Kawaii Kurt

Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 12:19 AM

The motto of a fictional character of mine was All Cliches Are True. As I was reminded twice, spectacularly, during my first full day in Tokyo.

Of course I knew about the (cliche of the) Japanese schoolgirl subculture, and its devotion to cuteness, uniformity, pinkness, intense girl-to-girl friendliness, technology, and so on. But my visit yesterday afternoon to an arcade of elaborate photo booths in Shibuya, right after school let out, was a hands-on gas. Now I viscerally know what that subculture looks and feels like, instead of just having read about it.
Our Japanese colleague Lisa Katayama accompanied me -- and indeed, as a man (or boy) I wouldn't have been allowed into the place without her. The booths are individually themed to produce a particular kind of group (girl) portrait, and the booths are large -- 3 times as big as the ones we know in America. Once inside, you're cued to pose in particular ways -- to 'vogue' according to prescribed super-cute situations. And then, in a second both, one adds stars and hearts and unicorns and flowers and mushrooms and and letters and numbers to one's portrait at will. And the final product is a postcard-sized, adhesive-backed montage of 24 photos, which is supposed to be cut into 24 individual stickers and shared with one's BFFs. I now have an uncanny desire to attend a boy-band concert with Lisa.
Another true cliche about Japan -- the insane, inefficient illogic of the street address system; that is, the lack of a system easily usable even by natives -- I experienced last night.
I left my hotel, and handed the printed, Japanese-language address of a restaurant to my cab driver; he loaded the address into his GPS device. And still, he couldn't find the destination. Finally he parked, turned off his meter, and wandered away to find a human being who could tell him where the (Italian) restaurant was. Twenty minutes later, he returned, drove 2 blocks, and we were there.

The ill-fated cab.

The ill-fated cab.


For a country where humiliation avoidance is supposed to be a prime cultural driver, how weird that this daily opportunity for minor humiliation is hard-wired into life. Consider the time (and gasoline) wasted -- and consider how many millions of times the same thing happens every year in Tokyo. Japan is one of the most supremely modern, well-organized places I've ever been -- with for this bizarre, gratuitous premodern exception.
- Kurt Andersen


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Comments [2]


So wild, I loved the radio show, I used to have my own collection in Japan in the 90ties so spent a lot of time in Tokyo. Regarding your picture sticker collection is asking for it really like asking to see your underwear?!

Jan. 15 2010 04:45 PM
Peter Krasinski

Ah! The taxis! One thing I learned was to have the phone number of your destination and then the driver can call to find out where it is. I did this after some chit-chat on a hot day in Kyoto trying to find my Ryokan in the maze of alley-ways right below Kiyomizu-dera. The wonderful driver let me out, gave me my luggage, and drove off with out being paid... a rare occurrence indeed in any city! Tokyo subway is truly astounding... with all trains seemingly timed perfectly for connections.

Jun. 24 2009 01:48 AM

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