Donald Richie
Introducing Tokyo

Most of Tokyo's streets are not named, though important corners (village crossroads) are. Plots are not numbered, though finished houses are, with the result that addresses have been assigned in order of construction rather than by location. Though Tokyo resembles, with its web of villages, say London, the capital of Great Britain does not usually insist upon the visitor's going to the mailman, policeman, or local tofu-maker for help in locating an address.

Thus, among the many charms of Tokyo there is not only the novelty of living a small-town life in the largest city in the world, there is also the charm of the unexpected. The city no longer has a plan, and the streets wind as they will, emerge-as they are able, stop as they must. The wanderer often becomes gloriously lost.

There are some, to be sure, who do not find this charming. Among them would be that early traveler John La Farge, who in 1886 wrote of Tokyo as 'this big, dreary city of innumerable little houses;' and, a century later, the Japanese novelist Kobo Abe, who commented that the number of villages did indeed appear 'limitless' and that in addition 'the villages and their people all appear identical. So, no matter
how far you walk you seem to remain where you started, going nowhere at all.'

Much of the charm of Tokyo, then, is the charm of the disconcerting. If you want to be constantly reassured, then you should go to Kyoto or Kanazawa, places one masters with a map and a free afternoon.

Tokyo can also be unnerving. For example, the building that always told you where you were in particularly mercurial Ikebukuro suddenly disappears, replaced by a hole in the ground, replaced, a month later, by an entirely new, entirely different structure.

This rapid rate of growth, this visible decline and regeneration, though at times unnerving, is also natural in the way that life in any self-renewing landscape is natural—as J. M. Richards perceived, though perhaps not intending a compliment, when he wrote that 'the Japanese, having totally tamed their country, deliberately kept their jungle in the cities.' What has occurred is that the Japanese have subverted the fine and orderly plans of their cities. The center of Kyoto for example, may be laid out in a grand Chinese-inspired grid, but once out of it, Japan takes over in the alleys and warrens of the surrounding city.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.