12 Things You Should Know About Tokyo, Japan
Do you remember the first time you visited New York? I sure do, I got off the subway under Madison Square Gardens. I smelled the aroma of street food from food trucks. There were people everywhere walking over each other like ants on an ant farm. This was the same vibe I got stepping off the shuttle bus in downtown Tokyo. It felt like New York but a twilight zone version. My brain started to hurt from all the stimulation. There was so much to take in and observe. Anxiety started to take over a brief moment. I was lost, I could not speak the native language, and I was alone. Imagine your first day at your new job, remember those emotions? These were the same emotions going through my mind but amplified. The entire trip felt like this. I was still able to take in a lot from Tokyo. But it wasn’t the usual observations. This turned out to be a positive thing. I was able to turn my nervous energy inward and focus on other observations that I normally wouldn’t see.
1. Youthful Japanese Women – In western culture, if you decide to ask women their age, you won’t get a truthful answer. This usually depends on how youthful the woman appears. Some women age faster than others due to many reasons such as diet, health, genetics or personal lifestyle. You can look at a woman’s hands and get an idea of their age. This certainly was not the case with Japanese women. As I was scrolling through profiles on social media looking for people to network with, I noticed the ages and appearances of the women. I saw women who were in their forties and fifties who appeared to look like they’re in high school. Roppongi Hills, a popular social scene for expats is a place I visited often. Here I mingled with women who spoke English. Again, I was astounded when they revealed their ages. I tried to guess their ages and was usually off about ten years.
2. Fashionable Surgical Masks – When I saw people from other countries wearing surgical masks looking like a Mortal Combat ninja, I was confused. It was thought that this was for medical reasons. This was not the case. In certain areas of Tokyo, I saw more of these masks worn. They were worn like American women wear yoga pants. The masks came in different colors, shapes, sizes, and designs. I learned that some wear the masks for various reasons such as hiding insecurities, containing germs, or to make a fashion statement. Surgical masks in Tokyo is as normal to the Japanese as wearing a suit to a job interview for Americans.
3. No Tattoos in the Onsens – A friend of mine is from Osaka, Japan. She had bragged about the Japanese hot springs or also known as onsens. Imagine taking a bath in the outdoors somewhere in the middle of Mount Fuji. If you can ignore the fact that Fuji is a volcano and you may be butt naked with others around, it sounds like a cool experience right? Well if you have any tattoos, you too will be denied this experience as I was. But there is hope. You just have to find a onsen that is private. It will cost a little bit more but I am told it is worth the experience. If you try to enter an osnen with a tattoo, you may be arrested. That is how serious the Japanese take this. It is said tattoos are associated with a Japanese criminal syndicate called the Yakuza. Due to this wicked reminder, tattoos are not fashionable like they are in western culture. You can learn more about it here https://kotaku.com/japans-problem-with-tattoos-1767685623
4. Complex Train and Subway System – If you are familiar with the public transportation system in New York then you should be okay in Tokyo. I say should be very lightly because Tokyo’s public transportation system looks like a “Where’s Waldo” book. Your first thought will be to scan the map. You will find the you are here icon and after that your’re screwed. There are various ways to get to point A from point B. You will keep second guessing yourself about which form of transportation will be the easiest. Unless you can read Japanese, you won’t be able to read the map. The map is a cluster of trains identified by colors. It looks more like a pack of skittles because of the high number of routes.
5. Small Interior Inside Homes – It is listed that the average height of people in Japan is five foot two inches. When you try to maneuver around homes, you feel like Shaquille O’ Neal. You will duck down every time you enter a room to prevent from hitting your head. The doorways are so short that you may feel like you have to limbo your way through. Some of the newer buildings are extremely narrow. It feels like you have to cram so much stuff in a small area. The Japanese have to do more with less space.
6. Sitting Down Indian Style – When eating at a table in Tokyo, Japan, be prepared to have very flexible hips. Unlike Americans, the Japanese do not have legs on their chairs. This all ties into the small architectural structure through out Japan and based on the average height of the natives. I attempted to eat a meal with friends and the struggle was real. It was uncomfortable and awkward. All I kept thinking about was how my hips were sore. Eventually the discomfort will have you fidgeting around trying to find a position that suites you.
