Lily’s and my day sadly starts at 3:30 am, when our bodies tell us we’ve just finished a long afternoon nap. It gives me time to do some planning for Kyoto, coming up in less than a week, but I know I’ll pay for it later in the day. Emma has picked up Trish’s ability to sleep regardless of timezone or jetlag.
Today we’ll look for a variety of things, mostly modern Japanese stuff, but beginning with an antique flea market that happens only once or twice a month. It’s called the Odeo Antique market, and today is held outside the Tokyo International Forum, which is in the heart of the downtown business area, right near the imperial palace.
The market is modest, not huge by US flea/antique market standards. The regular sitter that takes care of Emma and Lily in the evenings is a huge fan of antique clothes, and goes to markets all the time. They have picked up on her hobby and themselves love a good dollar store and flea market. I, myself, am less interested in them but hopeful that this will be fascinating.
It’s not. As much as we try, this is just kinda boring stuff. There are lots of tea-cups. I’m sure to the trained eye, there is some cool shit, but we found this one to be a dud and give up half way through the vendors.
But the Tokyo International Forum, the largest trade and convention center in Japan is worth the visit. It’s a marvel of modern glass and steel design, and we can get all the way upstairs to the top floor where it’s airy and light. We are completely alone in Japan’s convention center, which again, seems weird. I can’t help but wonder where all the people are? Japan has 130 million people – over a third of the US’s population in a space that’s 1/20th the size of the contiguous USA.
Japan is indeed, going through a massive demographic crisis. Longevity is increasing and the population rate has dropped to the point that the population is actually declining! In fact, unless the trend changes, half the population will be over 65 in 2060, and there won’t be enough young people to support the economy. There are some that predict an economic death spiral. There are an enormous number of theories about why this is happening, the most common is that lack of professional options, and pressure to remain in conventional roles for women with children is a strong deterrent to having babies.
Fascinatingly, there is also a growing strange phenomenon Hikikomori, or shut-ins, who are typically young, mostly male and live off their parents. They have no outside contact with the world, and eschew sex for online porn and relationships with anime characters like Nintendo’s ‘Love Plus’ which promises you the world’s most loving girlfriend in a video game format. No doubt, something will change, an economic death spiral seems unlikely, although it’s been in recession for 20 years, so few are optimistic of quick improvement.
We head to Harajuku, the center of Japanese pop/teen fashion for the last decade, and search for Japan’s latest food craze… American pancakes! Although expensive ($50 for three) the pancakes are pretty amazing and the brewed coffee is perfect. One doesn’t get good brewed coffee outside the US very often.
The pancake place has a long line outside when we leave, apparently we got the just as it opened at 11am. It’s far from the longest line around, this is Harajuku, center of Japanese pop fashion culture and teen culture in general. When a place gets popular, lines go around the block on Sundays.
Today is a Sunday and the crowds don’t disappoint us. We are shoulder to shoulder most of the way down Takeshita dori, which is sort of like the St. Mark’s place in the East Village, NYC for japanese teens – a place that has seen it’s heyday, but still attracts tons of traffic. Most of the stores offer cheap clothes, although a few we go into have some pretty nice stuff.
There is a huge emphasis on costumes and costume play or cosplay, a favorite among japanese teens. The gothic lolita and rockabilly dude thing seem most popular. There used to be more of this in the area apparently, especially on the bridge to Yoyogi park, but the police have been scattering the teen crowds off lately say some of the local blogs.
Harajuku has a store called ‘Kiddietown’ that is eight floors of pure, mainlined, kawaii – or ‘cute’ in Japanese. It sells collectables from EVERY crazy japanese entertainment character ever made, including an entire fucking floor of ‘Hello Kitty’. Here is a selfie of me surrounded by ha
r ties. It’s actually kind of weird and cool to see the intensity and screaming. You’d think they had rediscovered the Beatles.
Lily found the Japanese candy making kits she was looking for – apparently there is a meme/fad among american teens to get these and try to make them without having any english instructions. The results are hilarious.
Emma and Lily know about 20% of the characters at Kiddietown, and most of the big ones except for the strangest and most prominent – Funyassi. Funyassi is blaring on all screens as we enter the store. Click to see…
Apparently this is a new creation, randomly popularized by the unpredictable tween zeitgeist, from a guy in Funabashi who made this heavy Metal loving ‘pear’ person and started doing promotional stuff. It caught on and now he is releasing videos and merchandise and soon a movie. We bought some Funassyi pear candy – weird shit!
Another longstanding tradition is the photo booth, where tweens go with girlfriends to take pictures of themselves. But in classic japanese fashion, the photobooth has been upgraded to the level of technological fetish. These are not your typical booths.
I wasn’t even looking for them specifically, but I saw swarms of teen girls going down into this dark hole of a basement ‘store’ and figured there must be something there, and indeed there was about 15 large 10×10 photo booths, each with a line of japanese teens waiting to spend $5 on a few photos.
It was incredibly hot and humid and I was the only person over 16 I think, definitely the only male. I was VERY noticeable shooting photographs, so I kept Lily and Emma close to avoid being a creeper.
The booths are just high end photoshop machines on which you can add makeup and words. Here was ours at the end. We didn’t really know what we were doing with the Japanese instructions.
We rest at a cafe, getting coffee and ice cream before going into the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi park, Tokyo’s largest shrine. It was pretty full, and was a lot like the other shrines we’ve seen except huge.
For dinner and our last events we go back to ShimoKitasawa where we found the veggie ramen last night. We spend $20 in the arcade, playing Mario Kart 2 again (Lily and Emma head to head are tied for wins.) And a silly punching game that yells shit in Japanese. It was so loud.
The area is full of hat stores and collectable stores of all kinds – stickers, dolls and hats. Did I mention hats? What is up with the hats? We wander in the cool spring night, enjoying being tourists in this awesome but funny place.
Dinner ends at the same restaurant as last night, and we are exhausted from many hours of shopping and walking. Emma falls asleep at dinner clutching her phone. A great day.
Japan doesn’t lack for culture, be it ancient edo tradition or modern pop idiosyncrasy, Japan hits you on the head with exceptional style and belabored custom.