A Muchness of Tokyo
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Back in my hometown of L.A., we like to think we're experts in muchness. You know: Much entertainment. Much style. Much city. A muchness of muchness.
But after spending the last 48 hours here in Tokyo, I have to report that Angelenos are pikers, maybe even posers. It's true: In Tokyo, they have achieved a muchness which Angelenos can only dream about or render digitally: more city, more people, much bright signage, and of course, multi-story, multi-use entertainment complexes.
No kidding, Tokyo is clearly ahead of everywhere in muchess: New York, Hong Kong. Japanese tourists visiting L.A. probably see our supposed urban sprawl, our modest shopping malls and unassuming entertainment complexes as quaint amateurish gestures; scaled down, low-key, practically rural. "Hey," they say, "why so few digital billboards?"
Here in Tokyo, I want to get the full effect, so I spent most of today bent like a salary man over my laptop in a tiny, but efficient hotel room tucked high in a Shinagawa mega-plex. Then, come five, I say, as any local would say (only in a different language), "Okay, time for muchness."
Downstairs, I try not to look like a small-town rube as I stroll through a massive but clean train station. After pressing much commuter flesh, I hit Ginza, Shinjuku, and finally Shibuya — youth entertainment Mecca, and something like Times Square squared. Here you find, for example, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.
To add to the multiplicative effect, I notice that all the young people have adopted that identical Japanese comic-book hairstyle, you know: long emo strands sprouting like a fountain from the top of the head and partly covering the eyes. When you see 30,000 teenage boys and girls in one place, looking like the same cartoon character: well, it creates an effect.
Nevertheless, despite the loud bustle, and the endless maze of multi-story neon hum, you'll be glad to know that the Urban Man keeps his cool. I run casually up stairways in tall narrow buildings: loud club to bar to restaurant to record store to loud club searching for muchness. And as I wander along row after row of men pouring little metal balls into those ecstactically noisy Pachinko slot machines, I think, "Surely all human beings crave immersion. Not just in water, but in experience. Surely we all have some basic need for a kinesthetic overwhelm that takes over the brain and prevents us from thinking: Food. Sex. Rock and Roll. Video games. Vegas. James Cameron movies. And yes, Great Cities.
"Ultimately, only too much is ever really enough—so naturally, humans create more and more of everything. In fact, when you see a town like Tokyo, you have to say that, as a species, muchness is turning out to be our greatest expertise."
Next day I head up the Tokyo Tower, which looks like the Eiffel Tower, only of course, much bigger. The observation deck is jammed, but I'm interrupted from city-gazing by a performance artist doing some bit involving paint brushes and Japanese characters...which of course I don't understand. Suddenly he grabs me out of the crowd, and asks, in bad English, what I'm feeling.
"Overwhelmed," I smile.
"Sorry?" he asks. "Please explain word ‘overwhelm."
"Much," I say, widening my hands: "Too much. Muchness."
Now he offers me a brush and helps me paint the Kanji character for "too much" on a large white card, then makes me pose with it for the audience and his camera.
The Urban Man cocks his hat, stands with his back to the human-spawned sea of steel and concrete, and holds up the dripping-black sign. As the flash leaps out, I say to the uncomprehending crowd, "Here's to a muchness of muchness."
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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