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Tokyo Feeling

As I grapple to find a place of comfort and habit here in the land of rising sun, I am becoming aware enough to observe the megalopolis that is around me. Hit with so much new, my thoughts blur and my ideas jump, thrashing in my head without any uniting thread other than their home in Japan

It appears Tokyo seems to support a class of elderly men who, in a country that doesn’t accept gratuity, must get their supplemental compensation from nods, smiles and the occasional bow from an overanxious foreigner or particularly formal Japanese man. I’m not entirely certain who is giving them their uniforms, assuming they are, indeed, being paid. Still, there they are, directing traffic unnecessarily and guiding navigators of tight Tokyo parking lots and standing guard at buildings that don’t seem to need guarding. They mumble garbled Japanese in sing-song voices, further muffled by their crooked-teeth smiles and craggy, time-worn skin.

I come to one of these graying, needlessly helmeted samurai and, being an overanxious foreigner, we bow at each other as I run past wearing athletic shorts and an absorbing mind.

It is culturally inappropriate for me to go running with my shirt off here, and I caught myself shaking my head at the garishness of an American wearing a sleeveless shirt in a Tokyo administrative building yesterday, yet just the other night as I walked home from grocery shopping, I passed by a line of men wearing little more than diapers as they came home from a traditional festival. How excitingly intriguing.

I have found no water fountains and even less bathrooms offering anything in the way of drying my hands. I must always forgo an empty seat for an older person. Rush hour is closer to 7pm than 5pm, but I have yet to find a Tokyo subway seat empty anyway, as if the city pays people to ride the trains excessively to feign a constantly traveling working class. They drive on the left side of the road here, and this means a great deal to me, the confused, foreign pedestrian.

Tokyo has McDonalds Big Macs and Starbucks coffee; there are Doritos on the shelves and cowboy hats in stores, but for me, Tokyo is an odd answer to that Western world. Japan is a leading nation trying to squeeze every last yen out of the industrialist path; the path paved and manicured by the great Western powers, while retaining as much of its non-Western tradition as possible. So, while I could get a Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburger a block from my school, there are some 800 Yoshinoya fast food restaurants worldwide.

I have been taught that there is the Western world and the poor world. Japan has long been the clearest dissenting view of that. Even the neighborhood in which I live has shown me otherwise. So, you can get a cheap butadon, pork bowl, with the speed and feel of a fast food restaurant, but you still use chop sticks. That balance of tradition has to be important.

It is, as most of us in the distant West even know, customary to remove footwear when entering a Japanese home. I might regret admitting that I forget sometimes. Excluding the giant American flag on my kitchen wall, that might be the clearest evidence of the nascence of my Japanese stay.

True, the list of what exposes me as non-Japanese is too extensive for the space I am allotted. But, then, I long ago gave up on ever desiring to pass as a local during any of my travels. And that is exceptionally important for me to be able to recognize through what I am running, and, perhaps, from what I am running.

Jaa ne,

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