Thursday, 1 September 2022

Tokyo Atmosphere & Style Notes, 1992

Japan on the new accurate and compleat terrestrial globe by Gabriel Wright and William Barden, provided free as a promotional strategy to encourage subscriptions to The Geographical Magazine, 1783, published by Harrison & Co., London, mounted in mahogany stand
Let us away, Dear Reader!

To Japan. Home of delicious foodstuffs, cellotape-free origami packaging, Astro Boy and Monkey, and fashion swinging wildly between kimono sophistication and Kawaii odd-ball cutesy. Just to pluck only a few things from the welter of rich cultural offerings by this tiny but intriguing country. 

A sampling from a box of Japanese ephemera

It was also the first country to which Your Correspondent travelled, age twenty-five, as a "stop off" en route to London. As you do when the journey is long and flies over so many tantalising countries along the way. For no other reason, Japan was the result of a spin of the globe, plus an offer to visit an expatriate friend in Tokyo with whom to soak up some atmosphere made it irresistible.

Hatsushika Hokusai circa 1830 polychrome woodblock print from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Morning after the snow at Koishikawa in Edo, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lo! Mount Fuji after snow!
Ditto as seen from the window of a speeding bullet train


This trip was a herald for many firsts: snow, an earthquake (5.7 on the Richter Scale for the oh so curious), bullet train travel, karaoke - save for snow, each never yet to be repeated, mind. The sights, sounds and experiences all understandably thrilling. 

George Wolfe Plank fashion illustration, Vogue, Winter 1927
Would that my Winter travel attire was once so fine!

And while Pipistrello in the early 90s would never be held as an exemplar of good fashion sense*, this green and uncultivated sense did yet twitch appreciatively at the delicious otherness of Japan.

A kimono for 'round the casa

There were kimonos galore: upon the young sumo wrestling stars being (respectfully) mobbed for autographs in the street at the tail of their January season; adorning Minnie Mouse at Disneyland (how could one not go?!) and beautiful young women shopping and temple-hopping in Kamakura; on the sweet nanna hostess at the ryokan in Nikko and the actors in the samurai movie being filmed in the garden of the shogun's castle in Kyoto. So much style!

Central Hall, Mitsukoshi department store, Tokyo, c. 1930
Glorious department stores to dress the diminutive
But accessories are one size fits all!

Pilgrimage was made to the boutiques and divine department stores around Shinjuku, Mitsukoshi and Isetan both earthly paradises, whereupon I did quest to try for myself the Tokyo street fashion subset which turned my head and heart so. But I failed abjectly to find twirly miniskirts and thigh-high black suede cavalier boots to fit my giantess proportions. Handbags and exquisite wood and ceramic bibelots proved the longer-lived and ultimately more stylish booby prize.

Under the dazzle of millions of lumens of ugly-beautiful neon light was a night life proving no less otherworldly to explore. After the heady delights of busy little restaurants each serving their specialty, where might one turn before piling back into the sardine-tin-subway to head home? Perhaps a strangely seedy path takes in constantly chiming and chinking pachinko parlours or the multi-storey bookshops filled with salarymen pouring over X-rated manga, waiting for the trains to come back on line after an earthquake. 

Or one could climb a wooden staircase, slide back a bamboo door and step through a hand-printed curtain to find oneself in a six-foot square bar where you are welcomed by enthusiastic and tipsy karaoke singers occupying the four other bar stools. One really cannot back through the curtain now, so after a bit of, ahem, spirited fortification, you might find the menu pushed along the bar to you, for it is only polite to contribute. The last page of the laminated book is entitled English Songs but the offerings are listed in Japanese, so you find to your blushing terror you are about to launch into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - who knew there were so many verses?! - the seasoned patrons joining in to cover up your halting caterwauling.

These girls know all the hot places in town
Yamakawa Shūhō, Three Sisters, painted screen, 1936

Or,  shall we seek a music experience of a different kind, guided by a friend who has nosed out such hidden treasures before. Here you step off the busy, icy street into a nondescript building, take the rattly metal lift up to a corridor of small businesses shut for the evening, into a space where the perforated ceiling panels, partition walls and fluorescent lights indicate it must once have been maybe an accountancy office. But the squashy sofas, moody table lights and smokey ambience tell you it is a jazz bar. Solemn music aficionados sit finger-clicking and nodding along to the band, the musicians all seriousness, looking like they are Japan's answer to The Style Council. Their frontman, however, more akin to Iggy Pop, is writhing on the bland carpet tiles, his skinny stockinged legs sticking out from a bubble-shaped yellow and black bumblebee costume, antennae quivering atop his head as he screeches into the microphone. 

Of course, by now you are taking Tokyo's style in your stride but you still, sensibly, won't be coveting this cooler-than-school look for yourself.




* And for which, blessedly, hardly any photographs exist. Shall I, ahem, say something withering about the embrace by the present yoof of the daggy 80s (un)fashion in a much more well-documented way?


Image credits: 1, 2, 5: Flying With Hands; 3, 7: Wikimedia Commons; 4: via Gods & Foolish Grandeur; 6: via Old Tokyo


23 comments:

  1. I always had a big bum and small bustline, so the kimono was very appealing from the beginning. Happily the shape of the kimino flowed over the top of whatever ordinary body was underneath, so I focused instead on the material, colours and patterns. .

