The Homepage of Cyrus Kirkpatrick – Author / Researcher

First Impressions of Japan: Tokyo, Asakusa, Japanese Culture and More

As I am now officially back on the road, returning to a prolonged period of traveling, writing and adventure–it’s therefore time to return to keeping this site updated with my travel diary. I hope you’ll stick around and come back often to hear what’s on my mind or see where I’ve been.

I arrived in Asakusa last night. This is Tokyo’s “old town” area and where the great Sensoji Temple is located. Really, Japan is a stopover point for Indonesia, I’m “only” here for six days. Although, in that time I hope to see as much as I can from my cheap little hostel.

Japan is also a long-time coming. Back when I was a kid in college, I used to think Japan was “The Shit.” And no, I wasn’t some anime-obsessed otaku, but I just really liked Japan. So, I took four semesters of Japanese language and eventually graduated with a minor in Japanese studies.

So you’d think Japan would have been my first destination when I started hardcore traveling several years ago. But no. I became far more attracted to offbeat countries with cheap drinks, lots of parties, and weird / interesting sights (I’m talking about everywhere from central Europe to Thailand, etc.) Japan just didn’t seem that much “fun” and I grew out of my Japanese interest from college.

Another turn-off is how insular Japanese culture is. Japanese people don’t really embrace foreigners, to say the least. They have very little interest in other cultures. You won’t see much diversity. I think expat-Japanophiles who move here quickly realize they will never feel fully integrated into their culture. They’ll always be outsiders. When I realized what this was really like, my interest in going to Japan all but faded.

So Now I’m Here, What Do I think?

After being in Tokyo for a couple of nights, it’s super fun. And also what I expected.

Japanese people are extremely polite and good-natured. No one rocks the boat in Japan. And, people will always help you and it’s clearly one of the safest places in the world. Despite the fact the country is NOT integrated for foreigners; with very little English available on signs or pretty much anywhere–any Japanese person will go out of their way to help you, even if their English is limited. In fact, a local would probably feel ashamed if they didn’t do a good job of helping you. I could probably drop my wallet on a busy street and people would fight over trying to return it to me the quickest.

Japanese people also tend to be very peaceful and sweet. No, not everyone can be happy or good-natured all the time, but most people in Japan seem to take a good stab of it. At least the people I’ve interacted with so far.

Tokyo is full of cheap food. Like, Thailand-level prices. If you know where to look, you can have a great meal for under $10. Drinks aren’t so cheap as the food, but it’s more of a foodie’s paradise. If you want a lot of cheap booze, you’re better off going to Southeast Asia. If you want the best food…ever, then go to Japan.

A huge bowl of ramen for $4.50! I went to the most working class, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Asakusa I could find, and I wasn't disappointed.
A huge bowl of ramen for $4.50! I went to the most working class, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Asakusa I could find, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The language barrier is an issue. English must be less standard in the Japanese school curriculum compared to other Asian countries. In fact, even young people seem to speak nothing more than a bit of novelty English.

I can speak enough Japanese to understand some simple conversations and get around; but if I didn’t, I think my level of enjoyment in this city would be greatly impacted. Rediscovering my formerly inert Japanese abilities is one of the pleasures of this trip.

Currently, I think Japan is super fun just for soaking up the culture; even in tiny ways. Enjoying the personalities, sights and tastes. However, moving here for the long-term could pose some exceptional challenges. Namely, the difficulty in adapting to a strict, homogeneous culture that despite being warm and accommodating; will never see a gaijin beyond the status of an outsider.

What’s Next?

Besides freezing my ass off (maybe this was a bad time to come to Tokyo) I’m in Japan a few more days. I’ve already met some very interesting people and I’m looking forward to exploring more of the city and hopefully making a day trip outside of the city. I’m also excited about continuing to expand my Instagram, as I’ve returned to daily updates from @cyrus_the_explorer.

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