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Urban Style: Tokyo/Paris/Berlin

But I would happily have extended my time in this city just to idle in the sixth-floor food hall of the Kaufhaus des Westens (universally known as KaDeWe),the vast department store near the Kurfürstendamm, where an inadvertent genius of design has placed the bratwurst department alongside the candy department, and where you can find porcelain from houses that make patterns dating back some 300 years. I would like to explore the underground clubs that open and close monthly, mutating through mayfly life spans, and, I assume, producing some of the "chaotic energy" Slimane spoke of. I would like to spend more time in the celebrated zoo, where, on the afternoon of Pentecost Monday, I came upon a male camel laboriously attempting to copulate with a female, who made it plain that she was having the dromedary version of a headache.

I would haunt the city's antiquarian bookstores and the design stores at Savignyplatz. And I would linger at the Hamburger Bahnhof, the contemporary-art museum located in a converted railroad station where I sat briefly one afternoon in a darkened gallery, as an old-fashioned movie projector beamed Green Ray, the English artist Tacita Dean's painterly, and eerily evanescent, elapsed-time record of a sunset over a darkening sea.

And I would take every meal at Mario's, an art dealers' hangout in Charlottenburg that does not appear in any guide. Why this restaurant, where the owner is Neapolitan and the cooking Venetian, should be virtually empty during the course of my visit is anyone's guess. Blame the World Cup. It certainly was not the delicate beef fillet, the slivered disks of lightly dressed beets, the perfect artichoke, the veal cooked with a simplicity that never fails to persuade me that the Italians have it all over the French when it comes to food.

There are, however, things about the Germans that simply cannot be explained. After my visit, Mario's unaccountably became a hybrid restaurant, Sab Thai & Mario's Pasta Bar, serving pad thai as well as vitello tonnato.

In Tokyo such a collision would be unlikely to occur. If it did, it would resemble less an unfortunate accident than a deliberate conjunction, haphazard maybe, but somehow correct. Perhaps that's because, as Koji Yoshida, an art curator, once said to me, "In Japan, there's a level of gamesmanship to style—Gucci mixed with Hysteric Glamour mixed with Michael Jackson T-shirts mixed with something from haute couture." That gamesmanship gets played out most richly in fashion—with its welter of references, symbols and signs, its curious codes of behavior—in a theater whose changeable backdrop is Tokyo's many stores. You can see it among the eager shoppers at Cabane de Zucca, Akira Onozuka's store, pawing through denim dojo jackets; or at Bapexclusive, where limited-edition T-shirts are shown under glass; or any of Issey Miyake's seven stores, which function like laboratories for Mr. Miyake's famous experiments in fabric; or at Under Cover, an Aoyama shop run by Jun Takahashi, the brilliant protégé of Rei Kawakubo. "Illusion of Haze" is the name of a recent collection, and in the windows are displayed—folded and stacked with the fetishistic quality of a Joseph Beuys installation—examples of all the clothes Mr. Takahashi has ever designed.

"One great thing about fashion in Japan is that it always reveals something about the culture," Masahiro Nakagawa told me one evening. A former artist from Shiga prefecture, Nakagawa now runs a clothing store and bar in a Shibuya hole-in-the-wall. His clothes are sold under the awkwardly named label 20471120 (a date when "something important will happen," he says) and are made from recycled garments aggressively dissected and then restitched. At the New York art space P.S. 1, Nakagawa and his brother Tatsuya, or Tattoo, once performed an installation in which people brought in an old garment, related a story about it, and returned a week later to find it transformed into something else altogether: jackets into trousers, suits into dresses, jeans turned upside down.

"With fashion, there is a glimpse into what is otherwise still a very closed society," Nakagawa continued. Reminded that the same might be said of fashion in a lot of places, Mr. Nakagawa laughed. "Yes," he said. "But in other cultures you could ask a direct question and hope for a response. You could do that in Japan, too, but getting the answer might take a very long time."


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