The following was written in in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo at 3:10 p.m. on November 10, 2017. This is a word-for-word reproduction of my thoughts as they were written in my journal during my last night in Tokyo.
I originally sat down to write this entry at Shibuya crossing because I didn’t think I had enough time to get to Yoyogi park, but then I noticed the lack of seating and constant noise and said “fuck it”, the park is just one stop away so here I am in what is probably one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Here are a few thoughts about Tokyo/Japan as the sun sets on my last day here.
Tokyo is very much a city caught between two worlds and two different cultures. While on one hand, there’s the ancient traditions and stoicism of a country closed to outsiders, there’s also a yearning to reach out to the outside world and gain acceptance on a global scale. I learned much about Emperor Meiji (whose shrine I’m only a few thousand feet away from as I write this). Meiji sought to bridge the gap between traditional Japan and the western world during his reign (mid/late 1800’s to early 1900’s). This meant adopting foreign assets like wine, military equipment/strategies, art, and technology. While he was ostracized some (his Vice Minister of War, Omura Masujiro was murdered for his adoption of western equipment/strategies), his mark is very much evident in modern Japan, from their cutting-edge technology and engineering to their daring fashion. It is this juxtaposition that I found most striking during my time here.
The Japanese people are still very skeptical of outsiders. While everyone I met and interacted with here was extremely polite, I could still feel the distrust behind them. One restaurant in Omide Yokocho wouldn’t even let me sit down. Despite that distrust, the influence of the western world is everywhere here. I suppose everyone wants the best of what everyone else has, while still holding on to the things they hold dear and identify with. It it could also be that it wasn’t that long ago that my country bombed two Japanese cities off the map and imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps, not to mention the situation with our current president.
In a somewhat related observation, I noticed there were almost no American tourists here. There were a healthy mix of Eastern/Western Europeans (inclusion get several Russians), many African and South American tourists, but almost no Americans (save the one loud-mouthed one at the Craft Gallery).
The Japanese have an eye for stunning beauty rooted in fine detail. Whether it’s gorgeous parks and gardens with endless rows of Japanese maples, finely decorated art and sculpture, or other worldly animation, the Japanese culture is one that is truly stunning, visually.
The presence of the digital era is so impactful here. Even more so than in America, people here can’t put down their digital devices. iPads, smartphones, laptops, LCDs, digital displays are everywhere you look. And it’s not just the tourists gawking and taking pictures of everything, it’s the locals too. There were probably hundreds of pictures taken of the fountain in front of me while I’ve written this.
The food. Oh my word, the food. I could definitely live here from just the culinary standpoint. I’ve had three different kinds of ramen, two giant sushi plates, miso soup, made my own okonomiyaki, yaks tori, sashimi, matcha tea/ice cream/donuts, and so much more. The ramen alone is worth it. I’ll probably have some more once I leave here.
For being one of the most expensive cities in the world, I didn’t find things to be too expensive here. Most meals averaged out to be around the same price, if not cheaper, than what I’d expect to pay back home. Admission to many of the ultralight centers was very affordable (the Ueno Zoo was like $5 FFS). I’d imagine if you lived here and had to pay rent or property tax, it would be a different story, but for someone like me it was not a big deal.
I also loved the fashion here, especially on the men’s side. Many dudes were wearing sharp suits with all the right details and fits. Colorful pocket squares, diverse fabrics and cuts, and bold haircuts were the norm. Even the more conservatively dressed businessmen had suits that fit and weren’t cheap. The banker bros in Charlotte could certainly learn something from Tokyo’s style. The women were all dressed very well too, but I found their look to be a little too anime/fetish/cutesy for me. Something about their perfectly porcelain skin played up the dull lifelessness in their eyes.
The acute attention to detail comes to life again in social customs like bowing your head, being punctual, lining up on one side of the escalator to let others through, and the almost uncanny ability for thousands and thousands of people to weave through places like Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing or the many train stations without bumping into everyone. If this was Charlotte, people would be falling all over each other in the middle of the street. Watch the crossing at Shibuya sometime, and notice how these massive groups of people move simultaneously when the lights are green, get to the other size of the street, and clear the way for traffic with *ZERO* stragglers holding things up. It’s unreal. I would imagine it’s rooted in a mutual respect for others and having a situational awareness that Americans seem to lack.
It will be dark soon, and I’ll need to get to bed early as a train ride to the airport takes over an hour and I need to catch my flight to Singapore at 9:45 a.m. I hope to reap my individual days here more in depth tomorrow while I’m in the airport.