Tokyo: order vs. chaos?

June 3, 2009

Downtown Tokyo: April 2009
Tokyo 07
In April 2009 I visited Tokyo for the first time in my life. I had never been to Japan and I was really looking forward to it.
I think most people who visit Japan for the first time are probably a bit disappointed at first glance. Tokyo has very little of the traditional Japan. Having been to most Asian capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Saigon, and other major Asian cities, to me this seemed to be the prototype of all Asian city planners. It’s the cleanest city I’ve ever seen (even beating Singapore or Zurich!), and so orderly and organized, it’s almost scary. Unlike my Chinese experience, everyone is polite, leaves you space to breathe, and neither steps onto your feet nor bumps into you without apologizing. How nice!
Whatever there must have been of traditional buildings, must have been whipped out either by American fire bombs during WWII, or by Japanese bulldozers afterwards. Tokyo seems to be the most modern looking city I’ve ever seen.

However, said that, on second glance there is this element of chaos which seems to be lurking beneath all the orderliness, tidiness and cleanliness. The Japanese seem to have found a way to quietly protest against this boredom of order by adding little, almost invisible details of rebellion.

Tokyo 02 I found these in details on the street like this arrangement of tree/sign/bike along the most busy and expensive shopping street of Tokyo.

Another way of resisting the overwhelming pressure to conform with the mainstream is the fashion. Young people in Tokyo love to add details to their appearance which first surprise and irritate you, before you start to appreciate and admire their style which defies all standards of fashion and sets something typical Japanese.

Tokyo 06 The individualism of Japanese youth and their way of dressing is so profoundly Japanese and Asian that they were able to set their own fashion standards, different from the American/European fashion mainstream. Not surprising for a country that has a long history of design and aesthetics in everyday life. For me, the Japanese have a sense for shapes and composition that is not even matched by the Germans or Italians. No wonder they are also great in photography!
Walking around taking images in central Tokyo was great fun and I hope I will have the chance to go back next year. My HOLGA camera was the perfect tool to express what I saw and felt in Tokyo: the constant struggle between perfect order and anarchy!


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