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Culture shock in Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo

WHEN I lived in London, once upon a time, I remember the concrete beatings my shoes used to take walking from my flat to the station, the station to the next destination. That combined with the London general pace contributed to a reasonably fast deterioration of the soles of my shoes. And I thought that was pretty bad. Until I encountered Tokyo’s unforgiving concrete.

I love to walk and explore whenever I move to or visit any and all cities. It’s a vital step in the initial introduction to my new surroundings, overcoming any culture shock that I might have. Prior travel experience most certainly helps with the transition that we all go through when moving to a new location as you have some prior knowledge of adapting to unfamilarities too numerous to count sometimes. Still, there are instances when even that is not enough and one becomes overwhelmed with the enormity and scale of a city, its incredible otherness. Where walking is simply not enough. There are times when you just cannot relate what you are seeing to anything else you know. This is the effect that Tokyo generally has on all those who come, A city at once brilliant, bizarre, crazy, amazing, strange and perplexing.

From Narita airport to Shinjuku station - one of the central hubs - you get a brief glimpse of all that there is in Tokyo. Buildings and infrastructure, electric lights flashing by. In no time at all it dawns on you that there is no actual “downtown” or central area. The modern expanse is on too grand of a scale. When I first arrived I stayed in a share house as it was the most convenient thing to do. Share houses are brilliant as it allows you to have a familiar base camp where you can meet fellow foreigners from all over the world who are also on their own unique journeys. It provides a comfort level that we all need as you navigate the finer details of the city’s transportation system, language and culture. Emerging from the station (it is a maze simply to get out at the right exit), the intense number of people walking left and right is mesmerising. Yes, there is even a particular way I discovered of walking through the wave after wave of pedestrians crossing the street or marching down the sidewalk - always going behind them as you cut through the incoming rush, rather than in front of them. There is never a letdown in the pace and you can often find yourself getting caught up in the crowded flow. Sounds claustrophobic? It can feel that way.

Although very much a mega metropolis - at first glance - Tokyo has a whole array of diverse, unique features and spirit which I hope to peel away and convey over time in my writing.  For now, the question of culture shock still remains. Arriving in Tokyo for the first time, one does not have a sense of panic or concern. Worries or doubts. Confusion, yes. However, the overall feeling that washes over you when you step onto the streets is one of wonder and curiosity. A need to explore and experience, from the numerous restaurants and drinking establishments, to serene temples and shrines. A sort of fantasy land where everything is new and wonderful. It is all there waiting to be seen.

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