In Saitama, Yesterday
by Damien Ark

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The Photographer

He takes a roll of expired film from out of the refrigerator and loads it into his analog camera. This morning of rotting sepia and dusty window blinds marks the first time that he's cooked bamboo rice. The ceiling is exposed like a flesh incision, showcasing a thick morsel of diseased, mildewed clouds. He reminisces about how humiliating it felt to be laughed at while attempting to make rice balls with umeboshi before she helped him, how she threw her toothbrush at him last night when he took pictures of her on the toilet. When you’re in love, everything your lover does is sexy and amusing, even when they’re reading textbooks on the carpet or licking honey from a spoon.

The model wakes up on her side, naked in a bed of sweat from last night’s sloppy, drunken sex. Her body is thin and fragile, like a sparkling wineglass waiting to be crushed at the wedding. When he’s penetrating her, he can’t help but wonder if she might break and die from his harsh, ruthful thrusts. He unfolds her hands, helps her take the sake cup filled with ground ginseng tea, and helps her slurp it down to her belching swollen belly.

Cans of beer and bottles of liquor litter the tatami floor. There’s mold in the corner of each wall in the apartment. Mushrooms with skinny stems and violet spores are blooming from out of it. She plucks one, chews on it. It could be poison. Could be medicine. What does it matter to her? As long as she looks sexy doing it.

‘I’m starving,’ he thinks mindlessly. ‘Too humid. Will she care if I take my clothes off?’

But she’s freezing, frigid to the touch. He throws wads of cash into the fireplace, and they ignite with emerald green flames. What does it matter, after he’s given her the chance to make a porno in over seventy countries? ‘I’ll treat you right,’ he promised when they first met. ‘You can fuck girls as much as you want, but no guys, unless I’m watching you suck them and watching them fuck you.’

Arabic jazz drifts through the room. It’s an ECM record that he bought down the street from his apartment in Saitama. Trumpet, flute, and oud, echoing from another room. He stands on top of the bed, his bloody feet between her feet, adjusts the camera lens, and then he photographs her pussy and her mound of curly black pubes. The air is a vermillion sandstorm. Ghosts traveling at dusk. Ghosts having an orgy in the music room. She spreads her legs out and puts her pointer and middle finger right there. Her head is turned to the side and peering at a poster of a Japanese pop star that’s peeling from off the wall. The camera drones upward to her breasts, erect nipples that will be published in monochrome and printed in an underground gallery somewhere in Saitama.

He can still smell the eucalyptus oil, an aphrodisiac, from last night. In a few weeks, after the photographs are developed, after the next show, she will leave him, he will leave Japan, and the mold will have spread through the home, consuming all of her bed. He will think of all the sheets he’s slept under that have caught fire or caused him the urge to commit suicide. The worst times of his life will have given him his best work and most dreamlike memories.

‘Why even shower,’ she mutters. ‘Or even fix my hair. Now it’s too hot. And you wasted all of that money.’

He sets his camera onto her stomach and unbuttons his pants. Pre-cum already dampening the fabric. His cock hanging out in front of her, semen oozing like silk from the split, spitting a web on the soiled sheets. Wetting his lips, he shuts his eyes and responds, ‘I don’t mind if you smell like lavender heaven or like fucking dogshit. Take a bubble bath or have me suck on your dirty armpits. Shave them or don’t shave them at all. I love you. I love the taste of you. And that’s all that matters.’

The Bride

We shared a blue clove cigarette as a record by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans rippled out through the phonebooth. My foolish heart. Hurry up and take off that bubble gum tank top, girl. She lights another cigarette before we even finish the first one. Across the street, there's a thirty-foot tall white cross glowing in front of a stadium-sized megachurch. She had a cheap nose ring, a two-hundred-dollar wig, conjuring earl gray eyes, with crescent moons under them, sweet caramel brown skin, and two wedding rings. Said to myself that I was gonna be her third tonight. When the rain dies down, she's going to never want anything other than the taste of my clitoris. Come on. Let's leave Texas for Japan. Imagine us, lezzing out in koi-designed kimonos in Saitama with my English degree. You like the taste of my pussy. Yeah, I think Sarah Vaughan is pretty talented, too. We left the phonebooth blitzed out on cocaine making out in the moist rain. I had one of her AirPods in my ear, and a song by Eric Dolphy was playing warm canto. I could swear that dinosaurs were following us down through the metropolis. When we made it back to her slum apartment, she took the rest of her rings off, placed the one I gave her against her cunt, and told her to put my ring finger on it. Dinosaurs couldn't stop me from doing it. In that fucking instant, we locked lips, and I wedded her.

