Made in Japan pt. 2: the Tokyoites

· 7 min read >

Tokyoite is not the last generation swear word, but it is the term used to define the inhabitants of Tokyo. During this month of life and work in the capital, I got to know a lot, especially thanks to the Language Exchange Cafe. There were also romantic encounters with local girls and I will also spend a few words on the love life of the big Japanese city in this article.

For an article on the city of Tokyo, I refer to this.

Who are the Tokyoites?

Tokyo has 15 million inhabitants but if we consider the Greater Tokyo Area, which reaches 13500 km2 and 35 million inhabitants, incorporating part of the prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, it is the largest agglomeration in the world in terms of population. There are many who live and work in the capital but who were born in other prefectures, even very far from Tokyo. To tell the truth, those who have lived there for generations are rare, as happens in many metropolises of the world (has anyone said London?). Just yesterday I met one from Tokyo who boasted of being a Tokyoite for three generations!

Many are those who move to the capital to work and live, the most important economic and working centre throughout the Land of the Rising Sun. Those who live in the prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa are commuting, preferring to do 2 to 4 hours of travel every day rather than paying the exorbitant rents of the capital (and living in a dirty hovel in the less “safe” areas of the city, as unsafe as Tokyo can be…). Those who were born in distant prefectures moved to the capital for various reasons: more job opportunities, they are sent from their company permanently or temporarily (a few months) or simply want to experience the thrill of living the life of Tokyo.

Closure and fear

Although Japan is probably the safest country in the world, where you can leave your smartphone or wallet on the restaurant table while you go to the bathroom even if you are alone because you feel comfortable that you will find it again, the Japanese are extremely caring and wary people. They trust the Japanese community and the civic sense of its people, that’s why they allow themselves to fall asleep on the train without thinking about their luggage or wallets, they leave personal items on the pub tables while they get up to talk to their friends at another table and so on. But in fact, they are also a people full of fear.

Compared to 15-20 years ago, there are far fewer Japanese travelling in Europe: surely the reason is a chain of situations, but one that plays the decisive role is that the Western world, especially Europe, has become a less safe place. The recent years of terrorist attacks (I avoid going into the topic about the origin and the cause of these “attacks”) and the tendency of many heads of state to dictatorship have meant that the Japanese consider Europe and neighbouring countries not very safe.

Distrust

According to the famous Edelman Trust Barometer, Japan is one of the countries with the highest percentage of discouraged, second only to the Russians, despite the security that is felt in the Land of the Rising Sun. Mistrust in their government, in their economy, in the media. The poll reports that the Japanese are the least optimistic people in absolute terms and with more worries for the future: above all concerning safety at work (despite the percentage of unemployment is extremely low).

Care also manifests itself in health, and causes them to go to the doctor even for the slightest thing: the statistics consider Japan one of the countries whose number of patients going to the hospital at the first symptom is higher. The fear of being left without money drives them to work hard, in addition to the well-known cultural facts such as the high sense of responsibility etc. To contain their intrinsic fear, they build rigid rules for everything: on which side you have to go climbing the stairs or to go down to the stations, which side to walk on the sidewalk, how to get in line and so on. Everything is already set by someone else, so you can’t go wrong.

In Japan the left is held and the aid lane for the blind splits the “lanes”
In all the stations there are arrows indicating which side to keep

Social Life

Japanese people also have unwritten rules, especially on a social level. You will never find a Japanese who talks about politics or who says his opinion about the emperor. Much less a Japanese girl who speaks openly about sex in front of men, because it would lead others to think that she is an easy woman. But the same for a male, making sexual jokes to a friend is risky because she can report him for sexual harassment. There is no mention of the problems that afflict the world, such as the excess of plastic, the wars that devastate the globe, the problem of capitalism (woe to criticize it or you will be accused of being a communist!) Fires in Siberia or in the Amazon. Not that it is forbidden, they are simply not common arguments among the Japanese. They prefer to keep a superficial tone and talk about things that are not too heavy.

Sleeping

Despite the proverbial demeanour and aplomb of the Japanese, their closure, shyness and coldness, about sleeping everything they have no stops whatsoever. They fall asleep everywhere: on trains, in museums, on buses, in flower beds, in public bathrooms, in front of closed stations, etc. While in Europe it is considered rudeness, in Japan sleeping on trains is the symbol of a tireless worker, almost to boast of it. This is why the trains are full of dangling figures dressed in white jackets and shirts or with dresses and high heels. But they are not limited to this, the Japanese can sleep peacefully on the street as if everything were normal, especially the weekend when they lose the last train after a night of debauchery. This phenomenon is so widespread in Tokyo that they have created an Instagram page called Shibuya Meltdown, full of videos and photos of Tokyoites that really sleep everywhere.

