Found Object: A Mad Tea Party

Here’s a Train Story from many years ago.  Sitting across from me on the Tozai subway line were an elderly couple who, judging from their rustic dress and sun-beaten complexions, were probably visiting Tokyo from the countryside.  The man was peering at a map of the Tokyo subway system.  I had one of those, too.  The complexity of the system for newcomers was bad enough, but even worse, the names of the stations, in tinily printed Chinese characters, even if you could understand them all, were nearly impossible to make out with the naked eye.

It was a warm summer day, and all the windows of the car were open because even though we were now underground, the Tozai line travels above ground at either end, and this must have been in the days before the trains were air-conditioned.  The man turned the map this way and that, mumbled something to his wife and then letting out a loud “humph!” tossed the map out of the window behind him.

So much for maps and directions in Tokyo.  And it’s not only the train system that can be so challenging.  Often while wandering the streets or the underground passageways of the subway stations, I’m reminded of a scene in Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland where Alice, coming upon a crossroad of sorts, is confronted with a profusion of conflicting arrows, pointing every which way—including up.

There’s a spot in the Shinjuku San-chome subway station that illustrates this analogy well.  Six passageways converge here, and signs point the way not only to the three subway lines that run through the station (the Shinjuku, the Fukutoshin, and the Marunouchi), but also to the numerous exits (30 of them from A1 to E10) and to the entrances to Isetan Department Store, which occupies the space just above this spot.

The other day when I passed through here, I was surprised to find something new:  a mural depicting the Mad Tea Party from (this time) Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

Close inspection revealed it to be an artwork by Yoko Yamamoto,  a mosaic constructed of tesserae of what looks like painted pottery.   The posting of the wall art is sponsored by Isetan Department Store, but there is no mention from either sponsor or artist of the relevance of the location to the theme of the art.  Is it possible that they did not notice the connection between the tea party scene and all the arrows around it, pointing every which way including up?

The artist’s message to those who view the mural says that she imagined traveling light years away to another dimension when she made this illustration of Carroll’s tea party, and she hopes we who view the mural imagine this, too.  But I don’t see any need for one’s imagination to go into warp speed; all one need do is turn around.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

"I don't much care where..."

"Then it doesn't much matter which way you go."

"...so long as I get somewhere."

"Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough."

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2 Responses to “Found Object: A Mad Tea Party”

  1. deborah Says:

    that was a great posting, Ellie! I enjoyed the story and the pictures and the captions. I had an Alice in Wonderland poster hanging in my Boston apartment for years. (I finally gave it to a friend who helped me close down the Somerville studio) The poster had the same Lewis Carroll quote that you used for the captions of the pictures. I’ve been very busy doing mostly nothing here in LA except being grateful that I’ve escaped the evil winter snow in Boston. I confess I haven’t stayed current with your postings, but really enjoyed this one!
    Deborah

    • tokyotree Says:

      Thanks for commenting on the Tree blog! I’m embarrassed to admit that I never noticed the Alice poster at your Boston apartment. I am enjoying your blog too, and all the news from California, a place I have visited only once in my life (Salinas and surrounding parts). In a sense we are both doing the same kind of thing, or at least part of my blog is like what you are doing with your blog, so it is interesting to me to see how you are reporting another part of the world.

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