In my next life, I’m going to be Japanese. I’ve decided and Japan life is the life for me.
I like to talk about my lives because to be honest, every time I travel, my entire mental capacity is consumed wondering what the lives of the people that live there are like.
What do they do for a living?
What time do they wake up?
What do they do for fun?
Where do they do their grocery shopping?
Are they happy?
I am serious, I could go on and on. Maybe I should’ve been a sociologist, but instead I’m a copywriter. But I guess sometimes, it’s the same thing.
Anywho, I’ve found the answers to a few of these questions about this little place called Tokyo.
For over a month, Tokyo has been more than just a new landscape ready for me to lose myself in like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.
Tokyo has been home.
Tokyo didn’t intimidate me or frustrate me. Instead, it made me love it for the things that you don’t see elsewhere— for its little quirks and bizarre offerings and for not losing its traditions in light of it’s modern growth.
Here are some of my thoughts on Tokyo.
Out and About
For being a humongous city, it is incredibly clean. The streets are absolutely pristine with not a speck of litter to be found. Amazingly enough, garbage cans on the street are a rare sight. People just hold on to their trash and wait to dispose of it when they get home. NYC could learn a thing or two from Japan’s book.
Transportation here is like a dream. Once you get the hang of it, it’s so easy to get around. The train is peaceful. You can literally hear a pin drop. Everyone mindfully stares at their smart phones, doing the best they can to avoid eye contact with one another. Tokyo is also the only place where people wait patiently in line to board the train or busses. Even at rush hour when conductors are physically packing people into the trains, making sure not even a centimeter of space goes to waste.
There are so many cultural tendencies that the Japanese abide by, and here out of all the places, I was very conscious of abiding. For instance, everyone walks on the left side of the street, there are priority seats on the trains for women and elders, people don’t talk on the phone in public, you always place your money or card on a tray instead of handing it directly to cash register attendant, etc.
Overall, it’s a very ordered society where everyone lives cooperatively and respectfully of one another.
Whatever the Weather…
Tokyo is massive. Skyline views of the city seem to go on forever. You are surrounded by high-rise buildings that house everything ranging from offices, apartments, karaoke bars, cute animal cafes and quirky shops….but their presence never seems to weigh down on you.
The humidity on the other hand…that’s a whole different story. The summer months of July and August are the steamiest months of the year. The humidity seems to suffocate you and the buildings act as insulation, so I literally melt the second I walk outside the door. I thought Florida was hot, but Japan is no joke. I’ve learned to give up on any hope of my hair and makeup lasting longer than 3 minutes.
What I love about this city is that it feels like it is always in flux. Among the swarms of people, things are always moving. But it never feels overwhelming. It’s organized chaos, and there is actually something quite calming about it. It’s hard to put into words.
The infamous Shibuya Crossing was possibly the most eye-opening. It’s known as the world’s busiest intersection and at any hour of the day, there are swarms of people waiting to cross it. At the very instant that the crosswalk light turns green, all these individual people seem to mesh into one. If you’re looking for that “Holy crap, I’m in Tokyo!” moment—this is the spot.
The whirls of people are complemented by flashing lights and animated billboards. But at night, it’s a whole different place. The city comes alive and it’s sensory overload at its finest. Robotic sounds from arcade games and neon signs make it feel like you’re trapped in a video game.
At the beginning, it seemed like a bit much. My first couple of days in Tokyo, I was feeling unexplainably tired and as soon as I returned to my apartment each evening, exhaustion hit me flat in the face. But I washed it right off because I’m in Tokyo and no one’s got time for that??.
Lost in Translation…Literally.
Another big hurdle: communication. Aside from the fact that I don’t know a word of Japanese besides, hello, thank you and beer—the tone of voice and facial expressions are completely different here. Regardless, I’ve gotten very good at using hand signals and awkwardly bowing when I don’t know what is being said to me. All it takes is a little patience and some good humor and you’re good to go.
But thankfully the Japanese are THE kindest people. Even through the language barriers, they are so patient and willing to help you. I was lost leaving the train station one time and a lady and her dog walked me all the way to where I needed to go. Another time, I dropped 1 yen on the bus without noticing. The cutest old man picked it up and walked all the way to the back of the bus with his cane, just to make sure I had my 1 yen that I had dropped. 1 yen is equivalent to exactly 0.0092 US dollhairs—so ya, totally pulled on my heart strings?.
When it came to food, I had to accept the fact that I didn’t know what I was eating 75% of the time. Most of the menus are all in Japanese and if you are lucky, the menu will have pictures of the food. But just like Instagram, pictures can be deceiving. You think you are getting beef and rice and then it turns out to be cow tongue with a suspicious vegetable.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter what you order, because there is a 100% chance that it will be tasty. Even the food at 7/11 is a hundred times better than decent food back at the states. Oh and yes, there are 7/11s on literally every street corner of Japan.
But back to the food: Hiroshima-style Okonamiyaki? Tried it, loved it. Osakan-style Takoyaki? Yep, delicious. Yakitori? Meat on a stick accompanied with cheap draft beer? I’ll take it. Udon noodles? Actually, give me all the noodles. And the sushi? Best. on. the. planet. So, you really can’t go wrong in Japan.
Yins and Yangs of Tokyo
Tokyo is a land of juxtapositions— from the modern to the traditional, the simplicity to the intricacies, the lush peaceful gardens alongside the chaotic streets. You have the wacky, weird and wonderful Harajuku district right next to the peaceful and serene temples of Shinjuku garden. The people are overall very conservative, but it isn’t uncommon to find someone passed out on the street corner after a Thursday night of drinking—but more on that in another post.
The style shows this junction too. The fashion is actually very professional and subdued for the most part. But in the sea of grey, black and navy, you will find quirky cartoon backpacks and cosplay style dress.
Even the toilets have this sense of dichotomy. One toilet is simply a hole in the ground and the next toilet is pretty much a spaceship complete with buttons, music and even a butt warmer.
First Impressions are Everything
Living abroad anywhere– never mind Japan– is an adventure. It’s not easy to board that plane and step off that final bus onto land that is so foreign to you that you end up disoriented, stuttering and maybe lost in a supermarket buying cereal and rice for the first week because it’s the only thing you recognize…
But these challenges can be enjoyed and ultimately embraced. They can improve your outlook and unveil things about yourself you never knew. And there is no doubt that Japan has opened my mind to a whole new way of life.
Coming to Japan has been a long time dream for me and probably stemmed from an unhealthy obsession with the ‘kawaii‘ culture when I was younger— think Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon and Pokemon. Luckily, I grew out of that phase (kind of?), but the desire to experience the Japanese way of life stuck with me.
And I’m so happy to be experiencing it— right here, right now.
Have you been to Tokyo? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