Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Tokyo - 1950 & 2006, Etc."

The following is composed of quotes from an e-pal in the US who was in Japan from 1949-1951 and my responses. There wasn't much of anything in Roppongi in 1950, but now it's possibly the most notorious area of the city.

Re: "In the Blog, you talked about visiting Roppongi and the train station there. I don't believe there was a train station there in 1950. I used to jump on the trolly over to Shinjuku, or was it Shibuya, and there catch a train to Yurakucho or Yutenji. Do street cars still run?"

Going to Yutenji from Roppongi via surface transportation in 1950, you would have first gone to Shibuya (or gone to Shinjuku and taken the Yamanote Line to Shibuya), and for going to Yurakucho, either Shinjuku or Shibuya would work, via the Yamanote Line or the Chuo Line (with a transfer to the Yamanote Line). Now that there are new subterranean train lines, the fastest way to Yurakucho from Roppongi would be to take the Hibiya Line three stops to Hibiya Station (which is right by Hibiya Park), and just walk over to Yurakucho (about five minutes).

Streetcars. Once people started buying cars here, the roads became so jammed up that streetcars were increasingly unreliable as a timely means of transportation. In the 1948 "Principal Part of Tokyo" map I have posted here:
- there is only one subway line - the Ginza Line, that ran (and runs) from Asakusa to Shibuya (which was originally two lines - one from Asakusa to Shinbashi and one from Shinbashi to Shibuya - they were later connected to form a single line), and now there are... thirteen different subway lines, and they're still tunneling! You should see the subway maps - guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of lost tourists!

There is one streetcar line left - the one that runs from around Waseda University, past Otsuka (Yamanote Line), Oji, and over to Minowa (of which I have some pictures on the "One Evening in Minowa" page, here:

- but it runs on off-road rails for almost the entire way, so it's more like a one-car surface train, with only a couple of areas where it actually runs in the street - the most interesting part being going through traffic near Oji Station.

All the rest of the streetcars are gone. There are two subway lines that stop in Roppongi - the Hibiya Line and the Oedo Line. To get to Yutenji today, you would take a Hibiya Line train to Naka-Meguro and then change trains to the Toyoko Line for the one stop to Yutenji, or - if you timed it right - you could take a single train from Roppongi to Yutenji without changing trains at all. When the train runs straight through onto the next train line's tracks, they just change drivers at the border, so at Naka-Meguro, when going to Roppongi from Yutenji, the Toyoko Line driver steps out, the Hibiya Line driver steps in, and from the passengers' standpoint, it's just one train ride.

Re: "Is this a fact or just western fantasy?" [Regarding a mass-forward e-mail with pictures of Asian (Japanese?) women in impossibly small swim wear that left key parts hanging out in the breeze, entitled "The latest Japanese swimsuits (WHY BOTHER...) Goodbye Momma I'm Off to Yokohama".]

After looking over those photos, I can tell you that it's definitely not the norm in swim wear here! I think that was probably taken from a local magazine. The truth of the matter is, many men long to see such sights, and local publishing companies are only too-happy to hire some models and make the fantasy seem quite real. No big deal, but then someone from outside the country gets ahold of the magazines and sends scanned photos here and there all over the world, saying "the latest from Japan!" and the fiction is believed to be reality overseas. Certainly those look quite real - the one with the child in the photo makes it look like you'd really see those women at the local beach, but absolutely, definitely, no mistake - that is not what most (any?) Japanese women wear to the beach!

And the title, "I'm Off to Yokohama" is nonsense - there are no beaches in Yokohama! There's an artificial beach not far from Disneyland and then there are the beaches of the Izu Peninsula, but not in Yokohama (unless they've created one on a land-fill island or something that I don't know about, but I don't think so).

Re: "Just reading your latest note in your blog (I have no idea what blog means) and I see myself when I wrote 8th Cav news - "Does anyone read this?". Turned out that mostly the only responses were from those who objected to what I had to say. The approving group were silent, or I like to think that."

Thanks for pointing that out - I would have to admit that I also don't write to authors I like and say I like what they write - I just read their articles, like them, and look forward to more. If they say they're thinking of giving it up due to lack of interest, or they say something I think is wrong, then I write! As for the word "blog", it began as "web log" and then - as the story goes - an Internet writer re-spaced that to "we blog" and thus "blog" was born. I resisted that stupid word for several years, but finally gave in since it's become a standard term now. But even if the word itself doesn't make much sense, there was a need for a term to explain the phenomenon of people self-publishing their thoughts on the Internet, and so blog is good enough.

Re: "It seems that pricking people with opposing views or even misspelling their names is a sure way to get response."

I've found that criticizing Microsoft is a sure way to generate very nasty letters - so predictably and with such a high level of nastiness, that I have to wonder if Microsoft actually employs people as attack dogs to strike whenever a bad word about Microsoft gets into print.... It's weird. But being an extremely PR-conscious company, they might actually do that.

Re: "What is the current rate of exchange Yen to Dollars? I tried to find that info on internet and it seemed I ran into cousins of used car salesmen. I never did learn the exchange rate."

The last time I checked, it was about Y119 to the dollar or thereabouts. It was Y245 to the dollar when I came in 1984.

Re: "Interesting to me the talk of Roppongi. In 1950 it was just a place, and not much of one. Lots of shacks. I think it was heavily burned over by the air raids. No night clubs and no train station. There were some embassies - I recall the Russian Embassy wasn't far from our barracks. One of our men told of stealing their flag. For me, Roppongi was just a place to catch a trolley to get to the real action."

Ah... that has completely changed then! Now, just saying the word "Roppongi" makes people think "nightclubs, foreigners, discos, drugs, craziness, prostitution, etc., etc.", which is why the Canadian guy [referring to another letter here] said he never went there because he's a family man. A woman was recently found there in a parking lot - dead from an overdose of one recreational drug or another, and there was a special report on it in the news, saying that the US embassy has even put out a warning about the area recommending the unwary to avoid it! Think Ginza, take out the class, the department stores, and any sense of order and politeness and you might begin to imagine Roppongi. That doesn't mean it's cheap! Many clubs there are quite expensive, but the overriding word is "decadent". I don't particularly care for the area myself, but it is interesting!

In case you're interested, there are some nighttime photos of Roppongi (at the end of the page, the first photos were taken elsewhere) here:

- and some daytime pictures of the spiffy side of Roppongi here (located a ten minute walk away from the "fun zone":

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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