Two Sided Tokyo

The Tokyo taxi driver always wears small white gloves and a pressed navy suit. He always keep his car waxed to a luster and ensures the white doilies on his seats are always clean and wrinkle-free. His doors open and close at the push of a button, so that his customers don’t ever need to worry about that little chore — but if they accidentally touch a handle or any part of the car, he races to polish it like new. He is honoured to be your taxi driver. The best taxi driver he can be.

This behaviour goes beyond cabbies. The security guard patrols with the precision of a wind-up soldier — his steps are flawlessly timed with his partner’s, his arms always reaching the same angle before swinging back. The store attendant bubbles with enthusiasm to help customers with anything — a wide smile shining as she offers “let me dispose of your trash”, and a pleased giggle as she walks away.

All workers have perfectly ironed clothing, keep their hair tidy, and wear official accessories — from gloves, to scarves, to caps — with pride. There’s a dignity to the job. An immense satisfaction to impeccable performance. It’s as if every person wakes up each morning with a mission: “my job is an ATM designer, and I’ll design the best damned ATM you’ll ever see”. And then they do.

Lasers, billboards, jingles, smiles! Robo robo! Clap clap! Tokyo sub-culture is the opposite of the quotidian workday. Everyone has a release from professional life. A fantasy to escape into.

The video game arcades would naturally be my vice. Floor after floor darkened to a midnight blue, accented by glowing pink, yellow, and green phosphorus. Each machine a siren calling for hundreds of hours of worship. The hint of cigarette smoke enveloping dead-eyed players whose hands move faster than light.

Then there are the maid cafes. Young ladies dressed like dolls, with effervescent smiles, in pink pastel rooms. Upon entering, they announce you as “The Prince Taylor” or “The Princess Amanda”. They would just love to serve you coffee, sit down for a tittering chat, or take a picture with furry accessories. Of course, they only refer to you directly as “my master”, wearing their tiny doll dresses as they laugh at all your jokes.

Maybe that’s not your style either. Well, what about Robot Restaurant — dinner and a show? Imagine a medieval jousting tournament. Now change the knights into tiny ladies with barely any clothing. And replace the horses with giant chrome robots. Add a sprinkle of pre-planned story — but don’t worry, its mostly lost behind the pulsing lasers, smoke, and ear-shattering J-pop soundtrack. Did I mention the anthropomorphized cowboy horse shooting a revolver while riding his own metal stallion? Yeah, this one gets weird.

From bondage dens to cat cafes, there are countless ways to destress after a day of honourable work. An extreme on both ends. The two sides of Tokyo.

Images by AJ Fraser and Taylor Pereira