Tokyo and the Olympics

There is a bustle and activity within Tokyo far surpassing the tempo of any other oriental city. Tokyo has a date with the West as this year’s host city for the Olympic games. Unfortunately, however, Tokyo is ill-suited to play the role of host. There is serious speculation in responsible quarters that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Tokyo and japan to meet the many commitments on schedule. Japan is just not geared to handle the tremendous influx of tourists that a sporting event of such magnitude will bring to its shores. Tourist facilities, while far superior to those of most countries of Asia, are still woefully inadequate for the numbers anticipated to arrive.

Roads in and through the world’s most heavily populated city simply do not exist as we know them in the West. The few that are adequately paved and passable for automobiles still have innumerable bottlenecks that impede the normal flow of traffic. Japanese authorities estimate that it will take the country twenty years of constant construction to attain present European standards.

Street signs are almost nonexistent, and to look for them is wishful thinking on the part of the unsuspecting foreigner. The few streets that are marked have the disconcerting habit of being changed every few flocks, or of suddenly going nameless after intersecting another street. The Japanese are belatedly erecting a few signs on major arteries in the fond hope of mitigating an otherwise intolerable situation. One occasionally stumbles across a weatherbeaten remnant from the Occupation, but for the most part these signs are meaningless to the average Japanese. Traffic signals, too, are poorly placed and frequently ignored by the impatient Japanese motorist. In short, driving conditions are hazardous by American standards.

Even sidewalks are an ephemeral luxury flanking only the widest avenues of the downtown business districts. These, too, have a disturbing tendency to disappear at the most inopportune places. Rain turns the city into a quagmire of mud for the pedestrian, and the Japanese resort to boots and galoshes during inclement weather.

Public transportation, while punctual, is not much better. Trains, subways, and streetcars are terribly crowded throughout most of the day — crowded to the point where students from various universities are hired during the rush hours to help pack the commuters inside the cars so the doors will close.

To make conditions even worse, all mass transportation stops after one o’clock in the morning, despite the fact that bars, coffee shops, and many other places of amusement often remain open until three. Resorting to taxis is only a partial solution to the problem for the foreigner. English as an international means of communication in the world of the taxi driver is only theoretical. In effect, it is difficult and usually expensive to move about the city without a minimum knowledge of Japanese. A fair working knowledge of Tokyo’s maze of streets and alleys is also indispensable, since the traveler is expected to enter into the spirit of things by helping the driver locate the intended destination. This can be an ulcer-producing business with a wildly clicking meter staring one in the face as the driver nonchalantly inquires at one police box after another for further instructions as to how best to reach a certain point. Invariably, and in spite of repeated directions, he wall miss the mark. Gesticulating wildly during this unfortunate experience, while sometimes helpful in Hong Kong and Manila, does not seem to be of much aid when coping with Tokyo’s hodgepodged street system. Indeed, it is possible for the shorttime visitor to move about this city only by constant reference to prominent landmarks and a good city map. Even with the use of these aids it is a time-consuming business. One consolation is that many Japanese get lost, or are lost, most of the time.

New construction is proceeding on an accelerated basis twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, which intensifies the confusion and disorder. The thousand and one projects that should have been completed years previous have now been dusted off and are being frenetically pushed into high gear. New subway lines to congested and illserved areas are under construction, with the restilt that miles of streets are torn up or blocked off to traffic. New Western-style hotels, long overdue, together with scores of other sorely needed public buildings, are suddenly taking shape and piercing the city’s skyline. The sounds of the pile driver, the jackhammer, the cement mixer, and the riveter’s gun all compete with the thin wail of the noodle vendor’s flute and the clack of the watchman’s wooden blocks as he makes his rounds in the Tokyo night cautioning the restless city to beware of fire. And well he might caution the city, for fire hydrants remain a hidden mystery, while it is common knowledge that the fire department will not — cannot — arrive at a blaze in time to save the structure. Consider yourself fortunate if Lhe liremen are able to save the neighbor’s house, since under law you are responsible for all damage incurred.

In addition to the confused maze of twisting, narrow streets, one must reckon with the Japanese system of numbering houses. Actually, the houses are not numbered at all, but rather the land the house occupies. The result is that one may discover numbers 87, 323, 15, and 21 all on the same block.

Tokyo is in the throes of a metamorphosis. The old order is giving way to the new. Yet it is only a surface change —a window dressing, so to speak. With the eradication of the old landmarks and the leveling of entire sections of the city for an antiseptically hygienic facade, something of Tokyo’s character disappears. Just recently a European investigation committee for the Olympics completed its findings on the city’s stale of preparedness. They deplored the city’s changing character and lack of exotic, oriental charm, fearing that the exotic and offbeat were exactly what most tourists would hope to discover on arrival. The facade Tokyo is now desperately trying to erect in time for the October opening of the games differs only in detail from the face presented by any Western metropolitan area.

