Tokyo, a lifelong memory
Last year I was lucky enough to get a chance to travel to the very eastern end of the two-dimensional geographic map we’re used to looking at, to Japan. The thought of the distance and the length of the flight didn’t exactly excite me, but the desire to explore a part of the world I didn’t know yet took over. From my perspective, my hometown is very different culturally and architecturally from the rest of Croatia, which is then very different from the rest of Europe, and I think the differences only get proportionally bigger, for example if we compare the Anglo-Saxon and the Anglo-American cultures, about which we know so much thanks to the information society we live in today.
As the plane ticket had been booked months in advance, in the period of awaiting my adventure, I often answered interested people’s questions quite dully – I don’t know what to expect, I’m not too excited. The reason for that was all the work I had to do before I left and my partial ignorance towards the Land of the Rising Sun. My low expectations turned out to be the best thing I carried with me.
I took advantage of the 12 hour long flight to get acquainted with Japanese culture. Not architecture or history, which would probably make sense for me as a photographer, but culture with emphasis on interpersonal relations and customs. I read the book ‘’The Japanese mind’’, and while most people on the plane were watching Hollywood production movies on the screen in front of them, I was watching Japanese documentaries, without subtitles, even though I didn’t understand a single word. The respect of someone’s personal space, the perception of human touch, the careful choosing of the correct words and the awe of hierarchy, those are just the beginning of all the cultural differences and details that should be respected while exploring Japan as a tourist.
Upon arrival to Tokyo, to a hotel in the luxury shopping area Ginza, aside with my confusing jet-lag, my first and only worry were the prices. Bombarded with the facts that the average cost of monthly rent for a three-room apartment in Tokyo was 20.500 HRK and warnings that Japan is expensive in general, I had given up any kind of shopping way before I landed. What followed was a big, pleasant surprise. The cost of food and drinks was the same, if not lower than it was in Dubrovnik, even with the special Dubrovnik resident discounts. The fridge inside the room of a modern four-star hotel was empty. Even though I had never taken anything from a fridge in a hotel room, the fact alone was rather confusing. I found the answer to this mystery between the elevator and my 29th floor hotel room, where I found the beverage machine. A small bottle of water was cheaper than 10 HRK, and a pint of beer (568 ml) was around 30 HRK – and again, that was all in a four-star hotel in a luxury area of Tokyo.
I don’t think Tokyo is a cheap destination, on the contrary, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But the basics such as food, drinks, public transportation, even taxis or clothes aren’t expensive when you compare them to our standard. However, I did pay 1000 HRK for a day trip to Kamakura, a city 1 hour away from Tokyo. An interesting thing was that the lovely tour guide kept apologizing all day long in her name and the name of the agency, for no other reason but the fact it was raining.
What do you think of first when you imagine a metropolis? My first association were crowded traffic, big distances, filth because of the huge amount of people, noise. Believe me, Tokyo is the cleanest city I have ever been to. We all know that Japanese trains are like clocks and that is indeed correct. Crowded train station? Don’t push and pull, just be first in line for the next train in 4 minutes. Your wait will be fulfilled with bird chirp coming from invisible loudspeakers. In Tokyo it is forbidden to smoke in public spaces (yes, even on the street!) or to throw away garbage in places that are not meant for that. Smoking isn’t forbidden only because of the smoke, but also because of the cigarette butts. When you don’t see a single chewing gum mark or cigarette butt on the street, that little piece of paper you might’ve dropped otherwise, will surely remain in your pocket while in Tokyo.
I believe I am one of few people who don’t enjoy Japanese cuisine. I think raw fish belongs on the grill, not on the plate, but I guess an average Japanese man would be terrified by the meat stew from Slavonia. I’m not a complete hater of their cuisine, I have eaten multiple lunches with multiple sequences, because it would be a shame not to explore Japan that way as well, but my primary need was mostly satisfied in pubs, American fast food restaurants (I know, I’m not proud of it), but also Chinese restaurants, which weren’t so easy to find considering the, neutrally put, cultural differences. One thing is certain, warm sake is al pari with carob liquor.
Even though Japan is costly, the introduction to a completely different culture and lifestyle was more important for me than money and it certainly created a lifelong memory. Instead of writing about all the places I visited, I’ll now let you enjoy the photo gallery. Sayonara!