Fieldwork #1:Second Landing

Every first and third Friday of the month I immerse in the world of Pepe Hasegawa. I decided to do this before the end of the year in 2016. The middle aged man with his hair almost balding runs a bar found in the long forgotten shopping alley in Koenji. He’s been running the bar twice a month for quite some time now. In fact he’s been running a couple of other more bars usually found in difficult alleys around Tokyo.

Pepe with his looks that characterizes a meek anti-social is friendly. Ironically he is very sociable despite his looks. Obviously nobody can run a social space like a bar if someone is not sociable. He doesn’t own the bars he run but once he occupied it, the space becomes communal and everyone knows who incited the occupation. Apparently nobody complains.

Since the mid-90s, when the hardship eventually become real after the Bubble Economy in Japan bursted; Pepe Hasegawa, Koichi Kaminaga, and many others mostly unemployed young people, school dropouts, and broke were categorically deemed by society as losers. Their pathetic lives, however, signify the new era in Japan that introduced structuralized poverty and neoliberal forms of economic relations. These young people quickly noticed this reality and started questioning it. They reclaimed the stigma that society has thrown upon them and started calling themselves Dame-ren (meaning pathetic people in English). They questioned work culture in society especially the corresponding consumerist lifestyle it entails. By doing so, they introduced conviviality by organizing home parties, pot lucks, and friendships. They invested on social capital rather than monetary capital. They were doing all this in the mid-90s and towards the beginning of the millennium when the world collapses every where.

First Friday of the month of February I reminded Pepe again about my desire to conduct ethnography about him and the space he runs periodically, which he confirmed his approval. While he was preparing the menu for the night I reminded him my intention to articulate their actions and the powerful political aesthetics found in their performativity, which is very important especially nowadays.


Pepe Hasegawa’s friends doing impromptu performance protest inside Nantoka Bar – a collective-run self-managed space in Koenji. The guy in the middle wearing a Prime Minister mask signifying the devil in Japanese tradition of Setsubun (beans throwing to ward off evil) as a gesture of welcoming Spring season. (Photo by Jong Pairez)


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