Japan Thru Non-Japanese Eyes

Laurence Bush (USA) outsider@jps.net

Tokyo: Strangely Familiar


Fantasy Architecture

Though there's a lot of controversy about the randomness or "hidden order" of the city, it has a lot interesting architecture, old and new. The Nakajima capsule building in the Ginza that was to be a prototype for future housing, consisting of moveable concrete cubes attached to steel superstructure. There were the notorious capsule hotels, pencil-thin parking garages, underground malls, but most striking was the Shibuya fantasy architecture.

Shibuya is the fashion district in the heart of Tokyo, home of the famous Hachiko square. When I got off the subway, I was swept up in an army of young people wearing the same fashionable uniform -- dark blue or black clothes. Only the occasional fashion rebel broke the sea dark colors. Schoolgirls were still wearing loose socks, a practical idea for the chilly autumn weather. Women wore long platform boots often with 6 inch heels that made then tower over many of the men in their conservative blue or dark grey business suits.

Behind them, Shibuya's architecture told the story of an emerging Tokyo style -- ultra-modern, compact, cute and flamboyant. Wandering away from the openness of Hachiko square, the winding streets opened up one fantastic vista after another. Spiral staircases, impossibly thin buildings, black glass, towers, spires, pinnacles and minarets crowded the deep streets. An animated dragon leers down from a store front, threatening passers by. Aircraft and automobiles stick out of walls. The Disney Store was a sinister black building that looked like Darth Vader's helmet. Many of the buildings look like sets from science fiction movies.

Japan the Science Fiction Nation

Science fiction is an important aspect of modern Japan. If science fiction can be defined as literature that describes the impact of technology on mankind, Japan certain felt that impact more than any other nation in recent history. When it opened to the West, it embraced technology with an unparalleled eagerness. The robotically enhanced human, Ultraman, and the robot cat Doremon could be seen everywhere in toys, keychains, advertising and television. The robot rivals the samurai as the Japanese national hero.

Clearly admiration for the samurai survives in old Japan. Among the modern commercial centers, Japanese history holds an important place. The Imperial Palace with its enormous stone walls and sweeping tiled roof buildings is a fortress of tradition. Behind its huge gates are gardens and structures dating back hundreds of years. While the palace itself is only open to the public two days a year, the East Gardens offer time travel back the a place purely Japanese.

Survivals of Old Japan

The contrast between the old and new Japan can be seen in the difference between Tokyo two greatest history museums. The Tokyo National Museum in beautiful Ueno Park has the nation's largest collection of artifacts: armor, swords, ceramics, artwork, and fabrics. All is elegantly displayed in glass cases in this 1930's style traditional museum. On the other hand, the Edo Tokyo is an ultra-modern multimedia experience. From its Pompidou Centre style tubular escalators to its lifesize replicas, it makes visitors feel they're walking the streets of old Edo. A state of the art museum, the Edo Tokyo has mechanically animated Kabuki theatre shows, video displays, virtual models of Tokyo and interactive exhibits.


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