Thanks But I’ll Pass

I can’t write an authoritative stinging indictment of Tokyo because I’ve only experienced a bit of it. I’ve only been here eight hours and I haven’t wandered outside of the Shibuya and Shinjuku districts. But I’m hugely unimpressed so far. I shouldn’t even be saying this but Tokyo strikes me as corporate and arid and car-friendly and full of delights for rich people. It’s a bigger, chillier, smoggier Houston with sushi and noodles and taller buildings and more stylishly dressed women. It’s titanic and rich and sprawling and so what?

It was all but burned to the ground in 1945 thanks to Curtis LeMay so the buildings are all less than 50 or 60 years old, and it just doesn’t have any character or flavor or aroma to speak of. Certainly not the kind that reaches out and pulls you in. I’m sure my opinion would be a bit more favorable if I had the time to really get into it but this is what I feel right now.

All I could think as I wandered around was “why did I come here again?”

And it’s not much of a walking city either — you have to constantly walk up and down stone staircases to cross streets. And what is there to look at anyway beside restaurant signs and the women? Big buildings are a deadly bore. And the air is light brown — I went to the top floor of the TMG building and you can see a dense layer of smog hanging over the whole town (like the air in LA in the ’70s), and there are so many people walking around with those white surgical masks that I feel I’m part of an epidemic in Steven Soderbergh‘s Contagion.

People of serious character and accomplishment love Tokyo so I should probably hold my tongue, but this place feels like downtown LA or Detroit or Honolulu or….I haven’t been to soulless Sao Paulo but I’ve heard it has a similar vibe. I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about this, but honestly? I almost hate it here. There’s nothing architecturally alluring or unique and the girls are prettier in Vietnam, and they all have smaller, shapelier, more perfectly pedicured feet than the women here. I’m sorry but that’s what I’ve observed.

Too many people have told me the food in Tokyo is terrific so there’s no disputing that aspect. (I’ll be going to Ichiban, the Lost in Translation sushi bar, in a couple of hours). But I wonder if it can beat the drop-dead scrumptious food I’ve eaten in Hanoi over the last three or four days.

I’m not sure I’ll ever return here. In fact I know I won’t. Give me Paris or Berlin or Rome or Havana or London — any town with a personality and the right kind of seductive flair. A town that has something you immediately want more of, and that puts you in the right kind of mood. Tokyo is my idea of a town you really don’t need to visit. Life is short. You can have it.

The one thing that really impressed me? Some of the Tokyo taxis have an automatic rear-door opening-and-closing mechanism so when the driver pulls over to let a fare in…pop! The door swings open and then closes at the push of a button.

Here’s what a filmmaker friend recently advised: “In Tokyo go to Nakano Broadway, the largest toy-collectible mall in the world. It will give you an insight into Japanese culture being a mixture of extreme depth and extreme youthful enthusiasm for characters and toys. Go to YoYoGi Park in Shibuya. Great stores around it and an amazing shrine at its center. Go to Akihabara and geek out on the electronics and walk around Ginza for a day or two. Go to the palace and walk the gardens — even in winter they are amazing. I also recommend you make an appointment to visit the Ghibli museum. Go to the big department stores in Ikebukuro.”

I am completely and fully prepared to ignore everything my friend recommended for the rest of my days on this planet and into the next life. And when I say “prepared” I mean I am absolutely at peace with this notion.


I’m staying on the 6th floor with a nice view of the park across the street.

Part of the main lobby of the Tokyo Park Hyatt, were Bill Murray stayed in Lost in Translation.

There are a lot of squat toilets in Tokyo, which is why they have this sign explaining to the sophistos that you’re not supposed to squat with the regular sit-down model.

41 thoughts on “Thanks But I’ll Pass

  1. This is the dumbest thing i’ve ever seen here. Tokyo is a marvel of the senses. An amazing city in every way. You don’t know what you don’t know about the city. Your loss.

  2. FLOYD THURSBY SAYS…

    I read the post by “Sophisto Squater” (Nice job. It’s spelled squatter, actually.) before Wells deleted it. It was just[Wells to Thursby: My body clock is all shaken up and telling me to dance with any punk that wants a turn. Are you that punk?]

  3. “the girls are prettier in Vietnam, and they all have smaller, shapelier, more perfectly pedicured feet than the women here.”

