For once, a little post on one of my projects.
His Name is Shunsuke “Bals” Watanabe and he is a wonderful guitarist living in Tokyo, Japan. He plays several times a week, sometimes almost every day, on the streets of Shibuya, always near the station (the last time I’ve been with him, his two favourite locations were Hachikō exit and the East exit).
I’ve been following him since my second trip to Japan in September 2010 each time learning to know him more, witnessing his struggles. Once home, I follow the evolution of his project(s) from afar.
The pictures that you’ll find here, which are featured in my book “fragmentations" are part of a series that is still ongoing and that will probably never come to an end. At least not until I’ve lost interest in my friend’s work, which is something that is not about to happen any time soon.
The series was named “New Horizon Tokyo”, which is the title of one of Bals’s older songs in which he speak about the unreachable crowds of passersby to whom he remains invisible.
During one of our longer talks I asked him what was most difficult about playing on the streets. "Japanese people are so humble and quiet and shy" he said. "…even if they stop to listen and even if they like it, very few dare coming closer. They stay at a safe distance, sometimes pretending to do something else".
It is necessary to explain that he doesn’t beg for money. It is a practice that I have seldom seen in Japan, of course people might come and throw in a few hundred Yens, but like the majority of bands that I’ve seen playing in the streets of Tokyo, he plays for his self-promotion, and sells home-burned cd’s of his latest record.
“But the most difficult is when policemen come and ask me to stop playing” he continued. “Some nights I can play without any interruption, but sometimes it borders harassment. It is because of the Japanese mind you see? People call the local Kōban (a very small neighbourhood police station) telling that I make too much noise with my music. Have you taken a look at this place, how noisy it is? Don’t tell me that I am bothering anyone, it is ridiculous.”
I’ve seen Bals get in heated (but very polite in speech) arguments with police officers more than once. I also witnessed him having to accompany police officers back to the Kōban as well for some form of administrative arrest lasting about 15 to 30 minutes.
"All I want is to see that I inspire or create something in the people that pass by. When someone stops and has the courage to tell me that he or she has been moved by my music, that really makes my day".
Bals is one of the doors through which I got to explore Japan deeper. He’s been the friend who unknowingly took me on the journey of analysing and going beyond the stereotypes that are confining the vision of the traveler to an ethno-centric perspective. I owe him and our serendipitous acquaintance my photo-journalistic endeavours.