Sleeping Japanese
One of many Japanese people sleeping in the street

Sexuality

Since, as we have said, one cannot talk about sex except with close friends, the average Japanese is sexually frustrated. Males are usually very shy and clumsy when approaching girls, who in turn are shy and reserved. Hence the famous sexual perversions that we all know, like buying used underpants of schoolgirls or university students, extreme sexual practices, massive use of pornography (whether made by real or drawn people, the famous hentai), going to the girls’ bars or follow morbid musical groups like idols. Then it’s not surprising if they get drunk every weekend to try to overcome their inhibitory brakes…

Alcohol

One thing one would never expect from the Japanese is the vice of alcohol, an extremely widespread drink instead. There are very many Tokyoites who drink a lot, even every day and the number of those who regularly get drunk enough to be sick is not low. Every weekend you see drunk people walking around, men and women, throwing up on the street or lurching upright by their friends or slumped in the most disparate places in the capital. There is a street near the place where I work, frequented by university students, which is always full of boys doubled over by the devastating effects of alcohol. They themselves admit that they cannot do without it, especially when it comes to socializing and communicating with others or eliminating work stress. They consider it a necessity without which socializing would be extremely difficult. Exactly the same motivations of the Irish, but with the misfortune of having genetics that does not allow to hold and dispose of alcohol easily.

Drunken Japanese
An ordinary Friday night in Takadanobaba

Tokyoite’s favourite drinks are beer (they always start with this drink), gin & tonic, whiskey & soda, rum & coke, vodka and orange juice, Cassis orange, Jinro and Soda. Sake is not drunk in clubs or bars and I honestly saw it very little even at dinners.

Jinro and Soda
Jinro and Soda
Jinro
Jinro
Soda
Soda
Kinmiya Shochu
Kinmiya Shochu, made by cane sugar
Japanese tea
Japanese tea
Japanese tea and Kinmiya Shochu
Japanese tea and Kinmiya Shochu

Hospitality

A separate chapter should be dedicated to hospitality. Despite what I have written so far, about the Japanese and above all the Tokyoites, in reality, they are extremely hospitable and heartfelt people. I have several Japanese friends and every time I come to visit them, they treat me like a king. If a Japanese invites you to dinner out, in friendship, 90% of the cases will pay him/her the bill. The same if he/she invites you to drink out. Not only that, whatever you need, they try to help you and satisfy you in every way. If you find yourself in Tokyo one day, try this experiment: go to a crowded station and stop any of these workers who are running to catch the train asking for information. Despite the haste, he will stop and until he has succeeded in responding to your requests, perhaps accompanying you in person, he will not resume his race.

Not only that, generally the Japanese are extremely inclusive, certainly not sinful with jealousy. They are always excited to introduce you to their friends and let you integrate into the group, whether you speak the language or not. The first time I came here, in 2015, I asked a boy I had hosted in Florence if he knew someone who could host me in Tokyo. He, given the small house, could only welcome me for three days and I needed more time because of a Shiatsu course I had to attend. So a friend of him from the university accepted the request.

A few days before I arrived in Tokyo she and her friend made a group on Line (equivalent to our WhatsApp) calling it “Welcome to Japan”, introducing themselves and getting to know each other from before. They both fetch me and took me around. We finally went to the house of my host and her friend, who had to wor, greeted us. Shortly after we see her come home saying: “I told my boss that I am sick, I wanted to be with you”. Knowing the sense of responsibility for the job, I was astonished, to say the least! We went shopping and prepared sushi altogether. Another time we went to Odaiba and they brought a new friend. I introduced them to a dear friend of mine and they became friends, ending up at my friend’s restaurant all together and sleeping in her house.

Japanese friends
One friend is missing

Warmth

Always during my first trip in 2015, I used a lot of Couchsurfing. I was so hosted by many Japanese (and some foreigners), they always treated me with extreme respect. When I went to Hakodate, in Hokkaido, my host picked me up with the car at the station, prepared dinner for me, made me sleep in his room and he in the living room (nothing helped to insist that I would sleep in the living room), he made me breakfast the next day and took me back to the station! I was hosted by very young girls (university students) in their tiny houses with a single room and sharing it and sometimes even sharing the bed, with no sexual interest behind it. A very rare thing in Italy.

The same girl who said to the boss that was sick in order to stay with me and her friend had already planned to go on holiday to Kyushu with a friend of hers. As soon as she knew that I was going to be there too, he invited me, changed the hotel room booking from a double to a triple room (and sleeping altogether), rented a car and travelled around together. A boy I met at the Language Exchange Cafe this year, knowing that I might have been left without accommodation, immediately offered to host me at his house indefinitely. I stop here because I could go on for hours!

Foreign residents

Listening to of those living in Japan, especially in Tokyo, there are many who complain that the Japanese are closed, cold and some are even racist. Many live here as semi-marginalized, deciding to stay only for the family (those who married a Japanese and maybe have children), for work or a passion like martial arts, cosplay, etc. There are also extremely enthusiastic people who would not leave Japan and especially Tokyo for all the gold in the world. The opinions are very contrasting but it is evident that the Japanese are extremely welcoming with guests (therefore travellers) but very little with immigrants, although there are exceptions.

Don’t miss my article on life in Tokyo, the oddities of Japan and my experience at Tokyo’s most famous Language Exchange Café.

This article ends here but I kindly remind you that it is possible to finance my trip with a small donation, arigatou!

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