Thursday, 7 June 2012

Tokyo Story

Tokyo Story is perhaps the greatest movie ever made (it certainly has the backing of a spectrum of renowned directors). It's a deceptively simple, timeless story of an elderly couple who travels to Tokyo to visit their children in bustling post-war Japan, only to find their children occupied with the demands of their own jobs and families. But there is no bitterness or rancor, just acceptance and resignation, and the movie pulls off the difficult task of questioning the modern rat race while simultaneously suffusing the audience with warmth and grace. And it does this in a way that isn't boring or dull the way some art-house films are.

And unlike a number of other critically-acclaimed films, Tokyo Story's reputation isn't built on bare imagery or technical innovation (think 2001 or Citizen Kane) but on universally-identifiable emotions—so many films today make little emotional sense, even on the rare occasions when they actually attempt to.


Asakusa is a popular tourist and entertainment hub, with lots of cheap hostels and guesthouses in the area. It's centered around the Senso-in temple, which has a huge paper lantern under a gate, followed by an arcade of souvenir shops culminating in the temple proper. It's always busy and popular with kids on school trips—fun, in an amusement-park kind of way. 

Most of the hostels are across the river, in a quieter neighborhood.

The other main attraction is the nearby kitchen district centered on Kappabashi street. It's one of the best places to see and buy the ubiquitous plastic sample-food that you often see displayed at restaurants. It's a great place for window shopping, and you can also buy some small and inexpensive (but pretty low quality) souvenir sample-food keychains, fridge magnets, and the like.

Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall
Philippe Starck's Asahi Beer Hall on the right and the Skytree on the left, as seen from across the Sumida river.
Asakusa souvenir arcade
Souvenir arcade leading to the temple.

Asakusa inner gate
Everyone likes having having their pictures taken next to the giant lanterns. These girls are doing it better than most, especially since the default Japanese pose is to simply flash the peace sign next to one's face.

Posing in front of Asakusa inner gate

Sensoji from under the latter
 Another gate and lantern at the end of the arcade.

Sensoji and incense
Incense burns in front of the temple. This is why you don't stick chopsticks in rice: it looks like incense, such incense is used mainly at Buddhist temples (note the swastika, which is a Buddhist symbol), and in Japanese culture Buddhit temples and rites are strongly associated with death and funerals (while celebrations and marriages are more strongly associated with Shinto rites).

Five story pagoda at Sensoji

Five story pagoda with sensoji
Five-story pagoda (or gojunoto) next to Sensoji temple.

Plastic sample food at Kappabashi
Plastic sample food in Kappabashi.

I walked to Ginza to visit the Sanrio store—a friend loves My Little Twin Stars and I wanted to see if they had anything she might like. Ginza is notoriously expensive, and one symptom of that might be this incredibly stylish older lady I saw crossing the street outside a department store.

Blue haired granny in Ginza
A new (and welcome) twist on "blue-haired granny."

Chocolate ad
No translation necessary.

Tokyo Tower from park
Tokyo Tower from a park.

Tokyo Tower, which remains the second-tallest structure in Japan after the Skytree.

NOA building - the death star
Darth Vader meets Stasi: the incredibly oppressive NOA building not far from Tokyo Tower.

I headed back to Asakusa at night to take some twilight pictures of the Sky Tree set against a lantern-lit, restaurant-filled street. A lot of what I do when I travel is motivated by photography, which is both good and bad. I think that it makes me look at things more closely, but on the other hand I suspect it also means that I dismiss things too easily if they're not photogenic, and I definitely know that I will hang around some place for longer than necessary just to wait for a good moment.

Restaurants and lanterns
Restaurant street in Asakusa.

Delivery bike on restaurant street
Skytree as viewed down a lantern-lit street.

The loneliness of the single diner
He knows the loneliness of the single diner.

Homeless in arcade
Police and security are deployed in force to deal with the threat of a couple of homeless men camping in a shopping arcade. Homelessness has been a growing problem in Japan ever since the '90s downturn, but most homeless are largely invisible to society as they live in tidy, semi-permanent squatter camps in the less-trafficked areas of public parks.

Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall by night
Skytree and Asahi building by night.

Posing in front of Asakusa's outer gate
The outer gate and lantern at Sensoji: view from the street.

No comments:

Post a Comment