The Teacher

The only light within his room comes from his laptop, dimmed to hide the pornography, even though he lives alone. Unconsciously processing shame and fear, but for now, his sex-drive overlooks it. Star, his favorite Pixiv artist, is casting a Livestream of art commissions that he needs to complete by the end of the night. Right now, the artist is drawing him and what he’s doing right now. A digital painting of him with twilight eyes as the mechanical magic wand spins over the head of his cock while he’s wearing tight panties. ‘Make the background more surreal,’ he requests over chat. ‘Like, aquarium walls, with stingrays and sharks passing by. Sunset from the window, gleaming on his body.’

In the incomplete image, he’s on the bottom of a bunk bed, and a friend is peaking from the top, secretly watching him get off with a vibrator. In reality, all he has is a cheap roll-up futon and two thin blankets. How much money has he spent to see his fantasies drawn and posted online?

‘When we meet up, will you pretend we’re bunkmates, and that you think you’re straight, but you realize that maybe messing around with me could be fun?’

The artist types back in kanji. ‘Can you send me another pic. And yes. I think I love you.’


At lunchtime, one of his little elementary students draws him a Link on a napkin and gives it to him as a gift. He admires it. The kids don’t know how to be racist or hateful yet. Even the other teachers treat him with respect. But the company cheats him of his money, tells him that his time is almost up, and they need him to move out as soon as possible so that they can replace him with another teacher. On the way home, he pays for his bus ride that goes back to his apartment, and then he spends as little as possible on fast food to afford his next and final month of rent in Japan. In his hand, he crumbles up the napkin and sobs into it. All he ever wanted was to escape the homophobia infecting his society back home and live within his euphoric otaku dreams. The ESL companies knew this, hungry for any young nerds that admire Japanese culture but are ignorant of how they’ll eventually treat them.

When he first moved here, his tower of doujins grew taller with each paycheck. He went to cons and had his favorite doujinshi’s signed by the artists he had been following for years. He saw the cherry blossoms bloom while it was also still snowing. On the eighteenth floor of a manga library, he first kissed Star, while simultaneously wondering if the moment would be used in one of his R-18 drawings. Even though it’s the first time he’s wanted to be in a relationship, he can’t allow himself to get close, knowing that they’ll soon be thousands of miles apart.


While the artist is adding another layer of color to the picture over Photoshop, he changes into a rainbow Papi jockstrap, taking pictures of himself in the bathroom with a selfie stick, and forwards the nudes to him over the public chat. Exposing himself and being shared all over doesn’t bother him. He’s seen how people post his nudes and jack-off videos on PornHub under various shady usernames, even collecting cash off of them. Somehow, the video quality degrades as it’s downloaded and shared over other sites. The names change. His name, the story, even his age. He posts in the comments section for his PornHub videos as an anonymous user, a fitting name, and links it all back to Star’s Pixiv account, filled with dozens of lewd digital paintings of him on it. All of this attention and yet he wonders if anyone would even notice if he never left this apartment and decided to die and rot in Japan.

The Pornographer

On the streets near Shinjuku station, there’s a small people gathered around two harsh noise musicians that are performing with their gear lay bare on the wet concrete road. He curls his head, focusing on the blur of cars flashing by, of a starless and polluted night sky, and feels the vibrations of noise rattle through his spine.

‘There’s a boy in the crowd,’ he notes to himself. ‘I want to draw him. I want him to take a fucking selfie in front of a mirror and have him send it to me when I’m least expecting it. In the pic, he’s wearing nothing but orange briefs and has a bulging erection. He’s hairless. His cock is thin but long. His pubic hair is rough and smells like earl gray. But he shaves it, or I shave it. If I could fuck him…’

The boy he’s into is wearing a long-sleeve Prurient shirt, album cover to Frozen Niagara Falls on the front of it, and he’s bobbing his head, dancing like a burning candle, to the improvised high-pitch screeches and blasts of crunched wall-noise. His glasses almost slip off. Hands are in his little pocket. Pockets attached to black chino jeans. Long straight jet-black bangs veiling his left eye. Makes him want to grab the emo boy by his throat and force his tongue into his mouth, then the rest of his entire body into his churning stomach acid that’s already filled with split skulls and incandescent butterfly knives.

