UENO (上野) SITS ON THE INTERSECTION OF THE SHITAMACHI AND YAMANOTE, THE BOISTEROUS LOWLANDS, AND THE SOLEMN HILLS. Lying roughly north-east of Edo Castle, it was built as a kind of spiritual fortress to guard against the demonic energy said to emanate from that direction. A great complex, the Kan'ei-ji Temple, was erected for this purpose, with shouguns buried on the grounds as talismans. Warding off evil. While the complex was destroyed long ago, relics can still be found, scattered over the map.

It might just be my imagination, but an unlucky ambience lingers on today in Ueno, in Tokyo's Taito Ward. It seems to increase, in fact, the further north-east you move. Surrounding the railway station you will find a sizable proportion of the city's homeless population, sleeping in the parks and on the pavement in their often meticulously crafted cardboard homes. North Ueno is also home to Tokyo's premier motorcycle district, the motorbike quarter of the city.

Passing Taiyo Motors in North Ueno, 2009

For six years, I would walk through the quarter every day, just about every day. Past all the garages with the grease-stained mirrors, the young dudes with their permed hair jumping around in overalls, wrestling with merchandise. More often than not, the pavement was crowded with shoppers, cyclists and motorbikes put out for sale. Racks of jackets, helmets nearly as funky as their kin in Vietnam! Old guys who burned their rubbish on the street, or chucked seed for pigeons to eat. I never used to work out why they needed to burn their garbage (couldn't they just throw it in the trash?), and sometimes I saw pigeons trapped in cages. I used to wonder: Were they planning on eating them? Late at night, when most folks were home asleep, I observed the homeless old men pushing their carts stacked high with cardboard and aluminium cans, making their living off the refuse of the land, like pigeons. I was there the night jihadists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York, drinking with a Swiss anarchist in the Flight Club, on Showa Dori. The club was done up like the cabin of a passenger jet, complete with fake airline windows on the walls. We were talking about Fight Club the movie, and how they detonated the American Express building, during their rebellion against the state.

Flight Club on Showa Dori, where I passed 9/11

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