Table Speech

The Pleasures of Strolling in Tokyo

July 14th,2004

 Mr.Saburo Kawamoto

 Yesterday, I met the world famous Taiwanese movie director Ho Shao Shien. As his works have been shown in Japan, he has many Japanese fans and this fall, his “Cafe de Lumiere” is scheduled to be shown. What is interesting about this film is that it is set in Tokyo, and depicts the daily life of a Japanese young lady living in this city. I was quite interested in what scenes would interest him in Tokyo.

 Director Shien has taken for a background the old city, with the girl living in Zoshigaya, which has an old temple. Zoshigaya is close to the modern Sunshine development area in Ikebukuro but still retains much of the old town. A trolley still runs there, and there is much to remind us of Tokyo in the 40’s and 50’s.

 The Yamanote Line appears frequently. Apparently trains running in a circle are an oddity to the Taiwanese. The heroine takes this train repeatedly, and gets off not at Shinjuku, but at places like Ohtsuka and Yurakucho. Yurakucho Station was built in the beginning of the 20th century and still retains traces of its age. I thought it was wonderful that Director Shien keeping this in mind used it for a location. He told me that he was moved by seeing such an ancient building still standing in the center of Tokyo.
Director Shien asked me to explain to him the charm and characteristics of Tokyo so that a foreigner would understand. I told him that Tokyo had suffered great damage twice in the 20th century, first the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1923 and the bombing of the last war. Thus, we have lost most of our old structures while on the other hand our vitality has enabled us to recover. An author once described Tokyo as a city ‘under construction’.

 Next, Tokyo has many ‘sakariba’ a word for which there is no English translation, as there are no such places in other cities. Sakariba such as Shinjuku has restaurants, every kind of entertainment. Tokyo has a number of such gathering places such as Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Roppongi, Uyeno, Asakusa, etc. Furthermore, they are located in the center of residential areas which is an unusual phenomenon.

 The third characteristic is the number of shopping streets. My home is in Hamadayama on the Inokashira Line. The crowds in the shopping street are a moving sight. There are individually owned shops selling tofu, vegetables, fish, etc. They hold festivals, the children have parties, and are quite energetic. This is a characteristic of Tokyo, as for instance the Chuo JR Line has a shopping street for every station, and I think that this is a rarity in this world of ours.

 In Japan, as we go further into the rural areas, we are becoming an automotive society. One must take one’s car to buy a pack of cigarettes. As suburban shopping malls proliferate, shops near the station disappear. But this is not happening in Tokyo.

 When our people come to Tokyo, they are amazed at the number of pedestrians. Pedestrians activate a community and energize it. Ginza’s attraction is in the fact that there are no pedestrian bridges. When they removed trolleys, the rail bedrocks were removed and used to pave the streets.

 In Taiwan, the railroad system is not developed, and therefore the streets and roads are crowded, in the Asian countries, the development of transportation did not experience the age of railroad building and went directly into the automotive age. In Tokyo, an extensive network of railroads was built with shopping streets so there is no need for having an automobile.

 Tokyo has been twice destroyed as I told you, but it is a pleasant surprise to discover the few buildings which have withstood the test of time. First of all the Tokyo Central JR Station built in the early 20th century. The Meiji Life Insurance Building facing the Imperial Palace moat building in the 1920’s.
There is the Meijiya Bldg., the Nomura Securities Bldg. It is nice to have these beautiful structures with us. There is the Wako Bldg. on the Ginza corner which was built in 1932.

 I have told you what I think are the characteristics of Tokyo. If you have a chance, I ask you that you see the brick structure of Yurakucho Station yourself, and directly experience our past.