10 Things I Like and Dislike About Tokyo

Tokyo Fashion

Shock and awe: Living in Tokyo has its hits and misses just like any other city in the world…how about that? And I do enjoy my glamorous life here, but there are some things I could do without. So enough of my rambling, let’s get to it.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The convenience – especially where I live. I’m right in the centre of the city so everything I could ever want and more is within walking distance (and before you ask, yes that includes food, shelter, financial security, health, love and acceptance). There are three chain grocery stores nearby plus countless independently run shops, my bank, two post offices, two train stations, karaoke  (in case I have an unstoppable urge to sing badly and drunkenly), clothes stores, shoe stores, convenience stores and drug stores, restaurants, bars and a McDonald’s.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Lately, the earthquakes: Nothing like being shaken awake at 4am, scrambling to find the pajama pants I kicked off in the night because it’s so hellishly hot. And what’s merely inconvenient for me so far is devastating for the people closest to where they hit. As many of you know, the last big earthquake triggered a huge tsunami that wiped out parts of north-eastern Japan, and crippled a nuclear power plant. It will take years to recover. I heard one sad story of a farmer committing suicide because he couldn’t sell anything from his farm, for fear it was contaminated with radiation. The natural beauty of this county is astounding but earthquakes are a heavy price to pay.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The nightlife: I’ve been known to cut a rug in my day, and there are lots of places to go out and party depending on what you want to do. There’s of course Shibuya, where there are lots of bars, clubs and izakaya restaurants. When I go clubbing it’s usually in Shibuya. Places stay open until between 4-5 am, so if I miss the last train all I have to do is stay drunk enough to party until the trains run again. There’s also Roppongi, where many foreigners go to party, and find willing “prey”. The gays live it up in Shinjuku’s nichome district. I’ve been there a couple times and people are always so friendly. Shinjuku’s also got a ton more izakaya and 24 hour restaurants.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Chikan, or perverts. Here there are women-only train cars because molestation on the trains is such a big problem. Luckily, I haven’t had any experiences myself, well except this one time. I noticed a salaryman was awfully and unnecessarily close to me on a train that wasn’t even crowded, to the point where his thigh was rubbing against my butt ever so slightly. I thought it might be an accident so I moved forward, and I soon found myself having to move again, until I was being pushed forward against the train door. I not-so-accidentally, elbowed backward into his crotch, but that only seemed to spur him on! Finally I turned around and looked him in the eye, and that got him to back off.  My roommate also told me that on her way to school every day during the morning rush, it’s so crowded she can’t even move her arms and legs. That’s when the chikan really come out to play. She says there are hands touching her butt, even going up her skirt! And there’s no way for her to tell who it is, or get away. I haven’t had to endure that kind of groping — maybe the chikan are afraid of my foreignness (they’re a bunch of cowards, groping women who can’t do anything about it) or maybe they can’t work out how to wrap their disgusting fingers around the unusual rotundness of my African-American behind. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it hasn’t affected me as badly as it could. Still, it’s an aspect of Tokyo life I really dislike.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The fashion – I love playing dress-up and I get so many ideas just walking the streets of this city.  The shoes are my favourite part. Japanese women take the art of shoe wearing to a reverent level. I am not worthy! The dedication it takes to totter around the city on 5 inch, peep toe heels is staggering (pun intended). I know my feet get tired after 15 minutes, so I don’t know how they do it. But I have to admit, they look hot! I also like the layered look, the miniskirts, the hats, the bracelets, the necklaces and all that vibrant colour.  Looking good, Tokyo!

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Not many people speak conversational English. I can hear you now all you Captain Obviouses: “Well duh, it’s Japan!”

Thank you, and I know that. I live here remember? I don’t expect everyone to know how to speak English, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There are days when I really wish either my Japanese were better or the English of the person I was talking to were better.  Days when I’m tired and hungry and I don’t feel like charading-out my desire for three 90 yen stamps, or that I don’t want a meal set, just the sandwich. I knew coming here that it would be an issue, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

It’s easier to get a job than back home — if you’re willing to teach English that is. There’s a big market for it here that’s increased since the March 11 earthquake, as some of the native English speakers who were working here took that as a sign to move back to their respective countries. For better or worse, all you need is a visa and your English speaking ability and you’re set.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

The real estate prices — I’d like to move in to my own apartment next year, because right now I live in a little matchbox of a room, and the mountain of clothes I keep buying is threatening to bury my alive — I don’t even have a closet! However, the rent on my own place plus paying for utilities like heat, gas and internet will cost me an arm, a leg and three of four of the fingers on my remaining hand. It’s the price I’ll have to pay though, because I’ve been spoiled by the convenience and bright lights of big city life, and I don’t want to live out in the bush.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

