Tokyo by Day

Another series of photos from my January trip to Japan.

The shot above is one of my favourites. It’s Tokyo cosmopolitanism laid bare. Garish modern advertisements and elaborate traditional tiling in the stairwell. American fashion on the shelves. English words on the price tags and a Senegalese guy (with two mobile phones) manning the stall. Lots of contradictions.

Without consciously meaning to I ended up with a ton of pictures of people busying themselves with their phones. This is likely due to my lack of spine when it comes to street photography because it’s far easier and non-confrontationl to get candid shots of people while they’re distracted. It could also reflect a dramatic social shift towards online interaction at the expense of the here-and-now but I’d better slow down the caboose on that train of thought before this post turns into another media studies essay.

Back to Japan. There does seem to be a cultural tolerance of subcultures and peculiarities in your fellow citizens. Melbourne is a place where the vast majority of people seem to have been assigned a uniform of either pea-coats, grey scarfs and Italian leather shoes or north-face jackets, jeans and cons. Tokyo seems to host a much wider spectrum of fashions and styles and they don’t seem to be confined to Harajuku or places like that. There the sub-cultures though seem to be mostly cosmetic and anachronistic. There are mod kids and 80s punks and greasers and emos and even Japanese attempts at hippies but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the attitudes that went with those movements. It’s as if, instead of having the social changes and the turbulence that went with them, they just stuck with the norms and embraced the packaging.

As someone working within the advertising industry another aspect of the culture that I found jarring were the really wide demographics associated with certain activities and media. There were stores in Akihabra dealing exclusively in comic books, creepy dolls and WWII miniatures and the customers there ran the gamut from very young teens to middle-aged men and women. Adults seemed to make up the vast majority of people at the arcade parlors.  Elderly folk on bicycles are a common sight. Conversely some of the western-style upmarket cocktail bars seemed to be youth hangouts.  One seedy, hole-in-the-wall, bar we found one night had a ridiculously garish game show playing on the TV even though the few patrons that were there were all middle-aged to elderly men.

It was all very odd and, more than mag-lev trains and neon signs, it was that wide demographic involvement with city life that made the place seem futuristic. I can imagine the same phenomenon in Melbourne playing out once my generation reaches middle-age.