Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Just as I did with Manila, I'll try to communicate my impressions of Tokyo with just five things, observations, reactions, thoughts. But, because Tokyo is so much bigger, so much more everything than Manila, the five things are also bigger, and also maybe less precise. Think Zen koan, but less profound. Think haiku, but more verbose.

1. At the Senso-ji shrine, there is a big basin filled with burning sticks of incense. People lean into the smoke, wafting it onto their faces and bodies, hoping to bring themselves luck. I see a woman doing this while still wearing an anti-pollution facemask (but not, sadly, the type adorned with the ubiquitous image of Hello Kitty), and I wonder if she gets more of the good-luck smoke (because her lungs are purer?) or less.

2. Many Japanese restaurants put plastic food in their front windows, to tempt passing customers. Kappabashi has several shops that sell nothing but plastic food, from sushi to cheesecake, from beer to bacon. Which raises the question: what do they put in their windows? Back to bloody Baudrillard again, I'm afraid. The purest simulacrum is the copy that exists in the absence of the original. Isn't it? Doesn't it?

3. Japanese companies throw parties for their employees every December. They're called bonenkai, literally "forget-the-year", which strikes me as a far more honest and useful stance than the forced jollity of the Western Christmas bash. Get with it, UK, plc! And let's have compulsory group callisthenics first thing in the morning as well.

4. Harajuku station is the base of operations for schoolgirls who dress in increasingly wild extrapolations of Goth and fetish fashions, as well as older women who dress as schoolgirls and schoolgirls who dress as older women who dress as schoolgirls. As you follow their trail down Omote-sando, you enter a sort of parallel Camden, with shops selling vintage Vivienne Westwood and mod gear from Merc. An alternative alternative? Northwestoneworld? The attention to detail extends even to smells: the odours of tired noodles and musty denim are positively Proustian. And it's here, not in glitzy, Bladerunnery-y Shinjuku, that I suddenly realise what hyperrreality is. I think.

5. Otoro, the fattiest, most prized and revered cut of tuna sashimi, sliced fresh from the belly of the beast and eaten at 8 o'clock on a winter morning in Tsujiki Fish Market, tastes of very little at all, actually.


tom l said...

I recently worked for a Japanese company and was fortunate enough to be sent to Tokyo once. But my comment is about that company - every year they provided a Christmas bonus for their employees around the world (it was a large corporation). Every year it was the same amount. Every year since 1956 it has been the same amount, and the same for everyone, Sr Vice President or Box Lunch Stuffer. It was always the equivalent of five dollars. We Americans graciously donated the entire amount to a charity of our choice.

Billy said...

Why do the gothic or gothettes always hang out at train stations? The same is true wherever you go.

Tim Footman said...

Tom: The gaijin get off lucky. Japanese salarymen are expected to send presents to everyone to whom they owe a debt of gratitude at bonus time, which often wipes out the bonus. Especially if it's only five bucks.

Billy: Because they all think they're Anna Karenina?

Spinsterella said...

They hang out in College Green here, as I'm sure you know Billy.

Temple Meades is a bit of a hike.

I like the idea of 'Forget The Year', I'll be doing some of that tomorrow.

Billy said...

Spin: Good point, they certainly do. If only Bristol had a more centrally-located train station *sigh*

Anonymous said...

I believe a number of shops in Bristol sell only plastic food though.

Anonymous said...

I'm always a bit terrified of Japan. It seems the most 'different' place you could go. I remember The Face did an article about Japanese teen cults years ago, boy, do those guys know how to dress.
FYI In Ballykissarse the goths hang out in Tescos car park.

Anonymous said...

"Think haiku, but more verbose."


Tim Footman said...

Bristol: The Tokyo Of The Cider Belt. It has a certain ring, I suppose.

Doc: Yes, it is very different, but it's entirely manageable as a tourist destination. It's one of the safest cities on the planet, and the people are delighted to be able to help strangers, even if language is a barrier. I would imagine living and working here as a gaijin, rather than just visiting, would present new challenges, but overall I found it much more approachable than, say, Bangkok, where you always have to be on your guard for people attempting to rip you off. And yes, damn, the kids know how to dress. Go, everyone, if you get the chance. I'm just annoyed that I left it so long.

Annie: If I said "Like a limerick, but more annoying" would that have a similar effect?

Anonymous said...

No, probably not.

orange anubis said...

It sounds fantastic. While the plush bonnet on your linked Hello Kitty page evokes an image so obscene that even I'm afraid to put it into words. And NW1world? Funnily enough karaoke lives and breathes in the original Camden, and I was there this week in an old Viv W jacket and a Merc coat. I like this collision of worlds.

Tania said...

It's the most unusual post about Japan travel I've ever read, but it's really interesting! Thank you!