Tokyo: Don’t mistake meme for reality
I used to think Tokyo was opposite-ville.
Movies like Lost In Translation made Tokyo seem like an unintelligible neon wonderland of weirdness.
I assumed the rules and logic of the outside world would be immune to the surely sci-fi realities of this megalopolis.
But I’ve come to realize it’s not opposite. Just different. One thing I never imagined was just how unsophisticated mainstream media is in Japan. Most morning talk shows feature hosts going over news that they have literally cut out of a newspaper and glued to a piece of foam board. Most commercials feature the latest celebrity holding up a beer or ointment or bank card up to their face and declaring it ‘number 1!’
There are fringes of extremeness in art, politics and technology. But I’ve found it really takes an effort to find the really weird stuff. When a new Japanese weird thing is discovered, it is memeified instantly and shines like a beacon across the internet and spheres of urban legend.
When my friends visit Tokyo, they hope to validate the ubiquitous absurdity through the lenses of their iPhones. They come asking about lewd nightclubs or vending machines stocked with women’s underwear. Or about cellphones that dial directly into the future. They’ll ask where the Blade Runner district is. And if they will be immediately assaulted by white-gloved men in uniform in the subway.
The answer to these questions is, well, some of that is true. Some of it maybe happened once. And most of it is just the sci-fi hopes and dreams being projected by their own prejudices and Japan obsessed Tumblrs.
Yes, living in Tokyo can feel extreme. At certain hours, in certain districts it can feel like all 30 million residents of the Tokyo metropolitan area have some kind of death wish against you. And yes, if you seek them out, you can find some outlandish night clubs.
But Tokyo and Japan is mostly filled with what you won’t find being reported in some sensationalized VICE TV documentary about the yakuza. If you live in Tokyo for any duration of time, you know the quiet places of the city where you can disappear to relax. There are regular, non-robot staffed grocery stores with old men standing out front and screaming at you to buy their damn pumpkins. People still walk their dogs by holding the leash with their own hands and not using some kind of drone doggy walking service.