Friday, November 24, 2006

Akihabara and Christmas

Akihabara (or Akiba) is the well known Tokyo geek neighborhood. It’s home to gizmo, tool, electrical supply, manga and anime shops. For me it was must see JP. While there’s plenty of selection in Akihabara the prices are high, maybe 30% higher to someone used to shopping at Costco, New Egg and EBay in the US. It’s either a happy coincidence or price fixing but prices are pretty much the same from shop to shop. Whatever it’s failings the USA is a shoppers paradise. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t score anything in Akihabara. I couldn’t leave without a USB coffee warmer and a USB fan. No sign of the elusive USB butt warmer or USB butt cooler but maybe my shopping techniques are more set to shop but not to drop. I know that they’re out there somewhere in Tokyo because just about everything electronic and is. Japan’s industry is world famous for good reason. And Japan was well built with Japanese made precision tough tools. With so many lousy tools on the market back home I bought several Vessel screwdrivers. I also scored a few electrical plugs and connectors that are made for tight and/or angle installations, Home Depot and Lowes carry crap. I steered clear of the anime and manga shops. I peeked into a few and saw a staple of Japanese men, soft core pr0n comic books. I had heard that some of the women handing out flyers on the main drag of Akiba, Chuo-Dori, were dressed as French maids. It’s true but I have no idea why. One of the French maids I saw was handing out flyers for a restaurant called Melty Burger. The Japanese seem to borrow freely from other cultures. Americans borrow too but in the USA it’s because we’re borrowing from people who brought their culture to our culture when they came to the US and it gets smushed together somehow in the diversity we always hear about. Not so in Japan, aside from African and other exotic prostitutes the country is pretty much closed off from the immigration and melting pot ways of the USA. Japan is a homogeneous country, just about everybody here is Japanese. There’s a small Korean minority and the Japanese supposedly don’t let the Koreans forget who’s number one (and it's not the Koreans). So the Japanese are free to pick and chose whatever cultural elements they want, often from TV, and to interpret it any way they want. How they interpret a teenager in a frilly French maid’s outfit handing out flyers for a restaurant is beyond me, please email me with any suggestions. The Japanese have also adopted Christmas. It’s Christmas Jim, but not as we know it. For one thing, except for a small minority there’s no Christ in Japanese Christmas. Never had it, probably never will. But they go nuts with gift giving and trees, ornaments, ribbons, tinsel, Santa Claus and many of the usual trappings of the season. TV this morning was wall to wall with live shots of Christmas lights in Los Angeles and the Macy's Thanksgiving parade in New York. This year a special guest will be showing up in Tokyo, one who loves little children and knows what they want in the true spirit of the season. Michael Jackson is coming to town. Just because it has no religious significance doesn’t mean that stores treat it any differently here. At least in the US we pretend that the holiday is grounded in religion. Sometimes. But in Japan they don't even pretend. Stores play wall to wall Christmas music, some of it with quite religious lyrics. Since most of the population has no idea what the words mean the religion in some of the songs means nothing to them. Maybe the Japanese have more in common with we Americans than I originally thought.

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