a masochist in tokyo

Sunday, May 21, 2006


i can understand putting restraints on a project as broad as that of "neighborhood narratives." giving us certain boundaries results in something managable from both sides, the student and the teacher. with 6 weeks to complete a project, concept to execution, a framework allows for a starting point. and with as broad as this project seems like it will be, that framework may be all we have as a nesting ground for our concept. making minato-ku our playground makes logical sense.

so why is it that the first thing that comes to mind for my project is something best handled in jiyugaoka??

minato-ku encompasses a wide range of areas, from the space surrounding temple to roppongi and everything in between. what makes those areas different from jiyugaoka is in their inherent urbanization. what i want to capture in my project at this stage is the rush of being overwhelmed, being inundated with images and markings foreign to my mind, the feeling of having indecipherable branding and language shoveled into my head in such a densely populated space. minato-ku has that at points, but the overall feeling (especially in roppongi) is of a posh and post-modern take on new york. very hip, but very sterile as well. shibuya opens up a bit, its sheer density adding a distinctive and surreal feel to an otherwise very urban environment. jiyugaoka was my first impression of tokyo, and i would argue it remains yet my most vivid, and not even because of my proximity to it. cars are almost an afterthought here. it exists as a hyperactive network of side streets and alleyways, with the train station as the hub, within which it seems to create its own kind of perpetual motion. not like shibuya's mass hysteria, mind you, but rather more of an ocean wave of people on foot or bike, existing as one and the same with the rest of tokyo but having a distinctive color. where my project concept emerged was through bearing witness to the barrage of colors and shapes in the first few days of being here, and finding myself getting winded. i wanted to capture the moment i stopped being in awe of this place as a livable construct and began to feel oppressed/liberated by it.

at first, i found no equivalent experience in minato-ku. no oversaturation of language, fewer instances of sheer visual vomit, good, bad and indifferent. what i began to realize was that my experiences were being had on a smaller scale, that it wasn't the bigger picture of being in japan that was causing this feeling in me, but the day to day mishaps and revelations. for example, operating a cooking device i'd be able to use without incedent in the states and finding myself unable to break the language barrier. so i thought about what happens when one transposes their experience with something they might recognize in from home with the equivalent thing here, how it becomes more oppressive despite the built in familiarity. i chose my block in minato-ku for its corner shops and convenience stores, rudamentary parts of city life, but by definition more difficult to navigate and slightly more frightening from the outside looking in. i'm noticing bad design everywhere here because i can't read the information, a factor that colors its recognition in the states. in that respect, the language barrier is liberating, as i become unconcerned with message and totally focused on form. as i experiment with different means of showing this in my project, i've toyed with the idea of creating an appropriately cacophonous sound collage for my media component, letting the messages and marketing and underlying cultural meme overlap and create something (for lack of a better term) relentless.


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