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Friday, April 12, 2013

The outskirts of Tokyo

I went for a car ride with my partner and three of his work colleagues to Chigasaki last weekend, about 50 km out of Tokyo to the southwest - past Yokohama. For someone who rarely makes it more than about two stations' distance outside anywhere within the Yamanote line, I find the satellites of Tokyo are a bland wilderness pretty much undifferentiated whichever point of the compass you happen to follow.

Car sales yards one after another, representing every Japanese car maker and a few of the European ones, lining the long, flat, straight main drag; fiberglass-paneled shops, restaurants and fast-food joints in pastel greens and pinks and yellows, built to be pulled down and replaced soon, sporting fake steeples, giant cutesy, garish 3D plastic icons, revolving signs and huge carparks; mini-hatchbacks everywhere driven at 40km/h plus the occasional all-white low-rider sedan with an orange-haired discontent slumped in the driver's seat; raamen shops, udon shops; huge shopping complexes a few hundred meters back from the main street grumbling the same practicality; fiberglass-paneled or concrete four-story cubes of love hotels sporting a slapped-on fake flowery trellis and pretend bay windows; slouched five-story blocks of apartments covered in what look like beige bathroom tiles; little plots of carparks with 6 or 7 spaces here and there, each with its own ticket machine; stand-alone family houses everywhere, all two-story, gabled, brown, and with a low concrete block wall out front; covered shopping malls that intersect the main road with English-sounding names; and everything overhung with a cobweb of gray concrete poles of power lines with suspended junction boxes and thick black sheathing.

This is car territory and there are no impediments to smooth progress besides traffic lights. If you are hungry you can brake almost anywhere, park and eat. You get lost if you don't have your navigation on, but you always have it on. This is a conurbation, and everything merges into everything else.

Our main destination was a friend with an online retail business who had way too much stock for the amount of business he was now doing, but had had to move into a warehouse half the size because of the rent. We sorted through the thousands of jeans and trousers, the hundreds of shirts, ignored the DVDs and CDs and books all from a few years back, and found a few things we could wear, one or two of them real finds, and for very cheap.

We were back in Tokyo by evening, flying back into and through the city on the overhead highway that loops around the metropolis, much of it built over the city's canals. We park the car back in Sumida, unlock our bikes and cycle back home over the bridge.

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