Brooding rain clouds put an end to the performance. ‘RIP,’ he thinks, crossbones emoji in the back of his head. He follows far behind the boy. Enters a coffee shop. It’s dimly lit. Kids in cosplay at the tables, slanted bookshelves of manga, and a barista is wetting a filter for the boys pour-over. They seem to know each other well. Are they fucking? Skater twink on emo twink? No, they’re both employees, and he’s just off work and here for the show. He steps up close to him, nervous and starving.

‘Hey,’ he introduces himself while trying not to show his vampiric fangs. ‘I’m Star. Nice shirt, by the way. Even though Prurient is a little overrated in the noise scene.’

Star orders the same thing as him. Black, light roast. Notes of honeydew and cherry. They share an onigiri, tearing pieces of rice and seaweed off the corners. He imagines chewing up the umeboshi and spitting back into the boy's mouth. When the thunder snaps and rattles the sky, he takes a sip, licks his fangs, and takes in more notes for his drawing.

A man, could be any man, stands on a tiny stage, and wheels his guitar around with his hands while playing the same two or three chords over and over. Guitar noise droning through a half dozen pedals and a single amplifier. He wasn’t able to feel or comprehend anything behind the abrasive sounds at first, but seeing that the boy enjoyed it, he started to do so as well. An hour in and the guitar is tilted against the amp. The man fidgeted with intense ugliness as he fucked with the knobs on the reverb and distortion pedals.

‘Fuck. Ripe fruit.’ A nineteen-year-old eager to throw his tank-top out of the window and show off his hairless, waxed body. ‘Where should I put my teeth? How much can I fucking chew off?’

Stoner funeral-doom-metal record collection with a pair of white briefs on top of them. A twenty-four-minute, slow, boiling anthem by Nadja, static crackle of the needle against painted shellac. The boy says, ‘The painting can wait. Hurry up and fuck me before this storm is over.’

First, he has to get the boy out of his yellow Pikachu boxers, and then cups him by the shaved armpits and throws him against the bed. He has his full length in the boy’s mouth, the tip from the head tickling the back of his throat. Fucking gag-reflex. All that spit lathered over his swollen face. Tears that seem lilac-purple dancing from his eyes and to the popping snot bubbles. ‘Doing good, keep at it.’ Star inhales poppers. Grits his teeth, sees the static crunch of harsh noise blaring behind his closed eyelids. The cock pulsates while halfway out and then thrusts back in. A prince albert piercing hidden under foreskin that’s been twisted and pulled on all night. One of the boy's teeth nicks his cock, so he pulls out to examine the blood, and notices that the boy is like him. A vampire. Monster. Fucking cannibal.

‘Get on all fours and then lean down on me,’ the man orders ruthlessly. ‘Somehow, I feel like I can do better than you. Keep your mouth on my cock. I’m going to prime your ass before I break it.’

The Photographer

‘Just pretend that you’re still asleep,’ he directs, kneeling and bending his body across the bed. ‘I’m almost done with this roll.’

She flips through her hair repeatedly while sitting on a suitcase full of overpriced lingerie. Nobody else will ever get a chance to wear any of it. Only makes the nudes more mysterious. As she slurps on her third cup of tea, he kneels in front of her with a camera in one hand and a phone in the other hand. Ten AM male nude near the Edo Tokyo Museum. Two o’ clock after lunch, porno shoot with two girls and one man. Make it back by three for tutoring lessons with the twins. Grade papers and submit grades before midnight.

The camera is exhausted. Everything seems sleazy and depressing. No loving embrace in any frame. Bodies are meshed together like slabs of meat on silver hooks and pulled apart to show that there’s nothing but pain and nasty pus sacks inside.

His first appointment is with another ESL teacher who came from Poland half a year ago. He doesn’t even remember how their conversation about photography transformed into one of these things. The apartment is planted within rural emptiness. Knowing how these companies work, he can’t help but feel pity for the young twenty-something whose fantasies will soon be blown to smithereens. Cheap furniture, the main room is also the bedroom and kitchen. There’s leftover mapo tofu in a pan on the kitchen counter, putrefying the air with the scent of chili oil and chopped scallions. Next to the pan, a half dozen freezer-pop plastic wrappers, bits of artificial banana flavored water spilling out, also leaving a faint smell.

The model meanders at the pace of a caterpillar and sets the mood with late-nineties progressive trance music. Slumped forward, as if unable to carry an invisible boulder, the bags under his eyes could dismantle any regretful mother. He’s overweight, hairless, brandishing an impossible sense of gentleness, the folds of skin that make subtle breasts, and on other parts of his body, they hang stoutly down to his pubis. Most of his models are like skeletons, whereas the otaku is like a doll of silver clay.

