It’s my last hours in Tokyo and all I want to do is to sit here in the hotel bar in front of these windows and the breathtaking view of the city.
Today, it rained. There was so much wind and giant clouds weaved in between the grey and silver towers right in front of me. I could spend hours here trying to capture just what how this trip to Tokyo has changed me.
Getting to work somewhere unknown is the best way to enter directly into the heart of a city. Of course, when you have a production team with you, it takes some of the Lost in Translation effect out, but you get the chance to live some incredible moments…
Karaoke. I got the chance to do some karaoke with some real Tokyoites and I’m still recovering. Picture this:
First of all, in Japan, karaoke is only done in a private lounge. You can reserve the room for one, two hours, or all night long. When you get there, you gotta make sure to get the all you can drink option.
(I, of course, had saké like any self-respecting westerner, but my Japanese friends preferred beer and whisky sodas.)
As soon as the door to your private room closes, which is more like a closet, (and it REEKS of cigarettes – you can still smoke inside in Japan, just not outside on the street, where you have to find designated smoking areas), my Japanese friends chose their songs and begin to turn their mics up and up and up (the sound in these places is just terrible. You have to literally scream to hear anything – which is the idea I guess, to just let it all hang out!).
After the second Japanese song, I decided to put on something that my team and I could sing together. Madonna, Like a Virgin.
Crooning into the mic, dancing total booty style, jumping on the table, on the couch, people yelling into my ears to bottoms-up my saké (very persuasive), and at the end of two hours, I’m drunk as can be and couldn’t be happier.
Kana, my producer says to me, “now you know how the Japanese deal with the pressure of their long work days.”
Private. Leaving karaoke Friday night, totally drunk and lost in a sea of people and light in Shibuya, I ask my friend if all karaoke is private… “Aren’t there public places for it too?” Response: “Seriously? NO WAY. We’d NEVER sing in public!”
Food: “I’m not so into Japanese food. Sushi doesn’t really do it for me and seaweed is for fishies.” That was me before arriving in Tokyo.
The first days, I had to force myself a little bit. The slimy textures, the bitterness, soup soup soup all the time, blah. And then I started to love it.
I only ate sushi once. Japanese food is so much more than that. Anyone know a good Japanese place in New York?
Sushi: You have to put it all in your mouth at once. And dip it in the soy sauce on the fish side. yeah. Try it next time. It’s no easy task.
1/ The Japanese and I do not have the same taste. Fashion is very little girl even if you’re older. Femininity definitely doesn’t mean the same thing, but I didn’t get the chance to explore the whole thing enough to offer one of my legendary psychological break downs (awww shucks!). So shopping style wasn’t a point of commonality.
2/ The Japanese don’t have the same body as me. The only time I could find something in my size was to shop in the mens’ department. Size 9 shoes? Not so much.
3/ Japanese men have the same taste as I do. Right now, the like American casual, surf and hiking clothes, oh man it’s on everyone in Tokyo right now… And the “Americana” trend with jeans, plaid shirts, worn-in look. The interpretation of American style is really impressive, pushed to such a perfection that I really had a hard time not bringing back “California Dreamin’” t-shirts from Beams or United Arrows.
Words. My dear readers, it is not without a touch of pride that I confess my innate talent for languages. Drop me off any ol’ place, gimmie a couple days and I’ll be talking with the locals. Four days in and I’ll have them laughing (which is my ultimate goal in life).
Yeah yeah yeah, but not in Japan. My amazing brain is perfectly impenetrable to Japanese, which means that this list of words I’m bringing back for you is going to be deliciously short.
Sumimassen: Please. You have to drag out the last syllable and yell it out when you’re at a restaurant. Sumimasseeeeeeeeeeeeen! (memorization technique invented by my team: sue me my son. Yep. That’s it. It works.)
Arigato: Thank you. Derived from the Portugese (nooooo, they invaded like, seriously!!!) Obrigado.
And that’s it. Oh wait no, I forgot one… Saké.
Too big. A lot of Japanese wear their shoes a size or two too big, flip flop to death in Japan. It makes sense because you take your shoes off every two minutes (no shoes in the apartment, how dare you?!)
François Hollande: François Hollande is the big winner of the first round of the French presidential election and in the Japan Times, he’s on the front page, right on the bottom.
Cleanliness: Everything is extremely clean in Japan, from the streets to the fish market to the toilets to the subway stations to the taxis to the… That said, it’s almost impossible to find a garbage can to toss your to-go cup of coffee in the street. C’mon, these people are genius!
Traditional: The kimono is still worn for special occasion, like for birthdays in your 20s or traditional weddings – in the picture that teenager is on her way to celebrate her sister’s 20th birthday. It’s very expensive, so there are a lot of places that rent them and get you all dolled up. So beautiful.
Beauty. Beauty is everywhere. Beauty is something that’s really important in Japan and is taken very seriously. Beauty has many dimensions and I’m not talking about physical beauty. There are many other beauties.
Like the beauty of a gesture.
The beauty of the seasons. The love that the Japanese have a cherry-blossom season that is not only about the beauty of a tree. The beauty of Sakuras lies in the strength of their bloom (the tree blooms a million flowers all it once) balanced with their fragility (the flowers disappear within a few days).
The beauty of intention. My calligraphy lesson taught me something incredibly important and that I hope to use in my work. Ten-You taught me to trace a simple line and I tried to do it right and fast, as a good pupil should. She told me it wasn’t right, that what I had to do was put my spirit behind it. Drawing a line became an entirely new experience…
And perfect beauty lies in imperfection. That’s what I got from the concept of wabi sabi, which is difficult to define, but it finds beauty in impermanence, in imperfection, in the passing of time, in simplicity. It’s easiest to see in Japanese pottery – just sublime – which gets its beauty as hot water does its work of slowly cracking it, for example.
If only this wisdom could find its way into our daily lives more often we’d spend less time chasing after some tragic idea that perfection exists and that its the key to all happiness…
(Of course, not all Japanese are walking wise men living wabi sabi – they love plastic surgery too, even if their criteria of beauty is different than ours…)
Boys: So many sexy Japanese men. Now, I’m very happy with my sexy American man (I doubt that Scott has made it this far in the article, but hey, just in case. Ha!) but in case you single ladies out there are asking, I thought I’d tell you.
Wapanese: With all this fantasticness, you can quickly become a Japanophile, you know, a Japanese wanabe. There are so many foreigners who have developed quite the taste for Japan, learning the language, knowing the traditions by heart, falling in love with a Japanese person, finding everything is better here, more refined, everything is more beautiful, more harmonious, everything is just more sound here, for body and mind… As if the Japanese have found the key for eternal happiness.
The Japanese, who are no fools (Japan is a country like all the others, with its societal problems, its Michelle Bachmans, its economic crises and we’re not even getting started on earthquakes…), make fun of all that and call it Wapanese.
Still, I want to come back as soon as possible. With Scott. Go to Kyoto. Go back and eat grilled fish in Asasyoku. Buy some silly souvenirs at Kiddy Land. Gain five pounds, even though I thought I’d be coming home skinnier. Sing like an idiot at karaoke – every single night if possible. Wake up at 5 am. Learn a new word and then forget it five seconds later. Communicate with hand signals with all the people I meet in the streets. Live Tokyo.
PS: My Pardon My French with Dior will be here soon! You’ll see all this soon on video. Even my super drunk karaoke-ing? Yes, even that!