This past Saturday over breakfast, my host mother asked me what my plans were for the day. Even though I didn’t have any, a few days earlier she had gone out of her way to make a list of all the places she said I just HAD to visit in Tokyo, so I told her that I was thinking about going to one of the places she mentioned. She got really excited about this, and, long story short, within a half hour I was ushered out of the house and on my way to Asakusa, Tokyo.
Along the way I was able to contact a friend to accompany me. Neither of us had visited Asakusa before, and though we both knew that the area was constantly referred to as the “old” Tokyo, I think it’s fair to say that we were both surprised by what we found. A strip of countless shops packed with people led the way to humongous shrines where people took pictures, prayed, and made wishes. I attempted to make a wish, but concentrated too hard on trying to do it right and actually never got around to actually wishing for anything…
From there we came upon an adorable park and then I ate a chocolate covered banana (which was delicious).
We only had to walk about a block away from the shrines and temples to be reminded again of the modern Tokyo. We came upon many street performers, who did everything from painting, to yo-yoing, to pretending to be a silent Bond-esque hero who saves a damsel in distress. Shortly after this we got pretty lost meandering the small shops that branched off from the center of Asakusa in every direction.
For a day in Tokyo that I had not planned or expected at all, it was incredible. I got a taste of the country’s history that sparked my interest in the culture, and was also introduced to an idea that I had yet to experience myself: Tokyo really isn’t that different. Needless to say, you don’t come across many shrines or temples where I come from in Philadelphia, and people tend to be less antisocial in public here than I am used to, but while I was in Asakusa I didn’t necessarily feel like the people around me were that much different from me.
Since coming to Japan the most frequently asked question I have got is, “So how is Japan different than what you thought it would be?” The first response I have been giving is “the trains.” And the trains are certainly different from what I’m used to in Philadelphia. For one, everyone minds his or her own business and does nothing that may be bothersome to another person. Secondly, people aren’t afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with others when the trains get crowded, which is the complete opposite of what I’ve experienced in the states; And third, the trains are heated and I have yet to find a comfortable medium of dressing so that I’m warm outside but not overheating once I sit on a train.
Regardless of that, however, I’m already beginning to notice things that this city
has in common with the one that I’m from. I’m already starting to feel like I’m not really in a foreign country, and simply in a different city. To go from speaking strictly Japanese at home, to being able to speak English at school at times feels awkward, and when I find myself being stared at in public, it is almost always by another foreigner than by a native. It is difficult for me to put this feeling into words, but I imagine it will become easier in time.