“Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geography in any traditional sense ceases to exist.”
There are those who love Tokyo instantly, taken in by the sheer size and peculiar ugly beauty of the place. It is putting it mildly to say I was not among them. I will not bore you with all the petty details of my discontent, nor will I attempt to describe the mortification all that pettiness inspires in me today when one or two of the obnoxious things I once said beginning with “you know, the Japanese…” or else, “the problem with Tokyo is…” all of a sudden flash in my brain as I pull the vacuum cleaner out of the closet.
Instead, I will draw your attention to a single moment of transformation, experienced on the 52nd floor of the Roppongi Hills  Mori Tower on a particularly fine fall day of the sort we have often in Tokyo, when the misty veil of summer lifts all the way up, revealing a gargantuan, pensive city, home to millions , the product of untold and invisible busy bees bent on building and building and building their nest.
As I gazed out from behind a bank of enormous windows, for the first time in the two years since I had arrived in Tokyo I felt that I had left the jumbled Escheresque city below where outside is inside and geography in the traditional north, south, east, west sense has ceased to exist, replaced by destinations and departure points scattered across a universe of flesh, glass, stone and steel.
There on high, Tokyo as Tokyo revealed itself at last: a point, albeit an extraordinarily large point, on the globe. One place, among many. In a suddenly pensive mood I considered the green mountains of Takao  and Shizuoka, whose names I did not yet know, that rise like sentinels to the west, with distant snow-capped Fuji looming on its purple throne beyond. I took in the sweeping scope of the Kanto plain that stretches out to the north, the fertile ground of modern Japan’s growth. And to the east the languid bay, far closer than I had ever imagined from the confines of my cubby-hole Shibuya apartment, with Chiba’s Boso Peninsula further on, high above which jumbo jets flashed like distant panes of glass in the last rays of the setting sun, bound, or so I imagined, for Calcutta, New york, Toronto, Paris, Lisbon, Sao Paolo and Honolulu.
A handful of years on I often find myself thinking of that day. Go up, I tell myself whenever I begin to forget. Remember where you are in this massive, strange, lovely place among places. A city among cities. This point in space.
- The monolith towering above Minato-ku, visible from points all over the city. It's full of brand-name shops, high-class restaurants, a jazz bar, a private penthouse club, two housing towers, dozens of businesses and the Grand Hyatt hotel. It casts a massive shadow over the Roppongi area of Google Maps. It's also built on special plates that rotate during earthquakes — quite the experience from the 52nd floor viewing platform. Eclipsed recently in novelty by the new Tokyo Midtown Project which opened in May, 2007. ↩
- Tokyo is the most populous metropolis in the world, with over 35 million people in the Greater Tokyo Area, about double the New York metropolitan area . Of the 12 million in Tokyo proper, only 350,000 are foreign residents, around 3 percent, while Roppongi is rumored to be a full one-third gaijin. How many is 35 million? Enough to make your any attempt at a cross-town underground commute before 10 am a sweaty, ribcage-bending, one-toe tug of war against the inertia of a 30-ton aluminum-skinned worm. ↩
- Verdant hiking paradise still within metropolitan Tokyo. Particularly popular among the 50-70 set. Not to be confused with this Takao [wikipedia]. ↩
- Name: 52nd Floor of Roppongi Hills
- Time of story: evening
- Latitude: 35.660696
- Longitude: 139.729239
- Map: Google Maps