Thursday 5 October 2017


If the internet were real life, it would probably look a lot like Shibuya at night. The thronging people, the neon colours, wild characters, skyscrapers looming above, the overload of endless, endless options. Pop-up ads and entertainment galore. The centre of Japan's capital at night is the city everyone expects Tokyo to be. Twenty-four hour future megalopolis cities are often dreamt of, fabled even, but Tokyo is the real thing. Multi-floor arcades buzz with players spending their yen to claim Neko Atsume plushies from the crane machines, basement restaurants hidden behind a single wooden door unfold beneath the depths of the street, weird walkways with seedy lurkers offering anything money can buy, girls waiting in the cold with signs selling third floor karaoke bars, salarymen stuck in the 90s ramble into the nearest soap land to sip on sake and more. In the dark of the night Tokyo becomes an escape for the hardworking officeworkers, a place to let go of the overtime schedules and bowing to the bosses. Illuminate the darkness and stay awake as long as you can, Toyko is alive.

A layer of the complex nation peels off and it is all Japanese. An enticing gleam of glow spilling out of each doorway inviting passersby in. Under-designed posters layered over scraps of messages stamped in graffiti, signage for twenty-four hour vending machine restaurants. Anything that could be considered Western in origin has been sucked in and warped to suit a Japanese manifest. A crossing of practical ugliness, angular buildings, informative signs, with a scattered infusion of cuteness, inadvertently results in charm. Illicitly obvious and sweetly saccharine and sublimely innocent.

A lattice of streets each drenched in vertical signs, lanterns, advertising billboards, jostling for attention, singularly underappreciated but together they tessellate to create the neon glow of Tokyo's global image. Whilst the Hong Kong government strategically phases its iconic signscape out of the city in an effort of homogenisation, Tokyo shows no sign of dulling its intensity.

The city's glistening wonderland extends to the otaku centre of the universe: Electric Town itself, Akihabara. Each level of every building is a world of its own, providing stimulus and a home to each geeky fascination and a corner for social outsiders to feel whole. Akihabara is the district to explore, with bewilderment and curiosity, the underbelly of innocuous anime and geeky fandom. Burrow deep, get warped by the kawaii cuteness that sells so well in Japan and gaze in shock and consider with an analytical eye the perverted nature of peculiar pastimes such as building lifelike femme dolls and the reverence (or lack of) for females on the cover of the more porn-based manga.

In fresh light of day, the seedy side rescinds and the city pops with the a crisp brightness under a blue sky. Looking resplendent in every weather, winter brings a cold clarity to the streets and from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building the spread of this mega city is almost understandable. From the ground level each intersection feels like an Oxford Circus, like ten London's in one city but from atop this viewpoint, the flat network of Tokyo's streets filtering off into suburbs and edged by a ridge of mountains is magnificent. All of the nooks of life and happenings in the streets below are incomprehensible.

The night before we left the neon world of Tokyo behind we were treated to a vision of the city lights in the rain. Japanese people always seem to be prepared for any weather and with the first splatters of rain umbrellas appeared above the heads of the crowds; circles of colour reflecting the glow and refracting the gleam of lights on the puddles of rain on the tarmac. When it rains in London, the city is grey and dismal; when it rains in Tokyo the city is resplendent, shown off in all of its depth texture and flavour, futuristic, otherworldly, retro and delicately detailed.


All photographs © 2016, yes/no. Please credit if used

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