2/2/10: Tokyo, Japan
An astute reader will have noticed that despite our professed love for Tokyo, we haven’t described one thing that we’ve done so far here. That’s not going to change today. What interests me most about this city isn’t the sights, but the culture and way of life. In fact when we come back to Japan some years down the road, I would recommend that we spend very little time in Tokyo and focus instead on the rest of country. However, if my boss ever told me you must pack up your family and bags and work abroad for a year in the city of your choice, Tokyo would be at the top of my list.
With that in mind, these past couple days I’ve been trying my best to act like a local. Some local customs are easy to pick up on. For instance, people don’t talk on cell phones on subway systems despite the service being great. It’s rude and the rules say not to. Also, the locals treat even a fast food cashier like their best friend. In order to blend in, I bowed to the amiable Yoshinoya employee several times while paying for our food, and then again two times from the street outside the restaurant. (This may sound like a joke, but it’s not. The seats on the train from the airport were so warm that I wasn’t sure if I peed my pants or not – now that’s a joke. Once I peed my pants, I immediately found out the difference.)
A couple customs have been much more difficult to get used to. First, playing slots. For those of you who know me, this may come as a big surprise as it may seem that I’ll bet on anything. And here in Tokyo they have Pachinko and slot rooms on just about every street corner. It’s Kevin Heaven! The only problem: the rooms are smokier than Joe Cool singing Tracks of My Tears in a wood-fire oven. You’re probably better off swimming laps in a vat of tobacco. I love gambling, but this one’s going to take some time.
Second, sleeping on the subway. After I wrote a post about people in Hong Kong being able to sleep all the way to their stop, we received hundreds of emails from adoring fans saying that this occurs in subway systems all over the world. Now that we’ve experienced the metro systems in many big cities, I must say I’m not nearly as impressed by the sleeping locals. Everyone seems to be able to do it… everyone but me that is. Until today.
Zhou was reading a book on a long ride and I was exhausted from getting up early to go to the Tsukiji fish market, so it seemed like a perfect time to test my sleeping abilities. I counted out the number of stops, estimated how long the ride would take and then immediately conked out. I groggily awoke some unknown time later, but my spirits brightened quickly as I saw that we were approaching our stop. I had done it! However, in my rash of excitement I noticed two large wet spots on my jacket and a very put off person sitting to my left. Yes, in my unconscious state I had drooled all over myself. This sleeping on the subway is still very much a work in progress.
Finally, using the high-tech Japanese toilets. Like all boys growing up, I dreamed of the day I would get to use the bedets here. Nothing in the world sounder cooler than a toilet that washes your butt for you. The Japanese never have to worry that they didn’t wipe well enough before going to a crowded movie or on a date. I wanted to be like that.
Yesterday my dreams of toilet utopia were, umm, flushed down the toilet. The shopping mall bedet I used was perhaps more uncomfortable than the elephant ride Zhou and I went on in Nepal. I ended up wiping more before and after using the bedet than I would have without it. This experience reminded me of the day I learned the truth about Santa or the day I found out Ashlee Simpson is the second coming of Milli Vanilli – I was crushed.
It might be more difficult to live like a local than I thought.
Two days ago I promised a trash report update. I’m dead serious, but after walking the city for three full days now I have found one piece of trash. A paper bag was tucked away under a bench we walked past. The even more amazing part? Rubbish bins are so hard to find! I held onto a McDonald’s Coke cup for nearly half an hour before finding a bin to drop it into. My theory on this apparent inconsistency: Tokyodels are so technologically advanced that they’ve invented boots that turn trash into small dogs. That would also offer a reason why so many women wear boots and skirts instead of pants in the cold weather. It would additionally account for the disproportionate number of puppies in this city.
Picture of the Day: You too can now afford to mount fish heads on the wall and pretend to take part in the classic McDonald’s “Give me back that Filet o’ Fish” song.