Sunday, June 01, 2008

"Nostalgia & Tourism"

There's a very narrow path between old buildings in Shinjuku, not far from Shinjuku Station, that is still, to this day, defying the near absolute "nothing old tolerated" rule of Tokyo. I'm not sure of its beginnings, but in 1984, when I first stumbled upon it, it was a nice holdout from bygone days, and very near to new and modern things, so entering the street was quite like stepping past a barrier into another age. Foreign residents like myself liked the ambiance of the place - even if only to walk through - but it wasn't the sort of place many tourists visited, and it still performed its timeless (at least timeless in nothing-old-tolerated Tokyo) function of offering a collection of small, inexpensive, cozy drinking places that (mostly men) would drop in at for a drink on the way home, or to have a quick lunch at.

In 2008, visually, the street ("path" would probably be a more accurate term) looks mostly the same as it did 24 years ago (and probably 30-40 years before that), but that type of collection of old style drinking shops is now so rare in Tokyo that it's becoming more and more of a tourist destination for ("exotic thrill") foreign and ("nostalgia") local tourists. Originally, many of the shops were probably husband & wife run, but the last few times I visited one or another of them, they were being run by foreigners (from south-east Asia). (That's not a complaint, but it does change the atmosphere from what it was into something different.)

Just that one area isn't something worth spending time thinking about, but it's tied in with Tokyo's disconnect with the past in its relentless drive to destroy everything old and be forever modernizing any and everything. Tokyo needs to be modern, but that modernity would be a more comfortable one to live in if it were in context among a certain number of older things. New is exciting, off-new is hum-drum, but just as something is becoming old enough to be interesting, it is smashed to rubble and something squeaky new is put in its place....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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