For six years running I made an annual pilgrimage to Tokyo. It seemed there was always a trade show or seminar or training session that requires my peculiar skills. A visit to Japan is a fine chance to indulge my fascination with technology and with varieties of architectural style. Here are a few examples of the latter.
The building on the left is part of the Tokyo government complex in Shinjuku.
Shinjuku train station is the busiest in Tokyo, in part because of buildings
like this one. On the west side of the station are
many more enormous government buildings, offices, hotels, huge department
stores and shopping complexes like the one at right and a whole lot more.
East of Shinjuku station is an area called Kabuki-cho, home to Tokyo's sleazier
and cheesier side. Here you will find hostess bars, casinos and a lot more
interesting stuff that the locals never show me. Although they certainly tried;
walk around here with a camera on a Saturday night and you'll be amazed at the
services you'll be offered.
On the left is the Meiji Shrine, the burial place of the emperor under whose
reign Japan took on the centralized government it still enjoys (if that is
the proper word) today. The Shrine is an oasis of peace; during the long
walk from its entrance at the edge of Harajuku to the Shrine proper you could
almost forget the noise and insanity that are Tokyo.
At the right is Budokan, famous for rock concerts and martial arts events.
are two separate categories.) The day I was there it was full of students
of kendo, which is interesting if you like to watch people try to hit each
other with sticks.
A five hundred year old pagoda in the garden at the Four Seasons Hotel.
The hotel is attached to Chinzan-so, the place to hold a
wedding ceremony in Tokyo. In addition to the pagoda, the garden has
stone lanterns that are a few hundred years old. There must be
something profound in the fact that the Japanese make lanterns out of
stone and shrines out of wood and we do it the other way around. I
just wish I could figure out what it is.
On one of my visits I worked Sun's booth at CASE Japan,
a trade show that was held on the top floor of a shopping mall in
Ikebukuro. I spotted this game center a few blocks from
the show on the way to the mammoth Ikebukuro subway station. There's
something about a modern building with a cave entrance that appeals to
Two of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo are a study in contrasts. At
left is Akihabara, an audio-, video- or computerphile's dream. Block
after block of televisions, sound equipment, computers, cameras, cell
phones, software of every kind - to a Westerner this is modern Japan.
At right is Asakusa, home to an important shrine and, equally interesting
to me, the kind of shopping you don't find at Akihabara.
Here is all the touristy junk: the cheap toys and plastic samurai swords,
handkerchiefs with subway maps or sushi menus printed on them and all
kinds of strange and interesting foods. Where else do they make dessert
cakes filled with beans? (Why is another question entirely.)
My first exposure to the wonder that is the Japanese department store
took place in the Ginza. This is a great place to window shop and to people
watch. It's also a place whose similarity to
mid-Manhattan is so great that the differences
are even more pronounced. Walk into a major store to use their facilities
and be confronted with illustrated brochures touting their opulence. (I
couldn't read the Nihongo text, although the title The Toilets of Ginza was
plain enough.) And I'd love to understand the thinking behind the
billboard on the building at
right. Just what is a giant bagel doing so high above the Ginza? And is
its significance so obvious to the locals that it needs no explanation in
Japanese or English?
Every hour on the hour clocks like the one at left pop open
all over Tokyo. Inside
are electromechanical performers that even Disney might admire,
putting on performances for passersby. There's something appealing
(I almost said striking, but would never stoop to a pun that obvious)
about the knowledge that people around the city are all enjoying
little Seiko concerts before continuing on their way. The clock at
right eschews such presentation; it glories in its mere existance,
a fitting adornment for the interior of one of Seiko Epson's
office buildings in Shinjuku.
It took seven trips to Japan before I finally got my first glimpse of
We were on our way to Kyoto aboard the Shinkansen, the famous bullet
train that may not be quite as fast as Europe's high speed trains but
is, in my limited experience, far smoother. I captured the picture
at left as the train previous to mine was pulling away from the
station. The one at right was taken at 250 kph, around 150 miles
per hour for the metrically deprived. Perhaps some day I'll have the
chance to view the mountain at a more leisurely pace.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California