Konichiwa from Tokyo!March 3, 2016 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 10 °C
We have been super busy enjoying Tokyo with Rachel's best friend Amanda who came from Los Angeles to meet us. We are staying in a traditional Japanese flat in Setagaya-ku, near Shibuya (a popular area to visit). We have gone to see many parks and shrines, as well as tried some amazing food. Our first meal of ramen around the corner from our apartment was amazing and unlike ramen any of us had ever eaten before. Amanda and Rachel especially enjoyed the creaminess of the sauce compared to ramen in the US. Since then we have been eating mostly noodles and sushi, though tonight we got yakitori from an alleyway bar (much more legit than it sounds) which was quite delicious!
There is so much to say about Japan, and we've been doing so many things, it's hard to know where to start! It's safe to say that our expectations were blown away. We've been to quite a few different countries at this point, but culturally Japan is the most unlike the US. We are in the largest city in the world, but its parallels to NYC (second place) are not as many as you would think. Tokyo is extremely clean and orderly. People follow rules that are politely laid out by signs or intercom announcements. For example, on all trains and busses that we've seen so far, people line up and do not push their way on to trains. There are signs everywhere marking the most efficient way to walk; for example, in the (all very huge and full of restaurants and shopping) subway terminals there are arrows on the floor and on the stairs to serve as crowd control so people can move quickly and efficiently through the station without running into each other. The subway system itself is something to be amazed by. At first it seemed very overwhelming and confusing. Now though, while it remains very complex, we have experienced firsthand the intelligence and planning that went into the design. It is EXTREMELY easy to get around Tokyo and much of Japan. There are many bullet trains going all over the country, but we are taking an overnight bus to Kyoto tonight (budget traveling!); we'll be on the bus for maybe 10-12 hours, while a bullet train only takes two! Its hard to put into writing just how unique we have found this interesting country to be.
Aside from not speaking or reading any Japanese, we're doing a pretty good job of cultural immersion here. The efficiency, organization, and kindness makes Japan a very easy place in which to acclimate to a vastly different culture. Even though we are only halfway through our week here, it is clear that Japan is one of the highlights of our trip! Rachel notes that she has liked the unimposing attitudes moreso than Nick maybe has. Rachel agrees that as Americans there can be some frustrating situations due to people being too polite, but generally things work so well in Japan that these circumstances are rare. For example, you may be familiar with escalator etiquette of standing on the right, walking on the left. This allows individuals who are in a hurry to walk up or down without being blocked by those standing still. If you've been to DC (or other large cities in the US), you'll know that people who don't normally use the escalator tend to not think about this etiquette, and people who do use the escalator regularly can get frustrated and sometimes act rudely to those in their way. In Japan, you would think that the focus on productivity would lead to many people having to push their way through, but at the same time their respectfulness might inhibit them. The thing is, no one we've seen has messed this up. People don't have to be polite about others in their way because everyone practices the same system of standing on the left, passing on the right (they drive on the left here, hence the reverse of the practice in the States). Rush hour at the subway station is like a well-choreographed dance, except nobody knows each other and they're perfect performers without having to practice.
As Amanda keeps saying: every day is different here, and every day has been fun, interesting, and busy. To provide a play-by-play would be onerous, so here are a few highlights...
Pictured: scenes from the east garden of the Imperial palace, views from the top of the Tokyo SkyTree, Harajuku, Shinjuku at night,
Not pictured: cat cafe, the National Gardens, wandering around Shibuya, all the amazing food, dinner last night with our apartment host (with the goal of cultural exchange), the unique bathrooms (Google if you're interested), random shrines we've happened upon in the city, two neighborhoods in Shinjuku where bars and restaurants are packed so tightly in alleys that only eight people can even fit inside, our bed mats on the floor, and our traditional low table for eating.
And it's only been three days!Read more