Alive and well, and living in Tokyo ...

Reports from Essien Leroy, Our Man in Tokyo ...
July / August 2000

Day One in Tokyo

Alive and well
and living in Tokyo


Climbing Mount Fuji
or How to kill a weekend

Of crime and Punishment

Tales of Two Cities

Japanese Inventions

Keeping up with the Jones

Essien's Reaction to the Web Site

Out of Body Experience

It all depends

The Girls of Summer

An old Chinese saying

Tales of Two Cities
There are two Tokyos. There is the Tokyo of the 30 something baby boomers. Of women in flowered kimonos and wooden sandals on the town, of men in dark suits with ladies in Channel dresses going to work, of elegantly dressed couples in the latest Euro fashions out for the night or sitting is cafés sipping cappuccinos. In short the Tokyo of Japan Airline commercials. Then there is the other Tokyo, the Toko of the 20 something Gen-X'ers. The Tokyo of carcinogenically tanned youth in 5 to 8 inch platform shoes, of peroxide blond with silver lipstick and bronze eye shadow, of tight bell bottom jeans and spiked pink and yellow hair. We are not talking about the fringes of Tokyo society, we are talking about the mainstream Gen-X style. In this Tokyo Blond hair and hooker boots out number Kimonos 10,000 to 1, where 20 somethings are more likely to want to get "Jiggy wit-it" then to go honor their ancestors. Girls walk around in outfits that makes a seasoned New Yorker blush and every other Guy is either and "Surfer dude" or "Homeboy" wannabe.

In Shibuya station, a popular shopping area resembling Les Halles in Paris or the pre-Disney Time square, teenagers by the tens of thousands, each dressed in ways that is guaranteed to shock, go and hangout at Mickey Dee's and Starbucks. High school and college lever kids out at 11:00 PM Thursday night, on street corners next to a message parlor (wait till I get to that) dressed and made up in ways that would outrage Sid Vicious. You have not lived till you've seen a 5 foot tall, deep tanned, peroxide blond Japanese girl with 6 inch platform shoe, makeup and nails like a home girl (the Bronx variety), and sporting leopard spandex like it's on sale. You think, "Dear god will the pain ever stop". And please, tell me what can be said about a Japanese Dreadlock Rastafari that has not been said before. I'm sure you've heard it all, so 'I'll let that one rest. Then in the din of it all two or three girls in Kimonos will walk by in their sandal'ed feet and you stop and try to blockout the visual noise so you can watch the symphony walk by. The summer flowered dresses with the carefully placed bow in the back, meant to be a statement of subtle attractiveness of well established form. It does not happen often, days will go by between occurrences. In even one occurrence a kimono'ed couple happen by and reminds you of how wonderful it all could be if they could just eliminate MTV from their cultural diet. Gen-x is lost in Tokyo, and as for the up and coming Gen-Y, I say Y bother. Sad really.

I am not worthy It is said that you could go to a different restaurant everyday in New York for a year and not visit one twice. In Tokyo, you could do that on my block alone. I have never seen so may eateries per square mile anywhere. On every street corner on Tokyo is a Starbucks. They have been invaded by Starbucks. McDonalds I expected to see but Starbucks I can't explain. Unlike NY, restaurants here are not restricted to the first level of a building, most buildings have shops on all levels. Restaurants are stacked side to side, top to bottom. Electronics and Clothing stores sprinkled in-between. But the most surprising and almost on a one to one ratio to electronic stores are the message parlors. Gentlemen I mean MESSAGE PARLORS, right next door to the Golden Arches, around the corner from the movie theater or under the Starbucks. In Tokyo going for a "Grande Latte" takes on new meaning, and not matter what you get at McDonald's, you can have a Happy Meal. The profusion and location of these parlors are shocking at best. While Electronic shopping at Shinjuku I stopped to look at a restaurant menu, unbeknownst to this happy shopper was that on top of that sign was a Parlor sign. A girl in her Sunday silky best walked up to me and told me it was a "Chinese Mesagy" parlor, with "nice girls", and tried to hand me a pass. Furthermore would not take no for an answer, I had to walk away at top speed to loose her. In Japan no one speaks English at the restaurants, or shops, or grocery store, or metro, but the men and ladies giving ads to the parlors speak at least 10 languages. This, by the way, leads to a very humorous observation, the Japanese only signs. Several of these Mesagy agents will offer passes to Japanese passerby's by not to foreigners. Every now and then you could spot a sign that reads "Japanese only, no foreigners may enter". In my innocent I thought this was some kind of club, maybe I needed a secret hand shake or a Secret bow, as I am in the East. But no, this is one of Japan's few acceptable form of racism. It would seem that foreigners are not allowed in selected bordellos in Tokyo. You can move here, work here, date here, and even marry but the Japanese has chosen to draw the proverbial line in the sand and to say, enough is enough, no more. The sanctity of the oldest profession has to be kept sacred and you can not come in. The line has been drawn, I understand and am not worthy. Asum that means you too.

But I'm told over and over that this is not the real Japan. This is like an evil Japan on the other side of the mirror, I keep expecting Rod Serling to come out and give a Twilight Zone intro, but it never happens. If you go out into the country I'm told, you can see the real Japan. The Japan of Temples, Kimonos, Kabuki theater, Gardens and tradition. I've got to get out more and see the countryside.

Alive and well, and not worthy in Japan. Essien