Friday, June 12, 2009

Fieldtrip to Tokyo! This Post: Why I Hate Tokyo...

Mugi-chan grasping my leg as I attempt to leave. "Don't go!"

The first of many stress-related messes left by Mugi-chan while I was away...

Yes, for only the third time in my almost eleven years of living in Japan I went to the big metropolis of Tokyo. My mission was anthropological in nature. First, I was to participate in a tour of Meisei Gakuen, the only deaf school in Japan that uses JSL as its first language. Next, I was to attend an early screening of the new film by Kazuhiro Soda, Mental. Both of these events were incredible experiences and will be the subject of the next two posts. But first I must deal with my dislike of Tokyo.

So as to further legitimize my trip, I visited the culturally important areas of Hibiya, Yurakucho, Kanda, Akibahara, Shinjuku, Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. My students often know more about Tokyo than I do so I decided further exploration was necessary. After finding my lodgings in Yotsuya, I went to Yurakucho to check out the photo exhibition of Eikoh Hosoe at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan. Photos were on the walls of the club's bar on the 20th floor. I sat at the bar looking forward to a drink but was told since I wasn't a member of the club I couldn't order anything. The waitress was nice enough to give me a glass of water. This setting for Hosoe's photos was indeed unfortunate. It was something out of colonialization: the rich and beautiful people hobnobbing amongst the dirty pictures of a native cameraman. I inquired about becoming a member on my way out and was asked by a young girl half my age what I was (An anthropologist? That's not a journalist...) and who I knew (The internet doesn't count - one needs to know real people, preferably two full members, to apply...).

I was tired and hungry and thirsty and Yurakucho wasn't doing it for me. I decided to return to Yotsuya and find an izakaya there. Once in Yotsuya I wandered several streets but found nothing to my liking. Either nothing looked good or everything was too expensive. Finally I found a small intimate looking cafe that advetised "stress free" dining. Perfect I thought. I sat at the bar and was half way through my first drink when the cockroach appeared. An appetizer?

I ended up finding a Subway shop and had a roast beef and turkey breast sandwich. Was I really in Japan?

I retreated to my lodgings and met the owner of the ryokan. "Yes, Tokyo has quite a cockroach problem," he explained to me. "They like to enter the houses through the water drains... By the way, how about a drink?"

We sat at the bar that served as the front desk for his ryokan. His employees are Chinese. One woman was making homemade gyoza which we later ate along with beer served with ice. The owner, originally from Nagano, was quite a character and very generous. Now this is more like it, I thought. Have I found the real Tokyo?

A hearty breakfast of bread, salad, an egg, coffee and orange juice was included with the lodging. The Chinese staff members were curious about my activities in Tokyo. A deaf school and a film about mental illness?

I ate lunch at Burger King in Kanda (we don't have Burger King in Osaka) and then explored Ochanomizu and soon found myself in Akibahara. Electronics, tourists, otaku and maids all laid out in front of me. I even encountered a foreign (that is white) maid who spoke the squeaky-high cute maid talk as she tried to recruit men into the cafe where she worked. We both avoided looking at each other...

That night I found what I thought would be a regular izakaya where I could order the usual Japanese standards. The place was cheap enough, but the taste left a lot to desire - everything was too bland.

By the time I returned to the ryokan the owner was drunk and off to bed. I contemplated what I would do the following day before returning to Osaka.

Whenever I travel, the last day is cold, gray and rainy. Well, Tokyo wasn't so cold, but it was very gray. I decided to check out Shinjuku and Harajuku. At a radio station in Harajuku some famous person was being interviewed. The interview could be seen through a large window so I took out my camera. A young man told me I couldn't take photos. I motioned to the crowd of young girls taking pictures with their cell phone cameras. They are members of THE PRESS he told me. I was denied once again.

Meiji Shrine is close to Harajuku. There, too, I was told not to take photos in the inner shrine by an old man guard in a stiff gray uniform. Another old man guard told a visitor he couldn't lie down on a bench. This was a very strict place. While there I was also able to see a wedding. Many tourists ran to the wedding parade and took pictures of the couple. Seems like maybe the guards should have prevented this, but they didn't.

I asked the staff members at the ryokan what would be a good Tokyo omiyage to give my girlfriend. They hemmed and hawed and finally suggested I buy something at the Tokyo Station. There are a lot of shops to buy cookies and sweets there. But isn't there something famous I should buy in Tokyo as a souvenir? No, nothing really, they said...

