Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I take the Inokashira Line from Komabatodaimae and change to the Keio Line at Medaimae, thence to Shinjuku on the semi-express. At Shinjuku I must get the Seibu Line but discover I have left my map at home. There seems to be no sign for the Seibu Line. Avoiding Restaurant City, I leave the Keio station through the Keio Department Store, for all the private lines have their big stores, their departos. I run the gauntlet through a column of food stalls and their beautiful packs of pickles, fruit, sour bean sweets, teas and chocolate and enter the JR foyer. Still no signs for the Seibu Line. Could it be a JR Line. No, the Yamanote Line I know, the Chuo-Sobo, Sobo, Seibo? The Shosen-Shinjuku, the Shinkansen, the Rinkai, the Saikyo? I caught this last one on Saturday, no way. No sign on the map. Has the Seibu merged? Changed its name? No longer exist? Have I confused it with the Odakyu? I go the the East Entrance – walk around the block and I’ll find it.

Now I’m at the West Exit. Where is the Seibu Department Store? But I seem to be getting farther away. An Australian woman asks me the way. I look at her map and see “Beware this area – hostess bars!”. I direct her to Takashimaya Times Square, but am lost myself. I pass the bus station and the Odakyu store but still no Seibu. The animal rights people are arriving. The second-hand manga comic sellers have set up their stalls. The Cockney kebab seller has opened up. I look down Shombun-Yokocho, Piss Alley, but nothing doing there. Could it be near Shinjuku Sanchome or Shinjuku Nishiguchi, or Minami, Kita, Higashi, East, South, North or West. I would have been better to go on the Yamonote to Ikebukuro, or is it Asakusa, and get the Tobu Line there. I finally lose my pride, descend into the Marounuchi Metro Line and ask for help. I’m shown a map of the Seibu-Shinjuku Line terminal hidden away and nestling close to the Kabukicho pink light district, and, after one or two more detours, am finally there.

Tokyo is a city of many centres, and Shinjuku is the Big Daddy of them all. The home to the largest suburban railway hub in the world, the Tokyo administration offices and many other corporations in the west side skyscrapers, and, on the east, kabuki theatres, Korea town and the largest pink light district in Tokyo. Neither Ridley Scott or Sofia Coppola felt quite at ease here, from what we can see in Blade Runner and Lost in Translation.

I return at greater leisure to Shinjuku Goen, the finest of Tokyo parks. Sit down at one of the viewing points or pavilions to jusst look at the Japanese garden; smell the rose garden laid out in the French style, even with a Helmut Schmidt rose; feel at home in the central English landscape garden, apparently laid out by Capability Brown, has a prospect of Tange Kenzo’s art deco NTT DoCoMo Tower. The wilderness area is neatly cared for. Get your ticket for the traditional tea house at the automatic ticket dispenser.

No geishas and their sponsors on an autumn leaf viewing outing but many collecting leaves for their ikebana or scrapbooks, and hundreds of elderly Japanese painting and taking pictures. What better to stave off senility than a telephoto lens, and if you get a bit shaky use the tripod.

Into Tange Kenzo’s Metropolitan Government Building, one of the few places in Tokyo where your bags are searched, remember the 1995 metro sarin poisonous gas attacks, and up the 48 storey towers, which, according to the Rough Guide are “ unmistakably Japanese”, as the “dome criss-cross pattern of its glass and granite façade is reminiscent of both traditional architecture and the circuitry of an enormous computer chip”. It is dusk, but a fine day, Mount Fuji-san is just visible beyond the smog, and all the cameras are out.

And then, just a stone’s throw away I find myself in Fudori Dori, a narrow suburban shopping street, with American 1950s songs quietly playing on the loudspeakers, where the bicycle mothers, and also bicycle executives and salarymen, stop on their way home. And so many small shops. One with a pair of elderly sisters selling just rice, another pickles, another beautifully packaged tea, another tofu. At one of the greengrocers I buy my rettuce and remons. The supermarket, Venga Venga, which provides bicycle parking, seems much fuller. Just how long will these small stops survive?. Areas outside the big cities seem very Americanized, with strip development everywhere, and an American dependence on the car. Here in Tokyo, with so little space, cars are often not practical, you have to carry your shopping home, and so still many such tiny shops, apparently remnants of a bygone age, survive, within the shadow of the Tange Kenzo’s stark futuristic towers.


Blogger Ana Julia said...

é como estar no set de filmagem de um longa metragem,
acompanhando o ator,
e ouvindo seus pensamentos,
passo a passo,
escutando sua respiração e ouvindo as batidas do coração,
o conteúdo dramático e expressivo é tocante,
Nos primeiros "capítulos", achei que tudo isso iria acabar em um livro...agora já começo a enxergar essa história na "telona"... tão vivas e reais são as imagens que você vem construindo,
thanks for sharing all this invaluable experience with us

Ana Julia

November 19, 2004 at 3:17 AM  
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December 27, 2005 at 10:12 PM  

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