Sunday, 17 October 2010

There's no place like home… (1)

It appears that Guardian readers rate Tokyo as their favourite foreign city (there must be more Monocle reading travellers among them than I thought) so Pico Iyer – observer of the East and denizen of Kyoto – has written about the city in the paper. He rightly points out that essentially the beauty of Tokyo is in the details. Because the whole is a mess. It's in its moments, slices, and spaces that you'll find its attractions. (And – for non-natives – its strangenesses: only today I passed an izakaya on a side street, heading for a massage opposite it, only to hear repeated, drilled, military-decibel-level shouts of "Thank-you", "Welcome" etc. Even the masseur was surprised – but he worried for his neighbouring business that the economy means that people were eating at home and owning a small side-street izakaya was a tough business. One approach to try to overcome the lack of customers, it seems, was to train the temporary staff in committed shouts of welcome and thanks.)

In its sprawl, its relentless redevelopment, love of concrete and lack of any real continuum in building on any physically-present past, it can be confusing as to exactly what the attraction of living in Tokyo is. Rural Bordeaux was the destination of my favourite holiday, Ravenna's church mosaics stopped my breath, and London's river and Amsterdam's canals talk to my European heart. But I live in Tokyo, so what are the reasons for my enjoying the city? A lack of laddishness (nor just the oft-quoted relative safety on the streets), a love of street festivals, the welter of 6- or 8-seater bars or eateries (many with good or even high quality food at an often affordable rate), its odd discoveries and expected histories – all make Tokyo a worthy favourite for Guardian readers.

Pico's piece is here. It's illustrated, of course, with travel-style imagery of a pagoda and a Ginza city-scape, yet that's like illustrating a London guide with a Buckingham Palace guard and a shot of Oxford Street. OK, Piccadilly and the Thames I could understand. But there's a different cityscape and especially other details which I would choose to illustrate such a celebration of Tokyo. Above is a random choice of 6 of my images for why I like Tokyo – and its details.

By the way, you could try the latest bilingual (Japanese and English) edition of the magazine Pen and its Tokyo Guide 2011 issue for a produced-in-Tokyo, alternative guide to the city should you be intending to visit. 

Captions for images at top: Explore the back streets; yes, you can find the Japonesque – this bamboo is next to a cafe in Fuchu; dolls at local a museum – in a room for children to draw and copy; street festivals – an in this case having water thrown on you as part of the tradition; I told you it's a mess – but you can still sit and picnic while you ponder how it all got there; the old and the new – a shrine reflected in the office building it's under in Toranomon

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