Quote Japan

Interesting, odd, outrageous or informative quotes about Japan

Donald Ritchie- Quotes from “Tokyo” (1999)

“In Tokyo one feels- as Henry James felt in London- that the city has no single style, only innumerable attempts at style” Donald Ritchie in “Tokyo” (Reaktion Books, 1999)

“…since seeking beauty in this city of Tokyo is useless, can it not be said that the most agreeable place to live is Asakusa, where ugliness bares its essential form?” Unfinished novel by Tanizaki, quoted by Donald Ritchie. Now more true of Kawasaki.

“This is what the wise Japanese does. He pays lip service to the laws, is a strong believer in public morality, then goes out for an evening in Shinjuku and does anything he feels like doing” Donald Ritchie

“After all, places like Canadian World actually let one become a temporary Canadian, whereas if one visited Canada where would be the constant reminder that one was actually a foreigner. Anyway, foreign countries are just too foreign to be readily comprehensible. These ‘translated’ versions are the best way of understanding them” Donald Ritchie

“That cute animal, the panda, is so beloved that no-one found it strange when the announcer on NHK… broke down on announcing the death of one of the beasts at the Ueno Zoo” Donald Ritchie

“…one is, in this country, free of one’s own mores and still more or less immune to those of the Japanese…” Donald Ritchie

“The foreigner was stared at for well over 150 years… You became used to it, and eventually irritation turned to need. No matter what the people truly thought, you were treated like a star.” Donald Ritchie

“All societies have commercialized sex, but only a few have marketed the venue [love hotels] and none to the extent that Japan has” Donald Ritchie

“One is advised to admire the famous old shrine and, since one is not Japanese, one also includes the gas station next door, the TV aerial in back and the supermarket truck in front, and is consequently disturbed.” Donald Ritchie

“I sometimes wonder why the Japanese went to all the trouble of franchising a Disneyland in the suburbs when the capital itself is in many ways so superior a version” Donald Ritchie

“Over in Shingomura in Aomori, you may also visit the last resting-place of Jesus Christ. It was actually his brother, Iskiri, who was crucified, you see. Christ himself escaped to Japan, where he married a Shingomura woman named Yumiko, had three daughters and lived to a happy 106 years of age. His ‘descendants’ opened this ‘Christ’s Tomb’ tourist attraction.” Donald Ritchie

“All this is something for girls to do now that boys are hopeless: they are tied up with expectations (the job), they are zombied out (video games, porn tapes), they can’t talk, they can’t think, they just aren’t much fun. But we girls, we know how to have fun: we giggle, we scream, we have our pictures taken by the hundreds, we shop- here we come” Donald Ritchie gets inside the heads of the Shibuya panda-girl gyaru (rather him than me!)

“For the pedestrian foreigner, much of Tokyo’s frenetic carnival flavour is due to familiar things being used in unfamiliar ways. There is a kind of freedom in finding that Doric columns don’t mean banks, nor red roof tiles Spain. The feeling of being at liberty in Tokyo is occasioned by this ‘illiteracy’. There is no telling what anything means.” Donald Ritchie

“The Japanese language has no word for kitsch. Nor would one expect it to. To quote an old Japanese proverb, ‘Fish have no word for water.’” Donald Ritchie

“… a plastic advertising gorilla wearing the stars and stripes… lots of big roof-top Venuses de Milo and Statues of Liberty. Their statements are unintelligible, but they are also disarming, diverting and even, if you squint, witty. Also, they are resolutely modern.” Donald Ritchie

“Wandering in a smart Tokyo neighbourhood is like wandering in a box of Quality Street: everything is different, everything tastes the same” Donald Ritchie

“Londoners actually want to live in the suburbs where they have a bit of space, a spot of green…Tokyoites, however, want to live in Tokyo, always have, always will. For them the suburbs… and the long commute exist only because they cannot afford to live in crowded, expensive Tokyo” Donald Ritchie

“If the European street can be seen as something like a stage, the Japanese street is like a market. This is very Asian of it.” Donald Ritchie

“…the warren is preferred. It was seen (or felt) to be a proper human environment. The Japanese, like the English, prefer the cosy, and consequently the streets of new Tokyo are as crooked and twisting as those of old London” Donald Ritchie

“It is interesting to see that though the new big building may be four-square and right-angled… parts of the original warren are duplicated… in the basement” Donald Ritchie

“…private houses in Japan stand an average of 26 years before their owners knock them down and build anew” Donald Ritchie

“New buildings are constructed in fashions so flamboyantly modern that one cannot but expect them to be superseded” Donald Ritchie

“…logical efficiency as a noble virtue is not a Japanese concept. Rather, efficiency is mundanely humanized. So is logic” Donald Ritchie

“He bathes to get warm… and he bathes to meet his friends. But not, I think, to get any cleaner than anyone else…Once the bath is over, too, the dirty underwear goes right back on.” Donald Ritchie

“One sits back in water which doesn’t feel as dirty as it is only because it is so hot….” Donald Ritchie, on the ‘pleasures’ of public bathing

“The Tokugawa state was a military hegemony, the longest lived the world has ever known. And like most hegemonies, this one found that the best insurance was bureaucracy and the most effective instrument was ritual” Donald Ritchie

“As Kurt Singer has said, let the Westerner try to sincerely live by Japanese customs ‘and he will instantly feel what a cell endowed with rudiments of human sensibility must be supposed to feel in a well-coordinated body” Donald Ritchie

“Each complex is a small town, and their numbers make up this enormous capital. Like cells in a body, each contains identical elements, and the resulting pattern is an organic one.” Donald Ritchie

“One feels about [Tokyo] as Alexander Payne said he felt about London in 1872: ‘Nothing is more striking… than the utter confusion and want of plan to the place” Donald Ritchie

“[Tokyo] is also a city where the sheer number of people to stare at can be exhilarating. As Constantin Guys said… ‘Anyone who is capable of being bored in a crowd is a blockhead’” Donald Ritchie

“Tokyo is much like Calcutta with all the amenities or Singapore before city planners wreaked it” Donald Ritchie

“Though Japanese municipalities, particularly Tokyo, may appear to be reassuringly, or distressingly, Western, even a short acquaintance with these modern-seeming cities indicates that they are not Western nor, indeed, in any Western sense modern” Donald Ritchie
“Equally important to Tokyo ’style’ is the lack of zoning- no slums and ghettos, no good and bad side of the tracks, no strictly industrial areas, no rigorously residential districts” Donald Ritchie

“Tokyo seems the least designed of capitals, not so much contrived as naturally grown” Donald Ritchie

“Samurai were rather alike no matter where they were, but merchants and farmers were not” Donald Ritchie, giving yet more proof that the homogeneous standardisation of Japan was very much a class-based thing- quite similar to the standardized RP English in the UK
“The Loyal Forty Seven Ronin…gets its impetus not from an attempted murder but from a failure to observe proper etiquette” Donald Ritchie

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