Monday, April 9, 2012

Tokyo: October 2, 2011

All marterials including photographs are ©2011 Ronald Gary Dunlap / Doglight Studios.
All rights reserved 

It's Sunday, and I'm heading back to Harajuku for the last time to see if I can find the allusive Japanese dance-gangs that, "according to the guidebooks," haunt Cosplay Bridge.

On my way to breakfast, I walked through the valleys of commerce and found a striking contrast. Japan's corporations have recently instituted no-smoking policies in many of their new high-rises. These multi-storied giants have outside smoking areas — where I found these handsome young company men enjoying a morning smoke. Within 20 feet of these stalwart knights of commercialism, I photographed a homeless man who had just spent the night in this architectural garden of stone. I don't know why, but I found this really disconcerting. I know, you see it all the time in American cities, but here in Japan, it just seemed a jarring, inharmonious juxtaposition.

An hour or so after breakfast, I exited the train station and walked over to Cosplay Bridge. As hard as I looked, I couldn't see one black leather jacket, much less a congregation. At a loss, I followed the crowds heading for Yoyogi-koen Park to see if there was anything going on there.

Yoyogi Park is the largest and most frequented park in Tokyo. Across the street from the National Gymnasium, this historic area has served a variety of purposes. From the military parade ground that saw the first powered flight in Japan, to a bivouac zone for American GIs after WWII (nicknamed "Washington Heights"), to being the Athletes' Village for the Olympic Games in 1964.Today — it being Sunday — it was filled with Tokyoites looking to express themselves through a myriad of different disciplines, from martial arts to American 50s-style dancing. It is one of the few places where people feel encouraged to express their individuality in a group setting.

As I made the rounds of the park, I found some of the dance groups beginning to arrive, but one group member informed me that things didn't start rolling for at least a couple of more hours.

Not wanting to wait around, I decided to make a fast trip down to Shibuya and, in a last-ditch effort, find the elusive pork ramen shop. Today, luck was with me again. Within 25 minutes I found the place and commenced to shoot away.

Back at Yoyogi Park, I thought that the dance groups would be all young kids, but most were approaching middle age, if not already there. They were well-organized and totally committed to their vision of America's "rebel" subculture. Many in these groups have been committed for years, and it is that certainty that gave them a certain charisma and worldwide presence.

Just before the entrance to Yoyogi Park, there is a large forecourt that is used as a meeting place for many of the park's patrons. This area (not Cosplay Bride) is where the two main dancing groups assemble.

It was mid-afternoon when they fired up their jerry-rigged sound systems and slowly began to amble out to form their dance formation. Once they got in the groove, the members took turns at the center spot to strut their stuff. It's all very Japanese in its formalization of aberrant American behavior. But it was a good time for all, dressed in leather-, jean-, or Eisenhower-styled jackets, with turned-up collars, doing their best "James Dean."

It was late afternoon as I made my way back to the hotel. As I waited at a crossing for a train to pass, I spotted a cute young couple and asked if I could photograph them. They were reluctant at first but finally agreed. It's a fine picture; they are very appealing, both in both physical appearance and mannerisms. They are a real credit to their city.

I lay down for a couple of hours, then took the subway to Roppongi Hills. My destination was Mori Towers Observation Deck. I wanted to get some photos of Tokyo Tower and Tokyo itself, at night, before I left town.

I found the observation entrance and purchased a combo ticket for the Art Museum and Observation Deck (you can't buy a ticket just to the Observation Deck). The Observation Deck is on the 52nd floor of the Mori Building, with a great view of Tokyo and Tokyo Tower. Unfortunately, it was not as dark as it needed to be, and there were subtle reflections on the windows, so I had to wait my turn to get a seat near the window, where I could get the camera lens up against the glass. I took a few shots of Tokyo Tower, then made my way around the room to get some different views of the city.

On the way down, the elevator dumps you out on the sixth floor. The first floor of the tower contains a combination of high-end retail stores and restaurants that you have to walk through to find your way out of the building. I think they do it on purpose so that you have to walk past the different shops, in hopes that one of the window displays will attract you in. A real pain.

Outside, I found a crowd gathering around a vantage point where you can get another view of Tokyo Tower. I took a couple of shots of the tower and those who wanted to have their picture taken with the landmark. It's amazing and a bit scary how the American body type is making its presence known in all the affluent nations of the world.

After a long day I took the subway back to the hotel and bed.

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