Critical Mass Top 50, 2013

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Tsutomu Yamagata

A former dancer, 20 years after a sex change operation.

A former street peddler who advised me to be careful around Japane pizza stands.

Has run a bar in Asakusa for 30 years. The number of customers has decreased.

He is an Okinawa samisen musician and hides a tattoo on his chest.

She became a prostitute 6 months ago. She still gets money from her parents.

She comes for a walk once a month from Asakusa. She seldom meets her five sons.

He opened a small bar in Shinjuku. The bar is always crowded.

Last month, he found out he has prostate cancer but he hasn’t told his wife yet.

Recruiter of day labourers. Pick up casual laborers in Ueno every day.

She lives with a daughter of 28 years old. The daughter is hikikomori.
Tsutomu Yamagata

One day an old man in a plain suit sat next to me by a pond in a park. He began to put powder on his face and changed into a woman’s kimono. He started dancing to the Japanese ballad that came over his radio, smiling all over his face. He told me that he was a master of Japanese dancing, that he was a homosexual, and that he had cancer. Another day, I met an old millionaire in underwear who rode a rickety bicycle, and yet another day, I met a devilish-looking man who in fact was a mammy’s boy. The pond is a wide lotus pond called Shinobazunoike. As I went there more often, I met more people like them. Before long, I began to take photographs of them and listen more to their stories. There is something about the people I met at the pond that peculiarly attracts me, something more than just how they look, just what they say about themselves. It is as if they had a kind of magnetic power, unseen and quiet, further attracting those who take a close look at them. I go to the pond often and share time with the people. Each subject has his or her own background and character so unique that no stereotype can define them. It is as if all sorts of mutually-conflicting and complex human characters – vigor and weakness, harshness and gentleness, beauty and ugliness, and so forth – all reveal themselves as they are in each person, and quietly create a magnetic power of his or her own. The work I named “Thirteen Orphans”. It is the name of the strongest hand in the game of mahjong. In most games, we collect series of the same type of cards and melds, but in this hand all the cards are unrelated to the others. However, if one card is missing, this hand is worthless. Each is unlike all the others; each combines to make the whole. Just like human society.