Monday, 19 February 2018

Engeki Quest Yokohama: Passage of Painters

Engeki Quest is multi-authored, analogue tree literature mapped onto fixed locations. That is to say, it is a choose-your-own-adventure style book that leads the reader on themed treasure hunts through Yokohama.

There are eleven routes in total and this one is titled The Passage of Painters. The book gave me a starting point to go to and searching for it brought me past the cardboard boxes where the homeless sleep and a boarded up underground shopping mall, the sort of place that could feature in a Takeshi Kitano movie crime scene. This introduction to the dysfunctional side of the city set my imagination off in a very specific direction that it never quite came back from. Naturally, I soon bumped into a life-sized Lemmy.

I made my way from point to point with some difficulty. Having to look closely for the clues, sometimes going back upon myself and re-examing sites, made the experience more interesting. There is a fine line between between the connections being subtle and being downright opaque, however, and there was a moment I thought I had lost the trail when looking for a police box. It was only after I looked inside this building and discovered a policeman inside trying to look busy that I knew I was back on track. 

I rather liked how the places the text threaded together were normal locations and not spectacular heritage sites. It inscribed everyday life within a fantastical idea of being a painter and creating the city through images. There was no strong narrative driving this artist's journey forward, the state it proposed was more akin to spending an afternoon strolling and sketching.

The shopping passage that forms the spine of the route is a long line of shops that begins upmarket and tapers off into second hand stores. At one point the book urged me to buy goods or a service from one of them. The kimono was too expensive, the shoes too small, the male potency products too mysterious so I played it safe and got chocolate biscuits. 

The male potency products fell into place a moment later when I was directed to this car park in search of bright colours. Yellow, green and blue I did indeed find but to my right I also noticed some new clothes and shoes lying on the concrete beside a car. A visibly agitated businessman then walked briskly over to them, picked them up and stuffed them into the car. He then drove off in haste. 

Walking over to where he had emerged from, I discovered the source of his excitation: Yokohama's red light zone. There were no girls in windows like in Amsterdam, this was more discrete and in places plain mysterious. There were absent minded men standing out of doorways with inflatable mattresses set on the wall behind them or mannequins dressed in school uniforms placed inside flashing neon light displays. What's more, there was a weirdly large number of these places; it makes up a kilometre of sleaze running parallel to the city's shopping passage. Seeing this, I was not thinking of painting the city any longer, I was trying to understand the gender roles in Japanese society.

Towards the end, I passed a pet store where this little fellow was trying to attract my attention and get me to take him home. That was not to be but as it was Chinese New Year the next day and it was turning to my year, the year of the dog, we spent a moment connecting, big canine to small. 

The route came to an end, like it began, at a metro station. It required some patience and the suggested time length of 90 minutes can be doubled. If you enter into it with time to spare and open to whatever happens then it offers a much more interesting time than the tourist brochure will have in store for you. It situates the experience much more in the reader's imagination than in the sites themselves and as such, frames you as player and co-creator. While I never fully entered into the story the book was telling, it enabled me to open the page onto another. That story was one of the unspoken and unseen coming to the surface, a naked city where tensions were no longer buried behind layers of politeness as thick as the white paint on a geisha's face.


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