‘Leave the glasses on,’ he suggests, sympathetically. ‘It adds more character to you.’

A sunrise juxtaposed with the ugly depth of loneliness is sheltered inside of the home. Synthetic rhythms are the only thing giving the environment a sense of soul. However, the camera finds what it’s looking for and makes him into something more beautiful than he will ever realize he can be. The camera doesn’t discriminate. A photograph is an obelisk of truth. A nude is a shameless, welcoming door into a novel of complex souls, mounded into a stillness so minimal that anyone can sympathize with it.

Nineteen-Year-Old Wearing a Long-sleeve Prurient Shirt

A couple of hours post-sex, he focuses on the sound of water rushing through pipes in the wall. ‘My teeth are rotting from all this oolong tea,’ he gyrates. ‘And my throat is like toxic chemicals from all these fruit loops flavored vape juice. I’m young and skinny and cute, but I’ll be fucking dead soon.’

Schizophrenic with two undiagnosed personality disorders at war with one another. He realizes that it’s a miracle that the country lets him live here, even in the cage city of slums. In a month or so, he might have no choice but to fly back to Singapore.

He’s worked so hard to grow his hair so that it droops over his right eye. And the artist jokes about wanting to cut it up with a scythe or machete. The boy wonders if he’s going to end up dead soon.

When he wakes up, he sees his shirt in front of his face, and it’s soaked in blood, but then it’s not. When he tells the artist that, the guy starts jacking off. ‘The fuck, are we in love or not?’ He confesses to him. ‘Don’t care, go ahead, and do whatever you want to me.’

Instead, the artist draws digital pictures of him. Ties the emo boy’s wrists behind his back, gags his mouth, puts tape over his lips, over the nipples, tapes together his cock and balls, and then fills him up, rips the fucking tape off, gag replaced with a cock.

‘What were you dreaming of?’

‘A cyborg version of you, a fuckable superhero, born underneath radioactive rubble, your body surgically rebuilt by military AI, and you wake up in a cryo-chamber all naked and cute as fuck, fog from your sarcophagus flooding the room. I woke up super fucking hard and had to draw it all.’

Then he shows the drawing to him from his laptop. The emo asks, ‘Think I could use it as an album cover for my next IDM glitch flashcore EP that I want to put up on Bandcamp in a week?’


When he’s gone, they’re beating hammers into the plywood ceiling. There’s a piano drooling Satie’s Vexations until four in the morning. Half dead babies are sobbing hungry under his bed. The hallway outside of my apartment used to be a sewage pipe, and now it’s a hunk of decomposing clay. They said that it wouldn’t happen here. Wouldn’t come to this—thirty floors beneath the dirt, and another ninety spiking up toward the sky. When the monsoons come, the cage house slums are the first to be flooded, and then the bottom floors are relocated elsewhere. When that happens, waiting for them to refurbish his room, he sleeps under the counter at the coffee shop, even if it might flood there, too.

When he gets to work, he boils 800mg of water to ninety-three degrees Celsius, finely grinds fifty-four grams of beans, wets a brown filter on a ceramic dripper, dumps the grounds into it, pours, waits for the grounds to bloom like an exploding volcano, waits another thirty seconds, pours in spirals, a simple recipe for crafting the best coffee. He falls in love with a few new customers. He’d cannibalize them if he could and if he didn’t have to fight back his urges in fear of being publicly executed. Many of the same faces stop by, ordering what they usually get, iced coffees and roasted teas, the grandmother that requests two pour-overs while he scribbles word salad into his poetry notebook that he keeps hidden under the counter. ‘If only she knew what I’m really like,’ he festers. ‘A berserk sick fuck. Wild boar on the loose.’

The owner, who originally described himself online as an ex-cannibal necromancer, relapsed on devouring young girls a few weeks ago. Now he realizes that the longer he stays here, the more he compromises himself. There’s a façade of hushed tranquility in working there, which allows him to put together and play nine-hour playlists of ambient music during the day, brewing coffee for fifty or so costumers, but behind the curtains is a flicker of flames waiting to consume the place. At the same time, he knows that going back to Singapore is no matter. Will his parents accept him again after all that he did? After what he hid from them?

It will rain for the rest of the summer. Guitar noise gyrating an operatic frenzy.

