Hyougen* (Japan)

Last week it was made official; Tokyo is the most expensive city to live in.  ECA International revealed the news that Tokyo had moved up one spot this year to claim the top position in their yearly Cost-Of-Living survey.  The survey also noted that Japan has more ‘most expensive cities’ than any other country, with Tokyo, Nagoya, Yokohama and Kobe placing first, fourth, fifth and seventh respectively. Personally, I don't find it hard to believe, my ’struggling artist‘ status is still very much intact!

I am also not surprised because I have really noticed that everything here is done on a grand scale, words I have never used together before but now find a perfect fit.  Japan rises above the rest when it comes to presentation in everything they do from the advertising in their city centres, to the architecture of the buildings, the immaculate displays of plastic delicacies in shop windows, to the hours of preparation needed to get into Kimono and other traditional Japanese dress. This must all come at a high cost.

There are multiple video screens scattered around the city advertising the latest Muscle Soothing plaster pad, the newest 20+ member J-Pop band and the biggest world-dominating Mobile Phone Corporation...all ridiculously huge. Some are even attached to the trailers of 18 wheelers and driven around the inner city streets at snails pace, subjecting the commuter to even more over-the-top advertising. The largest of the many monitors over looks the infamous Shibuya Crossing and is a whopping 7 stories high, positioned directly above the ‘busiest Starbucks in the world’.

Artistic, and sometimes positively ridiculous, architecture is rife in Tokyo, with government buildings, museums, train stations, retail shops, office buildings and apartments all getting equal creative attention.

It’s good to see the architects here have the open-mindedness and the courage to construct such bold, out-of-the-box designs, along with having a city that embraces it. At any given time in these visually stimulating surroundings of mine, I can look up and see something I would not have ever expected to see incorporated into a building design, often blurring the line between a building and an art installation.

And the same goes for the public art installations themselves. I thought Auckland and Wellington rivalled other international cities with their public art until I came to Tokyo. The ‘Statue with Many Faces’ next to the UN University building in Aoyama (itself another great example of crazy architecture) or the four storey mosaic on the corner of Omote Sando, are just two examples in hundreds of amazing art installations and sculptures dwelling in and around the city, in foyers of massive corporate skyscrapers and outside landmark train stations. I could write so much more about this theme of presentation, there are so many examples both physically present and part of the Japanese psyche.

Random fact:  The Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, is a national icon and Tokyo landmark made famous through many Japanese films and anime, as well as annual Tokyo related events. Looking to the western world for inspiration, the Japanese architect Tachu Naitō, based his design on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, which is 320 meters high. Upon completion, the Tokyo tower was 332.5 meters high. The tower's height was apparently determined by the distance the TV stations needed to transmit throughout the Kantō region...yeah right.

The quality of service provided here, I think, is some of the best in the world. “Irashaimase" (an honorific expression welcoming someone, usually into a place of business) rings from every single shop worker every time you enter AND leave any establishment, like a bell connected to the store’s front door. It's an amazing thing to witness. Shop assistants, venue owners, staff and even policeman and will go out of their way to please you. Whether genuine or otherwise, it is a pleasant change from the often impersonal and blunt service provided by our western counterparts. Another positive aspect of Tokyo is that although there is a HUGE lack of rubbish bins in this city, the streets still remain immaculate even in the most populated areas. Don't ask me how; it’s just the way it is. I wouldn't dare drop rubbish when walking around Tokyo because of how obvious it would be, I always find myself getting home with pockets full!

Which is also one of the not so awesome aspects of it all. Everything is presented at such a grand scale, including packaging.  The amount of wrapping you get here is mind-blowing. It is common to buy something that is already contained in plastic and cellophane, and upon purchase, find it rewrapped with a protective layer, then into a decorative wrapping, and finally into the shop’s sale bag.  Open up any bag of sweets or chocolate and you will find the very small portions individually wrapped, every time and with everything. Thinking about it can be nauseating. I found myself early on learning the words “Kekko desu” and “Daijoubu desu” to stop the excessive layering at shop counters.

Presentation even stops your pint of beer getting filled to the top at bars and Izakayas (Japanese drinking establishments which also serve food to accompany the drinks). All beer advertising in this country depicts the perfect glass of beer with 40% foam! Yes, from a visually attractive aspect, foam looks good, like it’s fresh or was just poured. But it has related to the way a beer should be served here too. If you’re thirsty, expect to swim through a lot of foam before reaching the delicious Nama biiru (draft beer) underneath. At least the Japanese do make some of the best lagers in the world.

I also find it hard to grasp that a lot of the only grass areas in the city, like the Emperor's Palace and the Shinjuku side of Yoyogi Park, have signs and ropes to stop anyone stepping onto it. They would rather a pristine patch of grass to look at then have it used for the purpose of enjoyment and interaction. Considering that grass and fields can be hard to find here in Tokyo, I find it sad and realise how much I have taken for granted in natural New Zealand.

Which is not to say that Japanese nature doesn’t have fascinating examples of presentation as well. The butterflies are beautiful. With the wonderful colours and shapes they come in, they truly look like something straight out of the Natural History Museum. So do the insects. The cicadas are the size of small birds and the ants can get humongous too. And if you head out from the city centre, you will find picturesque koi fish and baby turtles basking in the small streams and rivers that pass through the urban areas.

All in all, being subjected to this incredible presentation in all aspects of life here in Tokyo and Japan, is a constant inspiration and positive influence on myself, my art, and the presentation of all things I do.  Just fill up my beer next time, Onigaishimasu.

* - The way you present/express yourself, an object, music, art and such.

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David Duffin
Bethany Bennie
Clayton Foster
Jessica George
S. Hargis
Spencer Harrington
Molly McCarthy

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