Episode 08: Observations
No special theme today, just a rambling account of more or less recent
observations regarding life here. This is, of course, what J2J
is all about, this episode is just happens to be even more so.
If I had to describe Tokyo (or urban Japan in general) in one adjective,
it would have to be "dynamic". The sheer level of energy in this
metropolis is astounding and it is reflected in all facets of Tokyo life.
The constant barrage of noise, from construction work, pachinko shops,
road traffic, advertising jingles, the hubbub of 31 million people
working, traveling, just living... At 5 AM on a Sunday morning, Helsinki
is deserted, but the entertainment district Roppongi is outright crowded
and some of the best parties are only starting at that time. At 8 AM
on a Monday morning, Helsinki's buses and streets are filled with grumpy
commuters glumly starting another dull work week, but here Monday
morning is like any day of the week and the trains are filled with
the usual sleepy sararimen in dark blue suits, chattering kookoosei with
immensely baggy white socks, trendy hiphoppers with wacky sunglasses,
rasta hats and plastic clothing, impeccably coiffed office ladies in
miniskirts that could double as hairbands and pumps with spikes the
shape and size of ice picks...
Appropriately enough, the rhythm of Tokyo is definitely techno. While
it is not particularly popular as a form of music (which means there
are only 50-odd parties every week and that the biggest concerts draw a
mere 40,000 people), it is used everywhere precisely because of its
energy level. Japanese TV, which is hyperactive enough to make MTV
look like the Quilting Channel, regularly uses techno, especially
detroit and hard jungle, to pace its programs. One day I arrived at
my regular gym a little later than usual, and instead of the discordant
strains of Chinese traditional music that I usually regard as an
exit beacon, I was treated to the "power trim" program, featuring
aerobics backed by -- you guessed it -- techno. Led by a female
instructor more hyperactive than a toddler after a bag of candy and a
liter of Coke, 200 women clad in spandex performed perfectly synchronized
dance moves. The instructor looked quite a bit like a Japanese version
of a "Terminator 2"-era Linda Hamilton, except that her voice sounded more
like that of a Bavarian drill sergeant. For two hours, she barked out
instructions: "Please condescend to doing me the favor of lifting your
left leg! Right! Left! Right! Honorable steps backward one two three!
Condescend to moving forward one two three! Your honorable effort is
However, perhaps the most bizarre ritual I have yet witnessed was at
The 46th Yokohama International Costume Parade. (The booklet for the
event contained precisely two phrases of English: the aforementioned title
was one, and the other was the very helpful "Let's Enjoy Fun".) 95%
percent of the parade consisted of the usual kids in cheezy plastic
costumes and god-awful traditional noise, but -- once again -- in the
middle of my wanderings I heard that sweet beacon, the unmistakable
bassdrum of good house. So I homed towards it, and what did I find?
An immense truck, decked out in pastel plastic and shaped so it looked
like a cross between a Space Shuttle and a Care Bear castle,
plastered with Nissan logos and, needless to say, blasting out techno.
And I don't mean cheezy eurodance or J-pop, I mean the real thing.
To top it all off, atop the car was a group of dancing girls, grooving
to the music in ballerina-type skirts designed solely to show off their
blue fur underpants. Add in the throng of curious tourists and the
massive smoke machine blasts every few minutes and for a few minutes it
felt just like last year's Love Parade -- except there were probably more
people in Yokohama. (No joke; figures I saw later indicated that Yokohama
was visited by around 4 million people during Golden Week.)
Speaking of techno, all you fans out there are now cordially invited to
turn green, since I went to see the Orb last Saturday. The price tag
was a mere 4000 yen, with no drinks; we had to stand in line for no
less than 2 hours due to "minor technical difficulties"; and I'm not
at all sure that the funny older guy with a rasta haircut playing
utterly bizarre goa trance off DAT tapes all night was really the
good Doctor. When the doors were finally opened, people piled into
the single room in the basement, and just kept on piling until the
population density resembled the Yamanote Line at rush hour. But
who cares, since the music was EXCELLENT! After a weird beginning,
the DJ started to find his groove, and despite the atrocious mixes
forced by the DAT (mostly of the "boom boom boom bubibbimbppkrpkrpkrp
tsop tsop tsop" variety) the tracks themselves were extraordinary.
The crowd was dancing like mad, the whole room virtually turning into
a mosh pit, with 1000 people yelling "WOOO!" every time there was a
quieter section, a louder section, a new song or when they just felt
like it (which was often). Within 15 minutes I had removed my T-shirt,
and quite a few others followed suit. In all, I danced hard for 3
hours non-stop, with a single bathroom break to gulp some water and
dunk my head, and after a brief jaunt outside came back for more.
In all, probably the best party I've gone to (and come back from...)
However, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. On Sunday night,
I was sitting at home, estimating my expenditures over the weekend.
"Lessee, I had 30,500 yen Saturday morning, I've got 17,000 and
change left, so that means I spent 13,000 yen. Not too bad."
That was in Japanese mode, but then I made the mistake of switching
back to Finnish mode. "Waitasec... 13,000 yen. That's almost 700 FIM!
In Helsinki, I couldn't spend 700 marks in a weekend even if I tried to!"
And what did I spend all this on? I went to a club, had a good dinner
with friends, ate lunch in the park, bought a CD and a book, and still
managed to spend all that -- without drinking a drop of alcohol.
Instead, I probably spent several thousand on red bean paste. My
handy-dandy ever-ready Japanese cookbook states that "Japanese
desserts consist primarily of rice cakes (mochi) with red bean
paste (anko)", and this is no exaggeration. So far I've had
mochi with anko inside, mochi with anko on top, mochi with liquid
anko poured over it, anko soup with mochi floating in it...
plus dorayaki (pancakes with anko) and -- my personal favorite --
Baskin-Robbins' inimitable "Dainamon Adzuki" anko-flavored ice
cream. Oishii! BR's other nod to Japanese tastes is not squid ice
cream (although I'm sure they'd make some if I asked), but green
tea (matcha) ice cream, which is an acquired taste, to say the least.
Of course, true degenerates will wish to spend 250 yen on Häagen-Dazs'
green tea ice cream.
And a final unsolicited plug: the book of the week is... drum roll,
please... the "Handbook of Japanese Grammar". This veritable
thriller, filled with a lack of sex, drugs and violence and colored
an eye-catching gray with titillating slogans like "Alphabetized
for quick reference" on the back, contains 300 pages of information
on Japanese grammar. Particles, sentence constructs, verb and
adjective conjugations, it's all here, along with a reverse listing
of correspondences from English prepositions to Japanese equivalents
and a surprisingly useful listing of the most common Japanese
adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. How much would YOU pay for this?
5,000? 10,000? Now, for a limited time only, you can buy this for
only 1,300 yen at your local bookstore! That's right! But wait,
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