Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tokyo - take it or leave it/Ch.16 Where did the Manners go?

Isn't it sad when the disabled boy with slow mental development has better social manners than fully capable members of the society. 
He is there, at the station, taking an elevator the same time every day. He always lets people in and out first. 

With everyone else stampeding along, sweeping others on the way with giant shoulder bags and rucksacks that they don't bother to take off even on crowded trains, rush hour or not.

Zombies are walking, glued to their smart phones like it's the end of the world even if it's only for games and pointlessly mundane texts they constantly exchange, falling on stairs and platforms, constantly bumping into upcoming traffic, endangering others as much as themselves and still continue without making conclusions. 

But of course, if nothing else then ridiculous apps offered by mobile service provides, like KDDI are seriously meant to 'save' the day. Just listen to the premise. You install the app and it'll scramble your screen if you try to walk and text.
Provided you already do have common sense and won't use it walking, you'd probably have no need for it. On the other hand, individuals who prefer to ignore the warnings and carry on regardless won't be rushing to install the app either. Question remains: who is it for? brightly advertised as an effective tool to prevent the use of smart phones on the go. 
Sometimes it's scary how madness is spreading and infects the population that is not even reacting to these seriously mental promises that have only sheer wishful thinking of an overheated in a scorching day, 'saving' on AC bureaucrat to back them up. 

Young males pushing out of the way elderly and women to get to the seat on trains it's too familiar a sight. 
Effeminate young males hiding away in morning trains 'Ladies only' coaches is another 'forget about rules or manners' phenomena. 

Still, the majority is chanting away long memorized 'we are better, here it's better than in other places', not having the first clue about 'other places' either from education or extensive one week hop-hop package tours, viewing scenery outside through bus windows.

Confidence, conviction, blind obstinacy towards anything challenging assumed vision, however distorted.

Is there any hope for the change?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tokyo - take it or leave it /Ch.15 Ignorance


What would you say to people's oblivion to even domestic news beyond just entertaining and 'cute'? 
Tokyo people mostly have no idea what's happening in the country or even their own city, beyond tabloid level highlights. Younger generation (~ 30s) rarely watches TV or browses through the news online (not to mention how poorly it's represented in Japanese by mainstream media, bought & sold to the owners controlling every breath they take).
Strangely enough, locals are only interested in extremely local information spec leaving out any 'uncomfortable' events, like let's say related to sensitive issues of politics, gender inequality, and lately nuclear energy.

News about the outside world is largely unrequited as unnecessary (unless somehow connected with Japan). Knowledge about anything outside Japan except for the few cliches is abysmal due to inadequate education and total lack of interest about anything beyond the border except for immediate entertainment (like sports events and such). 
So called 'graduates' from top Japan universities, employed by the top companies and public institutions exhibit less knowledge or interest in any international or domestic affairs than pupils in my own 6th grade geography and history classes. 

Shocking as it is, the situation doesn't stop to surprise when 'elite' universities grads are vaguely aware of WWII (not knowing even what was Japan's part in it beyond some primitive TV period drama completely lacking any historic realities),  haven't even heard of WWI (mentioned in their Business English text) or what was Japan position then. 

Surprisingly, all the local areas seem to remember rather minuscule in importance  squabbles between various prefectures dating hundreds of years back but still inciting a deep distrust to the point of them never 'inter-merry' even now, in 21century.
Extreme local always topples anything else in importance, making the phrase 'we, Japanese' (regularly addressed at foreigners) particularly shallow and hypocritical.

You'd think the capital will be another story, with all the people in the mix and all the promises of internationality. 
You'd be sadly mistaken. 
As this 'capital' is just a patchwork of local towns with constant influx of thousands of newcomers from around the country that only identify themselves with their birth place, this is not to be.

Few people are well travelled and knowledgeable, mostly of the older generation, 60+. But the flow has been steadily declining since 2000, as fewer and fewer youngsters show any interest in studying or working abroad, even with enough finance or sponsored by the companies citing all the 'inconveniences' (mainly related to food and language).

Any interest in outside world is rapidly shrinking despite any promises globalization may offer. That's why after decades of pointless attempts at 'learning' English through the decades of outdated practices, with teachers lacking basic English skills themselves and somehow paid for this fiasco of a job, and without any interest in actual events in English-speaking countries this capital (as the rest of the country except for the immediate tourist zones) remain obliviously unchanged and still is somehow surprisingly aspiring to 2020 Olympics. 
Good luck, visitors! You are going to need it.

Tokyo - take it or leave it /Ch.14 Mythes & reality

Mythes & reality): 

You can choose to read make-believe stories about space age plumbing in every corner of the city and ignore old squatting installations in most older (over 15years) buildings with non-existent hot water, hand soap or dustbins. You could try to go past the dingy restrooms in the old building of the flagship department store that sells ostrich skin slippers for $500 and at the same time let random cockroaches run their errands few meters away from Cartier display. You could try to find explanation for reclining towards the railways narrow platforms edges despite the scary number of people falling under trains. 
You could brush off the fact that central heating is unheard of by most and its existence unrecognized and this 'high tech' city continues to utilize kerosine heaters on a regular basis by most households citing low cost. Just imagine the fumes - this is the smell of winter mixing up with still preserved in naphthaline winter wear that normally signifies the change of season.
Journalism is business and few venture to tell what they actually see or know reasonably assuming they won't be published. 
They feed people delusions that most never bother to question or check. 

