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Japan Reading: Donald Richie
  Over vinegared eggs at the Hotel Okura, John Nathan responded with surprise - "You mean you haven't read Donald Richie? You should read any of his books and talk with him while you're in Tokyo."

Donald Richie

After reading a slender volume on Tokyo and partway through the Richie Reader (50 years on Japan), I met Donald Richie in the lobby of his Ueno building in January 2002. Out in front, you can see the Shitamachi museum and the broad Ueno pond filled with tall swamp brush.


He suggested a Chinese lunch. As we walked, I mentioned that I enjoyed the part of Tokyo as he had written it. He pointed out that old Tokyo, all of Tokyo is being gentrified. Gentrification is like Taxidermy - now instead of Asakusa, you have "AsakusaLand" - the living dead. Somehow he believes that Uguisudani is going downmarket, which is badnews, because then it's just dead, not the living dead.

Over his favourite black bean tofu, he asked about my work and my interests and he shared of his broad theories about Japan.


"homosocial" - sex-segregated socializing. It's not a new theory applied to Japan, but the perfect frame for much of what I've studied about Japan. Nearly all the magazines here are tuned for it, the clubs, the workplace - this is a country that expects men to be social with men, and women to social with mostly women. It explains part of the unabashedly gendered fun available here (women and men each have their own specific social environments that are thoroughly male or female tuned), and it helps explain some of the explicitly gendered roles in the workplace.

Many of the cutting edge folks I know here "heterosocialize" in a way nearing the United States. After he mentioned homosocial I remembered my times in Northern California with groups of boys and girls gathered at restaurants and bars. Here I very seldom see that. Even groups of high schoolers here are either groups of girls or groups of boys.

If America is the productive future of the integrated world, then heterosocializing is an eventual direction for this faltering economy. Of course all these issues are up in the air here in Japan; homosocializing is likely already in decline.


The irony is not thick here. There's little overt sarcasm or cynicism. There is miss klingon 2001 and me ambient innocence. Many Japanese cultural products, when exported elsewhere, have this unreal aura about them; they're straightforward, gleeful, wacky. Immersed in a fantasy world that we can only approach (as "geeks" in America) How can these people immerse themselves so thoroughly in something so fanciful? So silly?

So "cosplay" (costume play - dressing up as characters from video games or animated shows; nearly always of Japanese origin) enthusiasts in America seem at least slightly silly; here in Japan they are just part of a culture that knows its fun to dress up. And why not? Innocent pleasures.

Innocence, which of course makes any purience that much more exciting. In the presence of fresh meat, a hunter is all the more aroused.

in and out

Foreign men seek out Japanese ladies as a way in to the culture, while Japanese ladies seek out foreign men as a way out. This is an essential tension that imperils many intercultural relationships.


After lunch, I thanked him and we parted ways. I was standing outside the restaurant when I saw him leave. He walked slowly, admiring several young men at a construction site - lingering slowly as he strolled gazing at their smooth arms lifting bags of concrete.

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