Watching a few documentaries recently on YouTube about the experiences of culture shock of Westerners in Japan got me thinking of the time I visited Tokyo in 2010. Now I love to travel, but I truly hate that experience you get when you're in a foreign land and cannot speak the language. It almost turns you into a toddler, unable to communicate the most basic of needs and wants. I once got terribly lost in the Tokyo subway system and asking people for help was virtually futile as hardly anyone spoke English. Nonetheless, the Japanese people I asked were very nice, and they tried their best. I somehow eventually found my way.
And so I spent the night ogling at the people...
Now I come from New York, and we have plenty of Asian people, so being around tons of Asians is not something new to me. But in Japan it's a different story. I was on their turf, their land, where their history goes back centuries, uncorrupted by strong Western influence. Although Japan was occupied by America after World War II, the Japanese, being a very secretive people, and living on an island, have been able to retain a strong core to their cultural identity. Whatever American or Western influences you see there are mainly on the surface.
So of course I headed over to Starbucks for a drink.
I was also experiencing severe jet-lag and couldn't sleep and so I didn't feel like heading back to the hotel. But I failed to take into consideration one of Tokyo's most annoying drawbacks: the subways stop running at around 1 AM, and so I found myself stranded in Shibuya.
I started wandering the back alleys off of the main drag to see what I could find. We don't have enough back alleys in America, in my opinion. Most of our entertainment districts are too open, and too family friendly. I long for seedy back alleys where adults can find ways to release some stress for the right price. Wandering around Tokyo's alleyways, there are sex shops, adult fantasy venues, comic book stores and all kinds of neat little restaurants tucked into the nooks and crannies. With a large sum of money, I'm sure a foreign tourist could find a lot of adventure. Unfortunately for me I was on a tight budget and I couldn't afford any of those things, so the only appetite that was satisfied was that of the need for eye candy.
As it started to get really late the stores began closing down. Since the subway was out until about 5 AM and since I couldn't afford a taxi, I decided to just continue wandering the streets. I remember feeling extremely safe the entire time. I was amazed to see that people actually leave their bikes unlocked on the street at night. I would never even dream of doing such a thing in New York. Tokyo early in the early morning hours is very quite, eerily so. But I always felt safe.
They have tons of vending machines on the street where you can buy anything from drinks to cigarettes.
Japanese people are pretty much what I imagined. They're generally nice and keep to themselves especially if you're a foreigner. One of the craziest thing I saw was going into a McDonald's the next day and seeing a black guy working there! I was shocked. I don't know how that's possible since Japan has very strict immigration rules.
Overall I had a great experience. If could go back again I'd bring more money, and more stylish clothes. If you care about style like I do, then you'll want to up your game to match the Tokyo trendsters. Plus it's just more gratifying when you're decked out and get attention from the locals.
Pluses and Minuses about Tokyo
Pluses: Safe, clean, most people generally friendly, lots of things to see and do, great culture that is unique, trendy people, many things written in English, women are pretty. Lots of adult entertainment and night life. Very secular society - won't have to deal with Western religions pretty much at all.
Minuses: Very, very expensive, few Japanese people speak English, subways in Tokyo stop running at 1 AM and they're very confusing. When you go to a restaurant, the portions of food are so small - what the appetizer is here, is the size of the main course in Japan. In general, everything is small. If you need large spaces, you will not like Tokyo.