It's not about what is better or worse in a large scheme of life. The reality as it is with all good, bad and trivial should be acknowledged no matter how pretty or not it might be. It could spare newcomers a lot of headache and failed expectations. 

Tokyo - take it or leave it / Ch.13 Rock-bottom


There will come days when you'll learn to loathe and despise this city and its people. And make no mistake they will. Numerous little things piling up, bearing on you and finally with the last straw braking camel's back overwhelmingly powerful avalanche falls on you with all its force. 
There could be a cluster of reasons. Dull ineptness, inability to deal with most trivial things without blowing them out of proportion and still refusing to move towards any kind of solution. Repetitive zombi-like mantra of being the best, most hard-working (hard translates directly to long hours, not the result), safest, cleanest etc etc etc, that after being heard for the 1000th time makes you want to scream: 'Wake up! Look around! Take the bloody chip out of your brain and see, think, learn, compare real experiences before ever opening pointless mouth.'
But again, real emotions aren't welcome, 'patience'  (read: ignorance), lazy hypocrisy of never needing to learn or understand protected by set of mantras hammered in since childhood, through 'education' system and during job training. 

You probably can apply this to many capitals to some extend. But in this particular one it reaches the hight of absolute perfection of its artificiality. Not unlike the instant food that replaced all other types in its majority. All the glitter coming off at sunrise dissolving into the grey concrete jungle that eats you up and spits you out every single day digesting in its vast stomach and sometimes you wonder if this survival game is actually worth playing. 

Tokyo - take it or leave it / Ch.12 Things you'll miss

Things you'll miss): 

Space, green, flowers, space again, and some more space.
Pretty photos on calendars and promotional posters with all the beauty of Sakura trees and mountains is another world. What most don't know is the size of crowds gathering in/around those. For every tree in the city there must be thousands of people craving some green. It's a scary view except for the west side that is closer to the mountains and still has landscape untouched (at least for now) by the unyielding and ruthless construction industry who's only purpose is to find and seize any remaining patch of land with the sole purpose of erecting another modern architectural atrocity that will hover over your head covering the sun protruding its limbs to the sky.  

That explains the sad figure of only 3.2% green space in Tokyo area with most of it being on the west side. For the comparison, London has over 40%.

Tokyo - take it or leave it /Ch.11 Surprises


At times very randomly you would be surprised by people and their actions, sweet and thoroughly unexpected.
Like today, when a young man with some disability came in the train coach, set and then few minutes later asked the other young man next to him if he could help him to tighten the laces on his boots. The young man turned to him with the shy smile and helped him, without a second thought or hesitation. 

Or when an older men offered you a handful of little colorful origami birds and smiles.

Bouts of kindness come and go. Initially many of us would stop to help instead of rushing through endless corridors without looking around. City does bend people, mold them, toughening up to the point when life is just a formula of survival necessities. 
It's too easy to loose yourself in this turbulent sea trying to navigate it in various weather conditions and not to fall overboard with slim chance to be picked up. 

Surprises come unexpectedly in various forms. Like a young man's (going through 
Omiai obstacle course for 2 years) 
answer to the question what he expects from the prospective partner. He simply said: 'I want to be loved'.

Tokyo - take it or leave it / Ch.10 How safe is safety

How safe is safety):

Despite all the mythical 'safety' in all the right places in day hours there's clearly another side to it too. Something you may never encounter if you so choose but it'll still be there like a dark side of the Moon.
Still, at this point you can walk most streets and don't look back to check on people and surroundings in the dark of evenings. 
Unless of course, you happen to be a young woman living alone. The fact does attract weirdos that are also large in numbers and safely harbored by the city's vast size allowing them to operate as they please without much chance to be caught in a wrongdoing act or even if to be seriously prosecuted. Everyone here is familiar with the word 'chikan' or 'pervert' in translation that are famous for molesting people (of both genders as urban legends go), mainly on crowded transport or dark alleys. The category is wide in terms of age speck, anything from 16 to 80, and also in the social standing, not seldom including higher ranking public officials. Cases and statistics that we know of via media. Imagine what we don't know, as most cases are hardly reported. According to the local data, no less than 60% of female population here has experience of being molested at some point in their life. 
Some dismiss this as 'minor' crime as opposed to the violence. I won't be so sure to feel optimistic about this either. Violent crimes against women exist but go largely unreported except for the high profile cases widely featured in the press. 
Being a woman here presents definite challenges. And speaking of 'safety' we might remember English teacher who was murdered by her student turned stalker within 3 months of her arrival in Tokyo.
Stalking is another vice that plugs this city in rather disturbingly huge numbers that according to NPA (National police academy) doubled in the last couple of years prompting certain changes in legal procedures.

