I visited Japan (or rather, Tokyo and a taste of some cities in a range of about 500 km) for about 10 days – excluding years in the flights.

Two words must absolutely be dedicated to the gap between imagination and reality.
Expectation vs reality.


A friend of mine, a few years ago visiting New York for the first time, told me that she hadn’t felt to be in a foreign world. It was like to have been there before, almost like being at home.
Having only visited European cities, I was struck by his reflection, because it seemed really understandable, logical, even though I had never felt it. I thought that we could not be more precise with the commonplace of “the American culture that entered our homes”. It was indeed so.

Kenzo Tange – National Gymnasium for Tokyo Olympics
© Virginia Lorello

In Japan I expected the exact opposite: the thrill of feeling myself on Mars while remaining on earth.
I didn’t take into account 10 years of indoctrination inspired by the Anime of the 90s, dusted off by the vision of the recent Studio Ghibli films. I believe that the thrill of alienation can appear more easily when visiting Lucca, Berlin or Santarém, than Tokyo.

It seems to see clearly for the first time a place that has been studied extensively in a book. It is certainly foreign to our culture, but it is something that in one way or another we have inside. On the contrary, I thought – don’t ask me why – that the landscapes in the Anime had suffered some enrichment or exaggeration (like the giant eyes of the protagonists).


Tsukiji fish market
© Virginia Lorello

It is exactly the shameless, smeared and dusty copy of the buildings of Sailor Moon, of the historic architecture of the Enchanted City, of the restaurant of Kiss Me Licia, of the steps of the temples on which sportsmen and heroes trained themselves.

Temples of Nikko
© Virginia Lorello
Temples of Nikko
© Virginia Lorello


Muji style

Before this travel, my head had instead gone in a completely different direction.
My imaginary Tokyo had passed the images of the documentary on the Shinkansen of the 90s, and in the 2000s it was filled with minimalist houses, Muji aesthetics, translucent experiments of architects like the SANAA duo, the designer Nendo and company.

In reality, all this aesthetics that I love, although present, is nothing but one of the billions of faces of Japan. It is the most artistic, niche face, unfortunately more relegated to biennials and magazines, to some iconic buildings and to a few extraordinary examples for private individuals.
Muji is a rare bird, surrounded by loud slogans, American companies and restaurants that showcase models of dishes to be served on a 1: 1 scale.

Toyo Ito – Mikimoto Ginza
© Virginia Lorello

The advertisements, the graphics of the metro, the make-up and the way of dressing, the sounds of public electronic devices, television … they are all still strongly linked to the 90s.
If, for the Italian/western people, the aesthetics of those years was a momentary phenomenon, sometimes imported or suffered, for them it seems to have been a crucial moment, which has really been part of their history and from which it is difficult to detach.

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