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Tokyo can be overwhelming for a small town girl from Kyoto.  It’s big. It’s full of people. It’s sprawling. It’s an endless parade of new anonymous sky scraping buildings going up up up.

On a micro level, it can be pretty fascinating.  I’m now talking style, museums, architectural wonders and a lifetime of restaurants that can satisfy any glutton’s appetite!

It’s got a darker side too, which we inadvertently got sucked into while looking for some evening’s entertainment that would be fun for a 14 year old.




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We should have been smarter, but we easily got sucked into possibly the most advertised tourist trap in Tokyo. The ads were everywhere, and convinced me it would be a fun evening out for a multi-generational family. One Trip Advisor review promised “enthralling choreographic routines.”  That should have been the tip-off.  Not one mentioned feeling uneasy about the location of the venue!

Little did we know, the show would be two floors underground, in a basement performance space.  With each step we descended, my inner warning bells grew louder, but I didn’t want to play the role of a spoiler for the rest of our group.  My father’s sister had died in the infamous Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, and growing up, I’d learned the fire trap lesson well.  So well, that in looking back, I’m surprised I even took the first step underground!

There was only one exit up the staircase that quickly became blocked as the extravaganza began, on the basement floor which served as the stage.  My wise daughter looked distressed and soon announced that she was too uncomfortable to remain in this place and departed.

Below is a taste of the strange and garish show that unfolded before us. The scantily clad female performers worked very hard, but it was hard to find artistry or even entertainment in this dystopia. Sadly. I doubted that these women barely made a living for their performances, repeating three tiresome shows a night. IMG_4281 IMG_4296 IMG_4288 IMG_4289

If the club wasn’t such a fire trap, I possibly could have enjoyed the show as an example of ultra high camp and visual overload.  As it was, after a quick family discussion during a break to sell drinks and products, we beat a welcome and hasty retreat, climbing back up one step at a time, closer to freedom.  I could only shake my head in wonder that we were the only ones to leave.

Kyoto feels like a small town after visiting Tokyo. Riding the wonderful Shinkansen, we were “home” in less than 2.5 hours, covering a distance that’s the same as between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.  It’s a great and easy big city getaway.

History has been kinder to Kyoto. It was spared  the brutal firebombing of WWII that leveled Tokyo. I am grateful for the remnants of layers of Japanese history that are abundant here. They create a strong sense of place.  Although, ever evolving as it must.

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.

One Comment

  • Susan Alexander says:

    What an amazing story! I’m glad you were able to exit safely!!! Shades of “Lost in Translation”! :-). Thanks for sharing it with us!

    xxx Susan

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