Monday, December 24, 2007

Girls, Salarymen, and Gourmet Emporium Customers: My Tokyo Triptych

Tokyo Story and the Harajuku Saṃsāra

You only have to watch macho movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tommy lee Jones do commercials here to realize that, as Ryūnosuke Akutagawa I think once said, “In Japan, everything becomes kawaii”, and Goth as fashion is no exception. But then, how often do you see those Goth-Loli girls? If your favorite haunts are my kind of haunts, then it could be a very long day before you sight a single one. However, if Harajuku is your thing, then you’ll be able to rustle up any number of post-pubescent Goth-Lolis for whatever legal purpose you may have in mind, including material for a WaPo article (with a little assistance from the local help). In fact, the two girls in the WaPophoto could have come straight out of the Golden Age of Harajuku fashion, when Takenoko-zoku and rockers reigned supreme. For that is the real Harajuku story - its thirty-year reign as the cultural center for teenage Saitama.

But Harajuku is not the only place with its own, distinctive style. Ginza, for example, is older and old, understated yet fashionable. At the other end of trendiness is Ueno, where you get that Showa feeling all over again. In fact, if you rounded up a dozen women each at random from, say, Harajuku, Ginza, Ueno, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Odaiba, Mrs. Trendspotter should be able to match each set with its place of origin.

It is notable that the older spots line the circular, Yamanote Line. In fact, Tokyo is an urban wheel with intermeshing spokes spinning at warp speed, a kaleidoscope of cultural delights with a big Imperial vacuum in the middle. This structure lies at the heart of Tokyo’s pull, in Japan and beyond*. And that is the bigger, Tokyo story behind the Harajuku story.

3G Mobile: Better than Porn

On a slow news day, break glass, pull out Japanese salaryman on commuter train reading a porno comic book or hea nudo weekly. That must have been the first item in the old emergency manual for gaijin correspondents, with Pokari Sweat running a distant second. But next time, look around and see. Not too many of them around, are there? And the tabloid dailies don’t seem to be doing so well either, are they? Instead, the salarymen are… yes, they’re communing, just like the other riders, with their cell phones.

As what must be another consequence of our national love affair with the cell phone, fewer people are nodding off on trains. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why those salarymen are sneaking naps on the massage chairs at Bic Camera.

Older and Old: The Case for Gourmet Emporiums

Every department store near the train station has a basement floor full of expensive goodies, as well as others not-so-expensive but still a notch above those available at your neighborhood supermarket; not that the supermarket doesn’t have an increasingly expanding gourmet section of its own as well. So what kind of consumers are behind the growth of this nakashoku (literally “eating in the middle”) market, somewhere between eating in and eating out, where many if not most of the kitchen chores are outsourced?

Working women do make up a large portion of the clientele, predominantly older women, between dates, and willing and able to trade a little extra money for that little extra time. But there are also the old women - and old men as well - with no more children to cook for, and/or no live-in daughter-in-law to cook for you, and what’s the point of doing the chores day in, day out, for tired old hubby - assuming that he’s still around.

The gourmet emporium supports the childless-household society in much the same way that the combini maintains the single-freeter society.

And on that cheery note**, Happy Holidays to you all.

* According to a Henshū Techō article in today’s (24 December) hardcopy Yomiuri, Tokyo was the runaway favorite in a recent survey conducted by a Taiwanese travel agency that asked the Taiwanese where they wanted to spend their Christmas and New Year’s holidays, far outpacing second-place Hokkaidō, in turn followed by Hong Kong, New York, Paris, and Sydney, in that order. (Ōsaka came in ninth.) Okay, Tokyo is much closer to Taipei than New York or Paris. Still.

** Hey, I could have written about how they are trying to bribe us with our money, and moreover are looking to us to cue them on every major decision that they make, instead of making up their own minds, like we are paying them handsomely to do. But it’s the happy season.

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