Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Gallery of Store Fronts: Omotesando Evening

February 4, 2011



November 2, 2010

8:45 PM. Monday, October 18, Chuo Line, Tokyo Station. Tokyo Station is the terminal for the Chuo Line, so the train is sitting at the platform with its doors open as people come floating up the escalators and hurry on to the train, hoping to find a seat for the long commute home before the cars fill up.  I bounce into the car and find a seat at one end.  Diagonally across from me a man is stretched out asleep on four seats.  A young uniformed station attendant comes along and tries to wake him up, gently shaking his shoulder.  The sleeping man waves the attendant off and turns to face the other way.  The attendant’s voice grows impatient and louder as he makes another futile attempt to wake him.  Then he abruptly walks off the train.  I thought he might be going to get help, but he doesn’t come back before the doors close and the train leaves.

We continue our way westward across the center of Tokyo, stopping at Kanda, Ochanomizu, Yotsuya.  The sleeping man continues to hog the four seats as more and more people get on at each station.  We arrive at Shinjuku, the busiest station in the world (if not the entire universe), and here too the train waits a few minutes at the platform.  Now two uniformed station attendants board the train and proceed to rouse the sleeping man, who ignores them.  But two heads are better than one, and they persist in prodding him and calling out to him to wake up and get off the train.  Just before the doors close, the man gets up and stumbles out the door, where he stands unsteadily amid the milling crowd.  He blinks a few times as if to clear his vision and figure out where he is.  The train pulls out, leaving him behind and leaning against a vending machine for support.

Thursday afternoon, October 28, Seibu Kokubunji Line, Kokubunji Station. I’ve written before about people who hold things up when other passengers are trying to board or get off the train:  young women who stand in passive aggressive immobility in front of the door like a rock in midstream when you want to get off, or the growing number of people of any age or gender who are too busy staring at cell phone screens to make their way quickly onto the train when the doors open.  But not all slow pokes are holding things up for selfish reasons.

Kokubunji Station is the terminal for the Seibu Kokubunji line.  The train pulls in, lets off arriving passengers and sits at the platform for five minutes or so before setting off again in the other direction.  When I start to board, a clean-cut young man in a business suit pauses at the door as he is getting off, blocking my way for a few seconds.  He looks to his left, as if checking to see that he has not forgotten anything, and then gets off and goes away.  But a few minutes later he is back.  Now he is speaking to an ancient lady sitting to the left of the door.  “It’s the last stop,” he says to her gently, and as soon as he is sure she has heard him and has begun her slow, halting rise to standing position, he goes away again.  The elderly person, looking as unsure as the man who had been asleep on the Chuo line train, looks all around as if trying to figure out where she is, then creaks off the train and heads toward the stairs.


Cell Phone Mania

July 7, 2010

In a recent issue of the International Herald Tribune, the columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about a growing cell phone addiction in the U.S.  [“Are cells the new cigarettes?” Monday, June 28, 2010.]  This is an area where Japan is well ahead of America.  Perhaps what is happening here now provides a glimpse of what the future holds for the American version of cell phone dependency.

Back in 2003, I took up a teaching post at a university here and found that every student in my classroom not only owned a cell phone but used it while class was in session.  I was fighting a losing battle, but I set up a table in a corner of the room and required every student to put his or her cell phone there for the duration of the class.  Many of them did so grudgingly, and one or two even angrily.  Occasionally during class a phone would start to vibrate or hum or even ring, causing its owner to glance at it anxiously until the “crying” stopped.  It was as if both the cell phones and their owners underwent separation anxiety every time I made them deposit the phones in my makeshift “nursery.”  When class was over, they ran to retrieve the phone-babies and immediately checked to see if any messages had come in.

I’ve long since given up trying to part cell phones from their student owners, who claim they cannot live without them.  And they have managed on their own to adapt them to classroom use.  At the beginning of the school year when I divide the students into groups and tell them to exchange contact information, they all get our their cell phones and hold them up in front of them in a kind of circle.  It looks like some kind of alien ritual, as if each student were transferring her thoughts into the high-tech instruments of the others.

The students in one of my current classes find it hard to believe I do not own a cell phone.  “But how do you get emergency calls?” they want to know, and when I answer that I have an answering machine on my home phone, they stare at me uncomprehendingly.  You would think that “emergency calls” were something that one ought to be getting all the time.

The use of cell phones is now so widespread here that people read text messages while riding their bicycles or walking down the street.  They are of course a menace to traffic safety, and can be especially irritating here in crowded Tokyo where the constant uninterrupted flow of traffic is essential to the maintenance of sanity.  When people wait for a train to arrive at a crowded station, they line up in neat rows.  Then after the train arrives and discharges passengers, the neat rows dissolve into a fast forward charge onto the train in an attempt to get a seat or at least a spot to stand in a less crowded part of the car.  But more and more often lately, when it comes time to move forward into the train, I find myself stuck behind someone moving forward at a snail’s pace, and keeping the rest of us from getting on the train in time to get a good spot.  This snail-person is inevitably staring at a cell phone screen.

Cell phones serve all kinds of purposes here:  to read and write novels; to build social networks; to help people find their way to an unknown location; to keep friends and family members constantly aware of one’s whereabouts; even to bully people and drive them to suicide.  The technology is constantly changing, and I cannot keep up with what the latest use might be.  Now there are ads on the trains for new cell phones from au, a service of KDDI.  The ad pictures five young men, each holding a different rose-pink cell phone.  (This is Japan, where men are not ashamed to be associated with the color pink.)  The ad claims that there are now three different “schools” of cell phone users:  those who text by typing one key at a time with separate fingers (43%), those who text by slipping their fingers over the keys (36%), and those who use both hands to text (19%).  (The method of the 2% “other” is left to the imagination.)  So au is now offering phones with a key pad designed for each of these “schools.”

Maybe cell phones in America also feature these “schools” and make different key pads for them, but I suspect there are no rose-pink phones for the men.

Tokyo Style

June 23, 2010

“A Plastic Life.” The other day I got on a Yamanote Line train at Kanda Station. Across the way stood a young woman, her back to me, holding on to an overhead strap.  The first thing I noticed were her boots:  peach pink shiny plastic encasing her legs from knee to toe.  The tops were tightened at the back with pink grosgrain ribbon laced through brass grommets.  The next thing I noticed was the bag on her right shoulder:  shiny plastic in a paisley pattern of red, brown and green, with a matching paisley stuffed bear about the size of a hand, hanging from one strap.  In the hand not holding the overhead strap, she held a plastic carry-all in pale lavender and white check strewn with assorted images of baubles, buckets of popcorn, rabbits, and jingle bells in shades of aqua, yellow and lavender.  From one pocket of the carry-all emerged a cord that connected whatever was in the pocket to her right ear.  Her long, wavy hair, bleached to a rusty reddish-brown, flowed down over a bright fuchsia sweater tucked into a denim skirt, whose hem just reached the tops of those peachy boots.  By the time my eyes had circumnavigated her get-up, the train had passed through Tokyo Station and was now arriving at Yurakucho.  The doors opened and the peachy boots removed the plastic wonder from the train.