An Alien in Tokyo

Number 6 – Live in Tokyo (the 6 of Clubs) – Part 2

An alien in Tokyo

Whilst my last post went into the generic tourist aspect of Tokyo, the travel blog post if you will, this post is going to be more about my personal experience of spending time in Tokyo. I say spending time, because I’m being quite cautious of using the word ‘live’; I understand that for many people one month in a place does not constitute living in a place. In a sense I agree, I don’t know what the official time frame is to say you have ‘lived’ in a place. However I feel that I have really made the most of my time in Tokyo; I worked a little, lived in some ways like a local, and hopefully did significantly more than the average tourist. But I also got itchy feet. Traveling around SE Asia, I got used to seeing new things every few days, moving on, living out of a bag. Honestly, I never really felt at home in Tokyo; it can be a very lonely place, and there definitely isn’t the traveller vibe that I enjoyed on my travels prior to this. Add to this the culture shock and the language barrier, and I am more than happy with spending 2 months here. I feel like I have spent enough time to satisfy the bug in me that has been pulling at me to visit Japan since I was 8 years old.

As I said, I spent my first 6 days as a tourist, taking in the sights, and generally exploring the city. I was recently introduced to a concept from a fellow traveller called Jack, which I absolutely love and which without knowing I have tended to do for most of my travelling life. The concept is called a ‘dérive’, and the idea is similar to what I have always called winter wandering. Basically, you set out with no destination in mind, or perhaps a loose destination but no set route or plan, and the idea is that through this dérive, you actually discover more of the place you are in. I absolutely love doing this, and may write a post on it in the future, but I spent a fair amount of my first 6 days in Tokyo doing this as well as the general tourist thing. Tokyo has a lot to offer and it was great wandering the streets; the problem is that it is just so big. You couldn’t possibly walk the city between all the major sights, and the metro at some points is a must. It was during this time that I began to feel a little alienated however, as although the city has a lot of great sights etc., it isn’t what I would call an overly welcoming city. Much like London, people keep to themselves, unless you read Japanese you will struggle to know what things are trying to tell you, and there is the ‘New York syndrome’ of feeling very small in the midst of such a tall city. I think there is an official name for this phenomenon, I’ll try find it! I also think at some point when travelling you hit a critical moment; a moment when you have been away for a significant amount of time and you start to realise the gravity of what you are doing. Whilst you’re moving around so much you don’t really have time to notice that, but when I stopped in Tokyo it started to seep through and affect me.

However…

For those of you who have read this blog, you will probably know that my apocalyst was created after watching the trailer for a brilliant TV show called No Tomorrow. The trailer was enough for me to stir something inside of me and I have that show to thank for literally changing my life; it made me find the girl of my dreams, quit my job, move across the world and generally start living my dreams instead of dreaming my life. More specifically though, I guess it’s the creators of this show that I really need to thank. Well, I got my chance! On my first true day in Tokyo I got an offer which I never dreamed would happen. Tory Stanton, one of the co-creators of No Tomorrow, emailed me to introduce himself and ask if I was going to be in Tokyo over the next few weeks. He and his incredible wife Jen had got married in 2016 just as the show got picked up, so unfortunately they couldn’t go on their honeymoon straight away. Japan was their delayed honeymoon, and by absolute good fortune our schedules lined up! So, on 6th March, I met Tory and his wife at Harajuku station and we spent the most mind blowing afternoon together. To say I was nervous was an understatement, but they were genuinely two of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. It was really surreal and humbling to hear them talk so fondly of the blog, and to find out that the rest of the crew actually read the blog?! Just wow. The next day we met up again and went to The Ruby Room in Shibuya for the open mic. Now I just need to convince them that they need me in the show in the future. At the least I could be brought on board as ‘professional apocalyst consultant’… after all, I’m uniquely qualified!

From here, I basically settled down into Tokyo life. I managed to secure a job at a hostel in Asakusa working on reception for a few weeks and also teach a few English lessons, and in this time was able to make a very brief transition from tourist to resident. I managed to find a gym, which was great as I’ve really been missing that, and other local amenities such as the supermarket, green grocers etc. My job was actually as the night receptionist, which is possibly the easiest job I’ve ever had to do – I worked from midnight until 8am twice a week. Nobody checked in, and apart from a floor check at 3 and 5am, I had to do nothing. So in this time I was able to enrol on an online Japanese course and begin to get my head around the language, play guitar again (I bought a travel guitar from Ochanomizu) and make some plans for the future. I was also able to spend time talking to Sarah, friends and family; time differences can be hard! During the days I spent time doing more normal things; I visited the gym two to three times a week, did my weekly big shop, laundry, all the boring stuff! I also made sure that a few days a week were spent on something bigger, and this is where I embarked on some of the bigger day trips out to Mt Fuji, Yokohama etc. I was able to put my learning into practice, trying out new phrases every day and slowly getting used to understanding what people were saying back to me.  I also managed to meet up with my friend Joe a couple of times, and it was so nice to see a familiar face, eat some incredible food (that is pretty much the main thing we did!) and get a free hair cut (thank you Jun!).

I titled this post ‘An alien in Tokyo’ after something my dad said on a recent phone call; I really liked the link to the Sting song and the sentiment really resonated with me. Tokyo is great and I’m so happy I have done all of this, but it has only served to reinforce a feeling I have always had. Life is not about the places we go, but the experiences we share. I’ve experienced so much in the last few months and I have been extremely lucky that I have been able to share those experiences with you, but settling in Tokyo I was quite isolated. I mentioned in an earlier post that Tokyo was an escape for me. There was no reason to go home and in some way I was running away. The real reason ‘live in Tokyo’ was on the Apocalyst was so that I could experience Japan properly; after wanting to come here since the age of 8, I felt like a one week holiday just wouldn’t cut it. In hindsight, I wish I’d written ‘experience Japan properly’. This is what I have decided to do; I have lived in Tokyo for as long as I wanted, and now I am embarking on the extension of the 6 of clubs – experience Japan. I am travelling to Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and the Japanese countryside over the next few weeks, so expect to hear a lot more about those places!

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