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Book Excerpt: “A Night Out in Tokyo” From Glimpses Of Snow Country: Travels In Japan By David Clive Price

“I devoured it in one sitting” – Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004), author, filmmaker and political activist

Glimpses Of Snow Country - Travels In JapanDavid Clive Price is an international cultural expert and author of several books on Asian culture and business including The Master Key To Asia. First published in 1984, Glimpses of Snow Country: Travels in Japan has been revised and updated to include three new chapters on aspects of Japan and glimpses of Snow Country in Hokkaido, Takayama and Nagano, and is set for publication on 1st December 2014. It’s been described as a fascinating diary of intercultural life that illustrates the complex strands of Japanese attitudes towards work, ancient beliefs, and national self-determination. A testimonial by the late great author, filmmaker and political activist Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004) reads: “I devoured it in one sitting.”

Diverse Japan is delighted David has contributed an excerpt from his book, the chapter “A Night Out in Tokyo” and hopes you will find it an engaging read.

Tonight I have a rendezvous, that most important of all entrance tickets into the inner life of Tokyo. Important not only because one is meeting someone, in this case my young friend Yuichi and his girl-friend from schooldays, Yasuko, but also because the preparation for a meeting – and its actual realization – are such intense events here in which the whole personality becomes involved. First of all you have to discuss the rage of possibilities for a meeting usually on a descending sale of the easiness or not for finding the places. If one person has not already been to this place, has not as it were inscribed the place and area in a brief map on his inner self, then the project is already lost and you must start again.

The area for this meeting is Shinjuku, which I fortunately do have as a kind of ideogram in my brain, since my suburban line ends up there. I have also visited the bar suggested and, although I would prefer the usual rendezvous at a bookshop or the department store (just to be absolutely safe), I am willing to take this risk because Yuichi is introducing me to his friend, and therefore the danger of not finding the place will increase the pleasure of a new meeting. Every time one makes an appointment in Tokyo it is preceded either by a beautiful, precise little map drawn on a napkin or piece of paper, or by a very graphic telephone conversation. Indeed the process is graphic; an orientation in memory and with the repetition of certain signal-symbols (department stores, railway station, crossing, hotel, curve of street), which makes every area exist as an amalgam of little daily events, memories smells, accidents; and which also makes every meeting both intense and fragile, like the writing of the language itself with its brush and ink-stone and empty parchment ready to receive those little swallow dips in air which is the way the Japanese paint their writing. Life as a delicate Matisse.

Toru’s maps too are like his art. After all he is a graphic designer who paints spare-time. But they are a mixture of graphics. The brush stroke on the one hand and the Japanese letters inscribed on the canvas belong to the same world, a design on emptiness that is somehow different, less insistent, less forcibly me than Western horizontal writing or the finished individual canvas. Like the city itself, art and language are defined by the volume of air, the volume of mystery around them. It is that into which I am voyaging tonight on the 8 pm. train from my suburban station to Shinjuku.

Next to me a mother explains something to her young son by drawing the letters on her hand. Orientation. When Yuichi came to my suburb I assumed I would have to collect him at the station each time thereafter, since the address does not really exist – only symbolically. To my astonishment he found it without any problem the next time. It was inscribed somewhere.

I enjoy this evening trip to Shinjuku. The train passes many clanging gates, many little villages like mine where the streets are thronged with lights and decorations, and even on Friday or Saturday night the train is never really loud. Students, young people with their latest fashions (frizzy dark hair in punk style, Hawaiian T-shirts, dark glasses), a few middle-aged men looking for fun.

Shinjuku is the entertainment area par excellence of Tokyo. There it appears, defined by its clump of skyscrapers (practically the only real ones in the city), the expensive hotels grouped on the wrong side of the tracks – for entertainment that is – and then the long street of boutiques and restaurants and bright lights that stretch down from the main-line station towards the Isetan department store. On one side of this is a brash cinema area, on the other the red-light district (in the Western sense), and further down a labyrinth of streets with tiny nightclubs, restaurants, bars, adult book shops, all discreetly placed out sight of the main street.

However the station is the real hub of the place. This is where one returns to after the night out. This is where one can get even more lost in a labyrinth of consumer pleasure than out there on the flashing streets. Indeed one of the stores (there are three available) is called My City. It is where Yuichi works, and I have often wandered through it arrays of inviting plastic models, its perfume sections and clothes sections, its food halls and cafés, in a valiant attempt to find once more where exactly he does work. The barrage of impressions, both here and on the street is in fact disorientating, quite apart from the crowds of people, and like anywhere in Japan My City must be read, the signs picked out from a general homogeneity of signs, the precise elevator found by the spring of oleander in a glass box and the wigged model of Michelle Obama, and you must interpret the symbols. The store, the crowds and the station are linked by the ephemeral. Tokyo can be a lonely city.

