If you live in Japan, you may have been asked the question, why Japan? or sometimes, more specifically, why Tokyo?
It is a question I’ve heard many times, and a question I have a hundred different answers to.
The other day, I was tired and my stomach was rumbling after a long day at work. As I left the supermarket where I’d bought something for dinner, I heard a distant “excuse me!” I turned round, and the breathless cashier scurried up to me. She must have run over thirty meters to catch up, because I’d pretty much power-walked out of there so I could shove my pizza in the microwave as soon as possible.
“You dropped this,” she panted, and placed a one-yen coin in my hand.
I smiled and thanked her. I couldn’t stop grinning. You know you’re in a wonderful country when something like that happens. A one-yen coin is virtually worthless, yet she had left her busy work station and gone out of her way to return it to me.
Japan has been my home for the last three years, and I honestly couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
You can learn a lot about Tokyo from various sources—the internet, for a start. But it isn’t the low crime rate that keeps me here. It isn’t the twenty-four-hour convenience stores, the reliable public transport system or even the fact that Disneyland is less than an hour away.
My love for this city can’t be quantified by numbers.
It’s the comfort of an empty evening train rattling through a bright city that never sleeps. It’s the breath-taking illumination events in December by a nation that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. It’s the polite congratulations for a job well done, even after something arguably mediocre like an eye test or a language lesson. It’s the spirit of Tokyo that keeps me here, something you can’t show with statistics.
As I read a book on my daily commute to work recently, I recognized the chime that played on the station platform before the doors slid shut. I frowned; it was a Disney song—“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella, if I wasn’t mistaken. The next station played another one: “Hi Ho” from Snow White. It reminded me of the time they played the Dragon Quest theme song at Shibuya’s Toyoko Line platform a few months ago. I didn’t know why they were doing this, and at that moment, I didn’t care. It put a smile on my face.
Everything here is a mixture of tradition, politeness, style and safety. I never feel threatened when I’m walking around at night. Tired businessmen clutching briefcases, young people frowning at their phones, teenagers chattering and hard-working, smiling shopkeepers who are like my friends. I feel content when I meander along the Shibuya Ward streets I know so well, feel like I belong as I scan my train card to board the subway. This is my home.
I’ve heard stories, some amusing, some shocking, about being a so-called gaijin in this country. Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m blessed, or maybe I simply haven’t noticed, but I always seem to avoid bad experiences concerning the fact that I’m not Asian. I feel more at home here in Tokyo than I ever did in wet old England.
When I ride the train, the bright advertisements on the wall, the familiar announcements as we approach the next stop and the rush of people getting on and off the carriage fills me with comfort and familiarity. The smell of cooking meat when yakiniku restaurants open for the evening fills me with excitement. Pachinko parlors and karaoke bars flash in welcome. Pedestrians dressed in casual wear, business attire, kimonos, Lolita style and everything else in between filter past each other, at peace, just going about their day. There’s no gun crime, hate crime, violent protests. Warmth spreads through me as I stroll along, taking in the sites—Tokyo Tower dazzling red, bridges, cafes, Tokyo Skytree in all its bright wonder, temples and shopping centers, the mixture of metropolitan and traditional. I feel satisfied here. Content.
So if you’re going to ask me, “why Tokyo?” be prepared to sit down and listen. Make a cup of tea if you like. Because Tokyo is my home.