Sunday, August 19th, 2001:

Inspired by the Japanese cuisine I had sampled the night before, I decided yesterday to treat myself to a traditional Japanese breakfast in my hotel. I took the elevator up to the 25th floor, and was immediately ferried to a traditional western buffet of sad-looking pink sausages and hungover tourists. I explained my cravings to the waiter, who bowed an apology and took me to another, far better restaurant across the hall.

After that it was off to Shimokitazawa, to me about as Japanese as Tokyo gets, at least so far. The light rain that started as I left the subway station seemed perfectly appropriate for the series of narrow alleys broken up by train tracks. My favourite store there was Vili3 Vænga:d, a play on the words “Village Vanguard”… I think. In it I found all sorts of manga books and the usual assortment of imported American culture. The logo du jour for the Nipponese seems to be Motorola; maybe they think North American cell phones are rustic and cute?

I then headed back to Harajuku, camera in hand. I was told that Saturday afternoon was the time to see groundbreaking Japanese teen fashion. I saw another gaijin with the same digi-cam as mine and was going to point this out to her, until I deduced from her grave expression that she must be some kind of fashion spy for a big clothing label. Don’t laugh — it apparently happens all the time!

So what’s the new look that’s going to take the fashion world by storm? From what I saw, think Kelly McGillis in Witness. Now you can laugh…

I also got some gifts for my nieces at Kiddy Land. Now I’m not one to drop names, but I must digress to give some fairly big-ups to William Gibson for his article in the current issue of WIRED; Kiddy Land is quite famous, but I wouldn’t have even found the place otherwise!

Before heading back to Shibuya I tooled around Meijijingu Shrine for a spell. The wide tree-covered paths were pierced by the constant sound of crows. They sound different then the few I’ve heard at home, more deep and jungle-y. I’ve heard them greet the rising sun at 5AM every morning since I’ve been here, an instant reminder that I ain’t in Kansas any more.

In the evening I felt obliged to visit Roppongi, where all the gaijin go to party. The subway ride there had the same atmosphere you’d get in the Toronto underground on New Year’s Eve at around 8 or 9PM. When I took my place in front of the Almond Café to “watch the world go by”, I was greeted by lots of friendly, English-speaking people… All of them were passing out flyers for strip joints. Even the non-stripper-looking women had that desperate yet condescending air about them that I’ve observed many a Saturday night on Richmond Street. I turned my nose upward at the whole scene, and patted myself on the back with a return to Shibuya and my favourite fast food meal.

I’ve finally figured out why other caucasian folks seem so snobby wherever you pass them on the streets of Tokyo: When you’re alone you feel like a hero every time you figure out where you’re going on the subway, or make a transaction with a local merchant. Seeing other gaijin reminds you that you’re not Superman, nor some exotic creature that the locals pass by in awed silence. You’re just another damned tourist who doesn’t speak the language and has barely a clue as to how to get around.

Or maybe I’m just goofy-lookin’…

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