• Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

"Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)


Jun 12, 2021

In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event.  I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place.  I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life.  If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.

I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references.  By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.

“Where is the romance?”
A “hard-boiled” meditation on dating in Japa
—3rd version, 2010 for EH.

Where is the romance?
Does it even live in this city?
Can the dead really know it–
can it be found in the shadows
of this glittering necropolis?

For Tokyo is a ghost town
crowded and overflowing with
A billion spirits
that see
but are never seen
that touch
but are not felt,
that speak
but are not heard
and yet hear
but do not listen.
Maybe, it once was here.
Urban legends say
it’s buried in a coin locker in Shibuya station
but the key lies somewhere in the tracks of the Chuo line
and those that look for it
rarely come back
It’s certainly not in your computer
waiting to be found
or in your cell-phone
just one more twitter away
it does not live in a virtual environment
or in the love hotel where you stay

it might have been
on that train you rushed to catch
but just missed instead
or in the person
who you might have given your seat
if you had just been a little less tired
maybe at the yoga class
you keep meaning to go to,
if work didn’t always runs late.
rumors of its existence
persist nonetheless, like tobacco stains on teeth

there were eyewitness sightings
at Heartland
but they proved to be misleading.
traces of it in fancy dinners
that were really just about breeding
invitations of “hey, come over to my place and listen to music”
always make sure to keep it far away
and men who want to split the check
make sure it never stays

romance in the realm of hungry ghosts
is a hard thing
and corporeal existence
while it can be bought at the door
is no guarantee of locating it–
and even when found,
it only lasts until your wallet
is as empty as the experience.
ethereal, fleeting, legendary
where is the romance?
It is as elusive as the Japanese wolf
long believed to have been hunted
into extinction
never to return.

If you find it,
somewhere hidden between ambition
compromise, opportunity, and commitment
consider yourself fortunate, my friend
hold it gently, treat it well,
you are unlikely to catch it again.

12 thoughts on “"Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)”
  1. Nice. I can’t tell who it is from the style, but the coin locker reference makes me think of Ryu Murakami’s book “Coin Locker Babies.” Tokyo has the misfortune to have the usual loneliness of very large cities compounded by cultural conventions that only make it more so. Someone needs to establish a “hug a Tokyoite today” campaign or something to loosen people up a little.

  2. Heartland, yoga class. Are you sure we don’t know each other. I didn’t realize you hang out with me and my friends. You forgot to mention the dinners at Cicada; music in Koenji; IAC hiking trips; going on a “driving” date to Karuizawa……..

  3. @Patrick–a good idea. “Hug A Tokyoite Day” should be institutionalized.
    @Wayne-I can remember when Heartland seemed like the epicenter of hybrid mating in Tokyo. With Barclay’s moving into the Lehman offices in Roppongi, perhaps the good old days will be here again.
    Where’s Cicada? And I was unaware of “driving” dates to Karuizawa. Well, maybe I’ll need to incorporate it into future versions of this “living” poem.

  4. It is a rare thing to be able to articulate the ‘isolation among the hordes’ feeling that one can have in Tokyo, especially as a foreigner, and in a way that so resonates with my own experiences. That was really nice.

    1. That was very nice of you to write. The poem started out as a pastiche but then it turned into something else. Japanese wolves, like many wolves, are generally monogamous and mated for life. I found one not so long ago but I either failed to take care of her well enough or she was too wild to be domesticated. Maybe we were just different species. Well, sometimes when you let someone go, they come back. That’s very rare as well. The Japanese wolf metaphor actually has some metaphorical teeth. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  5. Forgive yes. Forget never. How can you doubt the elusive lone wolf could ever forget you?

    Rather telling where your unconscious mind goes to and wakes up refreshed. Interesting whose face you see.

    I’m flattered you still dream of me.

  6. And your “wants”? Has anyone asked about yours?
    Seems everyone, myself especially, has neglected to ask yours. You have wants & needs too.
    Have a…February 14th

  7. Romance lives on
    in K-Dorama
    where it might be
    crash landing on you

    if men freed themselves
    from the Mori-mindset
    there would be a spark …

  8. Have you read any of fijita goro’s books?
    You should learn about the yakuza before the Meiji era.
    Of course you’ve read the 任侠百年史(100 year history of chivalry), right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *