Sunday, December 26, 2004

Yoyogi, Harajuku

Musak, instant snow,
Buy cakes, gifts, spend and spend.
Tokyo Christmas.

It’s snowing up in the Yebisu Center. At 5 p.m. and 6p.m. every evening the snow machines blow flocks over the gasping crowd, who capture this magical moment on their digital cameras.

After the snowstorm they crowd around the gigantic Baccarat chandelier, on show from Paris, with the Rodin and Bourdelle statues in the background, and the 1996-vintage Hotel de Ville. And just over the road is the Tsutaya Culture Convenience Club.

In Yebisu it is Heartfelt Christmas. At the nearby Atre store it is Precious Christmas and Queen Christmas as the queues mount up to buy yuletide Christmas cakes, decorated with reindeer and Santa Claus.

And Santa Claus outfits are popular with sales girls, students at end of year parties, many of them in drag, sporting a red Santa Claus outfit over black tights, and little sausage dogs, who scamper around in their red coats and hats.

The public is allowed into the Imperial Palace grounds on 23 December, to wish Emperor Akihito a happy birthday. He laments the natural disasters from behind a glass partition, flanked by his sons, but Crown Princess Masako is still recovering from depression. A few middle-aged guys shout “Banzai, banzai, long live the Emperor. Tourists wave their free Japanese flags. Young Japanese are notable by their absence.

Boxing Day lunch is at Eminence, the surprisingly filling restaurant of a local hotel cum banqueting center, specializing in weddings. We find the Christian chapel, though I doubt whether it is consecrated. And a gringo friend may be invited to “officiate”. Wedding companies offer a menu of Shinto, Buddhist or Christian. For a special price you can combine more than one.

I gaze at the beautiful pike in the aquarium. But wait a moment! A minute ago they were carp!. And didn’t I see goldfish when I came in? I’ve been looking at a fish tank with a video of fish!

A pity, because over the road there is a shop selling tiny colourful tropical fish. The gardens in the tanks are tended beautifully, and each has a particular theme: one is rocky and bare, Zen-like; another is lush and deep green; a third is full of hidden nooks and crannies.

As we leave Eminence, the delegates arrive for the Tokyo Society for the Preservation and Improvement of Schoolgirls’ Uniforms. All are male, most around twenty, some with a grunge look. They are frisked as they go in, unusual in Tokyo, where security is lax. Discussions will take place, position papers will be given, designs will be compared. Then a cutey schoolgirl band will entertain delegates. I enquire about membership.

Chicken and yaksoba were also plentiful at the Postgraduate Student Party of the Dept. of Comparative Literature and Culture at the University of Tokyo. Mixing and mingling is a little restrained. Boys stay in their bands, and girls in their broods. The German Professor tells me: “At my class party yesterday it was the same. I asked about it and one girl told me she would love to talk to the boys but was worried about what the others would think…” The girls leave, and the boys go upstairs to finish off the half-empty bottles of scotch.

Yoyogi Park on Boxing Day is a buzz of activity. Doggies sport their Christmas attire; there are games of frisbee rugby; musicians play Irish folk music with bongo drums; a gringo DJ plays trance music; Elvis rockabillies dance and preen; boys and girls juggle a small rag ball with their feet. This is the successor of kemari, a game played by young Japanese nobles right from the 12th century, in which teams of eight in full kimono would have to keep a leather ball in the air as long as possible. Kemari was played amidst four trees, always a pine, a willow, a maple, and a cherry. Geisha looked on. Last year David Beckham was the idol of all Japan. Surely Beckham in full samurai costume, with a top-knot, would be the ideal way to both revive kemari and his own flagging career.

Harajuku is a fancy-dress party. On the bridge all shades of Gothic. From Byronic black through blood-spattered doctors just out of theatre to demonic angels. The Little Bo-Peep and Little Miss Muffet curds and whey look with bonnets and balloon skirts has now been in for a couple of months, and the latest is the Edwardian chambermaid, a long prim black dress, starched white lacy pinafore, and a prim and proper brushed-back look.


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