Sunday, August 27, 2017

Japan: Retro and OTT


Fire hydrant, Hakodate
While we think of Japan as a bastion of both the startlingly new, and the reassuringly traditional, what is surprising is the rustic retro aesthetic that prevails, framing both modernity and history. At least in regional towns, it’s as though time stopped in the economic heyday of the early 70s, with urban architecture in shabby Jetsons concrete, trains and buses (and especially taxis) straight from my school days, schoolgirls in knee-length sailor style dresses on old-fashioned upright bicycles. The shops, the manners, the clothes, the haircuts - until we reach central Tokyo it’s as though punk and post-modernism never happened.

Rustic in Sapporo
Schoolgirls, Sapporo
Retro gift shops - Mt Uzu (Toyako)
Retro skyline, Hirosaki
Doorman and taxi, Hakodate
Hirosaki street scene
Hydrant, Hiraizumi
Cafe sign, Hiraizumi
Hardware shop, Yamagata
Retro in Tokyo (Nakameguro)
Retro in Tokyo 2 (Nakameguro)


OTT signage, Sapporo
In Japan, things are done passionately, wholeheartedly, obsessively. It can be seen historically in the adoption and transformation of culture and cuisine (tea ceremony, pottery, calligraphy, whisky). And it is evident in everyday life: hygiene (toilets! slippers! toilet slippers!*), etiquette (amazing courtesy and intricate rules one is bound to break), bureaucracy (booking trains or arranging any kind of business, conducted with great intricacy and amazing efficiency).

As a respite from madding Tokyo crowds, I hie to laid-back, hipster Shimokitazawa to check out the vintage clothes shops and … yes, more madding crowds following the whiff of a trend. The shops are all selling the same vintage Americana, and hipsters are outnumbered by sightseers. Even bohemian vintage is pursued with an obsessiveness that becomes conformity.

A tourism lady conducting a survey among departing passengers at Narita Airport: what activities did we do? (choice of around 30, list in order of preference), how much did you spend? (in each of about 12 categories), where did we go? where did we shop? where did we stay? … OTT. The poor woman.

And don’t get me started on the OTT ‘kawaii’ (cuteness)! And the gift shopping! And the packaging!

* Yes, it's true about Japanese toilets. While traditional squat toilets are still around, more common are new-fangled western-style, with an amazing array of functions. I am too intimidated to press any but the flush button (and some flush automatically when you stand). But sometimes just sitting down is the signal for music, or the sound of a rushing waterfall, to begin playing :)

Kawaii tram driver, Hakodate
Kawaii post box, Hakodate
Retro AND kawaii - 'face-in-hole' photo boards (kaohame) are everywhere!
OTT packaging for OTT gift shopping
OTT crowds in Harajuku (Tokyo)

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