Editor’s note: This isn’t an entirely new blog post, but is an old one that I rewrote for publication. Anyhow, it is relevant enough to repost.
February marks the ninth month that I have lived in Tokyo.
It is easy to make allegories/metaphors/allusions to rebirth. Instead I’ll make a more personal comparison.
Moving from the States to Japan wasn’t my first blind leap into the big, scary world. Back in 1998, when I was 19, disillusioned, delusional and a bit dingy, my best friend and I loaded up his car and moved to Boston.
We didn’t know anybody. We didn’t have a place to live. We didn’t have jobs. Yet we ended up staying in Beantown for nine months. To us, it was an epic journey that held a lasting influence on both of our lives.
In retrospect, it feels like we lived there for years, when in reality we were there long enough to dip our toes in the water and get the hell out.
On the other hand, I have now lived in Tokyo with my wife for nine months, the same amount of time I lived in Boston. In this case, it feels like we are just getting started.
When we moved to Japan, we had an apartment lined up. My wife had a job and I had a list of contacts. We had a decent network of friends and colleagues.
This endeavor has been abundantly more productive. In most part because of the fact that my wife is a better life partner than my stoner friends.
In Boston I poured coffee in a cafe and wrote juvenile poetry in a ratty notebook. Today I have written reviews for an international newspaper and a cover story on a world-renowned Japanese doctor.
I was surprised by the demand for English freelance writers. When we first moved here it was a little intimidating because it seemed every foreigner in the Land of the Rising Sun had a blog extolling the virtues of Japan or highlighting the goofy English translations on signs and T-shirts.
However, within three months of living here, I published an article in a newspaper that back in the States, they would have filed my submissions in the junk pile. Not in Tokyo. This article has led to several more opportunities that I never would have had back home, much less in Boston.
So that is going well – for now.
Also, Japan is the safest country in the world. In Boston my roommate was robbed at an ATM by a crack addict. Here, people regularly leave their wallets and purses on restaurant tables to save their seat.
People leave their Mercedes and BMWs parked on the street – overnight.
We didn’t even do that in Iowa.
Not only are the streets safe, but the police are extraordinarily helpful. (I’m not saying American police aren’t courteous – I have the utmost respect for our men and women in blue).
But case in point: last summer, hungover as hell from a karaoke binge, I left my briefcase on the overhead rack of the subway car. By the time I realized it was gone, I was on the next train and my bag was on its way to Mount Takao (seriously).
Like the good keeper she is, my wife reported the lost bag at the train station, who took note. Three days later I received a phone call asking when I was going to pick up my bag. It was at the police station.
When I went to pick it up, everything was in tact – the $100 leather business card case, as well as my bank card. The only thing missing was a 99 cent notepad.
The third thing that is amazing about Tokyo is the entertainment and nightlife.
We attended the Belgian Beer Festival in Roppongi Hills, which featured 75 different beers, including my favorite Delerium Tremons. They love their beer here in Tokyo, and even if most of the native brews are diluted cups of tonic water, they enthusiastically embrace international brands and have festivals year-round lauding the best of the best.
Tokyo has two major league baseball teams whose fans rival those of any New York or Boston team. Fireworks displays are a source of competition and elaborate shows are put on throughout the year. Every weekend is packed with music acts of all kinds (though a little ridiculously expensive). On the same weekend in May, the Tokyo Rocks Festival will be headlined by Blur, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine. While on the other side of town, Black Sabbath, Tool and The Deftones will dominate at Ozzfest.
And I haven’t even experienced cherry blossom season, which is coming up next month.
Don’t even get me started on the quality of food. That requires an entire book. This year Tokyo usurped Paris as the culinary capitol of the world. Tokyo now has the most Michelin starred restaurants of any city.
While the top restaurants are expensive as your monthly preschool tuition, you can find reasonable menus that still feature some of the finest cuisine on either side of the Pacific. There are over 22,000 restaurants in Tokyo, which makes it overwhelming when trying to choose just one.
There is mouth-watering sushi, such as the reasonably priced Midori-zushi ($50 per person) in Shibuya. This place can be crowded, but it is pretty friendly to foreigners.
We found an Osaka-style okonomiyaki restaurant called Sometaro in Asakusa. Prior to World War II Asakusa was the downtown entertainment district of Tokyo. Sometaro was where famous actors and writers hung out back in Asakusa’s heyday.
My wife found a nabe soup restaurant called Izumida in the Nihombashi neighborhood. This is a covert operation down a dark alley. You have to climb an inconspicuous staircase to the third floor of the building where the staff greet you heartily. They love foreigners here because the chef is trying to learn English. We get along quite well and during our last visit he gave us a free bottle of sake.
Lastly, we found a local kushi-age restaurant that “stays open until the last customer leaves.” They told us they once stayed open until noon the next day. Kushi-age is deep-fried delicacies on a stick (I’m sorry – skewer).
Really, you can’t go wrong with most restaurants in Tokyo. We are still exploring the places in our neighborhood. Down every alleyway there is something new to explore.
Down the alleyways in Boston… well, you don’t go down the alleyways in Boston.