My friends — I’ve meet some fabulous students and staff through English teaching, and met some more friends through blogging and even met a couple people out partying. When living in a foreign country making some friends is essential in fighting off the onset of homesickness, and I’m glad I have people I can talk to and hang out with, or life here would be very lonely. Another benefit is that my Tokyo friends introduce me to new restaurants and places to have fun of go sightseeing. So when my Toronto friends come to visit I’ll know where to take them.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

The stares — I’m black, get over it! Ah, here’s Captain Obvious and friends to the “rescue” again: “Of course they stare at you, you look so different! Japan is a homogeneous society blah blah blah regurgitation blah blah blah ignorance. I still don’t like it!  And no I will not “just go home” because I’m making good money and there are many more things I do like keeping me here. But damn if the staring doesn’t get on my last nerve every once in a while. Couple that with the fact that I still can’t understand much Japanese, and I don’t know if people are talking about me or not, and it’s extremely unnerving.

Well there you have it my friends, the 10 things I like and dislike about living in this famous city.  What are some of the things you like and dislike about Tokyo?

 

 

My Secret Tokyo Paradise

Shimokitazawa

Everyone needs a place they can escape to when that ruthless steamroller called life has left you flattened on the sidewalk. For me, this place isn’t a peaceful temple with a quietly gurgling fountain, or a park with a path lined with bamboo trees.An Alley in Shimokitazawa

One of my favourite places to unwind in Tokyo is loud, flashy and busy, yet intimate too. It’s a trendy neighbourhood you’ve probably never heard of unless you live here. It doesn’t have the claims to fame of Shibuya, Shinkuku or Harujuku, but what it lacks in notoriety it makes up for in sheer charm. The area consists of one bustling main street that splits off into numerous skinny alleys that beg to be explored. There’s a vibrant, artistic and bohemian energy about the place that never fails to bring me back to life. It’s chilling on the cute designs decorating the doors of closed shops.

Door Design in Shimokitazawa

It’s glowing at you from the neon signs and the lanterns that line the streets.  It’s dancing in your ears as the laughter of impeccably dressed Japanese youth lounging on a bar patio. It’s tickling your nose as the smell of Japanese curry, Italian pasta and Thai soup.

I’m talking about Shimokitazawa, where you can always find a talented young musician on a street corner looking for, and often finding, an appreciative audience. That is, before they move on to live performances at one of the many clubs in the area. If you’re looking for up-and-coming J-talent, this is where you need to be.

Club 251

Cute accessories store in Shimokitazwa Tokyo

If it’s fashion that sets your heart racing, Shimokitazawa has — hands down — two of the cutest accessories stores I’ve ever seen. And there are quite a few second-hand clothing stores where you can get really stylish stuff for less than half of what you would normally pay. Trust me when I say you’ll lose hours browsing these places.

 

 

Or if you like games, there are blaring, colourful arcades that beckon you inside with their beeps, clicks and dings, promising fame and glory if you can beat the latest high score. Or you can try your luck at winning a prize in one of the game centres. I’ve seen everything from stuffed animals to cookware to perfume in these machines. I haven’t had much luck, in fact there’s an adorable teddy bear I’ve so far spent 2000 yen (about $20) trying to win with no success, but don’t let that stop you. After all, the chase is half the fun! And there are of course the obligatory pachinko parlours sprinkled around the place, for those who want to trust their fortunes to lady luck.

One day, Rilakkuma, you and I will be together.

The restaurants and bars in Shimokitazawa are some of the most exciting and beautifully designed I’ve ever seen, and judging by the crowds inside the food is just as enticing. Whatever you’re craving you’ll probably find it here. There’s traditional Japanese, Thai, Italian, and even a jerk chicken stall tucked away in a corner, with smooth reggae beats playing as customers sit at outdoor tables while a blue disco ball flashes over them.

In fact, disco balls seem to be a theme here, but you won’t hear me complaining because somehow, in Shimokitazawa, it works.

 

 

This post is part of the July 2011 J-Festa “Places in Japan”, over at Japingu.

My 7 Links: 7 Posts You Should Read

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year, and slowly but surely I’ve been building a palace of posts. I want to say a big thank you to all of my guests who have walked the halls and toured the rooms, sat and dreamed in the courtyard or listened to me philosophize and theorize from the throne room. But if I may, I’d like to point you in the direction of some of my best accomplishments.

After receiving a nomination from Loco over at Loco in Yokohama, as part of the TripBase blog’s My 7 Links post showcase I’ve taken a close look at everything I’ve tattooed onto the internet in the last year, and come up with 7 of my most noteworthy posts.

My Most Beautiful Post

The Cherry Blossom Post

I was so grateful to be in Tokyo for sakura season this year. It was a close call as I had left the county only a week before. This is one of the rare times I showcased my photography “skills”, but I think the pictures came out beautifully if I do say so myself.

