Saturday, 25 July 2009

Japan Diaries, part XIII: Tokyo! (2)

After a day of wandering around the city together, S and I decided to split up. We are both very individual and independent people and after two weeks of virtually constant company, it was time to do some exploring on our own. The next two days we hit Tokyo separately, each indulging in our own interests and curiosities.

I went to two different big toy stores and bought silly stuff. I checked out the latest at the Sony building. I tried to explore the bookstore area but got stranded in a Precious Coffee Moment. (The books were all Japanese anyway.) I had a seriously overpriced tea and cake at a tea shop in Giza.

It was in Shinjuku where I encountered the other Tokyo. Following the recommendation in the Lonely Planet I checked out the large shopping area and the department store (where I was again one of the elderly generation). Then in my usual wandering mode I took a few turns just to see where they would lead me, until I started to attract a few strange almost-looks. (By that time I had learned to recognize the not-quite-looks the Japanese use for things out of the ordinary.) Ah. I had wandered into a, shall we say, less reputable business district. Lunch hour coming up, the streets were starting to attract clientele with limited time and specific appetites. Time to wander back to the main street.

Still on my list: manga! ( I had spotted a manga store and headed in that direction. I was the only westerner in the shop but I was used to that by now. Anyway, all the books were in Japanese so that was small wonder. With all the time in the world I decided to just browse the shelves a bit looking for interesting imagery. I had just found an interesting looking comic book that appeared to be about traditional Japanese culture (it was hard to tell because the books are all sealed in the store) and one Sweet Sixteen kind of periodical. I decided to buy those as keepsakes of Japanese culture. On the same shelf were cute books about cats and what were obviously children’s comics. Funny stuff.

And so it was a wee bit surprising (shall we say shocking?) to turn around in the aisle and find myself face-to-face with some of the weirdest and most explicit hardcore porn I have seen yet. I will not describe but suffice to say that this Amsterdam girl turned red. Opposite the kiddie stuff, I just didn’t see it coming. Later on I found out that small sections of ‘erotica’ are scattered around the store at the oddest places. My guess is that this is done to avoid aficionados being labeled as ‘the guy who is always in that corner’ but I’m not sure.

By the way, the people in the store there with me were just your average Japanese, both men and women, and the books also included literary works and even DIY manuals. Not all were comic strips either, most were simply books – in Japanese of course. I wouldn’t have you thinking that Japanese are all smut-reading perverts. But this encounter might explain why the people on the underground all have paper covers from the bookstore around the books they’re reading. I fear you don’t always want to know what is inside. Having said that, the Sweet Sixteen comic I bought also has some fairly explicit scenes, ‘my first time’ style. Nothing is really shown but a few strokes of a pen do away with the need to spell it out. It could be that buying exactly those was just my luck. Or that the sexuality so not present on the streets and in dress and general communications, has found an outlet in graphic design and literature, even for teens.

The bow that the (impeccably uniformed) shop girl gave me was the lowest I had seen yet.

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