Out of Japan: Destination Twin Peaks for the ultimate flight into fantasy

TOKYO - In the crowded commuter trains, blue-suited salarymen and neatly stockinged office women seem to exist in a drab world of anonymous conformity. But behind impassive exteriors, wonderful and marvellous things are going on in people's minds. Many will be reading manga, the adult comics with outlandish stories of aliens, gangsters, kinky sex and boyish sports heroes. Some will be dozing from sleep deprivation after staying up to watch the outre late-night game shows on TV, where, for example, skimpily dressed starlets compete in licking the chocolate icing from frozen bananas.

Others will be absorbing the latest fads in the weekly illustrated magazines - Buddhist shrines updated to the sci- fi age as aluminium-and-glass 'spiritual amplifiers', with one designer claiming to have received his inspiration telepathically from a UFO; 'T-back' panties for the tightly sheathed thighs of young women who don't want to show a visible panty line; 'Night Mates' slippers with a torch built into the toe for nocturnal rambling; and, of course, hard-boiled dinosaur eggs.

But the greatest escapes of all from the grinding reality of everyday life are the fantasy holidays. The latest best- seller is a 'Twin Peaks' package tour, organised by the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB). For 198,000 yen ( pounds 860), fans of the David Lynch television serial can travel to Snoqualmie in Washington state where the programme was filmed. The five-day tour includes a stay at the lodge used for the Great Northern Hotel, sightseeing trips to the waterfall, the Packard lumber-mill and the place where the murdered body of Laura Palmer, one of the central characters, was found, wrapped in plastic sheeting.

According to a spokeswoman for JTB, seven tours have already departed from Japan. Some of the fans, called 'Peaka' in Japanese, became so engrossed in the fictional story that they brought plastic sheets with them from Japan, and when they reached the place where Laura was found they wrapped themselves in the plastic and had their photos taken as replacement corpses. It is a rather extravagant step up from the fairground attractions in the West where people stick their heads through a hole in plywood cut-outs of a Mr Atlas for a souvenir snap.

For those Peaka who cannot afford to fly across the Pacific, Japan has created its own imitation Twin Peaks. Maetsue, a small village in Oita prefecture on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, has renamed itself Twin Peaks, claiming that the scenery around the village resembles that in the television serial.

Japan Railways has printed posters designed to attract tourists to the town, showing mountains and a sign, 'Welcome to Twin Peaks', with an inset picture of the actor Kyle MacLachlan who played the FBI agent Dale Cooper in the programme. And the local baker has started making cherry pies with fruit imported from Michigan, which he claims are the same kind of pies as those favoured by Agent Cooper.

David Lynch's taste for the bizarre and macabre strikes a chord with some Japanese - earlier this year Twin Peaks fans set up an altar in memory of Laura Palmer in Shinjuku station, the busiest railway station in Japan (and the world). Pictures of Laura and a dummy model wrapped in plastic were adorned with wreaths by mourning fans - a ray of spirituality in the morning rush hour.

Meanwhile, JTB is seeking out new ideas for its fantasy holidays. After the success in Japan of Oliver Stone's film on the killing of John F Kennedy, JFK, the travel company has organised a tour of JFK-related sites in the US: for Y538,000 the would-be historical sleuths can travel to the Kennedys' house in Cape Cod, to the White House, New Orleans, and Dallas, with an optional side-tour through FBI headquarters in Washington. It is not clear whether JTB will hand out dummy guns on the 'grassy knoll', but the tour will be accompanied by two Japanese correspondents who were based in the US when President Kennedy was shot.

The boundary between appearance and reality is rarely clearly demarcated in the East. The invention of karaoke, for example, providing background music and a live microphone, allows an ordinary businessman to step briefly into the shoes of famous singers and croon away the worries of a boring day at work.

Role-playing comes normally to people who constantly have to readjust their behaviour according to the social situation in which they find themselves. But when the woman at JTB said that 50 people have already paid Y398,000 ( pounds 1,730) to go on a fantasy holiday to the set of Little House on the Prairie, one began to wonder how far the world of make-believe would really go.

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