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For Starters

Everyone who is in Japan raise your hand. Note: I am typing with one hand.

Clever, I know. I am writing to you in my small – but expensive – two hundred thirty square foot apartment which I share with another here in the quiet residential Meguro-ku ward of Tokyo (one of 23 such municipalities). It has been quite a little adventure already, but let’s get ourselves orientated, no?

In the realm of self-evaluation, I love to consider myself the elder statesman of travel – at least for an independently traveling twenty-year-old. While most of my extended absences from my northwest New Jersey home have been wanderings throughout the continental United States, I spent the summer of 2005 in Ghana, West Africa. That was my first attempt at using education as a façade for international travel. Here in Tokyo I am keeping up that very pretext, though the time before I fall asleep is spent dreaming of travel and language, not books and tests.

I leave my homes for places I don’t know, yet I hold two very deep geographical allegiances: one for my Sussex County, NJ childhood home and another to Philadelphia, which I have grown to love through my studies at Temple University. (Of course I am equally enthralled with the country that houses both; please note there is a six foot by four foot American flag tacked up on my kitchen wall even here in Eastern Asia).

All that being said, I am here in one of the world’s largest cities, with a population exceeding eight million in the city’s 23 wards (some small surrounding islands and municipalities are considered part of the Tokyo prefecture and push the city’s population closer to 12 million). Sensibly those figures do not include the nearly 200 students from around the world studying abroad here at Temple University-Japan, including myself, and other international travelers who might label this city a temporary home.

So, like my fellow not-quite-Japanese Japan residents, I have the same seemingly ethereal effect on the country. A presence for sure, but we’re not all quite here, despite what my passport visa and Alien Registration card say.
I am playing loudly the country music of my childhood in an attempt to quiet the jack hammering of a city desperately trying to find more space for growth and usually finding it skyward. The some 620 square kilometers (roughly 385 square miles) that comprise Tokyo’s 23 wards are crammed with buildings, rarely with less than two or three floors. A friend spent the 1,000 yen (nearly $9 USD) to climb the 54 story Mori Tower in the hip international scene of the tourist district Roppongi Hills. Once he came out, all he could say with much efficiency was, “buildings forever.” He noted the playing fields that top some of the structures, to which the denizens of space-strapped cities everywhere are accustomed.

There are differences for sure, but the nascence of my stay has left me noting Tokyo’s similarities to, not its differences from, my beloved United States of America. I am working to settle into these walls which will shelter me for the next four months of my life. But that will be for another time.

Jaa mata!

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