Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Bunkamura Gallery, Roppongi Hills

To get into the “Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection” at the Bunkamura Gallery in Shibuya, you go through the Tokyu Department Store ground floor, and pass, on your left, the Cartier, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo franchises, and, on your right, the Bvulgari, and Chanel stands. You then enter the foyer, visit a commercial gallery selling watercolours of Mt Fuji, maybe pick up tickets for a show or Swan Lake at the adjacent theatre. Then have coffee and croissants at Les Deux Magots café and buy some Les Deux Magots souvenirs. If you`re lucky, you may see the Tokyo Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at their usual table. The Guggenheim exhibition is sponsored by Nissan. When you leave, you pick up brochures for the new Nissan Maeda.

At the Roppongi Hills Mori Arts Gallery the main exhibition is on the work of Dutch couturiers Viktor & Rolf. Descend from the exhibition on the 53rd floor, where the City View is also included in your admission ticket, to the atelier boulangerie, where the bakers are styling their cakes and bun and the craft jewelers are turning their rings.

Roppongi Hills is a fifty-three office block. The Bunkamura is part of an upmarket department store complex. The worlds of art, work and shopping are almost seamlessly merged. Though times are changing, rigid shopping hours in North America and many European countries have resulted in a division between “shopping” and other leisure activities. Here in Japan the shops are open till late at night everyday and all day Sundays, and shopping becomes part of a night out. Indeed, the term “Gallery” is often used for an upmarket jeweller`s or jewellry store. Le Corbusier`s modernist city would separate area for work, leisure and commerce. Brasilia was built to this pattern. Postmodern Tokyo mingles them all.

And it is in the shops that we get an idea of the immense wealth of modern Japan, despite the bursting of the economic bubble in the nineties and the recent sluggish economy. Consumer habits are in many ways different in Japan: cars are difficult to buy, not because of their price but because you must have a parking space to buy one. Few people own second homes: house prices are fantastically high, and few have sufficient leisure time – holidays are very short here – to be able to enjoy them.

As well as the international griffes, which all have several outlets in Tokyo, certain service areas seem to have taken off in Japan: aromatherapy; relax centers, which give you a ten-minute shoulder and back massage for $10; cyber cafes with private booths and comfy armchairs where teenagers have access to vast libraries of manga comics for $5 an hour. Money can make life that little bit more pleasant. The U. Goto florist`s in Roppongi has a pianist on a grand piano playing popular classics to make your purchasing all the more enjoyable.

Clothes shops for dogs are also popular. When the temperature falls a few degrees below 20C, parades of fashion conscious pooches take to the parks and walks. This year check kilts are in fashion for the ladies; and jump suits are a la mode for the gentlemen. And there are even shops for outfits for dog owners to wear, maybe to match that of your dog: “Sara Brandt – Casual Wear for People Who Love Dogs”.

Roppongi Hills. I looked for the hills and found none. We are in the world of Japish, the use of English by Japanese commercial establishments, which has its own peculiar usage. Standard English rules are broken. Terms take on meanings of their own. Nearby is another office and entertainments complex, Ark Hills. So “Hills”, maintaining a certain amount of its semantic meaning, defines a high place, but one that is man-made.

Japanese has no plural, so the English plural when we refer to a countable noun in general is ignored, and we find: “Gentleman”, “Lady”, “Condom”, “New Arrival”. “Casual Food” seems to be used in place of “Fast Food”. Particles may be ignored, so “make-up” becomes “make” in “Hair and Make”. Fashion and beauty services use English all the time: “Fairy Annex” is a local beauty parlour; “Feel Free – Hair Produce”, a hairdresser`s, which, like all the others advertises “Perm, Cut and Blow” No, I have yet to see “Blow Job”!

Some names make sense but surprise us: “Clean Living” is not a moralistic anti-pornography organization but a laundry franchise! Others fail to make any sense whatsoever: “Big Foot” is a store for pre-fabricated wooden houses; “Erotica” a shop selling eye glasses; could “Nude Trump – Used Clothes” be an ironic reference to Donald Trump, or a misspelling of “tramp”? My favourites are the gaudy neon signs advertising “Green Peas”, the name of a chain of halls for slot machine and “pachinko”, a mini-pinball gambling game.

Food and drinks use English. After sweating I drink “Pocari Sweat”, and in the morning I choose from the drinks dispenser between “Athens Morning”, “Morning Black” and “Morning au Lait”. Last December in Nara I ate a “Morning Dog”, a hot dog served before noon!
A local dog-training enclosure, about the size of a tennis court, lays on the hype: “Rainbow Fields. Companion Dog Trainer. Happy Campus Life”. Well, it is near the University of Tokyo!

At times there seems to be a hint of self-mockery. Was not the sign I saw in Meguro, “Fablic Cleaning of All Materials” intentional? And surely the notice in my residence: “Encycropedias not to be taken out of the robby” ironizes the Japanese difficulty to distinguish between “r” and “l”?

But is English not somewhat depasse? Isn`t it a little more chic to buy designer furniture from “La Citta del Per Favore”? Maybe even mix English and French, as we find in Junior City, the pre-teen mall in Shibuya, where one finds “Poesie Elf” and “Comme Ca Boys”; in the Roppongi Hills clothing stores, “Design Works: Deux Cotes”, Trois Rounds; and at the gentleman`s tailor`s, which advertises “Old England-Paris, in the 2004 collection automne – hiver”.
Travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo on the shinkansen, the bullet train, last December, I passed bright neon signs standing erect on the top of a number of buildings, “Hard Off”. But, unfortunately, I have yet to discover what kind of business or venture they referred to. It may have been a remedy for Priapism which turned out to be a flop.

18 Comments:

Blogger Telma Franco said...

John:

Always nice to read your impressions on anything, only wish you’d write them more often. It was easy and fun to picture the people on the streets, as well as the dogs, shops, cafes, billboards and neon signs while reading your amusing accounts of Tokyo. I virtually walked along the gallery’s crowded corridors and peeked into the grand shop windows.

Loved to learn how the Japanese 'feed' on English, Italian, French... particularly liked the way they named fast food 'casual food'. Since they dress their dishes up so beautifully and fancily, 'casual food' makes all the sense!

I was told some of your students at Especialização are reading your blog. So I’m taking the liberty to speak on behalf of 'we happy few': Keep us posted!

xxxxxxxx
Telma

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