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Tokyo = Japan?


Angry Postal Worker
28 Nov 2002
Tokyo. Gleaming megalopolis or characterless concrete amalgam of lesser settlements? I'm sure everyone has their own opinion . . . but that's not what I'm interested in.

It seems that whenever I see Britain represented in foreign media (usually movies, but comics, novels and even the news, too) London and London accents are always at the fore. This really annoys me. I live about thirty miles from Central London in what used to be a quiet part of the Surrey countryside - urbanisation has seen to it that all the farms have sold up and turned into either golf courses or business parks - and I hate London. Every time I go there I'm either harrassed by huge groups of kids, small groups of coppers or, in the worst case scenario, I'm mugged. Even the "local" BBC news programme focuses on London and is always going on about "our city".

Plus, of course, Britain is in reality three countries - four if you count Northern Ireland as a country separate from the Irish Republic. Thinking of London as the epitome of British life seems short-sighted.

So, getting to the point (finally). It seems that every readily available source on modern Japanese culture focuses almost exclusive on the Tokyo metropolitan area. There've been a lot of programmes on Brit TV lately about Japan - alas, mostly about the sex trade in, you guessed it, Tokyo. . . I'm convinced that this can't be all there is to Japan. What do people living in Okinawa, Kyushu or Hokkaido think about foreign views of their country when it's based on information about Tokyo? Do you lot think first of Tokyo when you think of Japan? What about foreign views of your own country? Tell me, tell me. . .

And even if no one responds to my post, at least I finally got to write "megalopolis". . . Twice!
Hi there,

I'm from the States, but I worked with quite a few people from the U.K. and most ( that I knew ) felt the same way as you do about London. I worked in Tokyo/Yokohama for 9 years. This past year I've been living in Nagano which is much more Rural.

Basically Tokyo and Osaka are the big two cities in Japan. I wish things were spread out more, but in reality if you're going to make it big you have to head to Tokyo or Osaka. In the States it's kind of like the LA and New York thing I suppose.

How do Japanese feel about it? I'm not sure, although my students were certainly surprised to hear that most Americans that I knew didn't know much about the popular visiting spots for Japanese such as Kyoto or Nikko.

I also used to manage teachers for quite a while and they almost always preferred Tokyo or Osaka ( Kansai ) area over any other area mainly because that's where all the action was.

The country side now that I've live in it for a year is very nice, but after my experience in Tokyo I would have to say that I wouldn't have missed for the world. The countryside and cityside are two different worlds in Japan and I'm lucky to experience them both.

Sometimes I think it's not so much that Japan advertises Tokyo, but rather the West demands it. I mean really, I don't think a lot of Japanese would put Tokyo high on their list of vacations. Most want a break from it. Yet I can't deny that their is a huge facination for Tokyo from the West. In fact almost all of my students associated the States with New York, and I'm from Seattle! I couldn't figure it out either at times. :)

I'm not sure how to reply to your question exactly, but perhaps this is a start.

Take it easy,

Ricoche :)
I think it's even harder to understand how one city can be associated with the States than Japan or the UK. Fifty states, fifty state capitals. I think I'm right in thinking that Washington DC is more like the administrative capital than the cultural capital. After all, most people who live in the city itself are civil servants. When I think of the US, I think of three cities; New York, Boston and Seattle (great coincidence, there, don't you reckon . . .).

As for Tokyo being pushed more by Westerners than Japanese, I think you're right. Presumably the same is true from the Japanese point of view, regarding London and New York. You have to wonder how these cities came to be so firmly embedded in the public consciousness, though. In the case of Tokyo, is it due to exposure in Japanese films? Considering that Western films are seen worldwide, perhaps it's little surprise that NYC and LA are so familiar to the Japanese. In the case of Japanese cities, Japanese films have until recently been fairly hard to find. So perhaps that's why Tokyo has become so familiar to westerners, considering that Tokyo features in all the Japanese films that immediately come to mind (Godzilla, Stray Dog, High and Low). Considering that, maybe Tokyo's prominence in Western awareness is the fault of the Japanese, after all? Seems like a chicken and the egg predicament to me. . .

