Now that I’ve been in Tokyo for a little over two months, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the things that I love most about Tokyo and the things that I haven’t enjoyed as much. I’m going to diverge from my usual writing style in this post and stick to a list-oriented format. For those who are considering taking a trip to Tokyo, I hope these points help you get a better sense of what Tokyo is like from the perspective of an American student studying here. Enjoy!
When you walk around the busy streets of Tokyo (unless you’re at Shibuya crossing or a very touristy area), you will be shocked by how quiet it is. Unlike other cities, where the car horns, engine revs, and people shouting make up the background noise, Tokyo is virtually silent. It is so quiet in fact, that I’ve almost gotten hit by several cars because I haven’t been paying attention. The silence is incredibly refreshing. To take a walk in Tokyo is profoundly tranquil and you will not be bothered by any excess noise.
2. The food:
Without a doubt, I’ve had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted in Tokyo. From deliciously sautéed yakitori to the creamy goodness of a hot bowl of ramen, I’m always satisfied food-wise here. Not only is the food delicious, but it is also relatively cheap. For under 500 yen, you can walk into a 7-11 and get a fairly decent bento box. All the food is constantly being refreshed and replaced, so you know you’re only getting the best of the best. So far, my favorite food that I’ve eaten was homemade matcha ice cream…everything matcha flavored in Tokyo is heavenly.
3. The respect:
Japanese culture is very much built on respect. I’ve noticed that people here genuinely seem to care about the happiness and comfortability of those around them. This is something that I rarely saw at home in the U.S. For example, on the Tokyo subway, I’ve witnessed two women politely arguing with each other about who should take the open seat. Eventually, the two women were so conscious of the other’s comfort that they both chose to stand. The culture of respect also comes out in the abundance of “thank yous” that people exchange on a daily basis. Thank you is used in virtually every interaction.
There really isn’t much at all to dislike about Tokyo, but here are a few things that I haven’t been the biggest fan of:
1. The lack of j-walking:
It is considered rude to j-walk in Japan. Even if there are clearly no vehicles in sight, people tend to wait until the walking signal turns green. I know that j-walking is technically illegal in the U.S., but everyone j-walks and it isn’t considered taboo. There have been instances when I’ve been running late and I’ve wanted to j-walk so badly, but I haven’t because it would considered rude. I understand the importance of the j-walking law, but I guess I dislike having to follow such a small and inconvenient rule.
2. The lack of fruits and veggies:
I won’t deny that finding fresh fruit and veggies can be difficult in Tokyo, especially if you’re on a tight budget. At home, I used to eat apples with every meal, but fruit is more expensive here. Strawberries, for example, are somewhat of a special treat here. In terms of restaurants, there aren’t many affordable salad chains, like there are for ramen, curry, and yakitori. A vegan friend of mine recently visited from France and finding food for her was definitely a challenge. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, moving to Tokyo may present a bit of a challenge to you.
3. Always having to use cash:
Having cash on you is an essential part of living in Tokyo. Pretty much every business accepts cash, but only about half the businesses in Tokyo take credit or debit cards. If they do take cards, they’re probably chains or major department stores. Additionally, if you do use cards and you’re not from Japan, you’ll accumulate international transaction fees. At home, I manage my finances electronically, which helps me stay organized. In Tokyo, I hate having to carry around a coin purse and constantly dig around it when I pay for something.