Friday, December 5, 2008

Information Overload

I'm starting to understand the problems that normal people have, and why they turn out the way they do. I say "normal", because I've always tried to not be like those around me, and the people I'm about to talk about aren't exactly "run of the mill" either.

After having started this blog back in July, I've made an effort to do as much sightseeing as time, money and family would allow me to. This has included visiting a handful of museums, various manga and related-items shops, a few temples and shrines, several parks, and just a lot of general wandering around and riding the trains.

I've mentioned before that Tokyo is big. And, it's probably kind of like living in related cities like New York, London or Hong Kong, in that there's a long, deep history, and an embedded culture. Although, I've only visited New York and London for about a day each, and that wasn't enough to let me get a feel for those places. In the case of Tokyo, we're talking about a LOT of potential sightseeing places. After my little "quest for the unknown tower", it hit me as to just how much of the city I hadn't yet seen, and how little of a handle I had on where I was within it at any given moment.

As an example, I'd gotten between Kanda and Tokyo Station, and had found one of the older Mitsukoshi department stores. Now, granted that the Mitsukoshi dynasty dates back to the 1600's, and this store was probably built after WWII, it still had an old 1920's U.S. department store feel to it, with its gothic style and gray granite stonework. Right next door was the Mitsui Memorial Museum, which houses the Mitsukoshi chain's founding family's art collection. Both buildings failed to fit in with their more modern surroundings, and until I got myself lost, I had no idea they were there even though I'd wandered around the area surrounding Tokyo station before. Now I want to go back and explore them for a while.

The thing is, I'm probably an anomaly in Tokyo, in that I've visited more interesting places than a lot of the residents here. A number of natives I've talked to have never been to Shinjuku Gyoen, even though it's only 15 miles away, and many have gotten to Akihabara only once or twice in their lives. And, they're happy with this state of affairs

And this is where I get to my point. Normally, people tend to focus on a small number of activities, such as holding a job, raising a family, or following a specific sports team. There may be the occasional book, movie, or family visit to a museum, but generally the focus of one's attention is on extremely mundane thngs. And, in part, the main reason for this is because people have limited time and resources, but an infinite number of distractions. So, they gravitate only to those things they need to do. Then there's the social ridicule element, where the majority makes fun of what the minority does, and we get these people ridiculing whatever activities that they don't participate in, in an effort to fit in with the rest of their group. That is, if the group only watches baseball games, then they're going to look down on comicbooks, and those trying to fit in will join in on the ridicule while making a conscious decision to no longer read comics themselves.

So, what happens with people that like the non-mainstream activities, and to the people that live in *really big* cities? There's just too much to do in a place like Tokyo, so you have to start "pruning". "I can't afford to go to all of the museums here, so I won't go at all", or "I don't have time to travel all over Tokyo, so I'll only stay in the Setagaya neighborhood". There's this conscious decision to reduce the number of activities you participate in, just to keep them managable. Which means that if Ueno Zoo, or Kanda Myojin aren't on your list, (two of the places with massive history behind them) you can be living right next door to them and have never seen them.

Now, to the second part of my question. A place like Tokyo is a pressure cooker. Something is always happening here, and nothing ever really stands still. If you like a specific activity, you need to tune out all of the other "noise" in order to concentrate on it. But, there's going to be a store that supports that activity, and there are going to be other people that enjoy it as well, giving you someone else to talk to about it. Leading to the "otaku" lifestyle. If you consciously decide to focus on an activity, you're saying "I don't care about anything else". And, in Japan, where children are trained to concentrate on school in order to get into higher paying jobs, single-minded focus is easy to come by. But, while you're only focusing on that one activity, there's so much that you can do within it that you'll never reach the end of it. As you specialize further in that activity, you spend less time with the mainstream, and that gets you tagged with the "otaku" label.

My point is that in a mega-city like London, Hong Kong or Tokyo, the need to weed out the distractions becomes a requirement, and things like a "car otaku", "a museum otaku", "a family otaku", "a baseball otaku", "a fashion otaku" and "an electronics otaku" become natural outgrowths of the environment. Even if you live in a small country town, you're still "pruning" in one way or another, and you're either going to turn "mundane" (i.e. - attracted only towards a handful of mainstream activities) or you're going to otaku-ize on a specific activity. At least, that's what it looks like to an "experience otaku" like myself.

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