*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Tokyo: big enough to have interesting

Tokyo is boring.  Bear with me here.  You've been taught, or experienced, Tokyo as interesting; however, it's interesting to the same extent that Canada has natural beauty: the brute force of scale.

This is beautiful, sure.  That's why people go out of their way to get to Banff.

Funny, nobody goes out of their way to look at the 'oil sands', though there's a lot more of it, and it's in the same province.

What about all those great places you got drunk in Tokyo?  The lissome things you found for your futon?  Great restaurants and shopping?  Temples, shrines and gardens rebuilt after being bombed flat, after getting burnt out by 'the Big One' ('23)?  You do realize there are as many people in Tokyo as the entirety of Canada, right?  We've built a lot of interesting stuff too: it's just not all in one city.

Yeah, that's not how Tokyo feels when you're single and have coin on you.  You submarine about the city under the interminable rabbit-hutch residential/industrial zoning-free hell that is every Japanese city only surfacing where business and people have congregated to be interesting.  We even have one or two of those spots in Toronto, and believe me, Toronto is uninteresting.  Tokyo's not interesting either, but it has ten times the people to make ten times as much that is interesting (maybe more: Toronto's fucking boring).

You see, when you've got two kids under five and you're living on one income, you may not be destitute, but your lifestyle gets slimmed down and you get stuck in your neighbourhood when you're not at work.  Same is true in Toronto, or wherever you are from.  Here you are:

By all means visit Tokyo.  Enjoy all that it has.  (Don't visit Toronto.)  But don't go to Tokyo for the sake of living in a typical neighbourhood, because it's ugly enough to wither the soul, and most Tokyo people are as boring as Torontonians, or is that slander?

But is that true of all cities in the world?  No, but most.  I've only lived in a few cities.  I won't waste my breath on the ones I've just visited, because I was a tourist: I don't know shit about the place but the flash.  Where have I lived for more than a few months?  Tokyo, Toronto, Montréal, and a couple of small Ontario cities you are better never having any experience of.  You know what?  Montréal's not boring.  It is actually an interesting place to live: at least the parts I know well anywhere within sight of 'the mountain'.  It's the least populous of the three cities I have mentioned too.  There are many reasons why it is more interesting than it should be for its scale, although there certainly is more to do in all of much larger Tokyo, but my guess is it has much to do with there being more than one dominant culture, and one of the two dominant cultures being neither Anglo nor Japanese: neither known for a joie de vivre.


  1. I guess it all comes down to how you define "interesting". At first, the novelty factor pretty much overrides everything - you are dealing with a new culture and even trying to do basic things is an adventure and, for most people, I think the free flowing interest of the opposite sex makes everything look rosy.

    After that wears off, you're left with the reality. Neighbourhood definitely makes a huge difference in your quality of life in Tokyo. Even without the ties of having a family to support, the amount of travel time to get somewhere across town gets tiring. I lived near Yanaka so I always had interesting places to potter around in then when I moved back, we were in the wilds of Itabashi-ku I found it a lot more boring. Didn't help that I had to transfer through Sugamo to get anywhere and the thought of dealing with that put me off doing a lot of things.

  2. Everyone I grew up with talks down on it, leaves and inevitably comes back. I hate living in California but where I live in California is choice. Temperate weather, seasonal produce year-round (agrarian community), low population and honest 20 minute, minimum drive to the beach, 30 to the mountains and the air smells good (aside from the fields mixing manure for time to time).

  3. Pretty much nailed it. Metropolises (metropoli?) are great when you've got a bit of cash and the energy of youth (categories which pretty much mutually exclusive, sadly), but by giddy fuck having kids narrows your regular horizons. Give me somewhere big enough to have everything I need, but small enough to manage without a Falling Down style breakdown and I'm a happy man. Part of me wishes I'd figured this out sooner, but then then younger me had a pretty good time while figuring it out, so I guess I'm up on the deal. Let's hope that stays true...

  4. Tokyo is not an international, multi-cultural city like London or NYC, or a "trend capital" like Barcelona or Berlin (another rebuilt city), and never will be. And how could it - in a country where counter culture limits itself to "dressing the part" while waiting for a cushy job, and personal freedom is not a priority, then no amount of people packed densely in one spot will be able to create something interesting.
    As for historic value, it's either been replaced by sprawl or it's tied to Japanese / Shinto fascism, and therefore not worth a visit.

    The only good thing about Tokyo is shopping, as a tourist. Maybe try the local food, although that's hugely overrated as well.

  5. I think, if you grew up in a big, international city, like London, or Paris, a more than a couple of days in Tokyo should bore you shitless. Yeah, sure, there's the cute girls, and mislabelled Tohoku food to enjoy, karaoke, and all that, but ultimately, Tokyo doesn't have anything that you couldn't find in Osaka, Nagoya, or any other decent sized city in Japan, and is certainly a more soul destroying place to be than those other cities.
    Once the initial 'Oooh! Everythings so....Japanese!' phase wears off, you soon realize that Tokyo is a nasty little flimsily built city, with barely first world levels of utility (power cables/gutters) and crumbling infrastructure built on the cheap by companies on the fiddle.
    Tokyo always makes me think of Thunderbirds- it looks the way everyone imagined the future would look in the 1960's. The sad fact is though, that that vision of the future hasn't been updated, and now the majority of Tokyo looks like it's dissolving in the humidity.

  6. It seems like this all boils down to "Tokyo's cool for a visit or a year in your twenties, but you wouldn't want to settle down there." I like living in Tokyo, but I'd rather live in Hong Kong if I could (Just talking about East-Asian cities). As for settling down, I fell in love with Sydney when I was there, but without spending more time there, I can't say... I don't feel like I'm done seeing the world and looking for that perfect place to call home, but I'm ok with spending a few more of my not-a-twenty-something-anymore adult years here ;)

  7. Part of my growing up is being fine with being a tourist, when I am, just neither a touron nor an exploiter. It was a thing to have an 'authentic' experience as a 'traveller' when 'backpacking', which was complete bunkus: smoking pot in a jungle backpacker's dive is not the life the locals live, and we wouldn't live theirs if we could. So I'm happy to admit I'm a tourist to many places I have been and love, and a few I hated, but can only speak as a local to a few. I'm happy to have three anchors, so I am unlikely to become a local to anywhere new, but I can live with that because my family is presently happy, and in the end everywhere has something to like and to hate.

    1. The traveller vs tourist thing is such a bore and can turn into a total dick measuring contest over who is the more authentic.

      One of my sisters visits Thailand regularly and has got into the Muay Thai. She goes on about it being her "second home" and her "other family", totally ignoring the fact that it's only because she's a middle class, white Australian she has the time and money to travel there. Not to mention that they make a lot of money out of her.