High-Tech Tokyo

One day last December I attended a renku, or linked poetry, session held at a teahouse within the grounds of Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo. Originally the property of a Tokugawa Shogun, the park is now surrounded by shiny new skyscrapers in what is known as the Shiodome area of town.


The park is a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, yet located right in the middle of it. Even within the park itself it is possible to escape the 21st century even further by stepping off its wide gravel avenues and through a small gate into a modest garden. Here is the teahouse known as Hobaitei, a one-story structure with three tatami rooms separated by sliding screens, a kitchen for making tea or coffee and for washing up, and restrooms. The only furniture is a low table and some cushions to sit on. Groups like the one I joined that afternoon can rent the house for a few hours at reasonable rates and write poetry together.


The sun was pouring in through the glass windows of the sliding doors that overlooked the garden, warming the room and deepening the sweet scent of straw emanating from the mats on the floor. We sat there and composed poetry undisturbed for three hours, while the world outside rushed by.


After leaving the park, we headed for Caretta, a new shopping complex where we planned to have an evening meal. I’ll let the PR folks down at Caretta speak for themselves:


Caretta Shiodome, a town for adults looking for a place to dine, become stylish, and enjoy culture in a relaxing atmosphere. This 21st century skyscraper consists of four distinctive zones, each providing large-scale international facilities where people can meet and communicate with each other. Why don’t you indulge in a comfortable space and leisurely pace at Caretta, a world totally secluded from that of business where speed is everything. [http://www.caretta.jp/english/floorguide/index.html]


Passing a crowd gathering in the plaza in front of the entrance to Caretta, we stopped to see what was going on, and got swept up in the excitement of waiting for an elaborate Christmas illumination display to be lit up. In the plaza was a tangled-looking arrangement of wires, making it look like a war zone. Above and around us were the walls of towering skyscrapers, and running through them on its elevated track was the Yurikamome (Seagull), an automated train line that operates from nearby Shinbashi Station out to the landfill areas of Tokyo Bay.


The crowd grew thicker and thicker, and young men whose job was apparently to keep us under control, called out through bull-horns, telling us to keep away from the walls and leave room for people to pass. On the dot of 5 PM the show began. The rolls of barbed wire suddenly became dazzling spectacles of pulsing white and blue lights. Music blasted forth—not “Silent Night” or any other recognizable Christmas tune, but the theme music to the most recent NHK television drama. Bubbles were released and floated up into the night. Clouds of steam filled the air. Green laser beams came shooting out of somewhere and bounced in green dots off the surrounding walls. The top of a white plastic-looking cone structure periodically turned red and emitted smoke. A voice excitedly and loudly narrated a story, but all I understood of it was that it had nothing to do with Christmas.


We went inside to the restaurant and had dinner overlooking the show, apparently “enjoying culture in a relaxing atmosphere.” But frankly, if you want “a world totally secluded from that of business where speed is everything,” I’d avoid Caretta. I’d go straight back to the Hobaitei teahouse and its doorway into the previous century.



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