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.
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.