Landing in Tokyo never fails to turn me into a raging consumer. My concern for climate change seems to evaporate — poof! — as soon as the plane wheels touch down (or maybe it was back when I was buying a ticket for a 9,000km round plane journey). While I don’t care for the caterwauling of the shop staff, even the airport shops seem like paradise. Before getting the train, I gape at the conbini shelves, picking up my old favourite chocolate protein bar (ingredients: soy and palm oil and bleached flour), a canned coffee, another canned coffee. My normal food rules do not apply. Sugar and additives, who dey?
Tokyo is a trip. I barely slept on the plane but as soon as I emerged into the airport I felt a rush of energy. I wanted to drink everything up: the sunlight so bright it’s considered an antiseptic. Dazzling yellow rice fields and danchi whizzing past the window. The silence inside the train carriage was delicious.
But I had forgotten what Tokyo density felt like: the oppressive closeness of the buildings that calls for frosted windows, the cell-like atmosphere. the array of pastel-coloured plastics and filmss; a million signs and instructions stuck to every available surface; the particular smell of sweet, salty, fat-free food, simmered with seaweed and MSG. I had forgotten the deadly quiet of the backstreets and the scream of the main roads, the automated sounds — from jazz played over municipal speakers hanging in the street, to the drone of shop clerks, the clattering of the trains, the politician’s sound trucks. the spick-and-span department stores, lit like fridges, and the sheer density of products. How many mines and oil rigs have to throw up their guts to populate Tokyo with its products? Buildings extend up to the sky and deep into the bowels of the earth. Basement level three. The train stations are just as full of restaurants and shops as the department stores.
The valley of Shibuya station has been obliterated by a huge, boring skyscraper that blocks out the sun. Every shop and concession is packed with products, from hand towels to bottle holders to mobile phone trinkets to alice bands and decorated post-its and face massagers and sweat—absorbing armpit stickers and upmarket soy sauce in miniature cute tetrapacks. All kinds of products that barely exist in Europe, as well as infinite varieties of ones that do: plates and candles and cutlery and jewellery and make-up. But whereas department stores in Europe make me scowl in disgust at their brash consumerism, here I want to stop and look and admire the delicately painted ceramics and cute little objects. I want to buy it all.
But all these shops, stuffed with things, replicated a million times. Imagine tetris: dozens of blocks stacked up on top of each other. Now imagine that each of those blocks contains another ten blocks. And each of those blocks contains another ten, and so on, and so on. that’s Tokyo: incredible density, replicated on an awesome scale.
Up to the provinces I go.
Seeing the mountains outside makes me ache to live among them. Impassive and enormous; they’re like inanimate whales, guarding the town and the city. In a way they do; they blocked the clouds of radioactive nuclides from Fukushima daiichi from raining down in Fukushima City.
Living in a country without mountains (as I do) is dull, but sometimes I can’t put your finger on why. And then I come back to somewhere with these rocky beasts and my eye keeps being drawn to their snowy caps, with a feeling of deep appreciation and awe. Would one ever get bored of this view?
The night I got here, I was so hyped up on Tokyo’s aggressively bright and blue-toned lighting I wanted to sit in that kitchen with sunglasses on.