Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tokyo: Ex Post Facto

It sounds hokey, but I am still under the spell of Tokyo. At lunch I sat at a counter by the deli window and watched people. No crowds out there, only a few people walking leisurely past, nobody wiping his brow with a handkerchief. Here, the garbage cans are everywhere, no need to separate burnable and non-burnable trash, no vending machines filled with cold beverages, no rows of bicycles with kickstand locks, no parking lots stacked with mopeds, no plastic food models. You look up and the buildings end in a few stories, no neon lights, no sales people welcoming every customer into the shops, no trays to place your money at the register, no signs for the subway, JR Rail.

Someone will occasionally inquire about the trip and I know to keep it short. "Overwhelming," I say. "It's a big city," I say. "The people were nice. I had fun."

Now I know what they mean by culture shock.

The whole time I was there I kept moving. I didn't give myself a chance to process what I was seeing because there wasn't time. But now, as I replay the events in my mind, I'm just stunned. And when I try to put my experiences into words they sound like a cliche.

To generalize greatly, it seemed that everybody there was just trying to carve themselves a space. Sometimes it was a nook, sometimes it was a nine-story building full of electronics equipment, sometimes it was a blue tarp in the crack between two buildings. In a day you could go from a massive and beautifully landscaped park to the red light district to a 43ft tall bronze statue of Buddha cast in 1252 A.D. to Disneyland. You probably wouldn't, but it's possible.

And the price of things! In the costume section of a department store there was a baby pacifier that looked like a set of teeth. $19. I kept my costs down by taking the train and subway everywhere, not buying much, and eating at small places, but still. Wow. Most places were Yen only, too, so no credit cards.

I wish I could've stayed through Saturday and flown back with Jer, but I can't complain. I'm glad I had the opportunity to go in the first place and he'll be home soon. Meanwhile the cats seem pretty happy to see me.

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