Tokyo Tropes in Nebulas and Neighborhoods: Five Locations from Eternity to Home in Tokyo

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“At one end of the spectrum, photographs are objective data; at the other end, they are items of psychological science fiction.”

—Susan Sontag, On Photography, p 163

Let’s start in Yokohama at the red brick warehouses that withstood the 1923 Great Earthquake. In my constructed image where three unearthly objects hover in the night sky, imagine the center celestial body as Mars and the two moons as the distance between cultures. After World War II, American administrative offices commandeered those buildings. Occupying aliens who defeated Japan, who direct energy that fuels suns to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki—drawing the Empire of the Rising Sun into a new cosmos—stayed there. Yokohama’s north dock port facility is still the US Army installation designated as FAC 3067.

Next, let’s visit Shinjuku and explore Japan’s financial engine skyscraper district—where, from a single building complex, the bureaucracy of Tokyo Metro Government administers a population the size of Canada. Faux satellite dishes serve the illusion of communication in 1990’s homage to 1950’s space-age sensibilities that were never a Japanese science fiction trope. Launching center stage, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s homage to architectural functionalism is borne aloft trailing illuminated entrails. Its 21st century counterpart— Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower—casts its eye to the west; yes, always looking to the West.

After the futuristic built world of commerce, let’s get a breath of air in Rikugien—Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry—the suasive, the description, the comparison, the evocative imagery, the elegantia praising trustworthiness, the eulogies recounting and honoring these genuine words that create worlds of truth—built between 1695 and 1702.

Then we can wander through an ordinary neighborhood, like Nakano-sakaue,where the streets and alleyways are so typical they’re used to film “period pieces” for Japanese TV dramas that belie the notion of period. Times coalesce. I’ve seen floodlit1920’s vamps and philanderers, succubus and incubus sashaying special-effects-spattered streets; a week later disco-era bell-bottomed boppers genuflect to each other on one of the short-span bridges that straddle the Kanda River. Scores of tech personnel record their tenderness from the out-of-shot ecosphere of state-of-the-art technology enveloping their intimacy. Nakano-sakaue was my home for a decade; the trite and true reality of my everyday world was their fourth wall.

We end our walk with a Tokyo West multi-billion dollar night view I enjoyed for over a decade. The five-story walk up had free access to the roof—a favored shooting location one staircase up from my apartment. It was also flat and drained poorly. I alerted the owners.

“Water swelling the walls is from a structural breach; it will weaken the building.”

“Yes, fat walls. We’ll fix them for you for free,” they agreed, and re-glued the wallpaper to the damp surface.

Moldy plaster smells—earth after a rainstorm with an under-aroma of old books —mixed with the lemon-furniture-polish bouquet of industrial paste. No problem.

It wouldn’t matter.

Until the earthquake.