Letters of Life

Tokyo Daze (I)

I’ll try and make it a Top Five List of First Impressions for now. It’s early into my 10-day reconnaissance trip of the Land of Hello Kitty.

#5: As urban places go, it feels like Hong Kong on a larger scale. Nipponphiles will cry foul, but when I found myself on a cold, grey afternoon just off the majestic (or vertigo-inducing) junctions of Shibuya, saw the little restaurants lining the narrow streets, their curtain strips fluttering like flags inviting me in with the promise of yakitori, ramen, tonkatsu, and up and down, people dressed in sharp black, I got an instant HongKong flashback.

Also, the endless malls and stylish window displays, the distinctly Asian preferences in food, fashion and all things aesthetic, the urban parks, all put the Pearl and the Rising Sun together in my mind.

#4: The perfect sweater weather (16-18 deg C) means all the high-street looks of Paris, Milan, and London make it possible for the women here to wear boots (high or low), leggings with dresses, pastel trench coats of the season, and layered Liberty print florals that are the hallmark of Spring/Summer 2010.

I fell in love with the sweet floral look which seems to have taken the Tokyo girls by storm. I tried on a floral one-piece pantsuit and looked like a clown. I put on a floral blouse and felt like an aunty. I put on a cotton floral scarf and felt better. I’m still me with this. My daughter says maybe I’m “too rad” for the Holly Hobbie look.

Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon was pure entertainment for someone who loves clothes like I do. Besides Liberty prints, there were neon Converse sneakers, hip-hop edgy looks, Cosplay… the Japanese have a way of assimilating the external, distilling the essence and making it all their own. What else is new?

#3: The incredible politeness that envelopes the citizenry is an art that appears to have been taught from the cradle. This politesse can be a mask to hide myriad thoughts and feelings. For instance, I am greeted by countless saleswomen as I stroll pass the many concessionaires in womens’ wear (at least 3 levels) of Seibu, Tokyu, Lumine, and similar malls across downtown Tokyo. Yet, when I deign to make eye contact with them, I find most of the time, they have already looked away even before they’ve finished their greeting. The Asian reserve is always there.

#2: As expected, Tokyo, like London, Paris and New York (and some say Dubai), is expensive. It came to a point where I actually miss Singapore shopping. I also know that the gladiator heels and Liberty-print wedges I covet will arrive on our shores and retail at half the price; it’s just a matter of time.

#1: There is nothing more comforting than an electrically-warmed toilet seat in a public toilet in a park. I’m serious. It’s cold all around, you’re losing heat as you seat motionless, and the warm-as-toast toilet seat in the cold public toilet is as comforting as a security blanket from home.

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