Year Abroad in Tokyo

Tomas Feliksas Gutorovas

(over 2 years ago)

Tokyo is where you know you will return to again. Everyone who comes here says it. I really missed Durham and everything I have there for a couple weeks, when first in this big jungle, but with time I came to know that Tokyo, even though so big is a very warm, cosy and welcoming city.

It‘s full of contrasts. You see people in their suits all the time, drinking in suits after work is the 'casual' way, since it takes way more effort to commute home, change to simple clothes and then come back to some izakaya district. Then, you have striking sub-cultures which in some sense go to extreme levels I have not seen in Europe, in their style and life approach. That in a way breathes some fresh air to try and wear whatever you want and gives inspiration in that respect. It‘s full of people chasing their big dream, It‘s full of people from New York who came to Tokyo and say here is where it‘s at.

Nightlife is plentyful and all about your preferences in music genre. You may hang out in Shibuya district, talking to beatboxers, bassists, magicians and street jokers from early evening, but people know the night only starts at some 2 or 3 am and then can last into the pm of the next day easily. People are really easy to get to know and befriend in the streets. I learnt about places I enjoy most purely by word of mouth.

People like to think that Tokyo is really busy, but since there are so many towns that make it up, you can easily never sense the haste. Near bus stops and trains people first align in a queue to walk in, but then squeeze each other with no remorse to fit. A lot of smaller streets have no distiction between where cars drive, people walk or bicycles ride. There‘s bikes left all over the place, often not locked, because here in Tokyo bikes are tagged and no one will steal yours. There‘s plants in pots left everywhere along the streets together with drink machines squeezed into every available space, however the city leaves little room for graffiti. There‘s no such thing as street names and only a couple avenues were named. It‘s all about blocks and trusting google maps to get to a spot at this stage.

It‘s full of contrasts. You get your metro-train money magnetically transferred into a card but having a stamp and filling in your adress several times in the same page of a beaurocracy form is a given. Shrines and temples are very much a thing, as is the fact that people are lost in technology. When walking along a metro cars I sometimes play a game to see if I can get a whole row of people only on their phones without other distractions like books or pocket mirrors.

Of course, there is plenty of opportunities to delve deeper into the japanese culture. I‘ve been involved in dancing traditional japanese, with a fan to old kabuki-style-music that‘s somethimes referred to as gagaku. The dances by the girls are really elegant and seem to have been developed over many centuries. Then, trying out shamisen, a type of instrument that is somewhat related to guitar was really interesting. In it you take off the stem of the instrument from the base every time, set up strings and often change tuning in the middle of songs. The musical system also differs from the european. Every second Sunday I go to a local sentou (public baths) for a 100 yen (60 p) with a friend and that is one thing of a japanese culture you really learn to love and appretiate. I learn about ways japanese actually speak. I once went outside after a japanese dancing class and looked up. A girl showed me the moon and I casually said that it looked beautiful. This though means 'l love you' in a really beautiful way in japanese.

Police are always in cute little neighbourhood patrol boxes all around, so they seem really approachable. They always kick street musicians out of their spots on the day, but it‘s ok to come back the next day only to be told off again. Everyone is really into manga and you have combinis 24/7 everywhere you go. Japan has a way of taking whatever is the best from other cultures and applying it there. Since it‘s a big city, I find that I can continue all I did in Durham, quickly merging with the local tango community. Actually, Tokyo‘s population is some 3 times bigger than the whole of my country, Lithuania. I sometimes struggle to come to terms with that.

I actually study, and do that loads. I research and need to juggle between my research project, distance learning for exams and juggling. Here, our lab is our home, so naturally one must take off the shoes and put on slippers when entering. Being in biophysics as a chemist was at first a bigger cultural shock than Japan, but you quickly get used to how things go. It‘s true that people are very workaholic here, but also very talented.

I live in a small room with a single-window the size of an A3 and only my pocket radiator that could fit in a back-pack saves from freezing to death at night. Landlords said it‘s cool I didn‘t come in summer, because then people would probably really not survive in such a room with all the heat around. Sometimes it‘s hard to wake up, being a scientist makes you have a flexible schedule just like my IT housemate.

The weather on Christmas day was a warm sunny 15 ⁰C, which I will take any day as the next best thing in winter if I get no snow.

I think it‘s a big opportunity, honestly. I would recommend everyone to come to this place, because everyone will find that there‘s something clicking for them here. I guess it‘s just like Han said in Fast and Furious. If you can, and you can, make it here, come.

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