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Towers and Temples

by Ryan Bahry

    It’s been a few hours on the bullet train, the highly efficient rail system that makes the island of Japan virtually interconnected.  Nestled as comfortably into the seat as possible, I glimpse the sights passing by the window, a whirl of images that leaves an impression about the development of Japan.  Indeed, the view during the four-hour train ride from Tokyo to Kobe is suggestive of what one might find throughout Japan—a series of highly compacted buildings, all located within close proximity of one another, and stacked.  The buildings are growing vertically into the sky, and it seems that on an island the size of the state of California, there is becoming little alternative to expanding upwards.  Even on a train ride from the port city of Kobe to the large urban center of Osaka, one notices the same thing by observing the passing images outside the train window.

    One of the best examples I spotted of this steady upwards expansion was a glimpse from the top of the Tokyo Tower.  Shooting up the elevator contained in a sea of steel enclosures, one is able to step out onto the observation deck and enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Tokyo in it’s entirety.  Tokyo’s massive identity as a global city quickly becomes evident as one views a skyline of skyscrapers and towers as far as the eye can see in all directions, illuminated and bespeckled with the exciting glow of city lights, providing stimulation throughout all hours of the night.  However, even in the transnational urban center of Tokyo, I caught glimpses of the vernacular.  One need only stroll through the side streets located within the Tsukiji fish market, the focus of Theodore Bestor’s article “Supply Side Sushi: Commodity, Market, and the Global City”.  Bestor’s article examines the global factors at work within the seafood trade, and discusses the fact that much of the highly-valued bluefin tuna sold in the Tsukiji market is actually caught by fishermen in New England.  He examines the trade and how the business transactions taking place within the Tsukiji market are the result of efforts from around the globe. 

    Despite the transnational identity of the Tsukiji market, it is lined with small shops and restaurants in tiny alleys and walkways that lend to a very vernacular feel.  The gigantic, ancient Asakusa temple and marketplace in the midst of the urban-sprawl is another glaring contrast between the vernacular and transnational in the bustling city.  Even in cities that are famous for their cultural richness, such as the old imperial capital of Kyoto, the contrast between the transnational and vernacular identity of Japan were stunning.  There is some sense of irony to be found by pulling off a busy highway through the modern city into a parking lot outside of the temple grounds.

    The influence of global companies and corporations were also predominant throughout much of Japan.  The streets of Kobe were littered with billboards for designers such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel.  The vending machines, found on practically every street corner, feature the face of Tommy Lee Jones advertising for the Boss coffee products contained within.  The towering, luminous golden arches provided a safe-haven for those travelers wishing an egg McMuffin rather than braving another mysterious menu. 

    The visit throughout Japan was an interesting glimpse of the blatant contrast between the transnational identity of a world power and the vernacular images of a country rich with cultural history.  Japan is clearly a country within which exist many cities influenced by the expanding globalization.  From the brilliant sights and sounds of urban Tokyo to the developed and modernized cities build around old temples and shrines, the idea of the global city was eloquently communicated. 

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