In any case, today I must make my way out of My City, out of the vast labyrinth on several levels that stretches under the railway tracks, out of the streaming traffic of human beings in four directions, towards the bar which I will only recognize inside as I approach the ideogram of it, where the radar must I assume function.

Publication date: December 2014

Publication date: December 2014

First of all I walk through the “red-light” district, called thus because of the very obvious imitation of red-light districts in every Western capital. The streets are thronged with tourists and drunk businessmen, messy with a generalized boredom. I have a theory that this Western type of pleasure does not particularly suit the Japanese. They seem to go through with it rather. It lacks their elegance, their usual discretion – and indeed the impression is as usual of a form without content. I am invited in bad Amercianese to see some things I have never seen before, and although I refuse I do know that if I were to enter I would see not only a very banal, natural exhibition of nudity, as precise and formal as a cryptogram, but also a singular absence of that kind of Western “excitement” which is supposed to go with the thing.

If anything Japanese sensuality has at its darker edges a masochism, which in turn is related to an abstract idea of pain, of violence, an idea one sees reflected in the most perfectly-bound nude maidens (and elsewhere men). Pain as an aesthetic idea, like the rare pornography too: in this sense the incredible cult of tattooing by tattoo masters is linked to the tasteful coverings of gauze and indeed flowers over private parts in pornographic magazines.

One sees little of these concerns in the Western-style red district. It is a rather bland version of Times Square or London Soho. Perhaps there is the occasional love-hotel (called so because one can rent a room for so many hours, or indeed by the hour), and the occasional prostitute or pimp, but in general this kind of Western pleasure seeking is not very visible in Japan. Sex is not isolated as much from daily life, from daily eroticism, as it is in the West, and the reason for this this that the Japanese do not have the same kind of guilt, a sense of sordidness about sexual activity that our type of Puritanism (or indeed Catholicism) has endowed us.

A friend of mine who lived Japan since the war has explained to me that previously it was inconceivable that a Japanese man, in particular, should feel guilty about sexual activity inside or outside of marriage, since the only offence which the Japanese has been taught to feel is one against the general fabric of society, against the greater family. In private his mores are his own. His version of Puritanism is only public. This means that he can seek the services of a geisha even while married, or indeed of a male lover, or indeed of a variety of the two, while remaining entirely satisfied with the “form” of his marriage. This is one reason why, before the advent of Western media consciousness and the attendant polarizations (the “liberation movements”), concepts of bi-sexuality, homosexuality, feminism, and so on did not really exist, since they were not reflected upon, were not as it were part of the language. No doubt there was much exploitation involved in this ignorance (or innocence). As Kawabata has so beautifully shown in Snow Country the lot of the country hot-spring geisha is both human (the service of an everyday need for company) and tragic (loneness, exploitation).

Now since the anti-prostitution laws, the city is divided between secret racketeers and their prostitutes on one hand and incredibly expensive geisha on the other, legalized geisha whose art of entertainment, of music and dancing, has been reduced to the dreariest common denominator. Yet sex remains something not generally discussed (except by titillating magazines), nor regretted, and eroticism its highest expression. Both of which makes this area of Shinjuku an anachronism, or rather a Western mutation, for me.

I am now very near the bar. I can tell this various smears I take as evidence, revealing the whole fingerprint of my previous visit: the liquor store on the right, the coffee shop on the left, the little bar with Mickey Mouse and the kites in the window, where I once watched Sumo wrestling on the TV. How very much Japan, where technology has reached the highest levels of development that the rational approach is not regarded as the only option.

Tokyo has no centre – only the communal memory. It makes me dizzy. 

David Clive Price, author, Asian cultural and business expert Copyright Vanessa Champion)

David Clive Price, author, Asian cultural and business expert Copyright Vanessa Champion)

David Clive Price is a bestselling author, speaker and consultant on Asia Pacific cultures and business practices. This is an excerpt from David’s forthcoming book, ‘Glimpses of Snow Country: Travels in Japan’ to be published in autumn 2014. You can find out more about him and his Asia books at:





http://www.youtube.com (David Clive Price)


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