Japan: Still Crazy After All These Years

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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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 22, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

29 Responses

  1. dzima Says:

    Eating nyotaimori sushi with my girlfriend later that night,

    I think that now you earn enough money so you won’t need to complain about having to shout dinner/taxi fare for her.

  2. Patrick Says:

    A workmate also says “Inogashira”, but surely the most used reading is “Inokashira”, no? I’d sure like to know which is correct.
    Wikipedia agrees with me, if that will count..!

  3. marxy Says:

    Technically you are correct: it is written “Inokashira,” although many people pronounce the K as a G.

    Onto Dzima. You are referencing a 5/2/06 post:

    Think about it: when is the last time your girlfriend or your gall bladder paid you back for a cab ride? Once I fill out the appropriate forms and get my divisional chief’s signature, my firm pays me back for all work-related transportation expenses. That, my friends, is the true meaning of commitment.

    which was CLEARLY satirical in tone. I deplore your extrapolations.

  4. Momus Says:

    Isn’t this just the establishing scene in “GAIJIN ROYALE!!!!”, though? The bit that establishes your motive for specific killings in later scenes?

    Scene 1: Protagonist twitches in irritation on seeing other foreigners with increasingly frequency all over Tokyo, diluting the unique Japaneseness of his beloved home. He even twitches, vampire-like, when he catches sight of his own white skin in a mirror. For white skin means that “Japan is just a more expensive version of Everywhere with less floor space”.

    His mission is clear. All he has to do is kill every foreigner in Japan, and then smash all the mirrors. He knows, as we do, that this plot will climax in a hideous clash between Marxy and Debito. Which of them will be the last gaijin left standing in Japan?

    We even know the ending. The winner, having slayed his opponent, goes for a relaxing soak in a sento, exchanging manly banter in perfect Japanese as he strips off in the changing room. But as he enters the shower area and sits down on the plastic bucket — HORROR! — a besmirching, arrogant gaijin face is staring right at him! There’s still one of them left!

  5. Duffy Says:

    Speaking of Gaijin Royale…

    Message to all other gaijin: The area within a 15-minute walking radius of Kyodo Station is mine, so stay out. It’s me they want to see. Oh, and I call Chitose-Funabashi, too.

    This does not apply to hot babes of any stripe or guys who button their shirts all the way to the top — I fear you not. (unless your buttoning technique is ironic, in which case I deeply fear your coolness and ask that you stay away.)

  6. dzima Says:

    which was CLEARLY satirical in tone. I deplore your extrapolations.

    “I can’t tell whether you’re joking or not.”

    My comment was CLEARLY a humourous reference to that post you mentioned. When are you going to learn?

  7. Chris_B Says:

    Marxy: Bravo!

    Patrick: when I checked wikipedia it was inogashira. Wonder which one is truthier?

  8. r. Says:

    did you REALLY have nyotaimori sushi with your girlfriend? if so, welcome!

    http://images.google.com/images?q=女体盛り&hl=en&btnG=Search+Images

  9. nate Says:

    Is marxy working on the priciple now that irony is better blurry?

    This feels like a response to the recent momus porn entry seen through a glass very darkly. run into sexual nihonjinronistas?

  10. alin Says:

    i like this persona of marxy. (yet another referendum!?)

  11. P P Says:

    We even know the ending. The winner, having slayed his opponent, goes for a relaxing soak in a sento, exchanging manly banter in perfect Japanese as he strips off in the changing room. But as he enters the shower area and sits down on the plastic bucket — HORROR! — a besmirching, arrogant gaijin face is staring right at him! There’s still one of them left!

    How ironic and cliche. Where are all the women gaijin bloggers about Japan? Why all men?

  12. Momus Says:

    That’s what I ask myself every time I come to Neomarxisme too!

  13. Adamu Says:

    Women gaijin have better things to do than sit around and blog all day!

