Japanese Neon: Surfing the Streets of Tokyo

The Japanese for words for neon is: ネオン.

Something that has long characterized Japan is it’s cyberpunk neon aesthetic. Around the close of the 70’s, Japan entered a new and unprecedented age of prosperity. With it, came a new futuristic vision for Japan.

Cyberpunk in Japan has been around for a long time and coincided with the futurism movements in the US. The aesthetic has permeated Japanese popular culture, and can be seen in films, anime, art, and various districts, such as Shibuya.

Wikipedia says of Japan’s cyberpunk culture:

Japanese cyberpunk cinema refers to a genre of underground film produced in Japan starting in the 1980s. It bears some resemblance to the ‘low life high-tech’ cyberpunk as understood in the West, however differs in its representation of industrial and metallic imagery and an incomprehensible narrative. The origins of the genre can be traced back to the 1982 film Burst City, before the genre was primarily defined by the 1989 film Tetsuo: The Iron Man.[2] It has roots in the Japanese punk subculture that arose from the Japanese punk music scene in the 1970s, with Sogo Ishii’s punk films of the late 1970s to early 1980s introducing this subculture to Japanese cinema and paving the way for Japanese cyberpunk.

Japanese cyberpunk also refers to a subgenre of manga and anime works with cyberpunk themes. This subgenre began in 1982 with the debut of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series Akira, with its 1988 anime film adaptation (which Otomo directed) later popularizing the subgenre. Akira inspired a wave of Japanese cyberpunk works, including manga and anime series such as Ghost in the ShellBattle Angel AlitaCowboy Bebop, and Serial Experiments Lain.[3] Cyberpunk anime and manga have been influential on global popular culture, inspiring numerous works in animation, comics, film, music, television and video games.”

If you’re traveling to Japan, one of the ways you can soak up some of the more unique elements of Japanese culture is by exploring the neon-lit streets of Japan and checking out some of the anime associated with this subculture!

TokyoEssentials.com offers a list of locations where one may best see neon. They suggest the following:

1. Shinjuku

The best examples of Toyko’s neon lights can be found northeast of Shinjuku station, in the red light area of Kabukicho. Here the city never sleeps, and the lights from bars, restaurants, and hostess club signs stay on until the early hours.

Also nearby, we recommend taking a look west from just outside the South Exit to see the Shinjuku Park Tower dominating the colossal neon canyon of Koshu Kaido.

2. Shibuya

Outside the Hachiko Exit of Shibuya station the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection is draped with radiating signage leading away in all directions. This image is often at the forefront of people’s minds when you you’re going to Tokyo.

3. Ginza

At the heart of Ginza, take a look in four directions from the corner of Harumi and Chuo Dori, to see the tidier, ordered vertical lights of this upscale shopping district. Smaller, local versions can be found at virtually every station in central Tokyo as well.

4. Akihabara

Akihabara is a mecca for ‘Otakus’ (geeks) and hobbyists collecting hard-to-find electronics, video games, manga and figurines. Electric Town in Akihabara is a softer-spoken, subtle neon labyrinth with alleys meshing the blocks together, towering luminous beacons at each exit.

Have you ever been to any of these locations? Let us know in the comments below!

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