II.Re: Moon over Kastanien
„The Metropolis should have been aborted long before it became New York, London or Tokyo.“
—John Kenneth Galbraith
But let’s get down to business – we only have another week to update something on here, or else: punishment!
As I was saying … Tōkyō … I have been living there for the last three years of my life. Wow! Sounds amazing, doesn’t it!? Lifestyle all over the place! Breathing in the same re-filtered air that the hipsters of the world already used twice, thanks to air-conditioning! Eating the best sushi in the whole wide world! Free radioactivity!
Let’s come straight to the point: Tōkyō does not feel like an international city, even though everybody is saying so, even though it has a population of 16-30 million, lots of expats, tourists and business travellers. It almost feels like every other place in Japan except for a few facts that make the city even more unattractive. That sentence sounded strange – don’t get me wrong! I am a big fan of Japan, having studied Japanese Studies for around 5 years, having been to Japan a few times before moving to Tōkyō to work as an advertising graphic creator! I absolutely love the Japanese language, which I am speaking more or less fluently! Even though I left Japan with happiness, knowing that I will return to my beloved Europe, I still want to go back, enjoy an onsen trip, eat the fantastic food, sing a whole night Karaoke and just feel and breathe Japan! But enough of my love to Japan and let’s get back to Tōkyō and what it is to me – and let’s stop this ridiculous use of exclamation marks … !
Tōkyō can be a many things – just like any other city boasting with millions of people spending their life next to one another in an area with restricted space. Whole Japan is looking to Tōkyō because everybody is going there because there is work because … well … because Japan is looking to Tōkyō! You can literally get anything in Tōkyō – if you know where and if you have enough money in your pocket, credit card or Suica debit card. So that would make Tōkyō probably a pretty international city – whatever is your craving, the whore Tōkyō can satisfy it. Of course, you get the best Japanese food here, but I am pretty sure that this city has continuously the highest quota of best (international) restaurants in the world and then some. It is easy to find the expensive stuff, right?! Just go to one of the trending city parts like Shinjuku, Shibuya or Roppongi, find the biggest department stores or malls and go on a spending spree! Basically there are expensive places everywhere around and high quality is the norm rather than the exception. But then again, anywhere in the world it is easy to find what you want, if you have money – it doesn’t have to be a multi-million city. It is just way easier to find extravagant stuff there.
What makes a big international city interesting for me is true culture, something that comes into existence because of all these people crashing together. Sure, we could talk about all the bewildering things happening in Tōkyō that are so often being talked about in the west, when it comes to babbling about Japan: Cosplay, computer-freaks, strange restaurants and cafés (cat and dog cafés, pantyless waitress restaurants, net cafés, robot restaurants etc pp). But that doesn’t make the city more international – it makes it freaking circus (again, nothing against circuses, just…).
Fashion trends are of course rigorously followed by most of the people living in Tōkyō – of course you can expect (as stated about the circus above) to find a lot interestingly clothed people here (as you would expect from a city with a population like this), but do not get your hopes up to be awe-inspired by a large variety of international fashion – if a brown skirt is the thing of the season, it IS the THING! Period! Exclamation marks!!
The clash of cultures, that I am talking about, would be visible in a variety of original foreign shops, restaurants and other meeting points – places you know that the Non-Japanese community is actually using on a daily basis, and also is being frequented by the local Japanese, which leads to cheaper prices in these areas for those kinds of things available there. The only place that actually pops up when I think about it is the city part Ikebukuro with its rather big Chinese population and thus Chinese shops and restaurants. I heard of a city part where Korean shops and restaurants are more commonly available – but we are just talking about a handful here, nothing like Korea Town or China Town (speaking of China Town in Yokohama: it is kind of beautiful and very well taken care of, more of a tourist attraction, an extremely small Chinese Disneyland so to speak, rather than a Chinese community hub).
I guess because a lot of Japanese are not very good at speaking or understanding foreign languages (English included), it would be rather hard to create something truly foreign – the founded place or community would lose its Japanese clientel and vanish. That’s why as a foreigner, who doesn’t speak Japanese, it is kind of hard to find one’s way, communicate and really get into the people and the country. Now for my taste, Tōkyō would be an international city, if its people could communicate with English-speaking foreigners, if e.g. the public transportation would be easier to grasp for foreigners etc. etc. Of course the problem lies mostly with most of the Japanese people here, and – if we would dive further into the topic – the education system and much more; but a city is its people!
Of course you can meet Non-Japanese, and those people will most probably speak English, and maybe you can find some Japanese who actually are capable of communicating in a foreign language; but it will always feel like you are separate from Japan and the people itself; as if you are doing your own thing parallel to the society living in this Metropolis. And then you go back to your job, maybe in a Japanese company, maybe (and even more likely) in a foreign company (with foreign co-workers), or as a tourist try very hard to communicate to find your way or buy something – and on the evenings and\or weekends you join your little group of foreigners again. I am just speaking as a 3rd person spectator here, and I am sure, just like I did, a lot of people are kind of able to join the actual Japanese society and have Japanese friends; but it is probably kind of hard.
I realise that more and more I am talking about problems that the Japanese society in general has with the challenge of integrating foreigners – and that is a very complicated, deep and controverse topic, that shall not be discussed in only one tiny blog post. But then again: these problems are important reasons why Tōkyō does not feel like an international city to me!
Now, of course the question also arises, why Tōkyō has the responsibility to be an international city! It probably does not – it is perfectly fine to accept it as another Japanese city.
We would just have to change our views and expectations concerning such a multi million people metropolitan, such a centre of commerce and intellect.
In it’s very heart Tōkyō is what happens to a small town growing outstandingly huge – it does not consequently grow international!
I would be looking forward to bashing comments below, if we would have any real readers. That is why I will still be puzzled when people will talk about Tōkyō being international…
„Who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are.“
— Han Lue
BTW: I googled the quotes above because I needed a quote, because quotes are a cool way to make your blog entry funky! Who are those people anyway? Hey, let me get another quote for that:
„Where ignorance is bliss, ‚Tis folly to be wise. „