Sunday, February 12, 2012


Narita airport is a curious anomaly in Japan, where everything is highly advanced and magnificently splendid. While the train from Tokyo to the airport is superlatively comfortable, fresh from the 23rd century, the airport itself is just a featureless purgatory.

In the wing we're flying from, there are three places to eat. A Doutor, where you can buy hot coffee and plastic wrapped muffins. A Japanese restaurant serving gloomy tempura. And a McDonalds the sizeo f a tobacconists.

Shops, there are two; one sells origami paper and individually wrapped pineapple cakes, and the other overpriced duty-free electronics. I suppose there's also the Cartier and a few other ludicrously high-end shops, but unless you see air travel as an opportunity to buy astronomically expensive handbags, they're not of any practical use.

And, with the exception of a few televisions playing a constant loop of news, that's it. The only thing you can do to entertain yourself is to bang your head on the floor again and again, wondering what you've done with your life to end up here.

Perhaps its decompression from the rest of Japan's arcane strangeness that makes Narita feel so flat and dull. Less than twenty four hours ago we were walking around Kabuki-cho, dazed by the vast array of hostess clubs and their male equivalents. Especially by the male equivalents. If I had to make an inference based on available evidence, I'd have to conclude that the finest example of Japanese masculinity is either a very skinny man with enormous hair and pointy shoes, or a portly gentleman in a business suit, because both pictures receive equal billing on the exterior of the bars. You don't see any of that at the airport.

Not that this is the apex of strangeness in Japan. Japan's oddity is fractal; the closer you look, the stranger it gets, and the stranger that gets, the more you find that even the things you thought were normal probably weren't. Why are there so many good Italian restaurants in Tokyo? Why are there no Italian restaurants at Narita? Why is Van Gogh's Sunflowers behind glass on the 42nd storey of a skyscraper in Shinjuku? What is that giant crab doing on the wall of the building? Why are you watching a video of four Thai Hitlers moonwalking through a prison?

And why is Narita so boring? You could explain how it's boring: the
slightly uncomfortable chairs, the lamentably beige carpets, the
sterile decor, but that goes no way to understanding the purpose of
all this. In a country that pays so much attention to detail, there
would have to be a reason that Narita is so, so ineffably dull.

Perhaps it's because the rest of Japan is so weird, that they feel it
will aid the adjustment to the rest of the world. But that makes no
sense; you'd want a gradual adjustment, first stripping away the
Pokemon, then the Gothic lolitas, the individually wrapped chocolate
coated goji berries, the fugu sashimi that could only ever have been a
practical joke. A gradual decompression.

Narita airport, on the other hand, is like suddenly bringing up an
angler fish from the Benthic depths of the ocean to the surface, and
wondering why it bursts under the sudden, massive change in
atmospheric pressure. Perhaps it's just an example of the way that
when you have a really big brain, turning it off has much more
dramatic effects.

Or perhaps they just like the sound of minds snapping.


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