Yesterday I spent a few hours in a park near Tokyo Midtown – a shopping and office complex in Roppongi. Me and my friend noticed that there are guards who sometimes walk around. Otherwise it was like every other park. I had been there before, during the Roppongi Art Night events, when the park was filled with balloons with light.
People are walking their dogs, having lunch or just sitting on the grass. Yet what surprised me is that, while discussing some things about the park, my friend mentioned its “owners”. “What, is it private???” I exclaimed, surprised. Apparently so. Owners of the shopping mall want to offer a nice view for enterprises who rent offices there, so they maintain the park, which is open to the public – fortunately, without any fees. “Local governments could never afford such expensive land in the middle of Tokyo”, my friend explained.
I had to admit that my cultural bias would have otherwise not allowed such a thought to cross my mind. “Park” and “private” simply wouldn’t connect 🙂
The concepts of public and private are different from what I’m used to (in the photo: back sides of buildings facing a shrine in Shinagawa)
In countries I have lived in before Japan, it’s the businesses that would have to buy land from the government – parks are automatically public. So it’s totally different logic. But yeah, makes sense I guess – once upon a time people owned that land, it became expensive, and now in order to own it local governments need to buy it.
Well, as long as it increases the number of parks in Tokyo, I’ll learn the new concept of private park and use it 🙂 I just hope that there will always be enough social pressure for the owners to keep the parks.
Today I’ve been contemplating two types of social capital I “own”, which I normally don’t reflect upon: white body and EU passport. What is in common between them? They facilitate certain movement in space and produce certain expectations in others. And, of course, I’ve been contemplating this in relation to my research about migration.
Yesterday I did a rather exciting journalistic experiment. Without many plans on my mind, I went to Kinshicho, an area known for its bars and clubs with foreign hostesses and a lot of foreigners in general. I visited this area once with B., as recommended by Y.
There are 43 people in the village, but some years ago there were as many as 400. Some have been living here for a few months only, but some are true veterans – one has been around for good 20 years, and over there lives ‘ojiisan’ (‘grandpa’), who has been staying in the park for as many as 50 years. Some people have moved out back to ‘happy life’ in the city.
My friend Y. discovered a really cool restaurant in Shibuya. It’s called “Sora no niwa” (here’s one review with a map) and is about 10 min walk from Shibuya station. It specialises in tofu, and thus is a paradise for vegetarians and vegans, or those who aren’t yet convinced that the seemingly tasteless Japanese invention can turn into a broad variety of unforgettably delicious miracles, or anyone. Tofu, made from soybeans, is really low in fat, so those with restricted diet would also rejoice at the possibility to fill their stomach without the feeling of guilt. We had some creatively made tofu snacks, tofu soup, tofu which gets cooked right on the table, tofu tempura, tofu with rice, tofu tiramisu and tofu cocktail… Tofu-avocado and tofu-cheese snacks were heavenly! Also, the atmosphere is really pleasant. Good choice in all aspects! Maybe a bit expensive though.
I’m really fortunate that a friend of my friend B. introduced us to K., who is an activist in feminism, homeless issues and anti-consumerism. She suggested that we go to see a vegan cafe near Koenji station (after exiting the station, turn left immediately and take the first street from the left. The bar which hosts the vegan cafe is on the right, there is a sign saying “vegi [something]”. B. has read that the area around Koenji is famous for rock and punk culture. It is home for many bars and interesting shops. We went into a music store, which is on the left of the street. The person managing the store (I’m not sure if he works alone or with others) speaks perfect English and has interesting stories to tell. He told us that he used to study visual arts, but was drawn into music afterwards. It’s difficult in Japan for young and unrecognised musicians – they have to pay JPY 50,000 to rent a studio for practice for a week, and pay similar amounts for each show. There are, however, more and more clubs and bars who would host visual artists and musicians for free or for a symbolic fee. Continue reading →
Yesterday we had a chance to experience some outdoor life, because it was a sunny Sunday. We started our trip from Meiji shrine in Harajuku. The area surrounding the shrine had probably the highest concentration of foreigners that I’ve seen in Tokyo this time (I’ve in Japan before, in 2004). Many people, alone, in couples or with their children, went there to get some fresh air.
The further we go, the more interesting it gets. Akihabara offers a world with everything drawn by a skillful hand: sadomasochistic scenes, European counts and Japanese princes, Lolita exploitation, gay porn for women, and tons of ways of peeping into the secret office life. It’s all out there, just a few steps from the main street.
I ask my friend S. to take me to Akihabara, were I want to get a plug converter. People in the stores around are advertising their discounts aloud: I have no idea how it helps, because their voices disappear into the background noise created by the many advertisers. It’s difficult to notice anything amidst all possible kinds of noise – voices as well as visuals. Continue reading →