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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Japan: Life in Tokyo...

If Japan is weird, Tokyo is weirder. But not in a bad way. It's just different. Different from what I'm used to. The weirdness comes not from the food, the language nor the clothes. Not from the crowds, the white face masks nor the unusual character writing. No, the weirdness for me comes from the fact that Tokyo is almost, but not quite everything, I don't expect from a capital city. 

A capital city like London where I live is a normal capital city to my eyes - it's dirty, it's noisy and it's a mess of chaotic design. There is litter on the streets, the cars honk at pedestrians and cyclists, the people walk and talk on their phones loudly and nothing seems to work properly. A normal capital city, right?

Tokyo however is a capital city with none of these faults. Ok, let's not call them faults. Let's call then features. Tokyo is a capital city with none of these features. Tokyo is clean, Tokyo is quiet and Tokyo is stylishly functional. 

Tokyo city as with any modern metropolis initially seems all too familiar with it's row upon row of tall glass and concrete buildings, it's endless expanse of public transport infrastructure, it's raised monorails, it's gaudy illuminated billboards and it's crowds of people waiting to sprint diagonally across its zebra-painted intersections.

The hustle and bustle of all these people as they are rushing to work, or home, or to the shops - deftly avoiding each other as they dart in and out of the crowds - is a comforting one to these old Londoners eyes. The hum of the city as it moves about about is almost pleasing in its familiarity. 

The whosh of the underground trains as they rush through the tunnels, the screech of the brakes on the tracks as they arrive at stations. The crowds of people who pour like ants out onto the platforms, the endless underground passways leading them to the surface, the click of the futuristic ticket machines as they eat their diet of cards and notes, the clunk of the automatic barriers permitting access for the intrepid to their journeys and warm rush of air blasting up the staircases full of the scent of a thousand hopes and dreams of those passengers on a night out on the town, a trudge home from the office, or the promise of a first date is joyfully familiar.

No, these things are not what makes Tokyo weird. 

Tokyo is clean. Very clean. Spotless. Not a piece of rubbish on the street to be seen. Not a rubbish bin even. We didn't see anyone drop any litter - anywhere at any point. The roads are pristine, the pavements are swept and green spaces manicured to within an inch of their lives. The trees are swadled in bandages, the grass cut short with nailclippers, and shrubs pruned to grow in an exactly perfect manner. No mess, no litter. Which in a city of a zillion people that seems astonishing. Where do they put their yeah? Do they take it all home? They must do. It's weird. 

And Tokyo is a surprisingly quite city too. Under the base noise of a massive city turning like clockwork to get the crowds to where they want to be the Japanese are a very quiet lot. Even in packed train carriages, or busy bars they are quiet, they are respectful. They don't talk loudly and no one ever bumps into you. Bowing and nodding they mutter their hellos and thanks. And off they shuffle keeping their thoughts to themselves and their inner voices unexpressed. It's nice really but you can't help wondering that they really think of us noisy Londoners chatting away like monkeys with verbal diarrhea.

Even in crowded Harajuku with its endless Carnaby Street-type corporate fashion chains and it's Camden Lock-like painfully cool fancy-dressers the throngs of people avoided each other as if some invisible force field held them all apart and it was all so eerily quiet. It turns out even the weirdos have an off switch. It's weird. 

And the final thing that confirms Tokyo's  weirdness to me is it's simple functioning style. Which might send an odd thing to remark upon. But everything here is designed to work and work it does. The buttons, the knobs, the handles, the circles, the lines, the surfaces, the textures. Every machine, every table, every lift, every building, every light, every menu, every piece of packaging, is cleanly designed, simply designed and just works. It's perfect functional, elegant design. You don't really notice at first. Everything just working the way it's supposed to. Doing what it should do. What it was designed to do. But weirdly we put up with a lots of things back home that are really badly designed and you don't know which button to press and then it just breaks and we just live with it. Here it all works. And it's weird that it works. So well. So very, very well. But it does.

So there you are. The weirdness of Tokyo as I see it. A Tokyo with all this weird cleaniness. A Tokyo with all this weird quietness. And a Tokyo with all this weird functional design that does exactly what it is supposed to do. 

But I do like it. This weirdness. This weird life in Tokyo. 

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