We’ve lost count of our visits to this unbelievable city. Everything we had heard about the place jabbed at our curiosity, and when we finally got here, the reality blew our mind. It’s even bigger, better and crazier than we had first imagined. And we simply love it.
But a question struck us this time around as we filmed something unexpected amid the classic onslaught that is Shibuya crossing.
We had lined up a shot from a great vantage point (see our post on Filming Shibuya Crossing) as several thousand people below us formed opposing battle lines. As if the crossing isn’t dramatic enough already, something crazy happened just a fraction of a moment before the lights went green.
Some random nut-bag galloped across our viewfinder into the middle of the crossing and cartwheeled into a handspring. It was as if he was doing a solo dance-off in the world’s biggest dance battle ring, centre frame. The hoards surged forward anyway, and the pedestrian battlefronts collided in the middle of the road as they always did, swallowing him back up.
We had to admire his work, and at least Saxon can’t say he didn’t feel pretty impulsive when he was down there filming earlier too. And then we wondered – why does Tokyo inspire crazy? The great people of this awesome city go way outside the envelope when it comes to finding new ways to get zany. Examples are easy to stumble upon:
Go to Harajuku station on any Sunday and by the entrance to Yoyogi Park, you’ll see a small crowd of Rockabilly-types. Greased quiffs, leather jackets, tight jeans and pointy boots, blaring that Ol’ Time Rock n’ Roll – with a Tokyo twist, of course. You wont see more enthusiastic dancing this side of Glee. They’re not simply there for the tourists either – they’re not busking for change – they do it for the sheer joy. They have been for 20 years or so.
Cozplay and Tokyo Fashion
All cities like to say they have style. Paris, Milan, London and New York – all can lay claim to being centres and generators of fashion. But step foot on the streets of Tokyo and you’re playing a whole new game here. Your favourite anime and computer game characters might brush past you at any moment – no matter how colourful or outlandish.
There are tribes of fashionistas, each loyally subscribing to their trend – inspired by fiction or game characters, by pop bands, toys, manga, or almost anything. It’s mostly teenagers, but who can blame them – even the school uniforms have swagger.
Advertising and TV
OK, this one isn’t just Tokyo, but a lot of it either starts here or is taken to the next level. The Japanese didn’t invent variety shows, but they make them damn entertaining.
They did invent “Brain Wall” (Human Tetris) and where else can you watch an Olympic sprinter race a giraffe? Whether you should or not is another question, but you can’t say that it isn’t the type of entertainment that crosses the language barrier.
Just. Plain. Weird. ‘Electric City’ Akihabara has a bunch of these – pretty girls in frilly French maid outfits speaking like children, encouraging grown adults to ‘Nyang Nyang’ for service (that’s ‘Meow Meow’ in Japanese) and addressing you as ‘Master’. You pay triple for this of course. No filming here, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Japan and see it for yourself.
Yes, they are all they’re cracked up to be (ehem). A panel of buttons beside the electrically warmed seat give you complete control over guided water jets, air blasts, air fresheners and even flushing sounds to disguise other noises. You’ll feel a little like you’re seated at the controls of a fighter jet.
Water temperature, blast pressure and direction can all be mastered from here. There are even helpful (and amusing) illustrations so don’t be scared, give all the buttons a try and hold on to your seat.
All over Japan, they’ve ditched standard icon-style instructive signage in favour of much more detailed comic illustration. Extremely helpful when you don’t understand the language, but moreover, so much more amusing – don’t show us an icon of a labourer with a shovel like the classic ‘men at work’ road sign. Instead, we want to see a little pink bunny in a construction helmet and high-vis jacket, bowing deeply and apologetically for the disruption to traffic.
You wont see a simple ‘no littering’ sign. Instead, you’ll see an angry little fish’s disgusted reaction to the trash washed down the drain into the sea. And you’ll have nothing lost in translation when, on a ‘no dog poop’ sign, you even see the cute little puppy’s facial expression as he contemplates what he’s just done.
Wait – bikini girls battling futuristic tanks while riding neon-lit robot dinosaurs as you dine? Yes, really. Book your ticket to Tokyo. Now.
The list would be about as long as the list of neighbourhoods in Tokyo, multiplied by the length of time it takes for a crazy fad to run its course. Which still begs the question, what is it that inspires such extremes?
It may be the culmination of a huge number of things – population density (over 35 and a half million people squeezed into the greater Tokyo metropolitan area), strict rules, rigid social order and pressures might all mean there’s a greater appreciation for new and inventive entertainment and ways to blow off steam.
There’s also a rich history of appreciation of the arts and design, and of refinement and presentation, and a culture of embracing new technology. Then there’s the great attitude of the people of Tokyo. The positive welcome you feel when you’re here, and a sense of encouragement, like the people you meet really want you to enjoy this city and the marvels in it. They want you to try new things, to experiencing the Japan they’re proud of, and they love to see you enjoying it.
Crazy seems to loves company too, so each Next Big Thing needs to be just a little more over-the-top to get noticed above the clamour of fresh and creative new ideas. And once an idea gains a little traction, trends, fashions, events and general craziness spread fast through the most densely packed, wondrous and most fascinating city in the world.