Gaudy neon signs wink their multihued lights throughout the night advertising Western-style coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and a vast array of products ranging from Sony and Toshiba transistors to Fujiya ice cream, Windows of the large department stores reflect American and European tastes, and it is only occasionally that one stumbles across a truly Japanese - style establishment. Teen-agers prowl the city’s streets after dark in their skintight slacks and ducktail haircuts, snapping their fingers in time with the latest rock and roll tune blaring from the nearest loudspeaker. What the European committee failed to discover, or at least to report, is the changing values of this country. In order to understand some of the reasons for these changes, it is first essential to know something of the Japanese character and attitudes.

The Japanese do not like foreigners. They may admire and respect our technical accomplishments; they may understand the necessity for mutual cooperation in order to survive in a tense world; but individually they wish to consider themselves culturally superior to the West. With the exception of the Chinese and the Koreans, all foreigners are euphemistically lumped together under the broad heading of gaijin (“outsiders”). Foreigners attain about the same rung on the Japanese social ladder as small children. They are looked upon as irresponsible beings lost on the outer fringes of Japanese culture.

What a foreigner says and does, therefore, is of no real consequence; the Japanese rather expect gaijin to break all the rules. It matters not at all that they themselves constantly violate the rules of normal behavior; they are Japanese and thus know what they arc about. The foreigner, on the other hand, breaks the rules because he does not know any better, because he is in the category of a small child. And yet, paradoxically, the Japanese arc extremely sensitive to what these inferior people say, write, and think about Japan.

It is their desire for the proper facade that goads them into a frenzy to complete Tokyo’s face-lifting at this time. The Japanese realize the deficiencies of their cities and hope to gloss over the most glaring shortcomings by the time of the Olympic games. At almost all of the major stations in and around Tokyo there are large signs cautioning the populace against public urination, intoxication, and spitting — all quite common sights - not because they consider these acts inherently evil, but for fear of criticism by visitingforeigners. The people are constantly exhorted to behave with decorum because the eyes of the world will be upon them.

This perennial fear of unfavorable criticism constantly irritates them; it coerces them to construct overhead speedways comparable with those in the United States; it rattles them, with the realization that there are not enough hotels catering to the needs of foreign tourists, to erect new ones around the clock, in spite of the knowledge that it will be impossible to keep them all filled with guests after the Olympics are over and forgotten. Japan — above all, Tokyo — must be modernized, in the Western sense of the word, by this summer. That much the man in the street can understand; and the terrible price in face they will have to pay if Tokyo’s accommodations fall short of the accepted norm gnaws away at their self-confidence. Gone are the pimps and panders from in front of the Nichigeki Theater. Streetwalkers have all but disappeared from the more frequented areas of the city, and the police have belatedly begun to crack down with increasing severity on the many gangs of chimpira (“young hoodlums”) thronging the more popular night areas.

If Japan’s elders arc bewildered by this sudden turn of events, then it is even more difficult to fathom the feelings of Tokyo’s youth. They arc truly the lost generation. They arc caught up in a spiritual and moral vacuum; the traditional appeal of Japanese morality and culture no longer suffices. Perhaps this vacuum can be partially explained as the natural concomitant to Japan’s defeat in the last war and its resultant occupation. Nevertheless, the traditional floating world of geisha and samisen, long associated in the mind of the Westerner with Japan, is fast dying. The shrinking holdouts of an older order arc supported primarily by middle-aged men who have reached the social and financial top of the pile after a long, hard struggle. Geisha arc disappearing from sheer inability to propagate their species. There simply are not enough patrons financially able to support the luxury of their company when the bill often exceeds one hundred dollars for a few hours of sedate entertainment. Besides the financial strain on the pocket, it takes an excellent command of the language, as well as a thorough knowledge of Japanese literature and history, to receive the full value for one’s money. The difference between informal Japanese and the classical language is formidable. Indeed, it has been said in jest, although there is much truth in it. that Japanese is a language of scholars; but unfortunately, most Japanese are not scholars. Hence it is a rare individual who has any more than a nodding acquaintance with his cultural past. And the geisha’s charm and reputation rest squarely on her ability to make puns, quote classical poetry, and perform adequately on classical instruments such as the samisen, koto, and drum. These are considered her chief social accomplishments, and sexual prowess is not numbered among them. She is and remains what her name implies: “art person.”

A deep feeling of inadequacy impels the Japanese to study foreign languages in ever increasing numbers. Conversely, however, it also drives them in desperation from one conversation school to another every few months when no immediate progress is realized. They hope to achieve proficiency in a foreign language by some magic formula — to discover the secret of instantaneous English or automatic French in time for the Olympic games. They labor under the delusion that their listeners are always waiting for the chance to pounce upon their grammatical errors and mispronunciations. This fear of ridicule, the fear of what others think of them, is their biggest stumbling block in the formation of easy friendships with outsiders.