January 20th, 2006


I (Heart) Tokyo

Tokyo is the world's largest city and most expensive city, thronging with the world's longest-living people. You can say that without leaving the realm of objectivity. But to say that it's far and away the world's best and most glorious city, over 200% more attractive than the next most glorious metropolis, New York, its women implausibly beautiful and deliriously sexy, its daily experience (even in the depths of winter) one of "irrational exuberance"... well, that's subjective, isn't it? But it's how I feel when I'm here.

Tokyo lives just slightly faster than the speed of my brain, eats food just slightly more delicious than anything I've ever tasted, and is always just a bit cooler, more knowledgeable and more refined in its tastes than I am. It's like a big brother I admire, a mentor, a guide to life. The last three days, brief but sweet, have reminded me how much I love this city, and how much I want to live here again some day. My friends here, gaijin and Japanese, all seem to have quicksilver minds; conversation flicks and jumps from topic to topic with an incredible liveliness. The city fills me with energy, sexual and intellectual.

Yesterday began with lunch at one of my favourite Tokyo spots (but there are hundreds of contenders), a cafe called Floor in Kitchijioji. I was terrified that Floor might have gone the way of so many of my favourite Tokyo places, and fallen under the developers' wrecking ball. But no, it's still there, perched atop a shabby, ugly building squeezed up against the tracks of the Keio Line. There on the top floor is a sort of charmed world.

Started by the people who founded Idee in Aoyama, Floor is a collection of worn, disparate elements held together by faultless taste. There's a matching mismatch of designer chairs. Lunch (fish, rice, soup) comes in beautiful big worn and cracked bowls, also mismatched, and the chai has big irregular flat rocks of ice in it. The Keio Line trains chug towards Shimokitazawa in their pink livery, filled with chattering schoolgirls. Sunshine floods in through the windows, and you flip through stacks of old copies of Relax, Casa Brutus, Ryuko Tsushin and Studio Voice while well-chosen music plays. You buy a Marimekko hat in the store downstairs, then check out a tiny record store selling old Famicom cartridges... And all seems right with the world.

The afternoon is spent in another, very different, but equally great, cafe, Masako Cafe in Shimokita. This is a windowless jazz den with hipster jazz playing non-stop, beaded curtains, and manga-crammed shelves. The waitress tells us that this place too won't be threatened by the development plans for Shimokita's north side. Good news!

The day ends at Office, Gaienmae, where I do an interview with Martin Webb of the Japan Times, and say an almost tearful farewell to my friends -- Florian, David and Shizu, Alastair, Alex Rich, Misa-Chan, Satoshi, Marxy (pictured)... and Tokyo itself, incarnated temporarily in the flow of head and tail lights on the Aoyama Dori below, with Hikaru Utada and other beauties gazing down benignly from the billboards above.