Tokyo Stories from Curious Outsiders

011 : Joseph Badtke-Berkow on the 52nd Floor of Roppongi Hills, Minato-ku
Born 1980 in the U.S., Joseph Badtke-Berkow currently works as a editor and journalist. He came to Japan on a working visa. Why Japan? Love and family, work and sushi. He digs the following Tokyo bits: the views, the walks on and near Tsukishima, weekends in the mountains, changing seasons, and the incredible pride people most people take in all kinds of work. He, however, is a touch miffed by brain-dead service, drunk people peeing on the entranceway of his first story apartment, those who refuse to speak normally to a foreigner or pretend not to understand what you say, and expensive taxis. For more info on Joseph Badtke-Berkow you should send an email or visit his website.

image: pbyjp

“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 [1] 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 [2], 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 [3] 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.

referenced works

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Verdant hiking paradise still within metropolitan Tokyo. Particularly popular among the 50-70 set. Not to be confused with this Takao [wikipedia].

location information

  • Name: 52nd Floor of Roppongi Hills
  • Time of story: evening
  • Latitude: 35.660696
  • Longitude: 139.729239
  • Map: Google Maps


  1. Isela in Mexico, D.F. thinks: Maybe only Mexico City is bigger… except, we’re simmering Fridiego, not jumbo Escheresque.

    I’d like to visit Tokyo someday. I know for purple mountains, but not a languid bay.

019She laughed at my effort and responded in English, ‘Long time, no seduction.’ — Qi Rari

018In my dreamy state, oblivious to signs and announcements I often boarded the wrong train.— Momus (aka Nick Currie)

017I was fifteen years old and it was one of those nights.— Yuko Enomoto

016That ear of corn just wanted to go home— Guttersnipe Das

015With his painstakingly coiffured mane blowing in the wind— Digits Wolfowitz

014Her voice, even across languages, betraying her worry.— Olly Denton

013I saw them drawing bamboo sticks from a silver rectangular box.— Daphné Haour

012A simulacrum of someone else's home, equal parts comfort and loss.— Adam Greenfield

011Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geo­graphy in any traditional sense ceases to exist.— Joseph Badtke-Berkow

010I could hardly make out anything apart from his glowing eyes...— Uleshka

009Shibuya was like a stroke.— Alice.d

008I cried for a while and wiped the dead bracken off my karate pants.— David Cady

007Both my tie and my disposition hang limp as I calculate the remaining distance to the station.— Chris Tobber

006I once read about a Chinese maiden whose feet were unbound by a cruel man …— Claire Tanaka

005The Bad Girl strutted off and I was left with a ham egg pie.— Guttersnipe Das

004I arrived expecting an irritated Japanese person to step out of the crowd and identify himself as Hideki.— Ashley Rawlings

003The woman at the ticket window seemed surprised to see another human being. I was the only visitor.— Andrew Douglas

002Flanked on either side by adult manga shops and the like, the smell of yakitori in the air.— Jean Snow

001For two weeks the day began with this morning walk, our shared routine.— Joseph Squier


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