Television screens on buildings, street vendors, noise and flashy lights make Tokyo an obvious Japanese equivalent of New York City. While I am by no means a native of New York City, I have adopted a few behavioral adjustments that help me look a little less naive during my numerous visits. I make sure not to look too vulnerable, keep a serious face and unapologetically push through crowds. Yet in terms of safety, Tokyo is the polar opposite of New York. I have never felt so secure in such a huge metropolitan area. I could roam Tokyo at four in the morning and still feel completely safe. The only intimidating obstacle is attempting to read the Japanese train maps. Another refreshing aspect of the city is its politeness. There is a high level of respect in Japanese dialogue so it is very common for someone to bow numerous times and say thank you or sorry a lot, which I’ve learned to do. When walking into any business establishment, almost every employee shouts a welcome to you and thanks you at least five times within the short period they serve you.
The purpose of our trip is to learn the Japanese language and culture. Thus, from day one, our director, Professor Robinson, made it a point to take us to as many historical sites as possible. At five in the morning, we arrived at a fish auction market to watch the very meticulous inspection of several 200 lb tuna fish by very professional fishermen who would then bid on the tuna they wanted. Next, we visited one of the hundreds of Buddhist temples, took photos, slept, and walked around some more. After all the marathon walking and picture snapping I was beginning to feel like a tourist with Robinson as a guide. On day two, we saw sumo wrestlers. The best part was seeing a young man who weighed about 150 lb, training with 300-400 lb men. Despite this discrepancy, he seemed very determined.
It wasn’t until our group ventured out without the professor that my energy level sparked and raised. The bit of freedom was nice. One evening we shamefully went to Wendy’s, but it turned out to be a very classy experience, involving a live jazz band and relaxing environment. When we visited Shibuya, known for its young crowd and city-like atmosphere, we found it only appropriate to visit a club. Like the gaijin (foreigners) we are, we found a club through a tour book, which turned out to be a very Jug-like experience. There was nothing but American music that the DJ assumed we’d enjoy since we’re American. They joyfully lifted their hands to the “Y.M.C.A” song, which I thought was funny.
During my time in Tokyo there were several moments I realized what a terrible dresser I am. In regular life standards, my dressing would be considered pretty decent, but by Tokyo standards, I may as well hide in a hole. In the business world, men are suited in expensive perfect-fitting suits and women are equally sharp in their spike heels. The casually dressed crowd is just as intimidating with their stylish ensembles, super funky mullets and blonde hair. And there were others who rock the schoolgirl punk or hardcore hip-hop look. Overall the style is very upscale, unlike New York’s fashionable hobo style. Everyone looks like he or she is straight out of a Vogue Magazine, as if they really take the time to prepare their clothes or they just really knows how to dress. I was thinking it is the latter. I found it fascinating that it may as well be Tokyo culture to dress impeccably well, and what is so amazing is that there is not one woman in Tokyo who doesn’t wear heels. All day they walk around the city in trendy and painful stilettos. For that I commend them.