A Love Letter From Tokyo

I landed in Tokyo at 4 Friday afternoon and at 7 was handed my schedule for the week. I was to paint a Love Letter to Tokyo across 4 walls in 4 days, and Friday’s objective (the Friday that was mostly used up at this point) was to be spent “getting to know the city.” So keeping to the schedule, here’s what I learned about Tokyo on Friday: It’s spring, beautiful, not many cherry blossoms—they came early and were blown away in a storm two weeks ago. A lot of people are wearing surgical masks to ward off hayfever, but blow it when they smoke or drink coffee. 7-11 (known here as the hilarious 7&I Holdings) has the best coffee, freshly ground and brewed by the cup for 100 yen (a buck). Starbucks are everywhere and busy selling the same cup for 400 yen, truly earning the name Fourbucks. Girls are wearing goth Strawberry Shortcake outfits, boys are in serious jeans and handmade boots. All the kids are lining up for pancakes and Ben and Jerry’s. Gaijin in Japan complain there are too many Gaijin in Japan. Finally, and most significantly, since the earthquake, people aren’t going out as much. There’s a renewed emphasis on family and less on ambition for most people these days.

That was the prevailing sentiment that informed Love Letter Tokyo. We (Lew Blum and I) painted the first wall at Bookmarc Tokyo in the cold neon light of a big screen TV playing “Lost In Translation” on repeat. We couldn’t believe we were being forced to live in front of the imitation of life, but we got into cracking “it’s so true” jokes about the various scenes, and wishing it was true that we were in the best scene with Charlie Brown throwing bottles at gangsters. Ahh shit, I remembered, Charlie passed away. Well, he looks cool as hell here, now and forever. “Now and Forever”, great phrase, almost worn through from overuse. “Now Is Forever”, Much better, true in every permutation I can think of. OK, that’s what belongs on the Big Wall.

Apparently, it’s hard to get permission for ANY wall in Tokyo. Marc Jacobs has two walls that have been granted to me, but the other two require meetings with attorneys, and gifts of Godiva cookies, and contracts and covenants and many bows. The Big Wall is a well known landmark of great distinction, and my mere application of chalk on its surface has police jumping off bicycles trying to arrest me. Marc Jacobs has two people on the scene who speak Japanese for just this situation. The first guy, a native, pretends like he doesn’t see the cops yelling at me. The second, Shawn from Boston, leaps into the fray and says I have permission. “No you don’t,” says the captain. “Yes, he does,” Shawn replies. “We have a signed covenant, do you want to see it?” Captain spits back, “Why do I want to see something that doesn’t exist?” Finally, a familiar face to the Captain pops up and backs us up. Cops stop us 3 more times—detectives, bike cops, soldier-looking cops—seemingly every division of police cannot believe I have permission to do this. Fun for me, but poor Shawn had to get screamed on all day. No big deal, now he’s got a good war story to tell the other gaijin.

At the end of the week, I had a book signing at Bookmarc, and an art opening at Target gallery the same night. We were relieved that it all got finished, thanks in no small part to the insomnia and energy Tokyo imparts (a theme of “Lost In Translation”), we also were graced with the presence of Kazumi Asamura Hayashi, Charlie Brown’s widow. It was impossible for me to broach the subject of Charlie’s passing, I barely knew him. She finally spoke on it, “Now Is Forever I think it all the time now, when I have to do something I just do it.” And with that, the circuit was complete. Turns out also that her daughter and my son share a birthday, one year apart. Playdate in Manhattan anytime from now to forever.