How do we re-capture the moment of our first arrival to a new place?

Tokyo Journeys: Travels in Psychogeography

“Help us leave nothing but footprints, not only for our beautiful planet earth but also through inspiring others to pursue their passions and dreams. Take what does not belong here and create it into something that will help drive our enthusiasm and passion.”

The idea of a journey is crucial to understanding psychogeography. It explores how outsiders can view and feel connections with cityscapes through the experience of living past and present alien situations. The inspiration for this article came from the current ‘trendy’ and popular craze of having a digital nomadic lifestyle. But rather than looking at the internet as a tool that no longer condemns you by geography, we have decided to undertake a case study about a trip to the unique city of Tokyo.

Psychogeography definition: An approach to geography that emphasis playfulness and ‘drifting’ around urban environments. A whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.

In school westerns are not taught a lot about Japan, the only knowledge we have of the country are the stereotypical views - everyone bows, wears kimonos and talks rapidly. Now that we are in our our twenties our ideas are changing. We are gaining a better understanding of the culture and recent news.

Due to its sea of concrete and over-population, many Japanese frown upon the urban sprawl of Tokyo. One example is Junichiro Tanizaki, a Japanese novelist from the early 20th century. Known for his stylistic astuteness and representation of unusual psychological situations, Tanizaki was inspired by the works of Charles Baudelaire.

Baudelaire came up with the concept of a “gentleman stroller of city streets”, a “botanist of the sidewalk” and named this stance the flaneur. The idea of the flaneur was to help understand Paris through particular positions the residents took on, while also experiencing what was going on in the urban environment and combining historical, anthropological, literary, and sociological ideas between the individual and the general public. A flaneur is a passive figure, perceiving the city from a separate point of view.

I doubt that in those years, the years of prosperity during and immediately after the World War, there was anyone even among the most ardent supporters of Tokyo who thought it a grand metropolis. The newspapers were unanimous in denouncing the chaotic transportation and inadequate roads of “our Tokyo”.

Psycho-geography dates to France in the early twentieth century. It began as an addition to Dadaism and Surrealism. On such a journey, people tend to let go of their own personal time, relations with others and other activities they may be involved in, allowing themselves to be attracted by the fascinating landscapes and people they come across. A derive perspective is that cities are psycho-geographical shapes, containing many other elements that try to put entrances and exits in particular sectors.

Even illnesses have their own individual spaces, which we are then confronted further by unfamiliar masses of space contained within their geography and sociology. Is there any good reason to be walking in the city along its recognisable patterns?

… a symbolic order of the unconscious

There is no accepted universal definition of psycho-geography; however, there is something behind the idea that cities and places have emotional elements beyond the concrete. Many writers have looked into it, and now others have explored these links.

Will Self is a well-known student of psychogeography who has a creative method in the field. He found achievement and satisfaction from being involved in an adventure that did not enable him to use any mechanical transportation, such an airplane or train. This restriction had an interesting impact on how the way the world worked physically, and also the mental state on the subject as it meant you would need to create your own experience. Self’s proposal took the idea to a new level.

The French on the other hand, thought psychogeography was about creating one map, or making new revolutionary maps. This was simply not just the case; it is also about reconciling different people and memories to form new places.

Psychogeography essentially opposes limited definition as it covers a wide area of activities, to help raise awareness of the natural and cultural environment. At its heart, psychogeography is about going on a journey, it requires maps and maps mean traveling, even if it is just in our minds. Instead of going straight from A to B, think about your surroundings in a lot of details, consider the history, the people living there and what influences they have on the building, cars, streets, etc. This was the emotional journey that became the centre of the Situationist’s project. The Situationists found that forcing someone into a certain procedure of communicating with their environment meant that it was both physically and ideologically limiting when approached with contemporary architecture.

Cities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

The values of the urban landscape were made up of two feelings, firstly the soft that is light, sounds and time. The second is the hard, which is the construction of the physical thing. Both that make up this journal in Tokyo, 2012. Tokyo is a massive city, with a population of 13 million within the 23 wards. Thus, Tokyo is 50% larger than the population of London. Greater Tokyo’s population is a massive 32 million.

From the Manga themed streets of Akihabara to the major shopping districts of Akihabara, the districts share bizarre architecture — huge road layouts and large buildings disappearing into the clouds, but with shops are still small. Each shop has small interior spacing and they are stacked one on top of each other; their advertising is shown in this way too. It is easy to miss a particular shop that you are looking for, as well as obtaining a stiff neck. There is a weird but wonderful Tetris technique that comes with being in this city.

Comparing Tokyo to a place which a westerner can comprehend, London — this iconic British city goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.

Places, Memories and Journeys
In my mind I had imaged Japan to be quite picturesque, yet on arrival there was nothing attractive about Tokyo, nothing pretty. It was a sea of concrete for miles, with barely any greenery to be seen. Maybe its because it’s the winter season so everything surrounded by a grey haze, give it another month and everything will blossom.

Walking past every wall with what a westerner would describe as scribbles of Japanese type was quite elegant and creative. Linking each character with an object or animals to help memorise them in case they came of any use to me later on. The temperature was 7 degrees when on arrival into Tokyo, which seemed quite surreal because of the amount of snow passed on the train. Straight away there is a noticeable difference in culture — politeness, appreciation, positive reception being received from many people.

With barely any streets names to be seen, it was a challenge finding my way. Finding check points — passed the row of trees, left at the park, over the crossing, right at the futuristic house, straight down the ‘road with holes’. With one wrong turn your sense of direction could be completely unsettled, due to the large areas of dense habitation; all the shops and buildings were the same, but different.

As for Tokyo Metro — this is arguably the most comprehensive metro system in the world, Tokyo’s complex array of lines cover most districts in the 23 Tokyo wards and also reach out into the suburbs. Both stations and rolling stock are largely uniform and highly modern, as befits external perceptions.

All this being said Tokyo is one of the most interesting/wonderful/fascinating places I have ever visited in the world and definitely somewhere worth writing home about.

“But one day they all came back to me — just for a moment. I was in Yokohama, gazing once more from the Bluff at the divine spectre of Fuji haunting the April morning. In that enormous spring blaze of blue light, the feeling of my first Japanese day returned, the feeling of my first delighted wonder in the radiance of an unknown fairy-world full of beautiful riddles — an Elf-land having a special sun and tinted atmosphere of its own.”

How do we ever re-capture the moment of our first arrival to a new place?

Share with us your psychogeography experience.

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