    JOE BOMOWSKI SAYS….

    So how come Instead of pictures of FEET we got lobster on a plate and Uncle Ho’s wax museum?

  4. Was that Wells making the world’s longest windup and softball over home for a stereotypical Vietnamese nail salon joke ever?

    Tokyo has long been my #1 city I would LOVE to visit…. As has been discussed here, I do not have an “Asian fetish” in any way and I’d probably be happier with the talent in Holland’s red-light areas, or some awesome bombed-out Kosovo HOSTEL II kinda deal where I could roll in with my papers on point like MITCHELL GANT and buy an 18-year-old war orphan to take home.

    But TOKYO and JAPAN is like HUGE BUILDINGS and TEEMING CITYSCAPES and you could be all Nick Conklin-ing it up in a great PERM MULLET and BLACK FLECKED TRENCH on your MOTORCYCLE hunting down SATO and clearly smoking Marlboro lights with the white filter in every scene then when Ridley goes for an insert on the airplane next to the cards he fucks it up and shows a pack of Reds with brown filters…

    But Japan is the ULTIMATE DESTINATION…. Can’t even IMAGINE all those kinky vending machines and AWESOME party chicks in MULTICOLORED WIGS and GLOW STICKS and all that NEON….

    How does anybody TRAVEL? Like on a VACATION? Don’t you work every day of the year, and you accrue like TWO WEEKS PAID VACATION, but then you just get fired before it builds up, so you have to start a NEW JOB and it takes another 11 months to build up a week, and by then your PARENTS are like “COME HOME WE NEED TO SEE YOU,” so every THREE YEARS you get ONE WEEK OFF where you’re not chained to a desk 70 hours a week, and you have to spend it listening to Uncle Lou and your old man doing shots watching the Steelers whole Ma bakes you like 72 pies even though she keeps telling you how fat you are, and you don’t have a car there so you don’t leave the house the entire time and just watch SCARBOROUGH in a bored stupor?

    Also how do you get a PASSPORT? It takes like SIX MONTHS and costs 500 dollars, and who the fuck has their birth certificate?

    I’ve never left the continental US except Canada when I was like 9, and in the last 17 years I take ONE WEEK OFF every three years, and spend it “back home.”

    I’d kill to go to fucking TOKYO.

  5. Wells,

    I live in Tokyo. I came back this year after a 2 year hiatus; before leaving, I’d lived here for almost a decade.

    You’re right, for aesthetes of an orthodox persuasion, this is NOT the place to be. The buildings, especially, grate; yes, they are fucking terrible here.

    You’ll — no, you’d: you would, if inclined to look — find that the Japanese compensate with other forms of culture though (whether you like them or not is another matter).

    Your pal’s recommendations are OK. Mezzo-mezzo I’d say: fair enough for a first time—you must do the major stuff first I suppose…

    I’m surprised that for a man so interested in high gauge tees and good shoes, you aren’t like a pig in shit in this city. You are at the the Mt. Everest of the (consumer) fashion industry. Ask anyone who knows anything about clothes. This is as good as it gets.

    Enjoy the sushi; but here are four Japanese dishes I wish I could get into guidebooks so westerners stop going for the sushi, and the sushi only, all the time:

    1) “Katsu-don”: Japanese pork cutlets over rice. Eat them at MAISEN in Aoyama.
    2) “Shogayaki”: Ginger stir fried pork NOT chinese style. Also available at MAISEN
    3) “Ramen”: just go for any shop anywhere
    4) “Mos Burger”: Japanese burger chain. Orders of ten better than in’n'out, fatgburger, whathaveyou..

    All these are cheap, easy, practical and tasty. And quintessentially Japanese. Try one. You’ll probably end up fucking hating it; but at least you can go one better than all the sushi people when they start regaling Japanese guests with wild anecdotes about sushi in Japan.

    DZ>

    NARA PARK IS IN NARA ABOUT 300 MILES WEST OF TOKYO.

  6. SOPHISTO WITH SYPHILIS SAYS…

    Wells just wanted to visit Tokyo for the[Putrid frat boy wanderings. Now I'm in the mood...in the mood for a purge. Simply because you're so vile.]

