April 24, 2008
Not That Lost in Translation
A few funny quirks I've been learning about Tokyo:
1) It's much more western than you'd expect. Walking the streets, I have to remind myself at times that I'm not in Brussels or Amsterdam. Who knew there would be so many crepe places, amazing croissants, and, alas, so many Starbucks?
2) There is a district devoted to consumer electronics products, with block wide buildings seven stories high, featuring nothing but technological goods. The stores in Akihabra ("the electric city") are a bit like Fry's on crack. Then, you add block after block of them, as big as a Fry's, but Fry's is just the ground floor. Up and up, with both low end and wonderfully high end products.
My most lusted for product? Tube amplifiers for your iPod, to give warmth to the digital sounds. I had read about them in the New York Times. Here, there were five different models for sale, with wonderful quality small wooden speakers, at a cost of less than $1,000. The perfect small room stereo.
3) Social networking makes for a very quiet place. The signs on the subways here forbid talking on cell phones...but that doesn't mean people can't text.......and that's all they do on trains. Four out of five people stare intently into their cell phones (which are larger than ours, maybe because of the kanji?). The fifth is listening to an iPod. There is zero real time face-to-face communication. You feel like a freak if you talk.
4) The sushi really does taste better in Japan. Not because the fish is fresher. Not, as I suspected, because the soy sauce and wasabi are better, but because the rice is more flavorful, my friend who lives here explains.
5) The big picture billboard you see in the movie "Lost in Translation" is playing an Usher video today. American cultural influence has spread throughout Japan, even if Americans themselves are viewed as somewhere between a nuisance and an afterthought in this still very insular culture.
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