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I Rub Your Brog

by Ken Ishii

While many first-time visitors to Tokyo probably have a fuzzy idea of what to expect, they would do themselves a favor to first check out I Rub Your Brog, a Web blog that randomly documents “life, music and general weirdness in central Tokyo.” This is where they’ll find slices of technicolor life not necessarily covered in standard-issue guidebooks about Japan. When the anonymous blogger behind I Rub Your Brog isn’t touring the city’s parks and backstreets on his bike, he can be found jamming with the bands The Shirts and Squadcar or trading riffs with other artists in Tokyo’s underground music scene. The Japan Times spoke with Mallocup, the creator’s online alias, about his blog, the extroverts on parade in Yoyogi Park and the importance of always being prepared for a photo opportunity.

Where’s your homeland? When and how did you end up in Japan?

I’m from a small town north of Melbourne in Australia. I came to Japan about 10 years ago to teach in a big English conversation school.

When did you launch I Rub Your Brog?

It was during the summer of 2007. I work in a job that has a long summer break and found myself walking around Shibuya with not a lot to do. This brought me into a lot of contact with extraordinary people and things, and I decided to try and document that.

“Life, music and general weirdness in central Tokyo” is how the blog is self-described. How do you define “weirdness”?

The thing about weirdness in Tokyo is that while most people conform to a somewhat conservative norm, there are these all these wacky extroverts that pride themselves in throwing off the shackles of their day-to-day lives and go out into public places on the weekend to perform their own particular brand of strange. I love it.

Do you feel a bond with other bloggers who write about Japan? Any role models among them?

I love the way the guys from Kirainet and Tokyo Times capture different aspects of Japanese culture, and they’re both fantastic photographers. Neil Duckett always has interesting material and often covers some of the same territory as me, and YouTubers like Tkyo Sam, Claytonian, and Kevin Cooney all do pretty interesting stuff. There are so many that cover different perspectives, but Danny Choo is the undisputed king of J-bloggers.

“Engrish” can be humorous, but have you received any criticism regarding your blog’s name?

None at all. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Who are Squadcar and The Shirts? Between songs there’s “rock band trivia.” What is this about?

They are two bands that I play in, though Squadcar are in semi-hibernation right now. The Shirts, or “Teh Shirts” as we prefer to be known, are currently working up a new set of songs that will eventually be recorded. We play heartfelt rock/pop, and do events around Tokyo, often with a bunch of our friend’s bands. Rock band trivia is a thing Scott does to the audience during shows to trick them into letting him cut their hair. People can see some videos of ours on IRYB, or check our MySpace page for recordings and upcoming shows.

On the blog, you cover a lot of Tokyo’s underground music scene. How would you compare it to other music scenes that you’ve encountered?

I think it’s pretty tough to play regularly in Tokyo, especially in that bands have to sell a certain amount of tickets that are quite expensive before they break even. Also, while live houses have great sound and light systems, and excellent staff, I’ve often found that they lack the vibrancy and energy that I knew back home. I still prefer the smaller clubs where bands can hold their own events and it’s cheaper for people to get in. The downside to playing these venues is that they often have marginal sound systems, and the bar managers care more about how many drinks are being sold than the music that’s being performed.

You often take photos in Yoyogi Park. What makes it a special place?

Yoyogi Park is easily one of my favorite places in Tokyo, from the cultural festivals to the flea markets to the quiet back corner where you can almost get away from everything. There are so many characters, like the dancing Elvises, or the techno-painter guy, or even the lone bagpiper who’s often tucked away in the trees. Just last weekend we chanced upon the most amazing 5-year-old guitar player, rocking out Beatles songs like I would never have believed possible.

What’s sad is that bands have recently been banned from playing there. It was one of my favorite things about Tokyo, but now it’s gone.

The extroverts in Tokyo get plenty of attention. Are they crazy, bored, lonely, on a higher spiritual plane? What’s your take?

Maybe some of them are a bit crazy, and I’m sure a lot of them are bored, but to me that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they are artists or street performers that are there to entertain people, I really respect that. It’s interesting to me that people who are most likely very conservative in their daily lives enjoy dressing up in all manner of crazy and receiving attention for what is generally perceived as being odd or bizarre behavior. Ultimately, I think with a lot of them what they do is very calculated and clever.

Looking at your blog’s series titled “Somewhere somebodies daughter” you’d think that there is a photo shoot/interview on every corner. Are they really easy to find or are you actively seeking them out?

That was actually the first series of mine that got any attention, Danny Choo liked it and featured it on his site, I still get hits from that post! No they are not on every corner, but there are a lot in and around Shibuya. It’s pretty easy to take candid pictures of someone that’s already in a shoot, so I just take advantage of that.

What are some of your favorite reoccurring themes?

Extroverts are always so receptive to having their photo taken, and go over pretty well with people that read the blog. People like Goldfish bloke obviously enjoy the attention, and in getting out there and doing their thing they become part of the pop culture that helps make the city so interesting. I think that in this age where different kinds of media can be shared so easily, it’s great that people are able to share their weirdness with a wide audience, and in turn enjoy their little bit of fame.

Random night shot” includes photos that reveal an intimate side of Tokyo. Has being a fan of Rikko Kasso influenced you as a photographer? Do you have plans for a book of your own?

Rikko Kasso is a phenomenal artist and photographer. I love the way he is able to capture the simple beauty of everyday situations, and that he often shoots around Shibuya or Yoyogi Park is very inspiring to me. Part of me doing I Rub Your Brog is about trying to become a better photographer. If I keep doing it for long enough and have enough interesting photos, I might consider putting a book together, but it will no doubt be an independently produced one with a very limited print run.

The photos on your blog are mainly posted by Mallocup. Any relation to Boyer’s chocolates?

You mean the whipped marshmallow creme center surrounded by a delicious combination of milk chocolate and coconut? Maybe . . .

Many of the photos you feature get up close and personal with the subjects. What kind of interaction do you have with the people you shoot? What advice can you give to budding photo-bloggers?

I think that part of the reason that people find the blog interesting is that it really is a visual narrative of someone’s experience, rather than a set of themes that are prearranged. I have no idea of what will be on the page next week, I only know that the photos will be of something that I find interesting at the time. I’m a big fan of candid photos, and in that, I often try not to let people know when I’m taking their picture. Ultimately I’m just another guy with a camera taking bunch of photos while hanging out with my friends.

As for advice, just always have your camera ready.