Friday, December 28, 2007

Tokyo sucks, unless 1980 comes round again

Firstly though it was great to see brenton again. And he has a grand old apartment. But I have to say, when most people think Japan, they think Tokyo. Most people I meet, are from Tokyo. And yet I must say this, there's only one place I'd less want to live in than Tokyo, and that is Yass.
Tokyo has the following things going for it:

1. Shopping
2. Tokyo Metro

That's it. A ways back I posted something about Brenton calling the rice paddies in Nagoya 'the country side' and I laughed, perhaps even smirked at this. Yet I had the same profound experience on returning here yesterday. Tokyo is a visual assualt, its unfriendly and it is like living in one massive department store. It isn't I admit helped by the fact that most Japanese people I know from Tokyo live in Melbourne. But it honestly ain't, foreigners are to commonplace, the friendliest guy I met I talked to on my last day there, an indian diamond salesman that was in the restaurant I got dinner at.
I can now sympathise with an old coworker who when asked 'what would you do if you were called up here to work?' responded 'hand in my resignation.' and I'm inclined to agree.
There's plenty to see in Tokyo, but the travel is more or less what travel was 20 years ago, cheap theme parks and cheaper souveneirs, that aren't cheap.
Take the temple in Asakusa, it is pretty large, and has massive lanterns, but the temple grounds have food stalls straight out of the ballarat show, and then a large strip of stands selling chick souveneirs. Or meiji jingu, the temple built to honour the late Meiji emperor, it is a more or less sacred ground, but it is probably the only true park in Tokyo. And its scale seemed somewhat diminished visiting it this time round, one when approaching the shrine can see the trees overhead, and then looking above them, a crane constructing a sky scraper that ruins the sanctuary effect of the shrine.
The rest is all shopping, shinjuku, shibuya and the fish markets, the fish markets are the single best thing to check out, and I admit, being so close to the holiday season when I visited I didn't get to a sporting event. Both them and the fishmarkets would be a good way to see Japan living, but as Mark the indian guy remarked to me when I told him I was going to Bombay, 'if you want to see the true India you need to go out of the city into the country side' I think the same holds true for Japan, you need to get out of Tokyo. Whilst nothing in Nagoya approaches the scale of Akihabara the district dedicated to electronic goods, how big do you really need a department to be, maybe half a floor in a department building, certainly not a whole district, and thats where Tokyo's scale becomes cumbersome. Fun though it is to walk the streets and take in the sights, it is claustrophobic and impersonal. Like some massive lego land.
Nagoya by contrast you head into 'the city' not the district for specific goods. Maybe its my prejudice because I never found a bookstore in Tokyo as good as Maruzen in Nagoya, but Tokyo is also where the big foreigner backlash is taking place. I missed going to a protest against foreigners but you can feel it, taste it. The choruses of 'irashaimase' are particularly hollow.
I was going to hold out for new years at Meiji Jingu to see the Japanese being Japanese but got politely crowded out of brenton's guest house which was getting claustrophobic for the both of us probably. But what a shower he has.
'it is the duty of the host to make the guest feel at home, it is the duty of the guest to assure the host he is not.' I hope I held up this bargain.
Anyway I made a midnight run back to Nagoya and immediately felt the breathing space. I feel at home here, how strange and depressing. But I have my rice field to practice sprinting around again and a new puppy to play with.
Anyway sadly, unless you want to hang out with Cool Brenton, tokyo is probably worth giving a miss.
And now that factor that reflects Japans stagnation, it has such an outmoded concept of tourism, it is all 1980's themepark mentality, and not the moderner sense of 'living tourism' which is that ancient concept of 'when in rome do as the romans do' a sheer impossibility in Japan because that would mean working every living hour of the day and then either going to a strip club or going home.
But the lifestyle is gone, or absent. It is a homosocial society, during the day time hours public spaces are populated only by the housewives. At night, drunk businessmen.
Things like the 'philosophers walk' in Kyoto should be the major tourist attractions but instead, they are Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Osaka, Spain land, Holland land, Spa Land etc. Crappy kitch theme parks. The whole club med experience, exactly what people call 'touristy' with derision in their voices.
Melbourne isn't known for its big tourist attractions, but it is the world's most liveable city. Places like Lygon St, North Melbourne, Brunswick are all very cool places. Ebisu in Tokyo I would say comes closest from what I have seen to being the same kind of cool liveable vibe.
Tokyo can still be a business arsehole of the world, I just wish the rest of Japan didn't hold it up as the model of what a city should be, it would be great to go to old Kyoto as a cultural heritage of the world, or just enjoy the messy slum of Osaka, or go to actual countryside, mountain parks etc that aren't necessarily industrial cedar plantations or ski slopes.
My parents are heading to my river, in my corner of the world, as I speak. Maybe it is longing for this paradise that is the very antithesis of Tokyo that put a bitter taste in my mouth while there, but it really is, like just living in the 80's concept of the future.
And if the rest of Japan is aspiring to an 80's sense of modern, then sell sell sell.

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