Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Caroline vs. Tokyo

New country, new snacks.

I've been in Tokyo for about seven weeks now, and am starting to really get into the swing of things.  I definitely had some growing pains and a teensy bit of culture shock; here are some of my first impressions of Tokyo:

A visit to the Meiji Shrine a couple days before Christmas.

People scuff their feet as they walk.  This drives me nuts (I have the randomest pet peeves) - probably because it was drilled into my head at a young age not to scuff my feet because it would ruin my shoes.  Sometimes I look at women in their fancy shoes scuffing their feet, and scream "WHY?!?!" in my head.

Traffic flows on the left, which keeps tripping me up.  I haven't had as much trouble looking the correct way on the street (I always have major problems with this in England...I almost got hit by a double decker bus once), but I keep forgetting that I should stay to the left on sidewalks and stairs.

I was brought up not to slurp my food or hold my bowl/plate to my face, but that's just how one eats Japanese food.  Ramen should be slurped up ASAP, and there needs to be as short a distance as possible between the bowl and one's mouth to avoid having rice fall off chopsticks en route.

My preferred Matsuya order: shredded beef with vegetables and a poached egg over rice.

There are a lot of old people.  Japan's population is shrinking (an overly simple explanation of this is that people work too much and don't devote enough time to raising a family, or even taking the time to have sex), so a lot of older people (mostly men) work "odd jobs," like security guards, janitors, etc.  Tokyoites are known for their serious style, and the city's elderly are no exception.

I went to a cat cafe on my first day (also my birthday), and the people running it were weirdly anal about EVERYTHING.  Is it because they know they hold all the power?  (Thinking about this after made me realize that cats carry a lot of diseases, so some of the rules regarding hygiene made sense).

Young people are also always looking at their phones.  Yes, I love my smartphone too (though I don't have data here, so I can only browse where I can find free wifi), but I'm careful about not texting and walking.  I have seen so many people staring only at their phones as they exit the metro trains and navigate the train platforms and crowded sidewalks, it's a wonder people don't collide with each other or trip up steps more often.

A cat at Hapineko (literally "happy cat") doing what cats do best: making humans beg for attention.

People don't smoke and walk - this is a big reason that Tokyo sidewalks are relatively litter-free.  I welcome this cultural norm since I have been nearly singed by another pedestrian's cigarette countless times at home and in Europe.  There are smoking areas (I like to call them "smoking jails") in certain areas of the city, like around major train stations and on university campuses.  I was here for five weeks before I saw someone walking and smoking, and it was in the middle of the night in a residential neighbourhood.

There are virtually no visible homeless people.  I have seen exactly one person begging in a subway station, one person rooting through garbage on a street near my apartment, and two people sleeping under a bridge by one of the rivers in my neighbourhood.  This is largely because of the shame and stigma that comes with begging for money in the street.  There doesn't seem to be much of a structure of shelters, but it seems likely that a homeless person can get a cheap place to stay at internet cafes and love hotels.

A lot of people (especially women) are pigeon-toed and/or bow-legged.  This causes a lot of women to have trouble walking in heels, but I've been told it's "cutesy" for women to clomp around like this.  Clem also thinks I'm noticing more pigeon-toed people because I'm just seeing more people (metro Tokyo has a population of 13 million).

Christmas and New Year's wishes from visitors to Meiji Jingu.

There are few bike lanes, and the ones I've seen are always part of the sidewalk, so cyclists are competing with pedestrians.  I've almost been hit a couple times (refer back to the point about moving on the left), and this type of thing really bothers me at home, but I'm not going to get into a fight about it here.

Even though most people read their phones on public transit, a fair amount of people also read books.  They all have decorative book covers for protection, because books are rarely published in hardcopy.

Uggs are really in style, for some reason I cannot fathom.

Daikanransha, a ferris wheel at Pallette Town in Odaiba, on Tokyo Bay

People don't talk on public transit.  Even during rush hour when trains and busses are packed (and yes - people packers are a thing), few people will carry on a conversation.  Part of the reason is that this is a time people use to sleep, since work hours and commutes are long.  It's very gauche to talk on the phone on the subway.

There are no small rodents like squirrels, but there are loads of birds.  Some metro stations have recorded bird sounds playing - I recently learned this is so people with impaired vision can know where they are going.

Many restaurants have plastic models of all the foods on offer, even drinks!  This is helpful for tourists who can't read a Japanese menu, and it is also a sign that the restaurant is doing well for itself, since the models are very expensive.

Walking home from school.

I love Tokyo already.  I can't wait to see what I'll be able to get up to over the next few months.

xx,

C.

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