mjj (flemmings) wrote,

From all over-- 1000 things to miss or not about Japan. A woman who's lived there twenty years and is returning in 2012. (Mh. *She* says. People who stay longer than twenty years never seem to actually make it back. For one thing, what do they have to come back to, one wonders? It's like returning from the fairy mounds.) She's listing daily one thing she'll miss and one she won't about the country. And one can't argue with tastes, but some of what she says makes me raise a wondering eyebrow. Maybe I've been back too long, but I never noticed people standing on the left on escalators. People *standing* on escalators and not moving, yes, which offended my busy-busy Torontonian soul, even though the 'stand right, walk left' rule here has been decried as dangerous. You shouldn't walk on escalators at all, apparently.

Equally, clean toilets... In department stores, yeah, the cleaners moved in regularly. Indeed, in the train stations they moved in regularly too, which was a nuisance because then you couldn't use the washroom at all. But they *had* to, because squat toilets meant the stalls became disgusting in very short order. If Tokyo has been phasing out squat toilets in the last seven years I shall rejoice, and not believe it. In my day people in front of me in the line would happily yield me the western toilet when it came free and wait for a Japanese one. (And in fairness one must add that we manage to make almost as much mess with our western stalls and no excuse, except that people are probably hovering above the toilet seat and the female anatomy is no more designed for aiming accurately here than there.)

But mostly it's #7 on the Won't Miss--Urban Ugliness.

De gustibus and all that, but what city *is* beautiful? New York? No, brown and grotty and wonderful. Paris? Only if you like that sort of thing. Vienna? Not built for human beings, was my impression of it. Kyoto? "About as beautiful as Stockholm, which it resembles." Cars have destroyed most NAmerican cities; Europe is 'if you like that sort of thing'; and most Asian cities are a mess. Saying Tokyo is ugly is like saying Tokyo isn't green. Tokyo is very green-- down at street level, down at knee level, down where the humans are. NAmericans want rolling green lawns and great big trees (I'll admit to feeling the lack of great big trees, but they do exist around jinja) and *spacious* greenery. They don't want six shelves of bonsai plants and small azaleas sitting outside someone's front door. But that's how green is done there.

The Tokyo cityscape is eclectic and hodgepodge-- like their billboards and posters, riotous with four different scripts all going in different directions. No, it's not harmonized or designed to work together as an architectural whole. Paris is, which is fine if you like harmonized wholes; but I prefer ground-level Paris where the human stuff happens to those rows and rows of impeccable apartment houses. Why are Tokyo's little concrete boxes ugly? Because concrete is considered ugly by definition, I fancy, unless it's big enough to register as 'office building' or whatever. I loathe 34-storey concrete office buildings (and university buildings even more) but make it a three or at most four floor little structure and it becomes quite cozy. It wouldn't be as cozy if it were a /bunch/ of little concrete structures all the same style and colour, but it's not. Ceramic tile and the universal stucco and the occasional wooden front or aluminum siding sit side by side down the street, all individual and different. (Oddly, when you think about it.)

I grant you, I missed brick when I was in Tokyo; but I miss brick when I'm in any of Toronto's bleak strip mall suburbs. The cozy crammed disparity of Tokyo's umpteen zillion shopping streets and residential areas is much more beautiful than the bare wind-blown emptiness of eight-lane thoroughfares with identical apartment structures dotted here and there on either side of them. (Also, one need only step into a brick building in Tokyo to stop missing it at once. Concrete can sort of handle mould, especially with dehumidifiers; but 19C brick can't and didn't.)

That picture is everything I loved about Tokyo; that's the Tokyo I sing 'I Can't Stop Loving You' about, which yes dammit I do on occasion. It's the Tokyo I might have managed to stay in for twenty years myself if, like the blogger, I'd been married to someone, because Tokyo is a lousy place for an introvert to be by herself in. But I wasn't and I left after five years and that was that.
Tags: japan
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