I would so very much love to read this article on Shinjuku Station. Hélas, it is behind a paywall.
It would be refreshing to see Shinjuku Eki through an outsider's eyes again. I would also very much like to learn how the station is a troubling mirror of Japan.
I confess...due to various reasons, I could not negotiate Shinjuku Station during my first decade of residence in the Tokyo Metropolitan District.
How higgledy-piggledy is Shinjuku? This is JR East's exploded view of just the JR section of the station and this is one individual's inadvertently hilarious attempt to annotate the JR East map so as to clarify the connections between the JR section of the station and the other sections.
That easiest way to slice through the labyrinth is to place the West Exit's taxi roundabout at the center and bottom of one's mental map, then draw radial compass lines toward all the other main points in the station, did not occur to me until sometime around 2005.
If I get a chance to read the Le Figaro piece, I would likely profit from a non-English language reading of locations in Japan. Almost all my views of this blessed land come via Japanese or English language sources -- with some vicarious readings of Italian views via Italian readers in Tokyo (Grazie tanto!).
That one has to venture outside the bilingual (Japanese-English) intellectual hegemony on Japan studies was clear a few months back in the disastrous interview Tokyo Metropolitan District governor Inose Naoki had with Ken Belson of The New York Times. Misunderstandings in the conduct and interpretation of that conversation seriously dented Tokyo's chances of landing the 2020 Olympic Games.
According to Belson:
At several points in the interview, Inose said that Japanese culture was unique and by implication superior, a widely held view in Japan. He noted that the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote in his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" that Japan was unlike any other culture.The underlined sentence is the kind of vaulting non-sequitur that earns The New York Times the ire of Japan defenders. If Governor Inose did not say that Japanese culture is superior, one should not report that he did.
Inose also pointed to polls that showed 70 percent of Tokyoites in favor of hosting the Summer Games, up from 47 percent last year. The well-received London Games, he said, have helped generate enthusiasm and confidence that Tokyo can host a similarly successful event.
Tokyo, he added, is exceptional because the Imperial Palace, which is largely off-limits to residents and visitors, forms the city's core while bustling activity surrounds it. "The central part of Tokyo has nothingness," he said. "This is a unique way that society achieved modernization."
More interesting is the replication, without explanation, of the assertion (in bold) that the green oasis of the Imperial Palace grounds, much of which is impenetrable to the citizenry, is symbolic of this blessed land's unique passage to modernity.
If there was ever a statement that needed explanation, it was this one -- particular because the observation is not Japanese in origin. The improbability of the verdant and closed-off Imperial Palace grounds (the grounds are not all closed off, of course, the East Gardens being one of the truly great green public spaces in the 23 Wards) being the center of a metropolis is the signature observation in L'Empire des signes by Roland Barthes (Link - Fr).
Inose assumed that Belson, an educated Westerner with ties to Japan, would be familiar with Barthes' work. In referencing both Barthes and Huntington, Inose was demonstrating that "uniqueness," far from being a marker of Japanese prejudice and arrogance, was indeed the almost exact opposite, "unique" being the adjective to which non-Japanese thinkers, befuddled by the challenge Japan's culture and history presented to their world views, have repeatedly retreated in their hour of intellectual aphasia.
For those who are interested and do not read French, L'empire des signes has been translated into English (Link). As it is a part of the French literary criticism/semiotics tradition one will not often find the work on the syllabi of positivist tradition English language Japanese studies courses. Nevertheless, it is one of the canonical works in the Japanese intellectual tradition of the ways non-Japanese look at Japan.
Which is as twisted and non-intuitive as the maze of underground passages beneath Shinjuku Station.
Image: Sunrise over the towers of Shinjuku on 14 May 2012
Image courtesy: MTC