Commuter Heaven in Tokyo

I always know I’ve made that journey from Yokohama to Tokyo when Japanese people start speaking to me in English, and when the westerners I meet open the conversation with, “Do you speak English?”

The innocuous question is usually said very slowly and loudly. As though increasing the volume is going to help me understand a language I’m not familiar with.

Confusion abound.

Weekends in Tokyo that go on and on have become a common occurrence in my life ever since I moved to the Kanto area a year ago. As much I love spending the weekend in Tokyo, I don’t think I can live there. It’s one of the most overwhelming cities I’ve ever been to in my life.

The commute from my apartment in Yokohama to Tokyo takes around an hour and 30 minutes.

It’s not too bad.

But as many salarymen and women can testify, taking the train in Japan can be chotto…frustrating.

Rush hour and I are not friends. People bump into you constantly. They step on your foot. Fall asleep on your shoulder. Shove you on the way out. Push you on the way in. Accidentally rub their armpit in your face. Not a pleasant odour during the summer months.

And as a woman, there’s always the risk of getting groped by some weirdo. Sharing a small space with that many people is no one’s idea of a good time.

It doesn’t even end there.

Having to transfer from the Municipal Subway to the Tokyu Line at Yokohama Station is also a ten minute walk that Google Maps doesn’t quite factor in when giving directions.

I really dislike Yokohama Station. My second most hated station in Japan is a crowded nightmare of too many people and entrances and exits where you can never find anyone you’re supposed to meet.

But at least it’s not Shinjuku Station.

If and when you finally do make it to the right platform, there’s also the issue of getting a seat that you won’t have to give up to someone who needs it more than you do.

I don’t need to tell you about Japan’s ageing population.

And then, I experienced the highway to heaven.

The summer sun shining on my face. The wind blowing in my hair. My left arm slightly sticking out of the car window. My taste in music blaring from the speakers. Humming along to my favourite tunes as I watch Yokohama’s open spaces morph into overpopulated Tokyo.

Oh, the luxury.

Some people really know how to spoil you.

I was expecting the traffic that is ubiquitous to so many capital cities worldwide, but we went past Ginza, Meiji Shrine, Imperial Palace Gardens and all those other famous places with ease.

I was enjoying the moment when the owner of the vehicle asked for earphones to drown out my taste in music. I laughed and gave him mine.

And we all lived happily ever after.

At 1300 yen, the toll road from Yokohama to Tokyo is not expensive. But parking, on the other hand, is chotto…exorbitant.

I finally made it to Akihabara – otherwise known as otaku central. It was my first time there. It’s a popular tourist spot in Tokyo, but it’s definitely not my kind of scene.

Despite the amount of cosplay that was everywhere, I was the one getting stared at. I was dressed for an art exhibition opening, wearing the most elegant dress in my wardrobe.

I looked really out of place. I didn’t feel it, though. I’ve been in Japan for two years now and this country is starting to feel like ‘home’.

I couldn’t work out what most of the cosplay outfits were supposed to be, but a majority of them were of the schoolgirl variety. I’ve never understood the obsession with the ‘uniform’ given how happy I was when I could finally stop wearing mine.

As eventful and exciting as my teenage years were, I would pick being in my late twenties over being a teenager any day.

I know way too many ‘geeks’ to not wind up in Akihabara again, but it’s not someplace I’d go to for fun. Neither is most of Tokyo’s metropolitan area for that matter.

I hate the crowds. The tourist traps. The rush. The garish lights. The overpriced restaurants. The Shibuya and Shinjuku streets that smell like the night before. That lack of soul. That there’s too much and nothing going on all at once.

Hanging out in the suburbs is the way to go.

The art exhibition itself was lots of fun. Everyone at the gallery thought I was Middle Eastern or Latin American – much to my amusement. My Spanish is passable and my Arabic nonexistent.

It’s always funny when people make assumptions about what languages you can and can’t speak. Over the years I’ve heard many insults and compliments that were not meant for my ears.

I learnt to block out the things I don’t want to hear a long time ago. It’s why I can easily fall asleep anytime and in any place and why I was dozing off in the car on the way back to my place.

Sleeping on trains is common. In Japan, I’ve even seen way too many men fall asleep while standing. I’ve even done it a couple of times and missed my stop. I don’t recommend it to anyone. Especially if you’re a girl.

Scary stuff.

But being in a car meant that I could quietly indulge that guilty pleasure. I’d occasionally open my eyes and talk to the poor driver to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel. He who drives can’t and shouldn’t drink.

Kawaiso ne. Poor thing. But the law is the law.

I live in a commuter town on top of a hill and man was I glad to skip the long hike home after a big night.

I’ve done it many times and it’s not fun.

Neither is going to bed at 1am on a Sunday night when you have to wake up at 5am to go to work.

I hurt so bad on Monday morning.

I always know I’ve made the journey back from Tokyo to Yokohama when everyone reverts back to speaking to me in Japanese and doesn’t look surprised when I respond in their native tongue.

The westerners still ask me if I can speak English.

My answer is always a loud and resolute, “No.”

Go figure.

Author: Dipa

Tarot Tales from Japan

9 thoughts

      1. It’s complicated! In the US, I want badly to support bookstores, but in the city where I live–a city of 2 million people–we only have two, and I can rarely find what I need. In France, it’s a different story–my little neighborhood alone has two bookstores that I know of, and if you go to the Quartier Latin, you can find pretty much anything. Looking forward to your recommendations, though–I’ll be in Tokyo in January.

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      2. I know of a couple of areas in Tokyo with book shops. Iidabashi is one of them. Lots of cool stuff around, too. Tokyo in January is going to be COLD! What brings you here then?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Work–the same thing that brings me pretty much everywhere! I think I’ll be somewhere around NII. Any recommendations nearby? I’ll trade you for Paris recommendations… (Or anyplace in the US where I’ve lived…)

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      4. I have loads of recommendations 🙂 but what are you after – books? Food? Drinks?

        Paris recommendations: bring it on! Where in the US have you lived?

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