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