  7. GLENN KENNY SAYS…

    While Wells, Bomowski, and Says have offered varied and suitably manic (With the exception of Says, who seems a gentleman of the first rank) perspectives on the actual subject at hand, others have lost the thread. Can one charitably say that Parks lacks a certain…awareness of the horse’s pulse, or lack thereof, whilst beating it?

    Wells, my dear man, please consider different lodgings. When moving day arrives, don’t tell Parks the new address.

  8. GAYDOS SAYS…

    Orson Welles told me to tell Peckinpah the only eats in Tokyo worth savoring can be found at the Dew Drop Cafe, which is still in operation and still serves old fashioned egg cremes American-style. Apparently QT drops in regularly when in town.

  9. I also live in Japan, but in the Kansai area near Osaka and Kyoto, which and many others feel has much more to offer a visitor to teh country. Tokyo holds little appeal to me, but I’d say Jeff is still missing out on all the treats it has to offer. Tokyo, and Japan in general, is a hard place to navigate by yourself. If you were with a Japanese friend who could show you the real city, it would open your eyes.

    Imagine a Japanese person spending his first 8 hours in the US around Times Square and thinking that represented all that America had to offer, and you’d be in a similar situation to Mr Wells.

  10. Forgive the typos!

    I forgot to mention the food. Once you’ve lived in Japan, the food (and service) everywhere else seems terrible. And sushi is just a small part of the culinary treats on offer.

  11. I’m not sure I’ll ever return here. In fact I know I won’t. Give me Paris or Berlin or Rome or Havana or London — any town with a personality and the right kind of seductive flair

    Mmm. All in all, I’ve enjoyed Wells’s flaneur posts over the course of this “Vietnam and back” episode. It’s nice to be in the hands of someone who isn’t all “on the one hand this, on the other hand that…” Bravo Wells.

    Just out of curiosity though… Why would your friend recommend to you toy stores (Nakano broadway) and geek Mecca (Akihabara), etc., if he or she is your friend and knows your views on fanboy shit? Weird.

    Did they mention Toho studios or the photography museum or the red light district in kabukicho (or the cheaper version in Gotanda) or maybe…

    No, but you did get this city down cold Wells: if you haven’t come to eat or buy stuff, then you’ve come to the wrong city.

    P/S Rome? Christ, it’s a better man than me that can stomach the Romans—even their countrymen never have a nice word to say about them. If you’d said Florence, well…

  12. York>

    As a trained professional in this exact field:

    1) Yes lots of people are worried about radiation…

    2) …for completely unscientific paranoid reasons. And fair enough.

    But your question might have been:

    Aren’t people worried about the volume of NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) leaving the stacks of coal fired power stations—especially as there are ZILCHO filters or radioactive emissions tests on these exit plumes? Especially in light of shutting down all the nuclear reactors (whose stack filters and emissions are monitored more closely than the gold in Fort Knox) but one and burning coal (as well as gas etc) for power?…

    Noone asks that question over here. Alas…

  13. DZ>

    I said if he has time.

    Hahaha. Ok, very good.

    Wells: could you collate all these DZisms and release an e-book or something? Call it YOU’VE BEEN DZ’ED etc…

    By the by th

  14. DZ>

    I said if he has time.

    Hahaha. Ok, very good.

    Wells: could you collate all these DZisms and release an e-book or something? Call it YOU’VE BEEN DZ’ED etc…

    By the by though DZ, the latest installment of the reworked EVANGELION (part 3?) is on general release (opened last weekend) in the cinemas over here. Most the fanboy types at my work have been to see it (and I work in a technical field so nearly everyone is a fanboy type at my work)… Don’t know if EVA is your thing — I’m not into any of this, so I can’t tell — but my colleagues gave it decent reviews.

  15. I said if he has time.

    300 miles isn’t a exactly a side trip, you know. It isn’t the same as telling someone visiting San Diego that they should check out La Jolla … if they have the time.

  16. You might try the Roppongi district – that used to be a hopping place back in the day. Kind of an international vibe, lots of clubs and bars of various types and sizes. Rang in New Year’s Day 1990 there…ah, youth.

  17. By the way, I didn’t imbibe at that time in my life, and I still had fun in Roppongi. Met a lot of interesting people there.

  18. Tokyo has better air quality than Hanoi. Just throwing that out there. They also don’t use their sidewalks as parking lots for mopeds, but I guess having cars on the road (no!!!!) cancels out that advantage.

