My last night in Tokyo I sit on my sister’s terrace and gaze out at the Tokyo Tower. As much as I miss New York and friends, I will be sorry to leave this town. Tokyo is a fantastically lovely, and loveable, city, and as a (somewhat New York-centric) native of the Big Apple I don’t bestow that affection lightly!
The Tokyo tower looks like you took the Eiffel tower from Paris, sawed off the top, and grafted it with an American space rocket from the 50’s. Kind of the perfect cultural symbol for the city.
Tokyo actually has a lot in common with Paris, and not just the radio tower based on the one named Eiffel. There are French bakeries all over the city – run by Japanese people of course – but serving up warm croissants with coffee and piped in Edith Piaf music. The Meiji shrine in Tokyo had a pile of sake barrels on one side of the entrance for luck, and a pile of wine casks on the other side – a gift from France. Also, the fashions of Tokyo put me in mind of Paris; the women are ultra feminine, heavily accessorized, and looking sharp. Not to mention the fantastic high heeled shoes they all seem to wear. All terrain stilettos. It’s some kind of elite taste and elegance mixed with the Japanese design inspired art deco – so Japanese and so French! I never expected Tokyo to feel like Paris. Kind of neat.
Also interesting is how much of American culture has been absorbed into Japanese life and society. 1950’s American culture, that is. It’s no secret that the Japanese really took to America’s biggest export, baseball. They call it besuboru, or yakyu. But there are other things too – bellhops at hotels with caps and white gloves who open doors for you, women clad in ‘Pan Am’ stewardess uniforms from 1962 who offer you a drink on the high speed trains, groups of schoolchildren in uniform running down the street with their book bags like a group of never-seen Asian cast members from ‘Leave it to Beaver’. And of course, there is (what I call) hot dog soup: a strange mix of cut up hot dog and saurkraut floating in a slightly oily broth. When it was served to me I cried out, like Alice at the end of her trip to Wonderland, “Why, it’s nothing but hot dog soup!” I guess maybe I thought someone didn’t realize that you were supposed to THROW OUT the water you cook the hot dogs in. Of all the things I saw in Japan and China, I think the hot dog soup was the strangest to my American sensibilities.
Sometimes Tokyo makes you feel like you’re in that Star Trek episode where you land in New York City in 1957, but it’s ANOTHER New York City, in another galaxy called Japan. And then of course, combined with all that are the parts of the steel and glass city of Tokyo that are super modernized and technologically far ahead of NYC. Like the communicators, I mean, cell phones, that let you do everything from talking to a friend on the other side of the world to watching a movie to checking your credit status. If they come up with a transporter in Japan I’ll be happy – that flight home to NYC is about 12 hours. In coach that’s like three days.
But I digress. Leaving Tokyo is, as I said, going to be hard. It is one of my top favorite cities now, and one of the few that I have ever felt I could live in. This whole trip to Asia has been a fantastic eye-opener and I can’t wait to return some day soon. By the way, to end these Asian posts, here is another street scene for Eliot – a shopping strip in Nippori, the Brooklyn of Tokyo, and the neighborhood I would choose as my home base if I ever had the chance to live here. Kanpai!!!! (Cheers!)