Trip Start Apr 28, 2010
Trip End Oct 15, 2010

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed
Kimi Ryokan

Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Sunday, May 23, 2010

The day was drizzly so we were glad we'd had our day in the park Saturday. But we knew with this weather, the wacky kids of 'cos play’ or ‘costume-play’ would be nowhere to be seen in Yoyogi Park. Nevertheless, I really wanted Yaya to see Meiji Shrine (Tokyo’s heart and soul) so off we went the six stops on the circular Yamanote Line to see what Scarlet Johansson saw in the excellent "Lost in Translation", probably the film that best captures the essence of modern Tokyo.

Luckily enough, a few ‘cos play’ kids were in attendance, huddled under umbrellas. There was “Lolita”, “Ms. Gothic”, “Tiger”, all the themes that have captured the hearts of young Japanese wanting to, for whatever reason, dress up for total strangers—and each other of course. Not surprisingly, there was a clutch of foreign tourists, vastly outnumbering the mostly girls in their costumes, snapping photos at every opportunity.

‘Cos play’ seems to me to be a thoroughly complex and very Japanese phenomenon, reflecting both the people’s love of fantasy and the need for attention in what can be a lonely society with insufficient intimacy, although lots of social contact. Then again, it must be weirdly rewarding for an otherwise unexceptional girl to put on her get-up and suddenly be as much photographed as any celebrity walking the red carpet. Come rain or shine, apparently, the come out for us paparazzi.

Talking about the phenomenon with my social psychologist sweetie, we continued through the forest (literally) that surrounds Meiji Shrine. The rain had kept away much of the crowd that usually flock to the city’s biggest piece of greenery, and the tranquility of the place just took our breath away. The rain, the pines, the ancient sweep of the temple roofs all transported us back to Japan’s simpler days of ‘bushido’—the samurai code that still serves as the base of Japanese society.

Another wedding was just finishing and we watched the bride in white headdress shuffle past us, reaffirming her link with Japan’s 3000 years of history, dignified and serene.

A bit soggy from the rain, we continued down the hill to bustling Shibuya which Yaya pronounced superior to Shinjuku with its hipper (and more expensive) scene. The streets were clogged with 20-somethings but again, I noticed that the cash registers weren’t doing much ringing; lots of ‘looky-loos’….Our favorite shop was one that specialized in 45-rpm disks. Yup, remember those from when you were a kid? Well, Japanese DJs still love them, especially those spinning reggae, a very popular music now in young Japan. Posters of Japanese DJs and their Jamaican fans filled the walls. Such a weird world we live in….

I just had to show Yaya “Hachiko”, the symbol of loyalty in Japan. Only here would you find a statue erected in front of a major train station in honor of a dog who faithfully came to greet her master 10 years after his demise, earning a very special place in Japanese hearts. Today, it serves as a central meeting place for young people going out for a night of partying. “See you at Hachiko at 7” was a phrase I’d uttered more than a few times in my working life in Tokyo….

From hipster Shibuya, we hopped the Odakyu private line (not the national railroad) to Shimokitazawa, a student ‘ghetto’ serving the major universities of Waseda, Keio and Japan’s Harvard, Tokyo University or ‘Todai’.

We were going to meet Takayuki who is known by many by his stage name “Ikkyu”, a recent transplant from San Miguel who returned to Japan with his American wife and two kids. (You might remember him as the Japanese guy running through the streets of San Miguel selling his insanely delicious ‘bento’ box lunches.) He had invited us to hear him play with a band in Shimokitazawa and we were looking forward to hearing the work of our ‘hometown boy’.

During a nice ‘cafecito’ at MacDonald’s (70 cents if you know where to buy the discount coupons, hee hee) we caught up on all that had happened since the family’s resettling in tiny Chichibu, about 2 hours from Tokyo.

I sensed that Ikkyu was still figuring out how to find his place back in Japan, knowing that now in his 40s, reintegration would be a challenge. Like the English teacher from England we met who’d gone home empty-handed after discovering that schools close their doors to new hires at 39, Takayuki mentioned that competition for just about ANY job now in Japan is fierce. I said I’d seen announcements for jobs in shop windows and he said ‘yeah, but they’ll get hundreds of applicants’. I hoped he wasn’t getting discouraged and was glad that wife Ashley had found work as an English teacher in their home town.

But his heart still remains with his music, as he demonstrated that night. He was one of about 4 featured guests, invited by the vivacious owner of the tiny ‘440 Club’ to sing a few numbers with the band. Still, Ikkyu’s style seemed a bit different, more introspective and less rambunctious than the wise-cracking players, all of whom were, of course, superb musicians. Takayuki’s vocal of ‘Arigato’ (‘thank you’) was truly moving, made more so by some very soulful harmonica work. This guy can sing.

Always happy to meddle, of course, I couldn’t resist advising him on his musical reentry to Japan. “Why not try some boleros?” It seemed to me from the comments the band’s leader was making that Takayuki’s Mexico experience was both interesting and exotic so, I thought, why not stoke that interest. Also, I told him, his style was very heartfelt and sincere, just the kind of feeling that boleros require. And at his age, he’d be a real heart-throb for the little old ladies who love a good tear-jerker in any language. Takayuki, sure I was talking about sappy Luis Miguel ballads just muttered a polite “um, good idea, John” and changed the subject. But I’m guessing a Spanish ballad or two creeps into his repertoire one of these days….
Slideshow Report as Spam


George on


Are you sure you are not a professional writer under some nom de plume?
Your descriptions are outstanding, only (and, significantly) surpassed by your insights. I mean, for example,
"...the people's love of fantasy and the need for attention in what can be a lonely society with insufficient intimacy, although lots of social contact".
and, then followed by,
" must be weirdly rewarding for an otherwise unexceptional girl to put on her get-up and suddenly be as much photographed as any celebrity walking the red carpet.
If you aren't a writer, ytou should be.

I do remember Takayuki's box lunches. I was adicted to them and greatly disappointed when they went away.


Add Comment

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: