Reflections on Japan

15 01 2009

In honor of my upcoming trip to Japan, I am posting an essay I wrote in 2003, the last time I visited the country. I’m interested to see if I have the same reaction after my upcoming trip (maybe Matt will help me limit my “stuff collecting!”).

On my recent return from visiting Tokyo, Japan, I was unpacking when I broke down into tears and yelled, “I have too much stuff-why do I have too much stuff?” The answer was, I was unpacking two weeks worth of goods I bought in Tokyo-one of the cities containing the most “stuff” in the world. “Stuff” can mean many things but in this particular instance, it meant “objects that were too expensive but have no meaning and won’t fit in my tiny studio apartment.” You say you need an example? I bought about $70 worth of pens and pencils. These utensils are not “wonder pens” or “unlimited use pencils.” They do not magically correct spelling mistakes or erase by themselves. They are special simply because I chose them from about 100 varieties-not to mention their pretty pastel and fluorescent colors that a lot of U.S. kinds don’t bother with because darn it, the black pens and yellow pencils work just fine, thank you.

I also bought bags and clothes. For some reason, shopping at Uniqlo, the Japanese equivalent of a Kmart, to buy cute $10 t-shirts and hip $5 bags is OK-EVERYone does it and is proud of it. I stocked up. I bought six black T-shirts almost identical to each other because, well, they were cheap and I could always use another black t-shirt.
There’s a GAP outlet a few blocks away from me here at home and I wouldn’t have to sneak the black T-shirts I bought there through customs, but they don’t have the barely visible cute little blue flower on them like the ones I bought in Tokyo have.

Camouflage printed fashions were in full swing in Tokyo and I HAD to own a fatigued bag. I bought one, stuffed it in my suitcase, and proceeded to spy the almost identical one in I. Goldberg last week on Chestnut St. But the bag I bought in Japan had a cute little bunny on it and a compartment for my cell phone, of course.

Granted, many of the objects I bought were gifts for people that I bought in the 100-yen multi-plex stores so I ended up giving a lot of the stuff away, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that 100-yen multi-plexes even exist in Tokyo. Yes, for many people these are a life savior. Poor college students can buy school supplies and hangers there. Vagrants can buy a drink or can of soup. Tourists can buy cheap souvenirs for friends. If you run out of laundry detergent, gardening supplies, lip gloss, roach traps, or wrapping paper just go to your neighborhood 100 yen store. Just be aware that spending more than an hour in one of these 5-story black holes can cause the faint of heart to either go insane or end up spending 100 yen on a piece of gum instead of getting a bargain, like a 100-yen cooking apron. If you do not have a specific item you need, do not go in without either telling people where you are going so they can send a search party in case they don’t hear from you in a few days, or leaving a trail of breadcrumbs from the entrance into the store. And yes, these stores accept credit cards.

Everywhere you go in Tokyo you’ll find stuff. In the grocery store you will find nicely packaged and cute candy and snacks. In department stores you will find whole floors with dish gift sets that they will wrap up for you so nicely you won’t want to open them again. In souvenir shops you will find mini statues of sumo wrestlers.

Even the most recent fashion trends prove that Tokyo just has too much stuff for its own good. Young women wear jeans and t-shirts over which they wear skirts, dresses, long-sleeved button down shirts, sweaters, and leg warmers-in the middle of the summer. It’s like there were just too many options out there to choose just one thing to wear.

Tiny apartments in Tokyo will have wall to wall book cases, dressers, and cabinets filled with various TVs, VCRs, DVD players, and video games so there is eventually no where to eat or sleep. Even the toilets are overwhelming with stuff-no, not that kind of stuff. The toilet seats are heated and can be adjusted by the various buttons along the side. Also on the toilets are options for a bedee or noises of running water for those of us who are shyer than others. There are also a few unrecognizable buttons that I didn’t dare try in my trips to the public bathrooms in department stores.

But among all of the stuff to purchase and then cry over, there are places of serene quiet and contentment. You can seek out the shrines and parks and gardens hidden among the clutter and confusion. Spend a day strolling and meditating and hearing nothing but the birds chirping and the sound of the bells from the temple being rung in prayer. Because as soon as you leave the confines of the small natural and spiritual worlds in Tokyo, you’ll want to go out and choose from the hundreds of suitcases available to be sure you’ll have enough room for all the stuff you bought the day before.

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2 responses

16 01 2009
WeezerMonkey

Really great post. Your writing is lovely!

16 01 2009
exploreandeat

You are so kind. This is really old–I’m thinking it’s rough and I need to clean it up a little!

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