From the tokyo Diaries aka #FromTokyoWithLove, deputy editor Alice Preat writes her first entry. In this first of a number of entries she dives headlong into Japan and the wonderfully diverse and intriguing Tokyo. In that exploration she evidently falls in love with the free spirited and experimental youth culture of Tokyo.
Alice (Arisu-san) here. It's currently Friday, June 8th, and I'm sitting at a café in Koenji – my new favorite neighborhood – in Tokyo, as the sun is slowly starting to set. There is so much to say in this first entry that I'm not sure where to start, but I gotta start somewhere, right?
First, a little context: I've been coming to Japan for a while now, and with every trip comes a deeper understanding of this fascinatingly rich country and culture, from the first-timer's “Omg everything is so cute!” to the type of questions running around my head today – can't say I can master Japanese yet, though…This time around, I decided I knew enough, and had a deep enough understanding that I could start a project here, so here it is: The Tokyo project, aka from tokyo with love.
I have always had a deep fascination with Japan and specifically Tokyo's youth culture. I wanted to explore how it interacts with the many different factors and movements that surround it. Please forgive my ramblings, but I am of the mind that it's always better to set the scene before getting into a complex (or dispersed) topics. So with that, what better way to set the scene than with a little history?
Japan was isolated for a long time – it being an island and all. In modern times, aside from the Chinese and Koreans economically and culturally, Japan didn't really interact with ‘others' until the end of the 19th century. In fact, it was really only when the Japanese bubble economy crashed in the 90's that the country had to open its doors to globalization (i.e. Westernization). So, in my mind, there is a clear answer to the usual wonderings of the delightfully-informed backpacking Westerner in Japan: “Man, why are they so closed off? They can't speak English at all, it's soooo annoying!”.
To grossly summarize-Japanese history and culture incorporates many rigorous traditions and strict rules/codes that are deeply embedded in its people. Consequently, it has been (and continues to be) extremely difficult for them to move towards a more global or diverse approach to life.
Indeed, the arrival to Tokyo (as a Western foreigner) is very much like a slap in the face as you awaken to its distinct character.
Examining the language is the best way to understand that. Apart from Kanji which has Chinese origins, there are many ways to speak to different people in different situations. Central however is politeness and courtesy . There are so many codes of conduct that foreigners usually get a little dizzy when they first get here.
Indeed, the arrival to Tokyo (as a Western foreigner) is very much like a slap in the face as you awaken to its distinct character. The craziness of the crowds, the noise, the meticulously organized chaos of street crossings, the subway, the extreme politeness and formal manners of everyone you meet, the contrast between the busy avenues and the small and quiet side streets (this list is not exhaustive). Tokyo is truly a special place, even within Japan. Tokyo is saturated with an energy that is intoxicating and it has spawned many sub-clutures and movements. It is a place of distinct constrast. Old and new Japan meets in a poetic harmony.
To backtrack for a second, I'd also like to hypothesize that the economic bubble burst was the catalyst for Japenese youth culture and traditional Japan to part ways. After being exposed to the world, (and more specifically Western influence), young Tokyoites realize that they too, were free, and could do or be whatever they wanted. They began to celebrate their own identities and be vocal. That's not to say that older Japanese people don't have any sense of self-identity, but rather to say that every aspect of life was much more formatted and conditioned. Japenese youth culture seems less confined and shaped by ‘traditional' Japan.
I won't give away too much, as these will be the subjects of multiple entries and feature articles. It is the multi-layered qualities of Japan that has propelled this exploration. Within this project, I've had the chance to talk to many people, young and old, who have enhanced my knowledge. It's been enlightening to understand these nuances from the perspective of the indigenous people. Trust I'll do my best to transmit my understanding of these conversations minus bias.
Stay tuned for the next entry. In it I'll be telling you about a hip-hop label I randomly happened upon in a dark street of Shibuya, throwing an illegal bloc party…
35.7059° N, 139.6486° E
All images by Alice Preat