I want to start this post off with maybe a few sadder words. This is a post that focuses on what I’ll miss about Japan, and it’s kind of sad that I have to say this, but I know a lot of people come to Japan with this strange, idealised image of things being… quirky and fun and futuristic, filled with anime and whatever else niche thing you might be into. I don’t want to feed into that, because I’ve lived here for 9 months now and I’ve seen the best and the worst of all sorts of people, but don’t just take this post and think “WOW, Japan is crazy cool!” or something. Because Japan is tons of fun, but it’s nowhere near paradise. I’d highly recommend doing your own research into how life really is here – both the good and bad sides of it.
You’ll come across people straight up passed out in the street. There’s a man I saw once back in October who had an open umbrella next to him, and to this day I often think about him. As in, he might genuinely have been dead, but I was pretty drunk too so I didn’t stop to help him. (There’s an Instagram account called Shibuya Meltdown which covers some of these people… but only in Shibuya. Not counting any other part of Tokyo.) There’ll be people on trains passed out. Some guy once passed me, shirtless, crying into his hands while half-jogging, with a policeman consoling him.
Japan has a lot of self-expression mixed in with a lot of hammer-down-the-nail-if-it-sticks-out-too-much. (The expression has to be socially acceptable!) It also has cheap alcohol, accessible gambling and a lot of stressed, overworked, and unhappy people trapped within their unrelenting workplaces and a society that does NOT like change. That’s why seeing someone passed out on the street, surrounded by their own vomit, isn’t even a big deal. It’s just understood. It’s coping, I suppose. Very dangerous.
It’s probably not a story I’ve told on this blog, but during the early days of being here in Japan we came across a woman face-down on the pavement. I wanted to pass her off as just another drunk, but nobody stopped to help her and there we were, 5 random white people speaking to her in our early-days-broken Japanese and trying to call an ambulance. Turns out she was an alcoholic, but she had also dislocated something so severely in her upper-back that I could only look for a split second before having to turn away. Like, bone-almost-pushing-through-skin dislocated. Her husband arrived, we got her into an ambulance and off she went, and ever since then (unless I’m in not state to help myself, or they’re the aforementioned umbrella guy) I’ve been trying to help people who are passed out. They’ve all been fine, but I think about her a lot and how long she might’ve been out there for if we didn’t stop.
That being said – there are wonderful people here. There are wonderful things about this place. I’ve had an amazing time, so I suppose it’s time (after all that) to write about 5 things that I really am going to miss about this place.
We’ve reached this season
I have a 7/11 literally right outside my dorms. 5 minutes away, a FamilyMart and a Lawson. 3 minutes from both of those, another. While konbinis are definitely more prevalent within Tokyo, even outside of it you’ll find them with ease. 90% of konbinis have public toilets. You can get your packages delivered to them, pay your bills, buy concert and attraction tickets, scan and print stuff, get pre-cooked greasy food (which I can’t take full advantage of as none of it is vegan, bar FamilyMart’s hashed browns, but I’ve heard great things about FamiChicken). They’re weird combinations of being public services while being privately owned, and I’m into it. Where did I even PEE in England?
Bonus – every 20 seconds? A vending machine. That’s an entire-Japan phenomenon. Of course we have vending machines in England too, but it’s more like… every so often, and no one really carries cash in England, so sorta useless.
Palm Trees (or, In-Country Variety)
As I’ve mentioned countless times, Tokyo is weird. You move from one section of it to another and it’s like an entirely different country. In particular, there are some places filled with palm trees (Kisai-Rinkai Kouen, everywhere near the two Disney resorts, Hibiya park) that really makes it feel like I’ve been transported back to Miami. I suppose the palm trees as a whole represent just how unpredictable Tokyo and Japan are – this is such a gorgeous country and I’m so blessed that I’ll have had the chance to live here for 11 months. The internal tourism is fantastic – anything you want to do, like skiing, swimming, hiking… Japan has all of that available despite being an island the size of the UK. The absolute variety of ways you can live your life within Japan is staggering. I’m honestly not surprised that most of the Japanese people I’ve talked to haven’t left the country.
