese. The kind of place that William Gibson might have invented had it not actually existed. A place where the futuristic aura of Tokyo entwind so beautifully with the past. Genius remembered, captured and worshiped on video.

After that first visit I went back several times, once with my sister when she came to visit, and maybe a few times with various dates I wanted to impress. But mostly I’d go alone and sit in the corner, watching the screen. It was like a time tunnel surrounded by old men and new acid jazz funksters like myself, sitting side by side, getting lost in the dark. Tuning out of the present into the past.

Recently I went looking for the Video Jazz Bar, and was pleased to see that at least the sign had survived, even though the bar itself vanished years ago. But these days the whole area is being redeveloped, as keeps happening in Tokyo, and today as I passed by again, I noticed that the sign had also gone.

I like to think that one day I will stumble upon the bar again someplace, that it has simply relocated. But I imagine it has gone forever. It’s a shame really, it was such a great idea, and so beautifully executed. A little like jazz.

Thankfully these days we have the web... so you can see the recording that so enthralled me all those years ago by following this link