    So why did the shape of the kimono dress never become famous in the Western World?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Hels, yes, so much possibility and so much meterage with which to embellish. And a bit cosier than a muumuu :) Who knows why the t-shape never took off but at least it makes for a fresh style to feast your eyes upon when you travel to Japan.

      Delete
  2. Beautiful imagery so evocative

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eva: via email:

    Thank you for this delightful trip down memory lane dear Pipistrello. I felt I was back in those Tokyo streets and recall turning in wonder at the colours of Kyoto in spring. I too bought a kimono still hanging in my wardrobe unworn. 
     The joys of travel include revisiting those places in our minds. As cherry blossom in Melbourne displays her splendour I recall petal by petal the beauty of Japan. 

    Eva

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, cherry blossom season. Another joy to behold in Japan! It sounds like you also had a wonderful and impressionable visit, dear Eva, and I'm pleased you, too, think back fondly and often whenever your senses are touched. And it's so very nice to see you again!

      Delete
  4. On a recent Japan travelogue/documentary, the TV commentator said she could only find children's clothes in the shops. It seems that the current fashion is for girls/women to dress like children!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And yet blink, dear Cro, and this fad will soon be yesterday's news in Japan's style pages, to be replaced by something else just as short-lived and bizarre. "Cute & innocent" is a peculiar motif and I don't know which seems odder, dressing as a doll/cartoonish character, or as a straight up child?

      Delete
  5. What fun to take this trip with you. I made a stopover in Japan in 1988 but it was the last stop of a two-month trip backpacking across Asia after two years in Africa. By Tokyo, we were out of money and my travel partner was having a fit about getting home to get a job. So we saw only an airport hotel. A huge regret ever since. It's high on the bucket list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, dear ToF! It's been so long, so I'm pleased to have been able to whisk you away on a bucket list destination, in my own peculiar way. Travel companions can often put spanners in the works but lack of pesos ultimately kills the best laid plans. Then, as I'm sure now, Japan was wickedly expensive. When the day comes, though, you've a real treat ahead!

      Delete
  6. I WAS THERE IN 1981.........I SO NEED TO GET OUT OF THE USA NOW!
    THANKS FOR THE BRIEF ESCAPE.
    I AM HAVING ISSUES WITH COMMENTING ONCE AGAIN!
    XXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Contessa, you would have created quite a stir back in the day, statuesque and flamboyant! I am thinking you were there with a school trip? On a ship, or some such? No nighttime shenanigans in your vault, I hazard! Thank you for persisting with the commenting foibles. xx

      Delete
  7. Just noticed I was to become loquacious and thus deleted the lot. Isn't the secret of boredom, after all, to tell all?
    Thus, just let me write I enjoyed what I read fullstop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just noticed, dear Sean, loquacious or succinct, your commentaries are always enjoyed, too.

      Delete
  8. Speaking of Japanese ephemera, do you know of the concept Mono No Aware? This is your pal Urspo (Blogger is being difficult)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Urspo, it must be a tit-for-tat thing going on at the moment, for I had a small wrestle with WP last week. Mono no aware? No I did not but I have had a crash course this morning! Thank you for starting my day with a lesson and much to ponder.

      Delete
  9. Dear Pip, thank you for this beautiful post and those stunning photos.
    I am almost envious - my dream is to go to Japan (my father had been there and told us much about it), and I never made it till today. On my bucket list is Kyoto. (gardens)

    I own two beautiful old kimonos - one in soft pink silk (the other gives material for a very complicated story...) - and both are very long, I need an obi to wear it.
    Do you know the Kopfkissenbuch der Hofdame Sei Shonagon? (I have to look up the English title - ah: Sei Shonagon The Pillow Book. You might like it - (parts are a bit boring, other lists of her highly amusing).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Britta, I do hope you get to realise this one travel wish. Sometimes long put-off dreams can be a little anticlimactic but the otherness to Japan I feel will always single it out, in spite of the creep of cultural homogeneity.

      The Pillow Book? I thought first of the film, so arty to see in its day, but no, something new again for me! It sounds a little like a blog, hahah, so perhaps she should be our patron saint?

      Delete
  10. We see groups of young Japanese girls here in the Cotswolds following in the footsteps of William Morris or visiting the Lavender fields. They tend to dress in a fashion which is apparently called “Lolita,” i.e frilly baby-doll dresses.
    I have kimono envy - I would love one too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes for an interesting sight, dear Rosemary, to see some Japanese travellers styling themselves thus, placing themselves in the picture, so to speak. Freedom of expression in dress is given free rein but there is conformity within themes, some of which are rather kooky. I guess it's a notion which has grown out of the kimono concept - go wild with your fabric choice, so long as the shape ends up the same!

      Delete
  11. Oooh, Japan! I, too, experienced a few firsts while traveling to visit a friend living in Nagano. Corn-on-a-stick! Matte soft serve! Red-faced monkeys shooting across the roadway!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Everything Japanese always seems so beautiful and precise to me ..... so much detail and all done with patience. The kimono is beautiful. I think Cro might be talking about Cosplay? XXXX

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for commenting, it is greatly appreciated.

It can be a challenge to persist in the matching up of street signs and other exciting pastimes this comment feature may send your way, so if it gets too annoying, feel free to email your comment to me at pipistrello (at) flyingwithhands (dot) com and I'll post it for you.

Bats In The Belfry