The sci-fi analogies are overwhelming, streaming in on 100 channels labeled "The Sprawl", "Blade Runner", "Fifth Element", you name it, Shibuya in the 8PM rush in the rain, neon everything flares brilliantly off rain-drenched cars and awnings and streets. Everyone (everyone, everyone) has an umbrella. I have a leather jacket and a broad Australian Akubra and feel pretty immune to the rain and more maneuverable than the umbrella'ed throngs but every Japanese and even every other gaijin, even the seedy street merchants and black dudes striking homie poses outside the gym-shoe store, has an umbrella. I resolve not to mind standing out.

These seedy foreigners in Tokyo, there's a story lurking there but I don't know what it is, it must take a special kind of person to set up a stand selling head-shop gear or belt buckles on one of the Asakusa main drives or right by the Shibuya JR; when I walk past the Japanese seem unanimously to ignore these apparations but they must sell something or they wouldn't be there.

You don't need to buy kleenex ever in Tokyo, even if you're chronically congested. Every busy corner has a clean-cut young person trying to hand you an advertising-laden pocket pack.

Heads nod on the subway in the grip of sleep. This car has two (two!) other foreigners, when I walk by another gaijin I always want to smile and nod just over the shared million-volt experience of being not-Japanese in ultrasuperhyperTokyo.

Minor triumphs: figuring out you can JR-transfer one stop before Shinjuki at rush hour; out-politing a local gentleman so he gets out of the elevator first; buying a new digicamera for a decent price in a high-octane Shibuya storefront. And there are more than a few times when it's wonderful just to be alive and in Tokyo and more or less on top of the situation.

In Mitsukoshi there are kimonos the price of a car, and I think worth it; first you think "what a striking pattern", then you think "what deep subtleties of colour", then you look close and see that the detail gets fractally finer the closer you look, glitterings of filigree'd thread coalesce to meter-long sweeps of a wave or dragon or abstract wonderfulness.

A car is pulled up in a busy side street selling something out the back - its nicely-lettered sign proclaims "Regal Drugs", the proprietor bows and nods to a colleague just like the guy seeing you out of his office in Akasaka.

Some things are so rational: my hotel room is ridiculously small, but it has a quiet unobtrusive HVAC system that keeps it at whatever tempurature I ask, it has an efficient reliable shower that doesn't gulp or strain or scald me, it has a fast-Internet cat5 jack in the wall, it has a decent breakfast buffet for 900 Yen. If you want to watch porn on TV, you buy a convenient watch-porn ticket from a machine in the hall by the elevator and put it in the watch-porn slot in the set-top.

And some things are just out-and-out nuts. The little-girl whine and phatic handwave of the department store elevator girl, the businesspeople blowing hundreds on their expense-account sashimi and getting hammered before they climb on their hour-long commute home, the mandatory doilies on the taxi seats, the barbie-doll teen idols.

I don't get it, but hey, that's fine; Tokyo doesn't need me to understand it.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
November 28, 2002
· The World (148 fragments)
· · Places
· · · Tokyo (36 more)

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