Feb 2, 2012

Posted by in Blog, Postcards | 10 Comments

Seven Things That Surprised Me About Tokyo

I was going to try to make this a list of five things, as that is a nice number, and it would match my Five Things That Didn’t Surprise Me About Tokyo. But, I failed. Too many things surprised me about Tokyo. And I thought I knew about Japan. I am half-Japanese, after all. Here is my list of seven things. (Ahh, the Miley Cyrus reference was unintentional, I swear! Not that I listen to her music or anything…)

1. The bikes. Bikes, everywhere!

I absolutely would never have predicted the vast numbers of people who use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation in Tokyo. It is nuts. There are multi-story garages devoted entirely to storing commuters’ bikes. Everybody from the young to the old to women in heels can be found biking their way through the hectic streets of the city.

Two bicycles on the sidewalk in Tokyo

2. The guys are hot.

In general, I am not attracted to Asian guys. I think I have thought one Korean guy was hot in my 11 months there. But, Japanese dudes are a different story. Maybe it was their style, maybe it was the fact that they can grow some semblance of facial hair, I don’t know. All I can tell you is that there are some definite hotties wandering the streets of Tokyo.

Of course, I’m sure they will never date us due to the armies of 94-pound high-heeled ladies strutting their stuff through Harujuku, but maybe we’ll get lucky and find one that’s a chubby chaser. (“We’re not chubby!” you say. Yes, we are. There is no way to be as skinny as a Japanese chick unless you are Japanese. Or Korean. Or Chinese. Or Nicole Ritchie. So just embrace it.)

Japanese man walking in Harajuku, Tokyo.

Rando Japanese guy on the streets of Harajuku.

3. You can find cheap(ish) meals.

I was so excited to find a place that served donburi (beef bowls with rice) for a mere 240 yen ($3). CHEAP. I mentioned my delicious find to our lovely CouchSurfing host, and he looked a little confused, then said, “Ahh, yes. It is good, but not for every day.” Dan then looked at me and said, “You realize we were just praising Japan’s equivalent to Taco Bell, right?” Rightttt. Oh well, I love Taco Bell, and I also love beef bowls. My dad should be proud. Besides yo quiero donburi, there are other options, as well. Lawson Convenience store was sent straight from heaven, with chicken nuggets and sushi and spaghetti, all for under $5.

Beef bowl (donburi) in Tokyo.

Shockingly delicious.

4. People don’t bow all that much.

Coming from Korea, I am a fine-tuned bowing machine. No matter what I’m saying – “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Goodbye,” “Nice to meet you,” “I’m hungry,” “Screw you,” I bow. In Korea, this makes me normal. In Japan, this makes me look like I am trying too hard. They don’t bow often at all. Coming from other places , it probably looks normal, but to me, I was really surprised by the infrequency of their waist movement.

Japanese women bowing at shrine in Kamamura

The only time I saw a lot of bowing was at shrines and temples.

5. People are not that scared to speak English.

Each time we looked remotely lost, a Japanese person with impeccable English would alight from the sky and ask, “May I help you?” It was amazing. No sooner would we pull out our map, or a confused look pass across our faces, than one of these Tokyo-angels would appear. I assumed that the Japanese would be polite, but I thought that also meant reserved and hesitant to speak English. Not the case.

Guys drinking Sapporo in Tokyo

Case in point. Our lovely CouchSurfing host, Riota, was fearless and near flawless in his English.

6. They drive on the wrong side of the road.

Why I didn’t know this, I’m not sure. I, too, have seen Rush Hour 3 and probs should have noticed it. I bet if I had watched that Oscar-caliber Tokyo-Drift movie, I would know. Alas, I never did, and was thus fairly shocked to see that the Japanese drive on the left-hand side of the road. I guess I always thought that nobody drove on the wrong side of the road unless they were ruled by the English or something like that.

Why does Japan, but not China or Korea? Confused-a-saurus. It made for some interesting near-death traffic experiences, though. I can’t remember if other left-sided road countries are like this, but everything is opposite. On the escalators, you stand to the left and let people pass on the right. It’s a difficult thing for an American to get used to, and it’s a testament to the kindness of the Japanese people that I didn’t get murdered at rush hour.

Traffic at Shibuya Crossing

Lots of cars and people at the famed Shibuya Crossing.

7. Cash rules everything.

This may have been my biggest shock. Japan, home of robotic dogs and inventor of the Prius, hates credit cards. It is an extremely cash-based society. The majority of places don’t accept credit cards, and many levy a 5% fee if you try to use one. Being a miles and points collector, I try to use my plastic for everything. This was a big adjustment.

Japanese yen

More Japanese yen than I ever saw. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog

This is a postcard from Tokyo, Japan. Like it? Then sign up for my RSS feed, like me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter! Or eat a cookie. 

  1. Interesting blog entry. Several observations.

    5) I have actually taught English as part of the JET Program, and from my experience, many of the kids were very shy in English. I’m not sure if I would use the world “scared,” but many (if not most of my kids) lacked confidence in English. Maybe that was a product of the difficulty of learning English for them.

    6) Have ever visited Thailand? The Thais also drive on the left side of the road. And Thailand was never colonized.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Rashaad! That’s so cool you taught with JET. I thought about applying for that but went with Korea instead. My kids and coworkers are also very shy, which is why I was surprised by the people I met in Japan. I have been to Thailand, and I guess I just forgot that they drive on the left side of the road! I was too busy burying my face in plates of big noodles.. haha.

  2. I meant to say “Have you ever visited Thailand?” I hate it when I omit a word.

  3. Labe eden says:

    Another great post; I love this blog.

    Especially love the line, “it’s a testament to the Japanese people that I wasn’t murdered at rush hour”

    Literally lol hilair

    • Labe eden says:

      What’s with the rando photo I was assigned?

    • Haha, thanks, Labe! Glad you enjoyed, and wish you had been there to be my translator. You don’t like your monster pic? It just assigns randomly unless you have your email tied to a picture through gravatar.com. I think it’s pretty cute though!

  4. It took me awhile to get used to the escalators, and then I noticed when I got to Osaka, a lot of people were standing on the right instead of the left, and I was left confused all over again.

    • That’s so true!!! I thought I was going crazy when I got to Osaka and was fooled by the escalators once again. Thanks for mentioning it.. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one! Haha.

  5. Another cool article. I also read the 5 things that didn’t surprise you about Tokyo. I first became interested in Japan in 3rd grade. Did you know that English became the 2nd official language of Japan in 2000? Glad you found som’n cheap to eat.

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