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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan, 1964, Part 8

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
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Urbanna, Va.— Tokyo, the capital of Japan, (population of 13 million) is ranked today in the top 10 populated cities in the world. In 1965, however, Tokyo was the most populated city in the world at 10 million. Deciding to explore this exciting city, we left Baby Liz with “mama-san” and caught the train at Zushi for an overnight.

Our guide book stated the name “Tokyo” (eastern capital) came of recent origin. From the time of the city’s foundation, it was known as “Edo” (estuary) and its bay the Gulf of Edo until the Restoration of 1868 when the capital city was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1932 the boundaries of Tokyo were extended to include many adjoining towns. Again in 1943, an additional extension expanded the city to an area of 796.5 square miles. 

At this time “Edo” was renamed Tokyo-to (Tokyo metropolis). During World War II, the city experienced many air raids and suffered heavy losses among the civilian population. However, ever since the end of the war in 1946, Tokyo has experienced rapid rebuilding and I saw no signs of the bombed ruins I had seen from still evident devastation from Nazi air raids in London just a year earlier. It seemed ironic yesterday’s enemy was recovering much faster from the war than our ally, England. I wondered if the socialist government in England voted in after the war had retarded economic recovery.

Our train ride was one hour which, compared to a three-hour drive by car, was luxury. The train also provided us a fine panorama of the rice-paddied countryside as we approached Tokyo.  

First stop was the famous “Ginza Strip,” the most expensive and exclusive shopping center in the Orient. At first glance I thought I was back in New York City as the colorful neon signs reminded me of Times Square. Exquisite stores bordered this famous street where tourists could buy some of the most beautiful goods in the world such as pearls, gold, jade, china, and silk.

Stateside, the label “made in Japan” erroneously carried a “cheap” connotation. But times were rapidly changing and we were witnessing the dramatic change.

Window shopping was fascinating as it delivered an immediate contrast of “western” and “eastern” fashions abutting each other. One manikin was dressed in an American-styled cocktail dress and high heels next to another dressed in kimono and thong shoes. Many writers have written that Japan is a country where East and West have successfully merged. This statement is so well expressed in the windows of department stores.

Another perfect example of the blending of two cultures was my first sight of a Japanese businessman walking down the street in a sleek suit and tie but wearing thongs on his feet! Such a sight was quite common. Apparently, western shoes took more getting used to than suits and ties.

Christmas neared and we were surprised to see Christmas decorations and it seemed that each store was trying to out-do the others. The Japanese had adopted Christmas as a “gift giving” festivity with no trace of religious origin. Their exquisite holiday decorations loudly proclaimed their innate artistic ingenuity.

Department stores in Tokyo serve dual purposes of both selling commercial goods and serving as a cultural arts center. While viewing the many displays of beautiful paintings, statues and china figurines, one would think he was walking through a museum instead of a store. This struck me as a clever, convenient and inexpensive way to deliver art to the public.

I was amused at the Japanese system of “segregation.” The first several floors contained only Western style clothing and products. The other floors were specifically for Japanese clothing and goods. We were amazed to arrive from a “Western” floor to an “oriental” floor as the escalator dropped us into this land of fantasy. We arrived in the center of a display of hundreds of colorful manikins dressed in various silk brocade kimonos, a sight never to be forgotten. 

We saw the Imperial Palace that paralleled the main boulevard through the city. It was surrounded by a wide moat and steep stone wall which cut off all intrusion from the public.

Next came the famous “Tokyo Tower,” which reminded me of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, although not as graceful. The Tokyo Tower was a major tourist attraction and crowded with visiting tourists hung with the latest cameras of the day.

Later that evening we dined in elegance at the Imperial Hotel, not caring that we were spending far too much money. You only go to Tokyo once in your life, we decided as rationale (this turned out to be true).  

We ordered the specialty of the house, beef stroganoff, and spent the night in luxury. In the morning we paid the humongous bill and returned home grimly knowing Chip was heading back to sea for two months the next morning. (To be continued)


posted 05.03.2018

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