A Reflection of Life in Tokyo

By June 22, 2015 , , , ,

I still have about 20 posts on Tokyo waiting to go, but after my last month of travel to different countries, I began to reflect on what Japan meant to me in the midst of it all. To me, Japan used to be this exotic place that everyone gushed about, with sky high prices for everything from chocolate bars to the latest hippest new gadget. I never quite understood the hype because after all, it's just another country right? What perplexed me the most was the fact that everyone raved about Japan in that I've never actually heard anyone come back from there and say they disliked it.

Most other travel destinations don't garner such an enthusiastic response, so this place must be perfect right?

My first day in Tokyo was honestly not that impressive. After taking an overnight flight (which, never again), I was pretty much knocked out and done for the rest of the day. What I did notice was that quality over quantity was a rule this society lived by, and absolutely NO ONE spoke on the street. It was as though the entire city was enclosed within a glass menagerie and we were living in a museum. I couldn't decide if I enjoyed the peace, or if I felt uncomfortable being the loudest one on the street every time I spoke.

My second day was pretty much the same in that we spent the whole day at Disney Sea and didn't really get a chance to explore Tokyo at it's core. So by the third day, despite not having really made an effort to see the city, I was starting to doubt people's claims. I mean, Tokyo was nice - it was beautiful, but I still didn't feel like it was THAT special. The most frustrating part is that every time I ask someone why they like Japan, they'll tell me because it's clean. Seriously? 

My house is also clean, but no one raves about it. 

By then I was almost desperate to experience this utopia that people described, so Tiffany took me out onto the streets that third day and despite my insistence that we follow our itinerary to a T (because organization calms me), she rolled her eyes and suggested we do things her way. While I describe my travels as less of a holiday and more of a learning experience, her take is a little more relax. We decided to head over to the first destination on our list and then play it by ear after. This translated into long casual walks on the street, exploring every district in and through places that weren't described on tripadvisor. And somewhere in between our first and third cafe run, I started to understand what people liked, and what makes Tokyo such a unique place.

The city itself is different from anywhere I have ever traveled to and yet also the same. It's got phenomenal history like many places in Europe, it's modern and developed like the Americas, it's got the charm and the rush of an Asian city, but really what makes the city special is the people. The level of respect they have for their city, the level of courtesy they have for each other, and the penchant for not succumbing to the influences of the west, but instead paving a special way for doing EVERYTHING. From ketchup and mustard packets, to electronic bathrooms, and even how girls will try to obtain crooked teeth on purpose, Tokyo does things a little differently.

And that's what sets it apart. 

With globalization, many places are internationally influenced, which Japan either rejects or manipulates until it is unrecognizable, allowing the country to remain largely fresh and secluded. It is essentially the best of many worlds in a way that's unique but also remarkably familiar.

The reason I included this little blurb with the pictures above (which seemingly have no correlation), is because I feel that the heart of local life and the city is reflected in the market, which if you search hard enough, tell you more about a city and it's people than the "must see tourist attractions". Not only does it demonstrate everyday life, but also the people's approach to it. From mundane cleaning supplies to pre-packaged food, and even the way things are displayed and arranged. It shows what they care about and how they care about it. On a deeper level, it shows how they think, and from a financial perspective, indicates the state of their economy. A reflection of my experience in Tokyo is then best illustrated not necessarily by buildings or impressive monuments, but in places that help explain the people.

So now that my trip is over, the big questions are, would I go back and is Japan worth the hype of being the best travel destination.

Barely touching the surface, I would be naive if I thought I was an expert on Japan after only seeing a bit of Tokyo. Having talked to other tourists along the way, I've come to the conclusion that Tokyo was simply the bottom of the iceberg, and that the rest of Japan is even more vibrant. So yes. I would personally go back. Everything is MUCH less expensive than everyone makes it out to be, in fact, on a quality-price scale, I'd even dare to say that things are pretty affordable - except for fruit. I'd go broke if I ate fruit in Japan.

But is Japan everything that everyone hyped it up to be? No.

It's a beautiful country with beautiful people, and there's many things that are to be admired and experienced, but it wasn't as amazing as people made it out to seem. Here's why; Firstly, as great of a trip as it was, and as much as I've slowly come to love Japan, I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect city. And that's the beauty of it. Because there are flaws, this means that the society as a whole has exponential room for growth and continual potential to change. Secondly, I think there is something deliciously wonderful and desirable about every destination in that no two places are ever the same, which makes Japan equally as delightful, but not necessarily greater.

That's the beauty of travel, which is something I've learned to appreciate. Despite the frustratingly arduous travel time and security checks, what awaits at the end are learning experiences and memories. More importantly, there is an opportunity to understand that our norm is not everyone's norm, and that sometimes, the things that set us apart can also bring us together.


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