Why is this crowd gathering here and at many other strategically located points? To smoke, of course...

So maybe not all is bad here...

Far be it from me to judge an entire metropolitan area based upon a third trip of less than three days. But I have to wonder, what is the attraction? Is anyone living in Tokyo really from Tokyo? Is the glocalization process of Tokyo a blanding down of taste to suit a general population who are concerned only with themselves? I know one must stand to the left on an escalator in Tokyo (it's the opposite in Osaka) but how do people walk, move around and interact with each other? Despite various signs regulating traffic movements, people darted here and there and wherever they could find the space to get around others.

And where are the elevators and escalators in Tokyo? It must be a nightmare to be a in wheelchair there. And the few escalators are too slow. And the one at Tokyo Station that takes you to the Chuo Line made me feel queasy - I realized that its angle is much steeper than other escalators so that people had to bend in unnatural poses to compensate.

And don't get me started about the Yomiuri Giants...

Don't worry, Mugi-chan, we are staying in Osaka! Go Tigers!

(And the next posts will be back to the usual VAOJ academic nature...)


Anonymous said...

I don't believe it's difficult for academics affiliated with universities here to gain membership of the FCCJ...

However it does't sound like you'll be back too soon anyhow!



Simon said...

Hey Professor Fedorowicz,

I'm in Tokyo now myself, I've been staying with friends for a few days and then I'm off to Kyoto tomorrow to stay with my girlfriend.

Totally agree with your comments about the escalators and elevators. I've been having a terrible time getting around. Kyoto and Osaka still aren't good when it comes to that kind of thing, but they're still better than Tokyo. I've had to come back to the apartment early today because I'm so dead from all the stairs.

I don't really find Tokyo any blander than Osaka or Kyoto to be honest. I think the restaurants are better. I commented on this in my in class presentation the semester before last, but I feel that really most of the cities in Japan are pretty generic now anyway. I was in Ginza today, looked around and realised I could have been in Shinsaibashi/Namba and not really noticed the difference.

Simon Tyler (crutches guy)

DickMcVengeance said...

Professor Fedorowicz,

(Yes, I still remember how to write your name, even after all this time)

I'm surprised at the comments at Meiji Shrine -- when Nicole and I were there, we took tons of photos with no problems whatsoever. Same with Amoeba studios. The only time I got the banhammer on photos was at the Yasukuni Museum, which I can understand there.

It sounds like you really got the short end of the stick when it came to Tokyo, even though it is a godless city when compared to Osaka. I feel like Tokyo, because it's so sprawling, really requires an agenda and someone who has an idea of what they're doing to lead you. I'll be there for Tokyo Game Show from Sept. 19-29 (I think), so I'll be sure to let you know how things go there.

R. said...

Tokyo is, well, Tokyo. One thing you missed (near the bridge picture in Akiba) is Neko Ja-la-la, a cat cafe. Perfect reprieve from the heat, but Mugi-chan might not take that so well.

You managed to escape beers with Helen and I before we left Osaka, but you're still not safe. I'll be back next year and coming to an izakaya near you!

Ruth Harrison, Australia.

Casey said...

Hey Professor Fedorowicz,

I took your class in Fall 2007, and I'm back in Japan during this summer. I really liked this post and have a lot of the same feelings. I traveled to Tokyo from Osaka with my girlfriend to go to Disneyland.

I also STRONGLY agree with Simon regarding the genericness of large Japanese cities. We visited shops in Tokyo only to find not only the same types, but the -exact- items I saw in shops within Osaka. All of the same merchandise is shipped around the country making it difficult to find anything unique unless of course you're lucky enough to find shops of hand-made crafts ($$$).

My girlfriend's mom was surprised when I told her cockroaches are NOT a normal occurrence in restaurants in the US. I was a bit disturbed that it has become normal and expected here...

I have a friend who is restricted to a wheel chair and she asked me to let her know how accessible Japan is since she's interested in visiting. I've noticed that Osaka is actually quite accessible with elevators where almost all escalators are. It's interesting and useful that you pointed out the opposite experience with Tokyo. I'll let her know that.

I'm a fan of the restricted smoking areas as well.

I really enjoyed your globalization class and I enjoy keeping up with your blog. Since taking your class I've been very interested in cultural research.

- Casey Knolla