Saturday, December 07, 2013

"Virtual and Actual Gated Communities"

Standing at a bus top in one of the "new town"s in a Tokyo suburb, I thought how to explain the feeling I had, and the first word that came to mind was... "creepy".  That's probably a little bit of an overstatement, but while walking down the streets lined with attractive houses and carefully maintained yards/gardens, I had a very powerful feeling of not belonging to the area.  Only a few of the people I came near overtly stared at me, but there was a feeling of my every move being watched.

Not wanting to test that uneasy feeling, I heeded the urge to get out of there and went/hurried to the bus stop.  On foot, the houses seemed to stretch uncomfortably into the distance, but after boarding the nearly empty bus, it motored out of the area rather rapidly.  There's nothing like walking to give yourself an appreciation (via contrast) for the convenience of power-driven wheeled transportation.

It wasn't a gated community exactly, but in its isolation (an island of houses not connected with anything else and accessible only via car or bus), I think you could put it in the same category as a gated community.  As I write that, one experience in particular comes to mind.  I sat down on a public bench for a few minutes near the (only?) grocery store, and a man sat on a bench opposite from me and stared very openly/rudely at me with a look that seemed to say "What are you doing in my area?".  That alone wouldn't be a big deal, but the whole area felt very strange and had a radically different atmosphere from what I'm used to in more central/normal areas of Tokyo.

As the bus motored back to civilization, I felt relieved and thought I was free of gated communities for the day, but then I (for old time's sake) went to an area (on the other side of town) that I used to spend a lot of time in.  Walking out of the rebuilt station, I looked over and - lo! there was a rather tall residential tower (read "vertical gated community") near the station.  I walked over to try and comprehend this new beast in an area of town that still felt like an old friend.  Walking around it, I stopped on the far side and looked up - feeling a little dumbfounded at all that mass reaching up into the sky.

The interior lighting seemed to be about evenly split between yellow-tinted and stark white.  Continuing around towards the station, I thought I'd walk up near the entrance of the tower for a few seconds.  I walked up, looked at (the outside of) the entrance doors, and then walked a few steps over towards a covered area apparently for taxis, delivery vehicles, etc.  Comprehending the design, I was about to leave when I noticed a security man approaching me.  Seeing the expression on his face, I said "Oh, sorry!  I used to often come to this area... I was just taking a quick look".  He looked at me as though I were some kind of horrible criminal and said, "So you don't have business with someone in the building?", to which I replied, "No, I don't.  Sorry to have disturbed you", and I took my leave.  [The conversation on both sides was in Japanese, BTW.]

It was a much more unpleasant experience for me than it should have been.  From the radio waves emanating from the guard and the way he was looking at me, you would think he had caught me inside the building doing something terrible and wrong.  I guess, in the messed up era we live in, *looking* at the *outside* of the entrance doors to a vertical gated community is a really terrible thing?

After that, I walked around the area a bit, both finding old familiar things and feeling a little disoriented at all the things that had vanished without a trace.  As I walked around, with the tower always in line of sight (it's quite tall), it suddenly seemed ugly, unfriendly, and even menacing in a real, but hard to explain/define way.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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