Friday, October 20, 2006

Pocket Pet

Originally uploaded by Nate-san.
When I think Japan and Pocket Pets I think of little electronic thingies that goes beep everytime they need a virtual feed. In fact when Westerners think of pets in Japan something conjured up by Sony usually springs to mind.

However the reality is quite a different story. It seems the "in thing" in Japan, especially among the single young female Tokyo-ites, is to own a small dog that more resembles a rodent in size and shape than it does anything canine.

Not only is it crucial to have your very own Louis Vitton purse, sweater, bra and knickers it now appears you also need to have a bite size puppy stuffed in your handbag. Back home the term "walking the dog" usually makes you think of something large and labrador-esque dragging it's owner through the park (or of course a simple yo-yo maneuvre) but in Tokyo it has a completely different implication. In Tokyo, "walking the dog" is slinging your favourite designer accessory over your shoulder, filling it with something supposedly related to a dog, then going shopping.

I love this country.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tokyo in motion ...

Every day in Tokyo sees me take at least one if not many small train rides. In fact the only way to traverse Tokyo effectively is by train. Cars and buses just get bogged down in traffic and, unless you are a local or are carrying a handheld GPS device, riding a bicycle any distance just sees you lost in one of the myriad of small streets and twisting alleys that make up Japan. Today was no exception.

Plugged securely into the iPod I desperately want to upgrade (I bought a Mini one week before the Nano was released!) I made my way to the Starbucks next to the station. The first song of the day: Tool, ‘Forty Six & 2’. A nice hefty base-laden song to get the day started. 1pm and the sun was shining with all the intensity of summer without the humidity and with that slight breeze that reminds you that autumn has definitely arrived. It was by and large a good day to be alive in the world.

I stepped onto the train just as Queen sang the first words of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. “Is this the real life?” they sang and I had to say to myself, yes, in fact, it is. Standing on the train I stopped to take in the passengers around me. During many of my frequent train rides I become introspective. I look inward and think about all of the things going on in my life. I wonder what I should have for dinner, do I really like my job, should I call my mum tonight, all of those things. Today I looked outward to the people around me. For a change I would study them. Not just look at them but really take in the details.

The first passenger I noticed was a lady I like to call “Screwface”. At first I just thought she was just making faces to dislodge something caught in her eye but it seemed, after about 5 minutes of constant ‘face screwing’ (yes I know that sounds dirty), that maybe she didn’t have any eyes at all! Then I noticed something even more amusing… It seemed ‘Screwface’ was, however coincidentally, in fact scrunching her face up in perfect time to of The Bees ‘Chicken Payback’ now playing on my iPod.

Imagine if you can a cool 50’s swing-rock beat…
“Chicken! Pay the chicken back, back, pay the chicken back, pay back the chicken, do the chicken payback”
Screw! Scrunch pucker screw, screw, scrunch pucker screw, scrunch screw pucker, pucker scrunch screw.
“Piggy! Pay the piggy back, back, pay the piggy back, pay back the piggy, do the piggy payback”
Screw! Scrunch pucker screw, screw, scrunch pucker screw, scrunch screw pucker, pucker scrunch screw.
“Monkey! …”

I nearly laughed out loud there and then, but the song finished as did her ‘face screwing’ so I turned my gaze elsewhere. My next subject was the ‘trendy’ guy to her left. He reminded me a little of someone out of a bad 80’s pop-funk band. It seemed he began every day with a game of twister. Left hand blue, right hand green – or in his case T-shirt white, pants purple, shoes red, satchel green. These weren’t the nice muted colours of autumn by the way, these were the real deal. When you buy a box of crayons these are the colours you get.

Flicking my gaze down the length of the train I take in more interesting characters: a guy with a double chin and a bouffant hairdo resembling a bad Japanese Elvis impersonator (circa Elvis’ Vegas period); a guy standing in the aisle trying to balance a Starbucks latte, a brief case and a stack of spreadsheets; the obligatory white masked old lady; a line of sleeping businessmen you could only tell apart by the colour of their suits, and a girl wearing a three quarter sleeve blouse with a long sleeve T-shirt underneath. At the girl I stop a little longer wondering about her story, about the long sleeve T-shirt, about what might be hidden underneath those sleeves, but I have to stop myself. I’ve had friends in the past who dressed like that…

I had to look away. At the far end of the train was a cool looking guy, hair stylishly windswept to one side, wearing a crushed velvet jacket, swigging on something blue. Gatorade or Bombay Sapphire – I couldn’t really tell. Across from him was a lovely looking old lady apparently doing some kind of one handed Tai Chi. Oblivious to all around her she would extend her hand, twist and turn it slowly, extending and retracting fingers as if in the middle of some complex dance or ceremony. One look in her eyes told she wasn’t on the train. In her mind she was somewhere else entirely. I could only image where she might have gone. I envied her for a brief moment but I didn’t need to go anywhere else, not today.