Safety is always relative. Even things you don't see on the surface or avoid still lurk somewhere in dark shadows  and need to be acknowledged. Big city always has its secrets that it's not in a hurry to reveal and that are hidden deep below. 

Tokyo - take it or leave it / Ch.9 Out and back

Out and back

It's the city that makes you long for a getaway (however short) but you are secretly afraid you might not resist the temptation to keep running until facing some desolate shore and than only boat and airplane will be able to save you carrying over the great water. 
Leaving the city lifts your spirits and gives an illusive hope. Seeing life on the outside fills you with refreshing ideas on how wonderful it would've been to never come back.
The sun is shining on your dreams that you dare to dream again, simple things soften the heart and slowing pace releases coiled up for years tension in a slow lazy motions. It seems unreal at first, being off the insane track, living and breathing effortlessly and without the dread of the looming day ahead. 
Days are passed in a string of new (or long forgotten) pleasures and impressions painted stroke after stroke on an innocently fresh canvas.
The City is left behind, deliberately erased from the mind proving the point of being out of sight.
Life suddenly seem simpler, brighter and more manageable.

On the day of the departure the inevitable dread is creeping in and trying to assemble clouds above your ahead. You push it on the back of your mind determined to savor these final hours of freedom, overcoming the overwhelming desire to run further away screaming until the ghost of the concrete jungle is so far behind that any crazy thought of the return would be easily discarded as irrelevant. 
But like a criminal you return to the place of the crime, defeated (for now) yet already plotting another escape that would tear another ----- chaining you to this prison wall. 
Coming back feels like a squeeze into a narrow tunnel. Your whole being starts to panic. Every step is a trap pulling you inside this giant mechanism that feasts on flesh and blood of humans that constructed it to their own demise. Virtual vampire that hunts quietly, creeping through dimly lit streets, hiding in the corners, ready to ambush another innocent soul that haven't yet learned to play the Big City game, harboring residual illusions, still mesmerized by vastness and carefully crafted neon presentation, proud of its flashy facade that covered very little to even notice the hungry monster inside it all.
Being back in the game means plunging yourself into the wilderness of human existence locked into the concrete maze trying to solve the riddle that should ultimately get you out of here. At least that's the dream. 
Crossing the threshold you take a deep breath, close eyes and immerse yourself in the ink black waters. 
Hopefully, the air will suffice, till the next break.

Tokyo - take it or leave it / Ch.8 Transport from hell

Transport from hell):

Multiple train lines run through   Tokyo like enormous veins constantly transporting people via especially bulging in rush hours vessels with all the 'pleasures' of 150-200% capacity. Meaning? Crowds are literally plastered against the walls, windows and other unfortunate souls making this trip every single day descending and ascending all the circles of hell with methodical precision, devoid of emotions, stonewalling the outside world with all kind of gadgets helping to disconnect into oblivion, until the next 
swallows you in of spits you out. 
It probably true about most large cities. Tokyo gives it a special edge of a quiet desperation without any resistance. People long ago broken by this unyielding machine stopped protesting and just settled into accepting anything that comes with it, however paradoxical or tragic. 
Sheer indifference is the most frightening. 
Delays are inevitable part of life, eating your time and grinding your nerves without any hope for the change. Few raindrops or snow flakes melting in the air can plunge this 'reliable' transport into an upheaval with thousands stranded unable to get to work or home. That might explain why the large number of suicides here is committed on train tracks (despite the sheer horror of it).  

The ultimate revenge?..

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tokyo - take it or leave it /Ch.7 Change without changing

Change without changing):

People here love talking about  'changes' but don't for a minute subscribe to the thought. The meaning is too superficial.
Deep down most are terrified of any change: big, small or tiny. Even little detour from the scheduled path can easily plunge everything into total chaos. If you are looking for the quick thinking on the go, you'd be disappointed. The concept of 'emergency' doesn't seem to exist. Things are done they way they were for decades as planned, laid out, approved, stamped on by numerous officials and executed with the iron precision regardless changing circumstances (as it has proven during the Fukushima crisis). Crisis management is poor, badly thought through, and mostly reliant on people to self-organize and somehow manage and persevere.
That explains the slowest ambulance ride you can ever imagine, crawling through the streets with the 'safe' speed of 40km/h. Bear in mind, ambulance stuff isn't legally allowed to perform any medical procedures on a patient before reaching a hospital. You can be sure they'll deliver him/her eventually dead or alive, as hospitals are allowed to refuse the patient citing the lack of space or staff. In several high profile cases people ended up dead before they got any medical attention being refused by numerous hospitals. 
Following protocols always overrules people's needs and people seem rather content with that. Very few ever start any litigation as it's considered somehow 'shameful' and could take decades. 
Life on the same rail is neatly arranged and it's all that matters, eventualities aside.  
People thrown out of the 'path' are largely ignored and are often powerless to change their circumstances. 

Advice? Hold on to your rail and try not to loose the grip.