God Bless the Inokashira Line. Bored on a Sunday afternoon? Board on a Sunday afternoon, sit in the air conditioning, read Gaddis, get off at the last stop, return your crazy episode of The Prisoner where No. 6 is in the Wild Wild West (“The Escape Club”?), and then treat yourself to a walk around Shibuya.
In the short time since I moved out of Setagaya, Shibuya has quietly seceded from Japan and become an independent enclave of the Asian continent. Not that I have been to Bangkok, but Shibuya is Bangkok if all the Thai girls got really good at ripping off Japanese lumpen fashion. Lots of white backpackers and Asian tourists/residents. The streets emit a rotten odor. There’s an Outback Steakhouse, a Baskin Robbins, and a very popular coffee chain called Starbucks.
I can get over odors — they make invisible nose clothespins now — but I think most of us want Japan to stay pleasantly off-global model and unpredictable. We fear the mediocrity inherent in economies-of-scale, the environmental damage of plastic-fantastic-throwaway society, the chain outlet’s massacre of small charms. Who needs Japan if Japan is just a more expensive version of Everywhere with less floor space.
I nestled back into the Inokashira Line, clutching onto such despair. But coming down the staircase from my station, I glimpsed the main panty vending machine of our neighborhood. Totally empty — that rare moment between the big runs on Saturday night and the refilling on Sunday evening. This is certainly not a sight one wins upon exiting Steinway on the G or Dupont Circle. Globalization may have eaten Shibuya but it cannot slow the used panty market here in the outer reaches of Tokyo. Admittedly, the panty vending machine closer to my house had a couple of leftovers — but they were all a shade of light green that has been nearly impossible to sell since its peak in the mid-’70s.
Eating nyotaimori (女体盛り) sushi with my girlfriend later that night, we got to talking to the model whose rigid curves provided the platform for the food. (They can chat as long as you don’t make them laugh. Oops!) I had seen her work at the other nyotai place down the street, but she says that her favorite location near the park closed down last month, leaving only four nyotai bars to serve our entire train stop area. (Kichijoji has a half-dozen, thankfully.) First, the demise of wanikuge, now this. If sushi becomes nothing but Yo!Sushi conveyor belts, count me out.
Miyakayi, however, seems to be growing, as long as you know where to look. A little different from the sensuality of awogavi or the brazen ristolance of kurozaruo, miyakayi is probably the most Shinto of all popular Japanese entertainments. Not exactly a place I would take my boss — but I get the sense that it’s where my boss would take me, if you know what I mean.
But no matter whether American TV producers rip off the East with cockroach-eating, gall bladder puree-drinking Fear Factors and Bear Bactors — Japanese game shows still carve a deep moat between this island and the rest of the world. Ever see a guy ride a cow cross-country? A contest where comedians see how long they can touch a 35,000 volt open wire? Blindfolded women sucking on sneakers and rats in another installment of “What Do I Have In My Mouth?” None of it is pretty, but it is adequately insane.