What you say about the Japanese wanting to get away from Tokyo raises an interesting point . . . is that why Godzilla always ends up there? What a monster - both the embodiment of Nature's fury, and Tokyoites' frustration with their city. . .

Seriously, though, I think you've got the right idea with what you say about experiencing both city and country life. I'd like to aim at the middle ground on my first visit to Japan by going to Takayama in Gifu prefecture. Godzilla's never been there, after all. . .
Tokyo no more characterizes Japan than New York characterizes America. Can you say you fully understand America if you have only been to New York? I think not.

Yes Tokyo is a vibrant exciting place, but there is so much more to this country than Tokyo.
sushicam has a good point. there are a lot of places to visit to be able to say you understand the US. Just like Japan, there are a ton of places to see before you can say you understand Japan.

If you want to experience the US you have to hit Detroit (the motor city/motown), New York & Chicago (our business hubs), DC (our Admin), California (for trend setting), the south (self explanitory).

There really is no one place to go to get all of the US in. We even have 2 mountain ranges, one of the world larges parks(yellow stone), and a giagantic hole (grand canyon).

I don't know enough to explain about japan without leaving out a few things, but I am sure it is very similar (same with the UK)
Yeah, that's what I thought. Regarding Tokyo, though, here's a thought: In the 1950s and 60s Akira Kurosawa was accused of "not being Japanese enough" because his films portrayed Japanese as fickle human beings with complex emotions and relationships rather than a stoic, inscrutable people. I'm fairly sure that attitudes to Japan's place in the world have changed by now, but could it be that Japanese people don't share our thoughts on Tokyo, rather preferring to present Tokyo in particular as well as Osaka as the face of Japan, leaving the rest of the country to their own private use? I think both Osaka and Tokyo are the most Western-friendly cities in Japan, so presumably to fit more easily into the modern capitalist world, perhaps these cities are the faces (Tokyo for business and leisure, Osaka for industry) that the Japanese are most comfortable presenting to the rest of the world?

Just a thought. Admittedly one that popped into my head whilst I was on the toilet, but what do you think?

Personally, given the choice, I'd prefer York over London as the face of England. I'm sure the Scots and the Welsh would also agree that London is pretty much stuck up itself, and definitely doesn't represent their countries. Parts of the historic Old Town in Edinburgh burnt down recently - bet that didn't make global news reports. Imagine the media frenzy that would have resulted if parts of the City (financial centre) in London suffered the same. . .
I think the Japanese tend to have a jekyll and hyde affair with the west. On the one hand, they want to emulate things from the west, and so there is the fashion and whatever they have imported for their own fashion (and I am not saying the west = america, since a lot of the influence comes also from Europe), and on the other hand, they want to keep everything at arms length, since they have their own traditions and customs (that tend to keep changing with the latest trends on some level, and remain the same on another) that they want to keep.

The young folks for the most part are rebellioius of their lot in life, wanting to become just like the americans, but as they grow older, and become assimilated by the corporate mind (assuming they are able to get hired), they lose most of their rebellious nature, since to do otherwise will mean you'll get canned from the job.

A great many people have very shallow, superficial thinking on the one hand, and yet are very deep and thoughtful at other times, even those that tend to be very shallow most of the time. There is an inherent sense that the traditions and cultural upbringing, assuming they had any in their upbringing, tends to make many of the J-folks timid and meek towards foreigners, but they can be harsh taskmasters towards their peers. This split personality view of how they are tends to be what I see in them...

No two Japanese folks will agree with each other in private, but in a group, they tend towards a general consensus and appear to agree with each other. Hard to say they are this way or that way, since many times they, themselves, do not know, nor do they ponder on such themes, like their western counterparts. This is not to say they are idiots with no thinking, but they do not think of things the same as westerners do, and that tends to lead to a great number of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The safest view maybe to say I know absolutely nothing of what they think, since I really don't know...only when I get into arguments with them, do they reveal some aspects of their true feelings....but even those can change with the latest trends as well....
confused? well, I always am... :D
:D :D :D 😄 :snore:
With a reply like that you could be Japanese yourself. . .

I think what you've said does basically support what I said before. I'm pretty sure it does. Maybe. Possibly.
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