To my some would say over-critical eye, Tokyo isn’t the most architecturally attractive city! That’s not to say there aren’t any mind-blowingly fantastic buildings here - there are. Or that it isn’t an interesting, great place to live – it is. Tokyo is an eclectic mix that reflects many different architectural styles that were in vogue over several eras. It should be good, but somehow residential neighborhoods all too often look like they’ve been thrown up willy-nilly!
Years ago, long before everyone had a computer or even an email address, some smart ass acquaintance of mine passed around a list entitled, "You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…." It was a humorous look at how daily life in Japan quickly becomes 'normal' for the unsuspecting foreigner. One of my favorites was:
You know you’ve been in Japan too long when you no longer think, “Look at all that ugly concrete,” but rather, “Look at that lovely tree.”
Another cringe-worthy favorite was:
You know you’ve been in Japan too long when your mother asks you what ‘genki’ means!
Despite the relatively low level of spoken English in Japan, compared for example to that of many European countries, it is possible to have a reasonable quality of life and a lot of fun without being able to speak a word of Japanese. After a while though, it starts to feel embarrassing, if not outright rude! At least it did for me. I am after all living in a country where English is not the native tongue! It was a couple of years before I began to suspect I might be here for a while, but soon after those feelings started to emerge I enrolled at a Japanese language school. For the first few months there were about ten students of different nationalities in my class. As time went on, the other students all gradually quit till finally just I was left. For months on end I had one-to-one classes four hours a day. It was brilliant practice, but the teachers must have hated me; I always showed up and was never late! I’m not saying I’m a particularly good speaker even now, twenty years later, but it was my future wife who helped the most by giving me the confidence to speak. About three months into my studies I asked her if she would mind if we spoke only in Japanese! I cringe now to think of how bad I must have been! She was exceptionally patient, which was probably part of the reason I finally married her! I couldn’t imagine anyone else putting up with me!
Many, if not all my foreign friends and acquaintances in Japan speak to their offspring in English and allow said offspring to answer in Japanese. To me this always seemed odd and a wasted opportunity since English language education is a huge burden for young people in Japan. Surely if you can take the sting out of a subject for your children, dare I say make it appear worthwhile, it’s got to have some value, has it not? As soon as our first child was born, in fact way before that when we were first pregnant, I decided that I was only going to use English at home. This strategy has worked quite well. The girls don’t even bother to try to speak Japanese with me anymore! Actually, they don’t even bother to try to speak to me in any language anymore! (Not true quite yet, but the teenage years are fast approaching!)
Anyway, back to Tokyo architecture. One example of a fantastic complex is Tokyo Midtown. It is beautifully designed, user friendly and surrounded by a very pleasant park area. Another completely amazing building is Roppongi Hills. (I won’t talk about the ancient neighborhood that was demolished to make way for it! Nor comment on the landmark building that was trashed to make way for the Omote-Sando Hills development either! Baaaaahhhh…. progress!!) Why is it though, that Tepco can’t bury electric cables in residential neighborhoods? Glancing out of our office window over Midtown, I see none! Running around the Imperial Palace, I see none. Hoofing around Makuhari or any of the new towns, I see none! It can quite obviously be done. Were they to relocate the vast tangled webs of ugliness underground, it would make so much difference to the appearance of so many neighborhoods. I really can’t see why it isn’t standard practice given the world famous Japanese sense of aesthetics! Sadly, Tepco has enough on its plate at the moment, and probably for the next few decades!
Happy New Year!!