Chris and I have always loved visiting Japan as tourists, so how different can living here be?
Spoiler alert: quite different.
Off to work
I’ve had a lot of raised eyebrows when I tell people I’ve taken a job in Tokyo. The Japanese work culture has a bad reputation, and judging from the streams of people in the stations around 9pm, that’s probably fairly deserved.
The company I’m working for is American, and firmly English-speaking. Indeed is the biggest job site in the world and is now owned by Japanese giant Recruit. While the biggest offices are in the US and Ireland, Tokyo is home base.
In my Meguro office, people greet each other by asking “where are you from?” I’ve been explaining that I’m from New Zealand via Australia but am quickly realising that there’s no need to make that distinction. We’re all bundled together in the minds of the rest of the world!
Life by the ‘seaside’
For the next month, while we house hunt, we’re living in a serviced apartment close to Shinagawa Station. It’s handy to work but it’s an area that’s more function than form.
The view from our balcony
We’re close enough to hear the buzz of the trains, which I find oddly soothing and just a bit like the sound of waves. While it’s not the busiest station in Tokyo (shout-out to the totally bonkers Shinjuku Station), around 378,566 people pass through the station each day. By comparison, Flinders St Station in Melbourne tops out at 92,000.
For now, it’s a good starting point. We’re getting used to living in a smaller space, and it’s only a short walk to an excellent okonomiyaki joint.
The rumble in the jungle
I was dozing when I felt my first Tokyo earthquake. It felt a little like being inside a kettle on a rolling boil. A nice, gentle wake up call.
Bosai is the term for working to reduce the risk of disaster damage. Under my desk is a little orange backpack which contains an emergency kit. Our eleventh-floor balcony has a hatch with an attached rope ladder that I really hope no-one ever has to attempt.
These visible reminders represent such a different attitude to disaster awareness, but it doesn’t feel anxious or fatalistic. It’s a pragmatic nod to the fact that there’s no point in pretending these things won’t happen. Being from a country that has a decent amount of shakes, and having lived in a country that’s often either on fire or flooded, this approach seems smart, if also tiny bit scary.
Go! Go! Swallows!
I wasn’t looking to adopt a Tokyo sports team but that was before I discovered the amazingly-named Yakult Swallows.
Dedicated Swallows supporters… until it rained.
I’ve never been much of a sports spectator but it turns out that the option of beer served to your seat, and a superior range of stadium snacks makes a big difference. A dancing Yakult bottle doesn’t hurt either. While I’m still not 100% on the rules of baseball, I’m sure that the Swallows are a very gifted team.
Every player had at least three dedicated chants, and mystery of the tiny umbrellas was solved when someone hit a home run. The umbrellas went up and the home run song rang out. I’ll be back to support my beloved Swallows.
It would be easy to get into listing endless cultural differences and the charming and not-so-charming facts I discover, like that Japanese driving tests begin with an assessment to see whether you check under the car for cats, and that jobs come with compulsory health checks.
Instead, I’m trying to banish the word ‘weird’ from my vocabulary and roll with all the discomfort that comes with having your world-view challenged. This is what we wanted in making this change, and it’s a hard thing to always want to embrace with enthusiasm. But, hang in there with me. Next stop is a weekend in Kyoto to experience ‘kawadoko’, warm-weather dining on tables built out over the rivers.