Tokyo – The quirky side

Posted by jerry on February 1st, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

You can look at Tokyo and see a city and shops and hotels. But it is in the small details that the soul of the place emerges. The trick is to look at what goes without saying.

Take the ground, for example. Beneath the flashing lights and skyscrapers is the place where you put your feet. Look down and notice the grill behind the flowers – that’s the subway and you can feel the air being pushed along by the trains.

Tokyo street

Everywhere there are wonderful details hidden in plain sight, like the chrysanthimum on this drain access

Tokyo manhole cover

And near the wharf area there is a delightful series of painted ships rendered in concrete for another drain cover

Tokyo manhole cover

All these treasures at your feet!

And like any city there is a dynamic building program going on – but even construction sites have their distinctive visual impact. Take this sign, warning of hazards above

Tokyo construction sign

Even without an English translation its message is clear – Beware!

Tokyo is host to a huge number of press clubs – Kisha clubs – with press rooms for journalists. As I rounded a corner I glanced up to find myself looking at a crest with crossed fountain pen nibs and surrounding text in English declaring the place as the ‘Blue Red Blue Club’. It took a while, before I considered that maybe this refers to the drafting process – writing in blue, then red pen for editing, then blue again for the final copy. The approximately 1000 press clubs have come under fire in recent times for their exclusivity as well as their power to control rather than report the news.

Tokyo - press club

According to the Kisha Club guidelines:

“The kisha club is a “voluntary institution for news-gathering and news-reporting activities” made up of journalists who regularly collect news from public institutions and other sources.

Japan’s media industry has a history of applying pressure to public institutions reluctant to disclose information by banding together in the form of the kisha club. The kisha club is an institution and system fostered by Japan’s media industry for over a century in pursuit of freedom of speech and freedom of press. The fundamental purpose of the kisha club system, which has been so closely involved with the general public’s “right to know,” remains unchanged today.

Today most large institutions and companies have their own press club to ensure their own message becomes the public face of the company.

Sometimes you can be between crosswalks – and here there are signs to point out where you can find the nearest safe crossing point

Tokyo crosswalk

And when you do get to the crosswalk, there are lanes for people and lanes for bicycles – just look down again 🙂

Tokyo crosswalk

Signs are everywhere – and they are often graphic so as to be independent of language. I was thumbing my way casually through the hotel information pack in my 14th floor room when I encountered this gem. I was abruptly reminded that I was on the 14th floor in a city built on one of the most seismically active zones on the planet. The instructions tried to calm my irrational fear of collapsing buildings by getting me to focus on the little things – like hiding behind a chair so the earthquake monsters don’t get you!
Tokyo earthquake safety

Interesting how they are all depicted as Westerners – do the locals know something that I don’t?

I must admit I didn’t expect to have a complex control panel to operate the toilet – my single button toilet at home seemed somehow simpler.

Tokyo toilet

Clearly I have to watch the water pressure lest I get elevated on a fountain, like the poor person depicted above the button marked ‘bidet’. But reassuringly, there was a standby button so I would have some warning perhaps.

But the designers waited until I lifted the lid to give me the bad news – the warnings and cautions – perhaps they could have told me BEFORE I sat down! Toto was no longer in Kansas 🙂
Tokyo toilet

And it’s also worth checking out the advertising billboards – even these have a charm of their own

Tokyo billboard

As you can see, it is all about selling cars – isn’t it? This is an ad apparently for a company called Car-seven Japan. And I thought they were advertising face cream.

So it just goes to show – you can learn a lot about a place from looking up, down or around corners – anywhere but straight ahead. You only see a city that way!



Comment by Karen


Thanks so much for your great travel review of Tokyo. I felt like I was there! Your sense of humor is great!


Posted on February 1, 2007 at 9:38 pm

Comment by jerry

Thanks for your comment Karen – it is certainly a fascinating place 🙂


Posted on February 2, 2007 at 6:38 am

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