Home » Travel » JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–AROUND THE WORLD-Tokyo 3



“I Really Came Here for Serenity and Peace

and Koto Music”

I just got back last week from a trip around the world.  Yes sir, Shepherd gets around, by George.  And the last place I was in was Tokyo.  Most people who have done any international traveling, and studying the situation for the last couple of years recognize this, that, let me tell you, you’re going to hear a lot more from Japan in the next fifteen years.  I suspect a lot of things.

But Japan is a fascinating place, and beautiful in some ways—many ways, in fact.  I’d been in Japan once before, but it looked different than I thought it did. The one thing you will not hear much of in Japan—and I found this out as a kind of a disappointment—is Japanese koto music.  We always think of Japan as being a kind of serene, quiet place, little pools with rose petals falling into them and all that jazz.

rose petals

Forget it.  Tokyo reminds me of one continuous, revolving, Times Square twenty-four hours a day.  I mean, one continuous revolving.  So about the only place you’re going to hear any koto music is right here.  You won’t hear it in Japan.

In fact, I was listening to FM in Japan—they have a lot of dramas and stuff on FM, a lot of rock, a fantastic amount of rock.  But more than that, what surprised me is there’s a lot of jazz on FM over there.  The real stuff.  So, if you think jazz is dead, friend, it’s alive and livin’ everywhere else in the world—except here.

But Japan is a place that stuns a lot of people.  It really hits you right from the very instant you get into their fantastic airport, which is enormous and sprawling.  The terminal itself is a tremendous glass icebox when you get into it.  Just innumerable passages and signs, everything in both English and Japanese.

I carry with me, always, a little tape recorder and make comments to myself as I go, including some while watching Japanese television.  You can tell a lot about a society by its popular arts.  And I’ve heard all my life about the Ginza, which is almost like a combination of Fifth Avenue as a big, famous, shopping center, with an overlay of Times Square and also a touch of Coney Island, but then again, it’s specifically itself because it is Japanese.

It’s a place where, if you’re any kind of merchant at all in Tokyo, you have to be on the Ginza.  It seems to go twenty-four hours a day.  It’s been rebuilt and rebuilt again, sort of persistent like a fantastic mushroom cloud of commercialism, and it is wild, man, I’ll tell you.  I went down on a Saturday night.

Saturday night on the Ginza



I just walked around with my tape recorder.  Few tourists—almost all Japanese wandering up and down the streets.  Thousands of tiny shops and they sell everything in the world.  You can buy complex astronomical equipment and the worst kind of pornography, all cheek-by-jowl. There’s hundreds of unsmiling men in black suits, white shirts, and black ties all playing in slot-machine emporiums.  I’ve been all around the world, and I must admit I’ve never seen anything like the Ginza.

In keeping with almost everything I’ve found everywhere else I’ve been, our ideas of things are almost one-hundred-and-eighty degrees out of phase with what they really are, you know?  The one thing that you don’t find in Japan much of these days is the famous, serene, Japanese quiet little pool filled with goldfish, with drifting lily pads.  You see it on postcards.  But man, what you actually see is twenty-eight million Toyotas running all over the place with horns blowing, with guys working their two-way radios, taking pictures at the same time, running their hi-fi at full blast.

As I left the hotel, the guy at the desk said, “You buy hi-fi.  You take hi-fi home?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “How come?  You want hi-fi, we have good hi-fi here.”

I said, “Well, I really came here for serenity and peace and koto music.”

“Koto—oh, ah, ya.  Think we have some someplace.  Ya, ya, you may find it somewhere.  Ya.”


Serenity      and      peace      and      koto      music.

And I drifted on out into the street and I figured, “Well, Kipling was right.  Ha ha. East is East and West is West, and we constantly drift along.” Problem is, we have the same planet, you know?


rose petals
rectangular pools


[After Shepherd signed off on his around-the-world trip, the evening news of the hour focused on the latest Northern offensives and American bombings in the Vietnam War.]



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