  14. bunny Says:

    twitch, twitch, Momus continues his stalker-like obsession with Marxy, shattered that Marxy and other gaijin speak Japanese well and obviously know more about Japan than he does (while assuring himself that his insights are however far deeper, meaningful and cool). Dude, get over it.

  15. trevor Says:

    i am going to just butt in to say. that marxy’s neigborhood, well lacking in “things to do” is really very nice. and an even nicer walk in the park, on your way to or from kichijoji makes it even better.
    when can i visit again?!

    is it just me or is shibuya just sorta like times sq. these days?
    (though i’d still go just for warzawa)

  16. alin Says:

    yes, shibuya now is the times square of the orient but only ten years ago it was still the culture hub of the world.

  17. Momus Says:

    Momus continues his stalker-like obsession with Marxy

    Actually, I’m stalking Debito and Alex Kerr. Marxy’s just target practise.

    Just kidding, Bunny. But at least one other poster on this thread thinks this entry wouldn’t exist without my post about J-porn the other day. So, rather than debating who’s “stalking” who, let’s simply call this “dialectics”.

  18. Slim Says:

    kanojo: inoKashira ha iinukui kashira?
    gaijin-san: maa…sou kamo shirenai kedo…

    either way, it’s better than the shintamagawa…

  19. Slim Says:

    typing romaji sucks. iinikui not nukui.

  20. marxy Says:

    I am surprised that no one is attacking my position on miyakayi.

  21. Duffy Says:

    I have no problem with your take on miyakayi, but I do take issue with you characterizing kurozaruo as having a brazen ristolance. I mean, come on, if anything is ristolant it’s huokagui.

  22. nate Says:

    is miyakayi a real thing? I figured that it was a prank, since it isn’t writable in modern kana.

  23. nate Says:

    o, i c. n.m.

  24. anonymous Says:

    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.

    I searched google for all these Japanese terms and their hiragana equivalents and found little to make sense of. What do they mean?

  25. Rory P. Wakeboard Says:

    Isn’t Kurozaruo Japanese for ristolance?

  26. check Says:

    Speaking to Debito, regardless of his beliefs –

    Arguing on the internet > political/social activism?

    Sounds extraordinarily adolescent.

  27. ndkent Says:

    Well as someone who visited shibuya over the last 10 years and works in Times Square (with it’s Yoshinoiya, Hello Kitty shop and weirdly low rent “Japanese” goods store near the bus depot) and remebers the porn sleazy compared to the corporate sleazy landscape, no, I don’t think there’s much comparison at any point other than a famous intersection. Now there’s no getting away from Shibuya’s idolized history of cerain artists in years past having their offices and shows there then and not now. I think it really begins and ends with the currency value of dropping their names now and saying you were among the hip few who could drop their names then and it won’t do you youngsters any good now, oh how I miss that scene. Other than that, the place sort of struck/strikes me as a milder, less demanding evening spot than Shinjuku or presumably old Ginza long ago. I guess even the love hotels are discreetly up on the hill. I guess another genuine draw is it’s somewhat less peppered then than now with obnoxious gaijin. Sure, some of the charm went out of business but I don’t see a radical change other than dissapointment that the artists you like to mention aren’t conveniantly based there. Of course that’s sort of sour grapes for me too. I could drop their names but didn’t meet those people 10 years ago. I’ve met some of them since but I don’t have those stories of how I was “connected” and saw this and that in situ back then.

  28. Gaijin Biker Says:

    His mission is clear. All he has to do is kill every foreigner in Japan, and then smash all the mirrors. He knows, as we do, that this plot will climax in a hideous clash between Marxy and Debito. Which of them will be the last gaijin left standing in Japan?

    Come on, you know Debito isn’t a gaijin. He’s Japanese!

  29. knuckleheadjones Says:

    hi. i’m coming to japan for 2 weeks in november by myself. can anyone show me around? tokyo for the first week and points south for week two.

    thank you.

    oh, and that episode of the prisoner was called Living in Harmony.
    cheers
    bob