Why Tokyo?

October 18, 2014

Tokyo is a place full of hidden meanings and provocative experiences. It’s a city whose hugeness refuses simple metaphors and passing conclusions. Tokyo is an imaginary construct, and does not really exist in any single place or in any exact way.


From the bonenkai museum, to standing bars, to awesome ancient temples, bizarre architecture and hordes of commuting, consuming humans, Tokyo’s supply of meaning-rich streams are inexhaustible.


Tokyo presses up close and swallows perspective, stretching over huge swaths of territory, both literal and figurative. It resists interconnection, conclusion, conviction. To live here is to always feel





In Tokyo, one’s gaze is always focused ahead on a single point, with passing details hard to grasp, but pressing in unconsciously. Much of Tokyo life takes place in spaces hidden away, situations too subtle to grasp, and in small details never explained.


Tokyo slips through words like water through a net. To use the Buddhist metaphor, writing about Tokyo’s meanings is like catching fish with a hollow gourd. The most clearly worded meanings slip soonest back into the watery immensity of the city.


Tokyo offers no easy foundation on which to build a high-rise skyscraper of explanation. But I’m not writing historical argument, data-laden research or watertight theories, I’m writing answers to the myriad questions Tokyo asks me every day.


To argue whether Japan is more unique than other cities is less the point than finding the beguiling details and suggestive meanings of its cumulative charm. Because Tokyo is larger than many entire countries, it deserves time and effort and thought to pick through all it offers so insistently and intensely.


Tokyo is not much written about in proportion to its immensity and complexity. Maybe Tokyo’s dispersed areas, obscure history, inconsistent design and incongruous elements resist analysis. But that’s just all the more reason to write about it. Tokyo pleads and struts to be noticed, but retires quickly, shyly, behind its many screens.


© 2016 - Michael Pronko
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