The Tokyo Village
Part 1: In search of central Tokyo
Flashing neon lights, cutting-edge architecture and sprawling alleys filled with noodle bars. Intense crowds crossing massive intersections.
To visit, Tokyo is a megatropolis where the individual people can disappear. Living there, you realise it’s a collection of small villages; communities of people who collectively shape this incredible city.
I’ve lived in Tokyo twice and visited innumerable times over the past 25 years, but it wasn’t until I moved there with my husband and three children that I really understood the Tokyo village.
People planning a trip there can struggle to get a grasp on Tokyo – I’m often asked “Where should I stay? I want to be somewhere central”.
I also wanted instinctively to live ‘somewhere central’ in 2016 when I was planning the move back with my family – even though I knew full well that there is no ‘central Tokyo’, or rather, Tokyo has no centre.
Roland Barthes, the French semiotician writes in his famous essay ‘Empire of Signs’:
… Tokyo “offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty. The entire city turns around a site both forbidden and indifferent, a residence concealed beneath foliage, protected by moats, inhabited by an emperor who is never seen.”
I’d grasped the ‘inner void’ when I first lived in Tokyo in the late 90s, but this time I really embraced the fact that it is not one city. It is a collection of city-sized villages – from Shibuya and Shinjuku to Roppongi, Nihonbashi or Ginza. Each village is defined by its history, topography, and most importantly, its people.
Ever since, I’ve been exploring who these people are – both the ordinary people and the celebrated creatives – who, over centuries, have inhabited and created this incredible place. Each village brings to mind my favourite contemporary artists, architects and designers who tell Tokyo’s stories and reveal its secrets.
So next time I’m asked ‘where do I stay that’s in central Tokyo?’ I know to answer back ‘which Tokyo?’.
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The Tokyo Village / Part 2: My Tokyo