As I’m writing this, I’m on a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’ve been in Tokyo since Sunday, and I must admit, by the end of it, I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do in Tokyo! I want to put my experiences in Tokyo into more articles, but for now, I’ve been thinking about my overall impression with Japan thus far, and some points come to mind:
- Stand to the left, pass to the right. I noticed in the metro stations that people tended to fall into a pattern of walking on the left side of the station (I imagine that’s because in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road), and standing on the left side of the escalator so people can pass on the right. In America, and even in China, that’s not as likely to happen, if it happens at all, and the chaos that ensues seems inevitable. Regardless, I’ve been saying sumimasen (“excuse me”) a lot, mostly because I would be focusing too much on Google Maps, or I’d have no idea where I’m going.
- Durable is not always practical. I knew full well that hiking boots were not a good option for taking on and off when entering a Japanese home; however, I didn’t realize just how often people take off their shoes in Japan. Fitting rooms in clothing stores, some parts of museums like the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku, some places like the cat café I went to in Harajuku—all of them required me to take off my shoes. At this point, I’m wondering if Japanese people can tell if people are tourists by seeing if they’re wearing shoes with laces. I was tempted to see what kind of cute, durable flats I could find in my size, but I wouldn’t have had enough room in my suitcase for my boots, so for now, I’m soldiering on.
- Few trash cans. I know that Japan has a rigorous system when it comes to recycling and trash disposal, but I didn’t expect how few trash cans or recycling bins I’ve seen on the streets in Tokyo. In America and China, you’d have at least one trash/recycling bin per street block. Japan? I once had to keep a food wrapper in my pocket for hours before I found a trash bin. I imagine if there were a lot of waste bins, though, in such a big city like Tokyo, trash would inevitably accumulate (“if you build it, they will come” and all that), and Japan doesn’t have much space for landfills, so I understand why this is the case, but it’s still a bit of an adjustment.
- Not many places to sit. When I was researching customs in Japan, I read that it’s generally considered inappropriate to walk and eat at the same time. That said, when I would order food at a place that didn’t have seating, I would want to find a bench so I could sit and eat, but there wouldn’t be any, so it felt like a bit of a Catch-22. I realize that as a foreigner, I could probably get away with making some faux pas, but I didn’t want to be that person. Instead, I just stood in a place where I wouldn’t be in the way of foot traffic and ate there. Was that the best alternative? I don’t know, but I was trying to make do.
- Just how many foreigners there would be. After being in Cili (and thus being one of only a handful of foreigners in the county, to my knowledge) for almost six months, I noticed that there were so many foreign tourists in Tokyo, and I kind of didn’t know how to react at first. I imagine this is going to be similar to reverse culture shock when I return to America.
I’ve been having a great time here so far, and I hope I can have an equally good time in Kyoto! I’ve been thinking about posting a sort of food diary about the themed restaurants and other places I went to in Tokyo, but I’m not sure if y’all are interested in that. Let me know what you want to read about in the comments! Until the next article—well, it feels weird saying zai jian since I’m in Japan, so I’ll say またね!