Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Another Side to Roppongi"

It feels a little odd how I ended up in Roppongi yet again last night. It's not a place I have spent much time in since my arrival here in Tokyo in 1984, but while the number of times I go there are few, those few visits always seem to be interesting (in both good and bad ways). There was my first visit there with a group I was staying with in 1984, when I met a woman in a disco that I was smitten with (but events ended the encounter in a complicated tangle of misunderstandings). And then there was the first visit there with a friend from LA after the yen has shot up in strength and Japan suddenly became a place to emigrate to... I still remember the shock of walking down the street and seeing foreigners here and there... everywhere! Never before in Japan had I been anywhere where locals didn't comprise at least 97% of the group in sight. I had grown used to the idea that foreigners here were - by definition - a radical minority. Thinking about that issue, I realize there is something to be said both for higher numbers (more familiarity with individuals from across the sea) and for lower numbers (the fun of always being unique, no fear of being overrun)... as well as something to be said against both (but never mind that aspect, let's stay positive with this).

What next... a short memory, like a video clip, of going to some noisy club with that same friend from LA and ending up talking with a local woman who suddenly (why?) told me "The moon landings were faked!" as she looked at me with fierce and "let's fight" fire in her eyes. I was so flabbergasted by the intensity of the toxin she was beaming at me and not having any idea what prompted it, that I was rendered speechless... (end of memory-video clip).

Then there is a memory of wandering through the area and sensing the atmosphere as I took pictures in the afternoon; then a job interview for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, at which I was told I would have to abandon my permanent residency visa if I was offered the job (why?!), followed by the melancholy walk down the street taking pictures... looking over to see what was to become the Roppongi Hills Tower under construction. That particular memory-video clip is longer than most - I remember nearly everything - from walking by the helicopter pad, to the interview itself, and the view of the large building under construction down the street, with the final scene being the entrance to the subway as I headed down.

Those are a few experiences, but spread over something like eighteen years, and then suddenly three in just a few months:

First there was the visit to the new place opened by a friend of a British pal (see "Ebisu & Roppongi":

- at which I missed the last train and ended up drinking several bottles of Guinness and talking with the English guy until the first train in the morning ("I've had enough of Roppongi to last a few years!" thought I, on the walk to Roppongi Station for that first train at 5:00 a.m.).

Then on February 3rd, there was the Ubuntu Linux meeting with Mark Shuttleworth in the Roppongi Hills Tower complex (at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel) no less (see:
"Ubuntu Linux Round Table at Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Roppongi Hills Tower":

- something I didn't imagine when I saw the building under construction; and then finally last night....

I recently posted the first version of a website for a singer acquaintance (a friend of a friend), and she asked me if I could come by a club where she performed a Valentine's Day concert to talk about the design, etc. I had to work in Shinjuku until 21:30, but she said that she'd be singing until 22:00 and that she'd wait for me, so I took the Oedo Line subway from Shinjuku to Roppongi, marveling at how deep underground it is (as the most recent large-scale subway line, they had to put it under everything else) and felt annoyed at the extra walking time it took to get down to the platform (I very seldom use the Oedo Line). After over 21 years of marching up and down subway stairs, I've gotten used to it taking a certain amount of time, so when that time is tripled, it's quite irritating somehow (they should try running the escalators at higher speed I think)....

On the train, I looked around and thought how different it felt from the other subways in Tokyo, so I looked and listened for the causes, which seemed to be that (combination of on-the-spot perception and previous technical knowledge about that line): it uses linear-motors (although it's not a maglev - it runs on steel wheels on rails); it's smaller (to accommodates the smaller diameter tunnels running deep underground); it's running closer to the floor of the tunnel (with smaller wheels, part of the reason for the linear motor design apparently); the sounds of the train in the tunnel are a bit different; and the feeling of acceleration is different in a way that's hard to pin down (thanks to those linear motors no doubt, but also due to computer control?). Lastly, there is just some strange extra element - that feeling you have when you ride a subway in a foreign city; you look around and see the design is basically the same as what you're used to, but everything is a little bit skewed in a different direction, giving the experience a different personality.

Running a little late (it was a couple of minutes past ten as I stepped off the train at Roppongi Station), I hiked up the escalators to get to the top as soon as possible. As I hiked past people, I wondered why they were just patiently standing on the slow-moving stairs.., but by the time I had negotiated several long flights of escalators, I understood only-too-well why! Man, that thing is deep! It must be something like six or seven stories underground! (Come to think of it - it's got to be way below sea level... I wonder if the tunnel walls are holding back water seepage?)

Once past the mountain passes of escalators and breathlessly outside, I was able to figure out where the place was via several public maps located on boards at intersections - which is an excellent idea by the way! A huge thank you to whoever is responsible for getting those put up. While there have been maps put up here and there the whole time I've been here, there weren't that many and they weren't as detailed before.

I stopped in front of the building and looked up at the 2nd floor club, getting the about-to-enter-social-situation butterflies. I thought about how I looked ("Am I presentable?") and then climbed the stairs, asking myself why I felt nervous. Inside the place, I found the singer and eased through the typical transition phase from nervous to part-of-the-scene, and then moved on to worry-over-catching-the-last-train home. I took in the singer's requests regarding the site and when I left, as I was saying a last ten-second string of words at the door, she said "Get home!" after three seconds and slammed the door shut; her laughter through the closed door fading as she walked away from it. Since she's a tri-cultural person, I have no idea if that was a deliberate insult or just unintentional rudeness, but I walked to the station muttering a bit nevertheless. Since I was in danger of missing the last train though, she was probably just helping out, but still... "Bang! Ha-Ha-Ha". Hmmmm.......

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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