All Consuming Consumerism

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photograph by Gavin La Grange

More than once on this trip we’ve had people remind us that Tokyo is not the ‘real’ Japan. I am still finding it hard to fathom that Tokyo is real life at all. This is a city that caters to my every whim in expert detail. Having said that, I’m from a small coastal town in Australia where most shops don’t even open on Sundays and I am easily impressed.

In the three weeks that we spent in Japan, I had several particularly spiritual experiences. One was when we stayed in an 800-year-old temple run by Buddhist monks, but I also had a number of out-of-body experiences with the Retail Deities. A few blocks from our hotel in Shinjuku stood a store that housed six stories of timepieces. In Harajuku we were hustled into shrines to cosmetics, shoes, lingerie and every incarnation of kitsch.

Photograph by Gavin La Grange

It wasn’t until I discovered the Shinjuku branch of Sekaido that I had a profoundly enlightening experience. Sekaido is a five story stationery store- Shangri-La for stationery fetishists around the globe. Seeing the look on my face, La Grange agreed we should meet up in an hour since he had his own sacrificial rituals to perform in Yodobashi Camera (the sacrificial lambs being our budgets) and left me amongst the highlighters. Sekaido stocks every grade of pencil you can imagine in every weight and grip. Fountain pens were locked away in glass cabinets with long trails of zeroes on the price tags. I fondled handsome leather binders with the sort of enthusiasm that gets people arrested. It is a specific form of luxury when a functional item evolves purely for the sake of aesthetics. Or do function and form always meet in the middle somehow? Chickens, eggs, etc. Either way, Sekaido should top the list of any serious shopper making a pilgrimage to Japan.

A massive highlight was the immense absurdity of the pet stores. Head to Roppongi, go into a pet store and marvel at the weird little monkeys baring their teeth at you. Monkey, why are you so small and ridiculous? I don’t know. I want one. Also take note of the unnaturally adorable cats for sale. I cannot fathom why they are up to $3, 000 USD but it may be something to do with having really fat faces. Everybody likes a fat face. Although as soon as you get away from the main city streets, plenty of strays come out of the woodwork. There is about a fifty/fifty even split between the strays who will approach you and beg for affection, and those who seem to be pleasant but end up swiping you in unmitigated fury.

Photograph by Gavin La Grange

In case you can’t afford or find a fat-face of your own, Ikebukuro hosts a special little place called Nekobukuro. Within the depths of a cat-centric pet store you will find an apartment inhabited by about fifteen cats. This is a haven for the strange sub-species of human (including myself) who start to wilt after a fortnight away from their pets. For 500 yen per person you will receive a handful of biscuits (to hopefully woo the cats into accepting your affections) and will be welcome as long as you please. I saw one guy asleep in there, but I don’t think that’s the intended concept. The Japanese seem to have an uncanny ability to fall unconscious in public places. It’s so safe that there’s no problem in doing so.

Photograph by Gavin La Grange

Lastly, Shibuya is absolutely on top of the list. Where else can you see a crossing being flooded every four minutes with hundreds of the best dressed people you’ve ever seen? This is on par with Harajuku for youth culture, but leans closer to street as opposed to prissy. It has an enigmatic atmosphere, with casual streetwear boutiques, beats flooding out of record stores and magazine warehouses. And with guys like this (pictured above), it’s also a universally badass place to people watch.


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