7. Hidden Islands – While arriving in Japan, I realized something strange. The airline that I was flying on had access to some sort of google map like device on my screen. I had familiarized myself with Japan and how it was broken down into islands. As we were descending to Tokyo, I noticed Japan looked a little bigger than I remembered. As it turns out, Japan has a ton of unaccounted islands around the southern area. I checked my map when I landed to verify. This leaves so many questions like does anybody live there? Who lives on those islands? Why are these islands not on the map?
8. Extreme Kindness – Japan is the most selfless country I have ever visited. My Airbnb host came to pick me up. He dragged my coffin sized bags upstairs with no complaining. I tried to discourage him from doing that but he insisted and would not take no for an answer. This was unusual to me. I normally do not look forward to the customs process due to the guilty until proven innocent treatment from customs officers. This was by far the easiest customs process I have ever experienced. Everyone bowed to me as a way of saying thank you. Most people struggle just being polite and courteous let alone bowing to somebody. Although I almost got arrested mainly because of Japanese spas’s rule about bathing in an onsens with tattoos. The Japanese’s law enforcement had ice in their veins. They were polite and extremely calm. Psychology in the past has taught me it’s the calm and quiet ones who do the most damage.
9. Peaceful Culture – As I stated earlier about the calm police officers, the Japanese as a culture tend to be calm as a whole. I took a morning walk every day I was in Tokyo. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. As big as the city is, all the people moved in unison at crosswalks. When the population resembles an ant farm, it is challenging to keep everyone calm and organized. At times people seemed robotic. There were effective systems in place. The city is really clean. I believe having organized systems and having tools to be prepared keeps everything peaceful. The stress levels are exceedingly low. Everyone behaved as they did not have a care in the world. I have read stories how the Japanese military can be brutally calm in the face of war while being void of any emotion.
10. African American Culture – This was probably the most interesting observation. The majority of people Tokyo fit the description of what a native would look like. Straight hair, yellowish skin, and almond shaped eyes. But there were natives who looked nothing like what I just described. They resembled African Americans but only spoke Japanese. As history would tell it, these individuals may be related to the Ainu. These were known to be the original Japanese tribe of Japan. They were also African American. There are an estimated 20,000 ainu descendants living in Japan. Here are some interesting revelations about African Americans and it’s history with Japan http://www.blacktokyo.com/2015/02/27/black-history-in-japan-did-you-know/
11. Air Dry Clothes – As I was on my way to Tokyo from Narita, I passed a ton of apartments. I noticed I could not see any of the balconies. The balconies were covered with clothes. This reminded me of all the karate movies that took place in Japan. Especially when the hero is escaping the villain by swinging from clothes line to clothes line. It was obvious that in Japan, air drying your clothes is the way to go. Japan is all about efficiency. This is evident from the smaller structure of the homes. Here is a more in depth description from “The Japan Guy” https://www.thejapanguy.com/huh-i-have-to-hang-my-laundry-in-japan/
12. Value of Japanese Yen – During my social experiment in Roppongi, I ran out of yen. This was from miscalculating the amount of yen I actually had. I had a lot of large bills in Japanese. Each bill was 10,000 yen. That equals to be around 88.00$ dollars in USD. When my human eye sees 10,000, it was easy for me to think I had more money then I really had. Every country that I had visited had similar American currency breakdown in bills. It consisted of 5’s, 10’s, 20’s, and 100’s . Leave it to Japan to have a 10,000 currency bill. This left me confused many times.
I do my best to get the most out of my traveling. Visiting Tokyo wasn’t any different. Being in another country can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. There are some things you just can’t google or research, you can only experience them. I left out a lot of tourist like observations such as sushi or wearing kimonos. You can experience these kind of things in the USA. Tokyo has a lot to offer other then the tourists experiences. Tokyo seems bigger than it is due to the volume of people who live there. When visiting Tokyo it is best to keep your head on a swivel otherwise you might miss something. Anthony Bourdain, star of the CNN show, “Parts Unknown”, has said if he could live anywhere in the world he would choose Tokyo, Japan. I can understand why.
Here is a glimpse of the people of Tokyo
- Eric L. Bolden
- E. The Traveling Trainer