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


More in:

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

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Supported by

Supported by