Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Shimokitazawa

They are even a pleasant sensation at first. A slight trembling, a slight swaying, a rocking, a lullaby. They wake me up in the middle of the night. I fall back asleep. They gently shake me out of my snores in the early morning. The Sunday morning after Nigata the after tremors shook the partition dividing my balcony from my neighbour’s. This was going to be it. But it wasn’t. And the Wednesday after the Computer Room began to shake. But the power didn’t even go off. And the nearby trains continued to ply their way...

At the time of the Nigata earthquake I was on a train. I thought the line was getting a bit rough, but it was the quake, 6.8 on the Richter Scale, the strongest since the 1995 Kobe disaster. The last earthquake in Tokyo was in 1923. Another is long overdue...
As the sun rises
The tremors awaken me.
Is this the big one?
And such is the danger of life in Tokyo. Urban violence hardly exists. The Yakuza keeps to its well-defined areas of prostitution and people smuggling. Many people carry wads of ten thousand yen (US$100) notes. Nobody uses credit cards or cheques. Handbags are left unzipped, doors unlocked. Small children ride the trains alone. The crowds pose no menace, no violence. And the white-gloved attendants so delicately shove you into the railway carriage. The drunken stumbling salarymen on Friday night are the most benign of drunks. Squads of workers clean up the dangerous slippery autumn leaves. Gangs of stray mongrels are not seen. All dogs must be licensed. In a month I have seen only one dog turd on the pavement. And that had disappeared the next morning!


I make my way to the nearby shopping area of Shimokitazawa. Narrow pedestrian streets, traditional Japanese lights, A group of retro 1960s and 70s shops. At Brand New Rocket angular stereo systems, red and blue plastic chairs, lean square Bauhaus sofas, formica tables, rectangular fireplace clocks made in China. Black and white televisions with tiny screens, what a relief are those fuzzy images from the flatiron hi-tech widescreens! Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox cars. I remember them well.

At Chicago the kids choose their weekend garb. Velvet or corduroy? Green, brown or crimson? Striped trousers? A top hat? Was that the purple velvet jacket I could never afford in 1973?

Record shops; vinyl is big here. Present shops, the Halloween decorations are replaced by Father Xmas. Naughty Pooch selling dog clothes. Western Suteki, waiters with their cowboy hats, next to Grand Cru and Rain Forest. Near the station chain drugstores, 100 yen shops and pachinko parlours. Under the railway arches a jazz band plays from Cabaret. Over the railway line the designer griffes, tea shops, tiny local restaurants seating five or six people behind their cloth curtains and paper windows.
A geisha passes.
Going to a rendezvous?
No, she works in a shop.

All is so tranquil,
Among the gorgeous shops,
And the cash tills flow.

Laughter from within,
Beyond the paper window.
Who’s drinking in there?

We eat at a sushi restaurant sitting on box stools outside. It is the end of October but 20 degrees. The small portions are presented on a variety of beautiful porcelain dishes and straw baskets, and we sip our sake from hooped cups.

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