Mysterious Japan: A Diary

Sunday, March 8, Tokyo: The fourteen-hour flight from New York (with a refueling stopover at Fairbanks, Alaska) is one of the longest flights one can make to a conference on pollution (or rather on Kogai, public nuisances, as some of my Japanese friends refer to it).

Yesterday when I was waiting for the limousine to take me from the New York Hilton to Kennedy Airport, it was also Sunday, March 8. The room in the Tokyo Prince Hotel in which I now find myself is hardly distinguishable from the room I left yesterday; if anything it is the Hilton of 1975. In contrast to the RCA television set in the New York hotel, the National set in the Tokyo room works perfectly. The soap and the deodorants advertised on the morning programs are virtually the same—however, the jerky actors of the animated cartoons have faces of Oriental cast. The panel on the side of the night table, full of buttons controlling lights and other appliances, makes me feel like the pilot of a 707.

The view from the forty-fourth-floor window in Manhattan, with the vertical, slender glass towers of skyscrapers all around, makes one feel as though one were in a forest of tall Oregon pines. Tokyo, as seen from the eleventh floor, is still horizontal, with a single tall office building rising above blocks and blocks of rooftops; to the right, a large enclosed garden with a temple in the middle, another to the left, and as varied a building landscape as one would have seen in the New York of 1925.

Tuesday, March 10: Of my fellow conference members (some fifty of them) half are Japanese, the rest from Russia, France, Canada, and Czechoslovakia, Germany, India, Switzerland, and many other countries. Five are from the United States. According to the program, we were to be taken this morning on a tour of Tokyo’s pollution spots. The climax of the excursion was to be the colossal metropolitan garbage dump.

Our first stop was the Television Tower, an old landmark of modern Tokyo. An imitation of the Eiffel Tower, it is said to be somewhat higher than the original in Paris. The view from the top was ideal for a pollution survey. The sun overhead looked the way it was when I saw it two days before during the partial eclipse in New York. Clear visibility below extended to about two miles. Beyond that small circle, all colors became varying shades of gray and all outlines less and less distinct, finally merging in a haze. How universal is the symbolism of architectural shapes! Without consulting the map, one could identify the squat, solid rectangle of ministries, the slightly higher glass boxes of office buildings, the green walled patches of affluent private residences, and at a distance, among large luxuriant trees, a light gray roof: that of the royal palace.

An automatic marker in the lower lobby of the tower was ominously crawling its way up a paper strip …

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Letters

Pollution Crusade September 24, 1970