Sorry to have posted in a while, but you see, I am in Tokyo. There was a little issue of not being allowed to post on blogs at work, and the no-internet-at-home thing, but all has been resolved and I am back in the game. I'm sure you're expecting the usual tourist-y OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM IN TOKYO photo-journal post, but I'm so, so sorry. Unfortunately for you, I am as they say at my workplace, an "old Japan-hand" AND terrible at taking photos. That said, it's great being back here and I am braving the brain-scrambling/hairstyle-ruining humidity to take photos of my favorite places in Japan. The above photo is remarkably un-Japan-ish, you might say, but ah! Ah! That is me, sitting next to the conveniently larger horn-playing statue, in Kobe's Kitano neighborhood.
Kobe (yes, Kobe Bryant is named after it) is one of those cities that was irreparably burned to a crisp by U.S. planes (sorry) during World War II, subsequently pretty much crushed in the Great Hanshin Earthquake a few years ago, but manages to be vibrant and gorgeous throughout. The Kitano area was spared U.S. firebombing because of its historical significance--it's where all the foreign merchants and diplomants lived since Japan opened up to Western trade and influence. Many of the houses have been preserved in their Victorian/Meiji-era condition and are now owned by the city, so it's a wonderful blast-from-the-past sort of cutesy Euro-hood. I love that part of Japan, and Kobe in particular...it's still traditionally Japanese but with the most fascinating Western influence, like women wearing Victorian high-necked dresses with bustles, but made out of kimono fabric. AWESOME.
Of course, Kitano is just one enclave of "old" Japan left. If you walk down the hill to Sannomiya, you're in downtown Kobe (all rebuilt since the earthquake AND war), but head back up towards the old railway station next to the ruins of the castle and there is an old, dingy, formerly black market area that sells little old toys and things American GIs would hawk. Everywhere else is, as you might imagine, neon lights and dancing girls and robots. Seriously. It's getting harder and harder to find areas of Tokyo and Kobe that aren't all TV screens and automated drink dispensers and department stores groaning under the weight of shoppers chasing after that Louis Vuitton overnight bag.
Back in Tokyo, there is another neighborhood lost in time--Shimokitazawa. My heart aches to tell the world about it, but since my last visit, someone's spilled the beans because my beloved Shimokita was just full to the brim with confused-looking tourists. Shimokita, as those who know and love it say, is a funky little area to the west of Shinjuku where Vietnam War protestors and jazz artists hung out back in the day, sort of a rabbit-warren beat poet sort of version of Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. Nowadays, it's all used/vintage clothing stores, record shops, cafes, boutiques, and ethnic restaurants. There's been a huge revival in the area of Shimokita history, all the jazz bars that have been around since the 1970s and funky-hippie shops pulling ahead of the brand-name boutiques. When I was a student here, I spent a lot of time sitting in Shimokita's cafes and buying hat after hat, plus some bags. It is just too cute. Unfortunately, the city is trying to mow down a good bit of the neighborhood to put in a highway. We may lose the Williamsburg of Tokyo, people!
More half-assed photos of Japan later. If you're curious, my sunglasses are Kate Spade, tank top from Uniqlo, pants from Old Navy, and shoes by BC footwear. Not that it matters.
Saturday, August 04, 2007