Anyone who has been to Tokyo before will tell you that the only way to describe it is that it is like being in Blade Runner, only there are no flying machines. But there is a lot of wacked-out weird futuristic shit. Enough to make you think that you are getting a glimpse of the future of the any big city. But we are still in the present.
It seems odd. There is still so much traditional culture and values in Japan. Why is it that when you visit a temple or shrine you can see massive power lines in the distance, or find a kick-ass vending machine selling drinks, snacks, batteries, film, and pornos? It is not uncommon to see women in kimonos riding on ultra-speedy trains while talking on their cell phones, and at the station you might find a buddhist monk begging for change and showing no emotion.
I think everyone would agree that Japanese companies are the world leaders of electrical technologies and goods, but living in Japan is a constant reminder of it. If you are in the big city, you will find massive 30-foot-high television screens on the sides of buildings in busy areas, showing ads and videos. Everyone in Japan, from geriatrics to four-year-olds, has a cell phone. Teenagers usually wear a fashion accessory known as the headphones, with neon lights and chrome, attached to the remote control for their mini disc players. Crazy lights and neon and chrome are found on every corner, at Pachinko parlors blaring shitty music (and frequently techno in the bigger cities…). A new fad is to have a satellite tracking device/TV installed in the dashboard of your car so that you have access to street maps (highlighted with golden arches for McDonalds locations) or your favorite samurai soap opera.
Sometimes I like to go to the department store to check out the goods, where I drool over the $14,000 television sets that are one inch thick so that you can hang ’em on the wall. And the screen is shaped like a movie theater’s, so no cropping is necessary with videos — or laser discs (it seems like most TVs over here are being made with this shape now). Camcorders (most using digital video discs) are smaller then your hand, and pretty much every camera takes panoramic shots. Rice cookers have timers so that you can wake up to a fresh pot of rice. New stereo component systems are about half the size of a telephone book, and if watching TV the old way is too boring then you can try the strap on virtual reality headset and watch the screen from any position you dig. Pretty much every appliance (air conditioners?!) comes with a remote control. And if you are a big spender then you can get one of those heated toilet seats that play music for you!
Speaking of bathrooms, every public one pretty much has laser sensors for flushing and washing and drying. Pay phones have jacks for your laptop computer so you can check your email. Although Japan has been slow to get into computers, but they are catching on in a big way — mostly laptops, though.
I have only been in Japan for about a month, so I should probably still be considered a tourist. I definitely seem like a tourist since I am so enthralled with Japan’s ultramodern way of life. And this is something that probably makes me stick out. Unlike most of the stoic-looking Japanese people I encounter every day, I am interested in this shit. I like to stop and look at the flash from the pachinko parlor, the big screen TVs on the building, the old ladies in kimono on their cell phones. Most people kind of ignore it all. But I think it is fascinating. From the architecture to the toilets, the blend of traditionalism and modernism is an interesting mix. I fear which side will win this war.