A few weeks after he first moved here, he met a girl through a support forum for vampiric cannibals. She would let him cut little parts of her flesh off and let him suck on her blood. One day, he was carrying fifty-pound sacks of coffee over his shoulders, and then she started flirting with him while he was pouring coffee beans into mason jars.

‘Think you could eat my arm off right now?’ It was more of a demand than a question.

‘Follow me.’

He locked the door. Watered the succulents. Left the ambient playlist on. 80’s Industrial synth music following behind them and into their sex. In the hallway where the sink are dishes are, he washed two coffee cups, and then he took a meat cleaver from out of a drawer. She waited for him, the bathroom door ajar by her right heel. He entered, clutching the rusted object like a second cock.

‘Stand on the toilet.’

His right hand held the fucking cleaver with the sharp edge pushing into his wrist. Her venomous fluids ran down his chin, over his neck. He fucked her as she held tight to the toilet lid and he came inside her ass after she squirted into the toilet bowl filled with used syringes. Then he hacked her arm off with three blows before he devoured it all in a matter of minutes, and within a few more seconds, her arm regenerates, just as beautiful and angelic as before.

For a while, he thought that they were in love, but realized that he was too soft and always worried that he might consume too much of her flesh on accident and end up killing her. What if he ate both of her legs, and her body couldn’t take it and refused to regenerate? This happens to people like them. So she moved on to other men and women that were more than willing to chew off more at a time than he ever could. A few months later, two days before his twentieth birthday, her body was found in a gutter torn asunder in over a hundred tiny pieces. Since then, the taste of flesh has never been the same to him.

The Teacher

They meet in Akihabara. He has a Hatsune Miku tank-top on, blue-haired girl with neko cat ears and Star is dressed in all black, wearing the shirt of some random sexy ass Schizophrenic barista emo twink that he fucked however many forgetful nights ago.

‘Where can I take you,’ Star asks. ‘Maybe get you a different shirt than you have on. Or a couple of shirts. Don’t worry about money. I’ll pay for everything. Want to try some capsule toys or claw machines?”

Body pillows of skinny anime girls are wrapped in plastic on one shelf, and oversized plush dolls are to the right shelf. They share mochi, and the artist sketches him while he’s drinking milk tea. On their stop, he gazes at a wall of ankle socks with various anime and manga characters on them. He wants to buy all of them.

‘Pick a handful, I don’t care,’ the artist grins, bored and ready for capsule-hotel sex. ‘Any of them will look cute on you. Feels like you know how to play into my foot fetish, too.’

In their miniature cramped capsule hotel, the artist sits on his knees, sketching rapidly in his notepad, while the chubby twenty-something hugs the plush dolls that they won together. He’s wearing nothing but those tight slutty panties, again. People are trying to sleep, so they can’t talk too loudly to fuck too hard. Otherwise, they’d rip open the Earth and climb into it before smothering each other's bodies with pecks and kisses, barebacking until the core gives birth to a black hole that sucks up the whole world.

‘Sorry I’m so fucking fat with the fucking stretch marks and fucking everything,’ the younger man whispers his apologies. ‘And I know my dick is fucking small. It’s pathetic, isn’t it? Three and a half inches erect. Am I pathetic and gross to you?’

‘You always say that, knowing that you’re my type, anyway. But you’ll never believe that’s true, will you?’

Back at home, three suitcases are packed, his mother is waiting for him back in Poland, but his heart isn’t ready to leave yet. As they’re cuddled together and naked under the warm sheets and the dim light, he reads texts from her, assuring him not worry, he can find a new job, a new home, a new love, that this part of the country isn’t as homophobic, she thinks. But he wants to be like this with Star every day.

Phone light in the boy's face. Star imagines sealing their capsule shut like it’s an escape pod shout of a spaceship that’s about to explode, and they’ll have to live in here for the rest of their lives, starving, lustful, insane. The boy is wiggling his feet — Digimon on his socks. Star rubs the soles and imagines his tongue between each toe and ejaculating over them later tonight. He licks his fangs and shifts one hand down to the younger man’s crotch. Stroking him slowly, he utters into one ear, ‘Before you go, can I show you something? So that we can be closer? I want to make you immortal. Not like the art, but like, literally immortal.’

His thumb flickers over the piss slit and rubs semen over the rim, and then he scrapes an unsharpened nail against the tight frenulum until it starts to bleed a bit. ‘Close your eyes. After tonight, you’ll never be afraid of anything ever again.’

by Damien Ark. Get Fucked Up on Expat Press this 2020.