Pondering 3 weeks in Tokyo
Today marks three weeks in Tokyo/Japan. Twenty-one days ago I was in English speaking, small Auckland, NZ. How things have changed.
Upon landing at Narita airport I was immediately struck by the respect people showed. Watching the ground crew bow to the arriving flight (pilot especially) was the first sign that this place was special. How many times in Europe/USA have you seen ground crew not even paying attention to the incoming flight? Navigating the airport was easy. English signage is in all the major airports/train stations.
My hotel is essentially a western style hotel transported into central Tokyo. Thank God for Starwood. The same perks and amenities exist here but with a twist. You get the Japanese personality, respect, and environment. For example, the hotel has a large private Japanese garden. All staff smile and bow a friendly, genuine nod when you pass. What is exceptional, sorry, wrong word – unusual – is that the women perform the same bell tasks as a man! It is weird to see a business man walking to the elevator with a bell-women following suitcase in-tow.
Tokyo is a city made up of many unique districts. Some districts focus on fashion, some on technology, some on living/residential, some on eating, some on lights/glitz/glamor, some on gambling/red light, etc. For example, places I have visited… Roppongi (in the Minato Ward) is famous for its nightlife and popularity with westerners. I steer clear — you find too many westerners for my liking. Shinjuki is home to skyscrapers and premier hotels. Right next to the station is a large area for shopping and entertainment. Ebisu is quiet and residential. Akihabara is full of technology and gadgets. Go to Ginza for high-end retailers.
You’ll hear people talking about the Japan heat. Yes, it is warm, but coming from Florida I don’t find it any different. What exacerbates the heat is wearing a suit/tie outdoors. This culture dresses up. When you go to a business meeting it would not be acceptable to go in less than a suit. Our client here is, thankfully, trends western rather than Japanese. The first days we wore suits but have slacked off and now wear nice business casual. Occasionally, it’s a suit or tie day. This week the temperatures have started to cool off. Fall is around the corner.
Getting around Tokyo is best done by metro/JR or by cab. The lucky ones ride a bike. (Did you see the recent news articles about the automated bike storage facilities?) The rail system here is comprised of two systems – Tokyo Metro and JR. Trains crisscross the city in a highly coordinated, on-time, fashion.
The business analysts, technical staff, and C-level Japanese we deal with are highly knowledgeable and more open than what I expected. And now we have broken through the shell. They are starting to understand our crazy western idioms and occasional cynicism. We get more laughs – they feel at ease with us now.
One item has struck me very hard here – personal safety and security. I just finished up 1 year in Moscow. There I witnessed (personally) people getting their mobile phone jacked on the metro and hearing friends recount stories of the same. Japan is a 180 degree opposite. People carry their wallet in the back pocket, sometimes hanging out. Laptop bags get put on the top shelf of the metro car and then the people sit and sleep. Nothing seems to get stolen. You walk down the street and see bikes unguarded, unlocked. I love this place. It is refreshing to see a culture that values each others possessions.
About the language and food. Tokyo has darn good food! I can’t say the food choices are the most diverse as other places I have been, but the quality of the food is great. We have a sushi place right near the office and for about 1000 yen ($10USD) you get a really fresh, really filling selection of sushi. It’s awesome and has become a favorite! Then there are the dive restaurants. Last night we were directed to this Thai place under the railway near Yurachko. The place was packed and yes, we were the only white people there. Food was killer. And the cost? 630 yen a dish! Wow.
Language is a different story. The Kanji characters are impossible to interpret. You just have to memorize the characters and their meaning. (I finally learned what the symbol for a guys bathroom is.) Most menus are not in English. Some people speak English but it isn’t the norm. None of our business SMEs speak fluent English which leads to bi-directional translation and doubles the conversation time.
Service with a smile. Goods purchased at a retail shop are exquisitely packaged. I bought some shirts while it was raining outside. They got neatly folded, double bagged, and then a clear rain sleeve put over the bag. Go to Starbucks and order a drink – even just one – and it is packaged in a bag with cup holder and all. Service is above and beyond here!
Talking baseball, baseball and the Japanese. I went to a baseball game the second week. Japan has 12 teams here split into two leagues – central and pacific. One team plays just a 10 minute walk from the office (the Swallows). We watched them play the Giants; think Yankees vs Mets (Swallows). Fans get into the game here! They sing, and cheer and stay engaged. (I also have watched a futball game here and found it equally engaging.)
This weekend I am off to search for a flat. Arima (realtor here) and I will be looking around the Ebisu / Azabujaban area.
Until next time.