When I was ten, the family moved to Tokyo, Japan. It was the complete other end of the spectrum. A sprawling, seemingly limitless city, brimming with buildings, packed with people. Electric, dynamic, pulsating. Criss-crossed by a massive, super efficient train and subway system full of an industrious, busy, kind and benevolent culture that was, in some ways, the polar opposite to my own, I found myself in a new playground of a new paradigm.
I'd always liked exploring, with my brothers, out in the bush. We would go for long walks, adventures, just the three of us, or with our mates from down the street. We would peg rocks, catch lizards and tadpoles, climb gum trees, leap over gaps in rock formations. Tokyo offered a whole new kind of exploration. We would cover ground on foot, by bus, by subway, on our bikes and on our skateboards. Then, later, by motorbike.
In the early years, Shibuya, Tokyo's zesty and youthful hub for fashion and entertainment, was where we would go to watch movies, play in game centres, have a cheap meal and peruse shops with the latest toys and gadgets. From our home in Nishi-Azabu, we could be there in half an hour. It was our favoured destination. It had a friendliness to it, an interestingness, an inviting accessibility.
There was a wide variety of cinemas to choose from flash and modern to el cheapo dingy. The Shibuya Bunka Kaikan alone, housed four. As well, it had a rooftop game centre, a great bookshop, a supermarket for movie snacks (chocolate covered wheat puffs, coffee milk, dried squid and big fat, puffy twistie like cheese slugs called Karl - were the favourites) and a poster shop. Movies in Japan are always screened in original language with subtitles - a godsend for visiting westerners as all TV was in Japanese language. My brothers and I for many years watched one or two movies on a Saturday, then another with the P's on a Sunday arvo. There is no rating system (G,PG,M,R) whatsoever, so we had unrestricted choice. Watching Taxi Driver at thirteen was an eye opener, almost mind expansive. The same for The Exorcist, the Godfather, Lolly Madonna War and The Wild Bunch.
We loved playing pinball and video games and would spend countless hours at Game Centres. It wasn't till half way through our time there that video games were even invented. I vividly recall my first game of Atari's ping pong - a vertical line on either side with a bouncing ball between them. Green screen, ball accelerating incrementally with each return hit. Then of course, there was Space Invaders, Mission Control and Pac Man. Car racing, shooting games, Galaga. Still, we had an ongoing respect for pinball mastery and would alternate between format offerings.
Japanese people are very thoughtful and especially kind to children. At no time were we ever in any danger or did we come across any difficulty. We were all fluent in the language and humble and respectful in return to the people of our host nation. We always made friends with the twenty-something part-time workers in the game centres, joking around, and would often be rewarded with free games and tokens. It was an idyllic existence for three young Aussie bush kids. From Wahroonga to Shibuya - we were transported from the grounded dirt and big sky free style playground to the electrified, connected, built up, efficient, magnificent wonderland of the East.
PHOTO: Shot by Naoki Leonard Fujita - a friend and maverick photographer and cameraman- who lives in Shibuya. See some of his amazing work here: https://leonardfujita.wix.com/imagemaker