Thursday, December 12, 2013
Tokyo is cool. It is cool in the same way New York is cool. It is cosmopolitan, exciting, sexy and forever changing. But it is not beautiful or charming the way Kyoto or say, Paris is. It is honestly a bit of a shock to be here after more than two months in Kyoto. It is not just the pace of the two cities that is different. It is the culture that is different.
Tokyo to me feels almost not Japanese. It is rather some kind of strange Japano-Euro-American hybrid. You can walk the length of some streets without seeing a single shop or restaurant sign written in Kanji or even Katakana (the Japanese characters reserved for foreign words adopted into the language). They all have English names. I saw shops called Santa Monica, Long Beach, Abbot Kinnney and even Brooklyn Museum (which was actually a very smart mens custom tailoring shop). Of course you also see shops representing every major and minor retailer in America and Europe. Sometimes companies that have ceased to exist in their country of origin still carry on in Tokyo. This is all very strange to me. We have our Little Tokyos and Chinatowns in America but the signs are all in English, or at least subtitled in English.
I feel Tokyo lacks the connection with history, nature and Buddhism that Kyoto has. This has everything to do with it being totally destroyed by Allied bombing in the War, and Kyoto mercifully being spared. Like Berlin, Tokyo was then occupied and in effect governed by American forces after the war ended. So it is no surprise really that culturally it is so Western, and that its architectural history with a few exceptions dates from the mid 20th Century. As "Edokko" (the proper term for people from Tokyo) adapted to and embraced Western ways it seems their spiritual (i.e. Buddhist) heritage was compromised. So too was their bond with nature. Tokyo is really the original concrete jungle, more so than New York.
This is not to say Kyoto is better or more authentic than Tokyo, or visa versa, but they really couldn't be more different. It is really just a case of old Japan versus new Japan. Both are completely Japanese without having anything in common.