December 19, 2004

Shibuya Roll Call

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 1:41 am

Here we are in Tokyo. Tensions have slowly been rising on this trip, which is inevitable since all of us kids, now out of the house, have started to resent commands and instructions from our parents who, nevertheless, are footing the bill for all this. The particular form this has taken is a running argument about Japanese etiquette; Tokyo is a major city and is on the cutting edge of just about everything, but you’d think it was Iran for all that our parents are chiding us about our manners. I recognize that there are certain rules that are just different, and very important to follow–you’re apparently supposed to sniffle here instead of blowing your nose, and I’ll go along with that–and at 6’2″ I don’t want to be more noticeable than I already am. But when my parents question whether I should be pointing at a building I find interesting, I suspect that they’re making too much of this etiquette thing.

Not that we’re fighting all the time. In general we’ve gotten along real well, and we’ve kept a sense of humor about this etiquette thing–we have a running joke that certain essential activities (using a rolling suitcase, e.g.) are breaches of Japanese etiquette. This will culminate, on Christmas, in a stocking-stuffer my sisters and I bought our parents at Condomania: “Etiquette” brand condoms. (Try not to be too weirded out. It was just too good a joke to pass up.)

I’m writing this from my hotel room, a single overlooking Tokyo tower. I like it here an awful lot. It’s the most like New York of any city I’ve been to (except New York, I suppose)–very metropolitan, sometimes dizzyingly busy, not usually hard to navigate but composed of people who have better things to worry about than getting you back to your hotel. Of course, there are lots and lots of important differences.

For instance: today Zoe and I went to Shibuya, a trendy, youthful district. Which is like saying that the Castro has a certain gay presence, because Shibuya has gone into trendy and come out the other side. The area is packed with young people who have dressed to be seen. Sometimes this just means extra-nice clothes, sometimes it means ratty ones, and sometimes it means dressing for a particular subculture, like punks or goths (I had never seen Japanese goths). And then there are the Fruits: people dressed in amazingly elaborate clothes, costumes really, sometimes coordinated with friends. (I don’t know where the name comes from.) I saw a woman in a black lacy wedding dress, decorated with roses; two women wearing identical, cartoonishly colorful schoolgirl-like outfits; a woman with torn fabric covering her face. (I didn’t see any male Fruits, now that I think of it, though I did see a Japanese guy with a guitar and an afro.) There was a group of them standing together and talking, and I really wanted to take their picture, but I didn’t have the guts. This might have been stupid on my part, since they were clearly dressing to be looked at, but I wasn’t comfortable taking the picture; they dressed to be a spectacle, but not my spectacle.

I’ve been keeping my eye out for wacky Japanese stuff, but haven’t seen much of it. Aside from the vending machines selling cans of hot coffee, which Julie had already told me about, most of the strangeness has been in the bathroom. Some of the toilets double as bidets–even in a museum–and the hand dryers blow with astounding force. Other than that…I did see a commercial that bears talking about. It was a Mediterranean street scene that looked like it was directed by Truffaut, with solemn music playing; a street urchin walks through the dust and comes upon a long unbroken row of Cup Noodles. Catching a significant glance from an old man, he bends down and takes one. “Cup Noodle: Without Borders,” the text says, as he and the old man eat Cup Noodle, together.

I take the bullet train to Kyoto on Tuesday; we’re celebrating Christmas in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Then, a week from today, I come home and see Julie, which is one of the few things worth leaving Japan for.



  1. Wait, you found vending machines selling HOT cans of coffee? That’s new.

    One weird little bit of Japanese etiquette – you’re not supposed to eat while you’re walking. I did see the occasional teenager eating chips while strolling down the sidewalk, though, so they won’t deport you if you screw that one up.

    Comment by julie — December 19, 2004 @ 3:26 am

  2. Aw, envy! I’d love to visit Japan someday. Living there would probably drive me crazy (no milk or cheese! aaaaaigh!), which is why I never let my dad talk me into trying the JET program, but I’d love to visit. Someday!

    I gave Julie several hugs to pass on to you, by the way; make sure she delivers them!

    Comment by Fae — December 20, 2004 @ 8:20 am

  3. I like that . . .
    “Astounding Force Hand Dryers”

    Especially useful for drying your astounding force hands . . .

    Comment by Pat K. — December 27, 2004 @ 1:20 am

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