Sakura Arc

I love how pretty and pink these ones are

My Most Popular Post

Whoa…I Wanna Do That! My Top 7

My most popular post just happens to be another Top 7 list. Maybe 7 is my lucky number? Before I had even moved to Tokyo I made a list of the 7 things I just had to try while living in Japan. So far I’ve accomplished number 7, 5, 3, and 1.

Geisha in Kyoto

My Most Controversial Post

I Am One of the Ugliest Women on Earth

I wrote this is response to the infamous article by Satoshi Kanazawa on Psychology today that claimed that African American women were considered the ugliest race of women. His article had a lot of flaws but mostly it was insensitive, unnecessary and racist. This post sparked a lot of discussion, both intelligent comments and racist rude replies I didn’t dignify with approval. I also touched on the different attitudes towards foreigners of different races in Japan. For example, the majority of advertising including foreigners features foreigners of European descent, usually with blond hair.

One of the ugliest women on Earth

One of the ugliest women on Earth

My Most Helpful Post

You Want to Teach English in Japan?

If you’re reading my blog because you want to come to Japan to work as an English teacher like me, here are some things I think you need to seriously consider before taking the job.

Skooled

A Surprisingly Successful Post

Blacks in Japan: Preconceptions

I didn’t realize this post would grab the attention of so many people. It’s my second most popular post. I wrote it before I moved as a way to organize my own thoughts and fears and expectations about being a black woman living in Japan. It seems to have struck a nerve for more than just black expats living in Japan. I’ve been in Tokyo for six months now, so expect a follow-up soon.

Blacks in Japan

A Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserves

Virtual Japan: Meiji Jingu

This post is part of my Virtual Japan series, where I take you all on a tour of Japan. Meiji Jingu is a beautiful shrine near Harajuku. If you’ve ever wanted to visit a Japanese shrine but couldn’t come to Japan here’s your chance! This post, as well as my whole youtube channel could use some love, so get over there!

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu

The Post I’m Most Proud of

Summer R.E.L.I.E.F Tactics

Looking for ways to keep cool during the ridiculous Tokyo summer heat? Join the R.E.L.I.E.F warriors and together we’ll conquer that tyrant, summer. I’m proud of this post because it’s funny, it’s quirky and right now it’s top of the polls over at Loco’s Hot Fun in the Summertime 2 Blog Matsuri. Head over to Loco’s and vote for me!

But it’s not over. Since Loco was so kind as to nominate me, it’s my turn to spread the love. Here are five bloggers who surely have 7 posts everyone needs to read.

The Japan Guy

Bad Communication Podcast

The Sakura Project

Inaka Blues

Camp Roadless

“You Should Give Up Trying to Learn Japanese”

This (or something along these lines in broken English) was the response I got from one of the students at the school I teach at when I told him I was trying to learn Japanese so I could better communicate with the people around me. You see, while charades is a barrel of laughs at a cocktail party, especially when drinks are involved, doing it every day to make myself understood gets old quick. But according to this student learning Japanese will pretty much be impossible for me because I’m a foreigner. And if you read between the lines: a foreigner of non-Asian descent.

I’d like to say I tore into him about the ignorance of such an assumption, but I was at a work party and I didn’t want to get all heated because I really enjoy making money, and I’m not about to compromise my job over the miseducation of one man. Also I could tell he was pretty old school and nothing coming out of my young, pretty, foreign mouth, short of fluent Japanese, was going to change his mind.  And aside from that one comment he was a decent guy and we had a good conversation.  So I just shrugged it off with, “I’m still going to try my best.”

I’ve come across this situation before while cruising the J-blogosphere. Others have encountered the attitude that Japanese is just too difficult for anyone outside of Asia to grasp. But I wonder why? It’s a language built just like any other. It’s got vocabulary, grammar, idioms…learn the rules and you can learn the language right? Sure there are different tenses for formal and informal situations but again, learn the rules and you can learn the language. I’m not so foolish as to believe I could become fluent in a year, and I may never be fluent,  but impossible to learn? Nah, I don’t buy it. I can at least get up to the conversational level many of my Japanese students have reached in English.

Perhaps it’s the human need to feel unique. Think how special someone must be to be able to fluently speak a language that is “impossible’ for half the world to learn. Or perhaps it’s something a little more sinister — a belief that I and other western foreigners have a slower brain, incapable of picking up the nuances of such a complicated language. I hope not, because then we’re trotting down that shadowy road called genetic superiority, and that’s a little scary.

In a way this is positive. His comment didn’t discourage me, oh no. Comments like that fuel me. It’s a challenge. I’m going to be in this country for a while so let’s see how much I can learn. It’s on, dude.

For all of you out there spying on my through this blog :) what are your thoughts? Whether you’re a foreigner learning Japanese, a Japanese person who is already fluent or you’re just passing through. Is it impossible for me to learn Japanese?