Tokyo: Shinjuku and Shibuya

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Drunkard’s Alley, Shibuya, Tokyo 

My arrival to Japan of course began with Tokyo. Like so many before me, I was overwhelmed by the immensity of this urban sprawl with its distinctly dystopian essence. Modernity typifies Tokyo, yet it is slightly askew, in my mind not in the ‘new meets old’, ‘east meets west’ manner that is so often propagated by travel guides and media outlets. It is something other. It is a cacophony of histories merged and intertwined with one another, simultaneously co-existing with a frenetic energy.

Staying in Shinjuku, the financial centre of Tokyo, the dominance of the skyscraper is acute. As a matter of fact, we had been situated in the colossal Keio Plaza, purportedly the tallest hotel in the metropolis. Stumbling through the marble clad, chandelier adorned reception was more of a culture shock than stepping out into the streets of Tokyo itself. From my hotel room, the sugar coated sound of J-pop resonated from the plaza of a shopping mall, adding to the surface absurdity of my surroundings.

The first evening was a starry eyed foray into pachinko parlours, purikura, arcade games and ramen. The details of which I would have not have the slightest idea, jet lag and sheer astonishment combined with the complex emotional turbulence I was experiencing managed to expunge any finer detail.

The next evening remains much clearer, venturing forth to Shinjuku station in order to navigate our way to Shibuya was an equally perplexing experience. The sheer volume of people alone was enough to baffle even the most seasoned of travellers (not that I would count myself amongst these).  The labyrinthine passages of the station were somehow overcome, finally reaching ‘the scramble’ that is Shibuya and its infamous crossing. Yet more high rise buildings with loud infomercials and neon lights plastering their facades dominate the skyline. Whilst at eye level all that stretches out before you is a sprawl of people and a consumerist haven.  It was stumbling into Drunkards alley and one of its many pint sized bars that solace can be found. To call upon a cliché comparison, it was like stepping into a Ghibli film, with its rickety lean-tos with lanterns interconnecting each. The low hum of chat and high pitched guffaws seeping out of each drinking establishment made for a comforting aura.  A few glasses of shochu and umeshu further calmed my marginally agoraphobic, jangled nerves.

My experience of Tokyo was a mere scratching of the surface and I hope that my narrative can expand further into a more lucid representation of Japanese life, rather than that of romanticised and other worldly interpretations. I revisited Murakami Haruki’s ‘Underground’ shortly after arriving in Japan, his discussion of narrative seemed to perfectly epitomise the dichotomy I felt as I wrote this rambling assemblage of words. I will leave his eloquent musings on narratives below, in the hope that it will negate my own shortcomings.

‘Now a narrative is a story, not a logic, nor ethics, nor philosophy. It is a dream you keep having, whether you realize it or not. Just as surely as you breathe, you go on ceaselessly dreaming your story. And in these stories you wear two faces. You are simultaneously subject and object. You are a whole and you are a part. You are real and you are shadow. “Storyteller” and at the same time “character”. It is through such multilayering of roles in our stories that we heal the loneliness of being an isolated individual in the world.’

Just what kind of narrative?

It needn’t be anything particularly fancy, nothing complicated or refined. You don’t need to have literary ambitions. In fact, the sketchier and simpler the better. Junk, a leftover rehash will do.’

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