The train doors opened and the mix of the carriage shifted. Stepping into my field of vision was a lady I’d have to guess was in her mid to late forties, but then it’s hard to tell with Japanese women. What struck me about her was her undeniable sex appeal. While she had that older lined look that delineated her age I still couldn’t help but stare. Until of course she stared back and I knew, even though I had no intentions, she was out of my league. Confidence crushed momentarily I turned to the girl now standing to my left. Even from her profile I could see she had the most perfect lips in existence – just the right amount of pucker and pout. Then I noticed the handbag slung over her shoulder… Samantha Thavasa. The rich girl’s alternative to Louis Vitton. I could only imagine what a kiss from those lips would cost and quickly looked away… Into the eyes of a squat little woman who also seemed to be studying the people around her. While I stood there scrutinizing her she scrutinized me. I held her gaze for as long as I could but I was no match. She had that no nonsense look about her that suggested she’d experienced more in her lifetime than I ever could and learnt more from it than I ever would. How could I possibly compete with that?

Of course I wasn’t competing with anyone, I just felt on top of the world. Then the train stopped and that was it. Another 27 minutes of my life spent on a train.

From start to finish here are the songs:
Forty Six & 2 – Tool
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues – The Eels
Diamonds on the Inside – Ben Harper
Chicken Payback – The Bees
Aint No Crime – Carus & The True Believers
Take Your Mamma – Scissor Sisters
Kashmir – Led Zepplin
Wrong Party – Dallas Crane

(Yes my iPod was on shuffle)

My only regret for the day was not taking my camera. I guess that’s why I’m writing all this, but then… A picture may be worth a thousand words, but are they the right words to tell the story?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mini Typhoons & Active Staring

Running Wet
Originally uploaded by Nate-san.
Yesterday was yet another wonderful day in Tokyo. A mini typhoon had blown in and was trying it's hardest to be upgraded to a full scale event. Umbrellas were being blown inside out and people were getting drenched no matter what they did to stay dry. Even the people INSIDE were getting wet! And what did the people of my town do to raise their falling spirits? They played the cheesiest, most sickeningly sweet music in the street they could find. Yesterday as I walked home it was the symphonic version of "The Never Ending Story" followed by a musical rendition of Disney's classic "It's a small world". JOY of mother fucking, teeth grinding, humming despite yourself, JOYS!

And of course the weirdness for the week doesn't stop there. The day before, I was actively stared at. I know what you are thinking... How can anyone actively stare? Before yesterday I would have thought the same thing but trust me, it's possible. Ok, so being a stranger in a strange land I'm no stranger to being stared at (don’t you just love the clever repetition and alliteration) but yesterday was something else entirely.

On the train on the way home I moved over, being the gentleman that I am, to make room for an old lady that needed the seat. At first I don't think she noticed I was a foreigner. People have a tendency to look through each other on the trains. We are “other” people. We don’t actually exist in each others lives, we’re merely bodies packed into a confined space.

What got the old lady’s attention at first was the book I was reading. It was clearly written in English (of course) and had a bright pink cover. This is unusual in itself as most Japanese opt to cover their books with dull brown paper jacket covers. I’m not really sure why to be honest. The only legitimate reason I can think of is to disguise the fact that you are reading porn and, unless there’s some really horny grandmas out there, I don’t think that’s it.

In any case the grandma next to me slowly turned her eyes from the book up to my face and that’s where they stayed. Now, I don’t know, maybe I’m underestimating grandmas. Maybe she was just one horny old woman looking for a ride, but this really freaked me out! It wasn’t just that she was glaring at me with her eyes though – this was a whole neck and head experience!! I could feel her breath on my neck as I tried to read, not that I actually got much reading done. By that stage the book had become a prop, something to look at while I actively ignored being actively stared at. Had I turned my head we’d have been nose to nose or, more accurately (considering the height difference) chin to forehead.

I’ve never been as happy to step off a train into gale force winds in my life!

And what was the music playing in the street as I walked home?
Sting, “I’ll be watching you”.

No, only kidding, but it would have ended my day on a laugh.