Shimokitazawa is for Hipsters


For today’s adventure, Rie took us out to Shimokitazawa, land of hipsters. I live in a pretty hipstertastic suburb of Melbourne, but I have to say, Brunswick cries itself to sleep every night because it’s not Shimokitazawa, and Fitzroy is secretly taking lessons in how to be as cool.

It was, first and foremost, geographically and architecturally interesting. Narrow, winding streets teeming with people and bicycles. At first I thought it must be closed to other traffic, but no, cars just creep through like they know they’re not welcome. The buildings were modern but not new, and residential apartment blocks sit half-hidden behind cafes, boutiques and bars.

The stores were a mixture of chains, small businesses — there was a yarn shop that almost inspired me to take up knitting just so I could touch its wool every day — and secondhand dealers. I nearly got lost in a tiny store that sold vintage men’s suits, 1970s birthday cards and American badges from the ’50s to ’80s. Oh, and John Lennon glasses, lots of John Lennon glasses. They were playing the Beatles. I admire their dedication to the theme.

Actually, I heard more western music today than I have previously. Conversely, most places didn’t have English or even romaji menus. Luckily we had Rie! She paid me a very high compliment in telling me that I pronounce words with a native accent. Note: my vocabulary consists of about five words so far.

(New to the vocab: ”Oiishi desu!” ”It’s delicious!” My seventh grade Japanese is creeping back, though! I remembered how to say, “I don’t like Paul-san”! More usefully, I remembered that “Oiishi desu ka?” is, “Is it delicious?”)

(Paul made lots of people’s lives hell in primary school, and the day we had to go around the class and name something we disliked, lots of people found a temporary release from their fears. I say temporary, because he bashed a lot of people up that lunchtime.)

Signs we were in hipsterville:

– I saw a Japanese woman with a tattoo. This came not five minutes after we had a really long conversation with Rie about tattoo stigmas in Australia and Japan, so it was quite shocking. Though a really lovely tattoo.
– In the cafe where we had lunch, a white guy sat writing a screenplay on an Macbook Air. One of the characters was named “Japan”. Look out for this movie, it’s going to be great, and not problematic and horrible at all.

The train ride home was less positive. Firstly, a middle-aged man stared at me for an entire leg of the trip. This happens all the time at home — we call them Brunswick Staring Men — but that’s usually impersonal and impartial. This guy was studying me quite intensely. I was warned that I might attract some attention in Japan, having curly, red hair, and I can live with being stared at, but it was a bit uncomfortable.

Even less great was the final leg, where a couple stared and openly whispered about Omo, CutSelvage and me. I learned a new phrase: “Kimoi gaijin” — “ugly/disgusting foreigner”. Compared with what sometimes happens to foreigners on Australian public transport, that’s really quite harmless, but the open rudeness was a bit shocking. They basically sat there and pointed at us one by one, “Ugly, ugly, ugly.”

Growing up, my parents would deflect any attempt at discussing racism in Australia by saying, “Everyone else is racist, too. Especially the Japanese.” Like, people of colour do it, so it’s okay (and if you don’t agree, you’re the one who’s racist!)? It’s a pretty standard response when Australians need to derail a conversation about our own racism. I always assumed it was just a stereotype of our own, or possibly a hangover from WW2, but apparently not. Douchebaggery: it’s for everyone.

Rie is a little shocked at how not offended we are by “gaijin”. I sometimes wonder if it’s really white arrogance, like, “Hah, they think they can be racist to us! Foolish people! We look down on EVERYONE!” But mostly I think — well, my own reaction is, “Yeah, to you, I am a foreigner, but that’s not an inherently bad thing.” There was a lively debate about this in the tea room at work when a restaurant called Gaijin opened up near the office. I think the eventual consensus was, “Om nom nom.”

(If it needs to be made clear, this is not intended as a universal pronouncement on race relations in Japan, or a “Woe, I was talked about and stared at I AM SO OPPRESSED!!!11111” kind of thing. I’m just processing my own experiences.)

WE ARE GOING TO DISNEY TOMORROW! We’re doing Disneyland, then staying overnight at one of the hotels, then doing Disney Sea on Tuesday. Rie is joining us for that bit as well. SO EXCITED. Expect lots of hyperactive Instagram spam. It’s possible I’ll be weeping inside due to the cost, BUT THERE WILL BE SPAM.

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