New Amsterdam, New Paris

Saturday, November 22, 2008 - 07:41 PM

I will probably never be an expatriate. But that doesn't mean I don't fantasize in every foreign city I visit about which neighborhood I'd live in. In Tokyo, I think it'd probably be on the Naka-meguro canal, a quiet, Amsterdamish stretch of just-hip-enough gentility only two subway stops from the high-rise neon clangor of Shibuya.


And by Amsterdamish I don't just mean the canal. My favorite bits of Japan share DNA with northern Europe -- the seamless combination of the up-to-date and traditional, the devotion to jewel-boxy craft and detail, the appreciation of minimalism in all realms, the surprising doses of humor to leaven the high-style sobriety.

Consider just three characteristic shops along Naka-meguro canal. Higashiya sells tea and sweets, but the sweets are each like little abstract sculptures, the teas are kept in dozens of pristine and dramatically lit white cardboard boxes behind the counter, and the storefront is a gorgeous copper slab into which they've cut a single deep opening, maybe two feet by one foot, more of a giant keyhole than a window. Nearby is a cafe and upscale children's store called Snobbish Babies. And I ended up spending almost $100 in a button shop, of all places, called & Stripe: 'button shop' hardly does the place justice, since it's more like an art gallery in which buttons are the medium.

Not that Tokyo is wall-to-wall chic, of course. It now makes sense to me that Paris Hilton is a star in Japan. A small but significant fraction of young Japanese women -- the aggressively cute, highly glossed, vacant-and-faintly-debauched-looking ones -- are Paris Hilton simulacra, I swear.

- Kurt Andersen



More in:

Comments [1]


I am following your blog about Japan since I read about at Lisa's TokyoMango.
I have to say that I had the s a m e feeling about this part of Tokyo when I've been there on March this year. Looks like Amsterdam in many senses, quite strange... I will try to send a picture that I took with a pair of bikes, which is very Dutch as well.

I only disagree about Paris Hilton...
Have a nice time in this lovely lovely country!

Nov. 22 2008 08:53 PM

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