Here’s another relevant image of DisneySea
It’s basically £3 (440 yen) for a one-way journey on the tube as an adult. Here, it’s usually like… £1.20 (160 yen). Want to take the train in England? I usually find myself travelling to and from Norwich to spend the weekend home in London during term time. It’s 2 hours by train. With a 16-25 railcard, that journey is, at absolute cheapest, £22 (3250 yen).
Without a railcard, the absolute cheapest is around £32 (4692 yen). Bear in mind the max price can be around £80 (11735 yen). If you wanted to go to Manchester from London? Cheapest is around £50 (7332 yen) and the highest I’ve ever seen is over £200 (29330 yen).
Japan’s trains and buses are ALWAYS on time. There’s been only a handful of instances I can remember when they haven’t been, and 1 of them was in Hiroshima when a train didn’t come for 5 or 6 hours due to the heavy winds knocking trees down. And travel is CHEAP. I can’t believe it only costs me 1,300 yen (or £9) to get to Narita Airport, which is actually super far away and in CHIBA. And the trains are clean! It’ll be sad to wash so much cash down the drain again due to stupidly overpriced travel costs, but at least I have a proper sense of perspective now when it comes to England’s prices.
This cost like £5.50
Speaking of prices, let’s talk about food. I have a lot of gripes with food here for obvious reasons, but it’s crazy seeing how veganism has developed in the short period I’ve been living in Tokyo. Of course, the lifestyle is booming now more than ever in the west, and like a lot of things, Japan is slow to catch up, but a boom is definitely happening here too. That being said, a lot of vegan products are imported (interestingly, mostly from England) and thus the price rockets up. Not much you can do about that.
ANYWAY – imported goods? All expensive. But Japanese ingredients are obviously incredibly cheap, and as someone who has always loved Japanese flavours, this is a dream come true. Example: buying 3 packs of firm tofu at santoku costs 70 yen. Or, 49p. We’re talking THAT cheap. Soy milk is EVERYWHERE here, and obviously cheap too, but watch out for certain ones which contain gelatine. Flavoured soy milk is huge as well, and I’m really REALLY going to miss the coffee flavoured one. Soy sauce? Sesame oil? Sesame seeds? Conveyor-belt sushi? Sesame sauce? Wakame? Ponzu? Alcohol? Strong Zero? It’s all pocket change.
We don’t talk about fruits and vegetables though. Fruits, moreso than vegetables. I bought myself a watermelon the other day and it was, no joke, an investment. We’re lucky in the UK that farmland is plentiful, and I’m so excited to not spend an arm and a leg anymore when I get back.
The ‘Gaijin’ Card
None of the pictures I put in my blog posts ever really have relevance. They’re just pretty and I want to share them
As an outsider, especially when you don’t speak Japanese, most people assume you’re a silly outsider who can’t speak a word of Japanese. There’s a lot of disrespect in your general direction. Hearing「 あ、日本語うまい！」 or 「あ、日本語上手ですね！」 (wow, you’re good at Japanese) was cute the first few times, but then it got a little too much. It’s not really meant to be disrespectful and more of an actual-genuine-shock thing, but I really do miss not being bothered and feeling like I can blend into a crowd. Some days, I can get through feeling like that – as if I really am a respected and a member of the community here, having normal conversations in Japanese, and other days a stranger will pull you over and ask to practise English with you, or some guy will take pictures of you and make a dash for it. There never seems to be a middle ground.
That being said, you can take advantage of it all – us idiot foreigners get to pull the gaijin card. “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Japanese – I had no idea!” “Oh, that’s okay! Haha, what a silly foreigner.” That kind of thing. The more foreign you look, the better you can pull it off.
Crossing the road where you’re not meant to? Stupid foreigner! Smoking in the street? Stupid foreigner! Doing something that might not be entirely legal but you have no idea? Stupid foreigner!
I’ve only got 2 months left to use that card, but I’ll make the most of it while I have it.
Until next time!