    I think the other stuff has been addressed pretty well already, though I can’t get over “I’ve only been to Shibuya and Shinjuku but I’m pretty sure I know Tokyo.” Fair point about the lack of old buildings, but there’s bunches in Yokohama, which is part of the same conurbation and easily reachable from Tokyo using the JR lines.

    One more thing: did you really not see any squat toilets in Vietnam?

  19. “People of serious character and accomplishment love Tokyo so I should probably hold my tongue.”

    You never take your wise advice.

    Tokyo is awesome, if you’re in a Tokyo mood.

    “Imagine a Japanese person spending his first 8 hours in the US around Times Square and thinking that represented all that America had to offer, and you’d be in a similar situation to Mr Wells.”

    Paul is right.

  20. Other Wells shitholes:

    Los Angeles. Don’t know what the big deal is — I flew into LAX, took a cab down Century into Inglewood, and was totally unimpressed. So much so that I turned around and caught the next flight out. I don’t know why people say LA is at all interesting.

    New York City. I landed at La Guardia and stayed at a motel nearby. City of culture and sophistication? The city of Broadway, Central Park and Wall Street? PLEASE! The only fine dining I encountered was the Quiznos next door, where I ate every meal during my two days there. And it was SO LOUD trying to sleep under the planes’ flight path. NEW YORK TOTALLY SUCKS.

    Paris. I stayed in a banlieue on the edge of the city a few years back — I got a really good deal on a place. Sure, it wasn’t in the middle of Paris on the Seine, but close enough. But I was scared for my life there… everyone was so sketchy! There was NO good architecture, NO good food, and the B&B was poor. Worst, I didn’t see any other tourists. I got out of there so fast, I didn’t bother to go to the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, or Notre Dame. I’m sure they were as unimpressive as where I was.

  21. I have spent so much time in Tokyo, and as a matter of fact, I live here now.

    Tokyo is a great city, they say. And to a certain degree, I agree. It’s such a huge city with so many things that could be very exciting for foreigners and such.

    But, the truth is I am really fed up with it and, probably like Jeff, I would like to get out of here as soon as possible.

  22. I’m not hiding or hovering in some motel outside Narita. I’m right in the middle of Tokyo and walking around like a free man and not insulated from street life like some rich guy being driven around in town car. I’m right in the thick of it, and I can’t wait to leave & never come back.

  23. … : Besides Gunbuster, Daicon, and Otaku No Video, I despise Gainax and Evangelion.

    raygo: Don’t they have those bulllet trains over there?

    Mr. F: L.A. hasn’t been interesting since before they tore down that Starkey’s Pizza place at Beverly Center. NYC’s awesome, though, if you can afford it.

  24. I’m right in the middle of Tokyo and walking around like a free man and not insulated from street life like some rich guy being driven around in town car. I’m right in the thick of it, and I can’t wait to leave & never come back.

    uh, I’m pretty sure a lot of people here are suggesting a city on the scale of Tokyo is heterogeneous enough that “the middle of Tokyo” is borderline meaningless (what exactly is “the middle of New York”? Anywhere that’s not New Jersey?). If my entire experience of Hanoi was Dong Da, I’d hate it too.

  25. raygo: Don’t they have those bulllet trains over there?

    There’s no bullet train to Nara. You’d have to take a bullet train to Kyoto or Osaka (2h15m at minimum) and then take a spur line to Nara (at least 30 minutes). And a one-way bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka runs well north of $150.

    Kamakura — an old capital about one hour (and ten bucks) from Tokyo by train — is a decent alternative to Nara, though there’s no deer.

  26. Bob: I see.

    “And a one-way bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka runs well north of $150.”

    That’s pocket change over there, though.

  27. So you’re telling me Japan actually has a cost of living on par with the U.S., even though the yen’s out of control there?

  28. I have no idea what you’re trying to say. I’m saying that if you think $150 is “pocket change” in Japan then you’re dumber than everyone already thought.

  29. Wells steps off the plane, stares straight ahead for five seconds, takes off his sunglasses, then yells “THAT ALL YOU GOT, TOKYO?!”

    Rick Perry punches Rick Santorum. “Oops is MY catchphrase!”

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