LETTER FROM TOKYO: 65 Reasons Why I Love Living Here, Why Japan is Better Than America, And Why Tokyo Is One Of The Greatest Cities In The World


BY EVA LIAO TOKYO CORRESPONDENT A few weeks ago I wrote a post disclosing all the things I dislike about Tokyo and peeps be acting like I was ready to jump off the deep end. My incredibly considerate, but mislead roommate actually gave me a hug after reading the post because he thought I was depressed. Three other people had the same reaction. People! Beefs with Tokyo does not equate to unhappiness. Not in my book, anyway. Rather, I saw my “beef” as a coming to terms with reality, an acceptance of sorts that allowed me to simply appreciate things for what they are. I’ve come to understand that, like all things fascinating and beautiful, Tokyo is not perfect. Nor should it be — because perfection is boring. To counterbalance my seemingly negative portrayal of Tokyo, I  give you 65 reasons why I love living here, why Japan is better than America, and why Tokyo is one of the greatest cities in the world. Here we go.

  1. Public intoxication: It’s legal, it’s fun, it’s a way of life. If you pass out on the sidewalk in America, you’re a bum. If you pass out on the sidewalk in Tokyo, you’re the average, hard-working business man.

  2. Toilets: As many of you know, Toilets in Japan come installed with heaters (and coolers, for the winter). Imagine waking up at 4am in the middle of the night on a cold February morning to take a shit. It’s absolute heaven. And any country that pays heed to the comfort of your butt is a winner in my book.
  3. Respect for old people: I’m Asian. I believe in respecting your elders. I love old people, especially the grumpy ones. I don’t believe in retirement homes. I admire the Japanese for how they treat the elderly.
  4. Health care: It exists. It works. It’s affordable.
  5. Fuck New York when it comes to cities that never sleep. Tokyo deserves the title hands down. Bars are open 24 hours and convenience stores never close. This city is so over populated, it feels like people are always around, no matter what time it is. Love hotels, capsule hotels, karaoke bars, and internet cafes all cater to a society of people who never have to actually go home to sleep.
  6. Tokyo has the most intricate, advanced train system in the world. And after the bicycle, trains are the next best thing.  I have spent countless hours sitting, standing, putzing around in stations, marveling over the magic that is the Japan Rail system. They’re so nice to look at, coming in and out of the station in marching order, carrying hundreds of people at a time. It’s truly a work of engineering art. Man-made modernity at its best. I love everything about the trains here, except actually riding them.
  7. Love Hotels.
  8. Cell phones: I hate cellphones, but if I’m going to use one, it might as well be a Japanese phone.  They’re like the new hover board.
  9. The Japanese government actually cares about its own people. Being American, this is a foreign concept to me. In Japan (for the most part) the government/big businesses/economical dominators  actually WANT their fellow countrymen to do well. The country has its own citizens’ well-being at heart, unlike in America where authority figures misuse their power to take advantage of the general public. Take Enron, Halliburton, and Katrina for example. And our health and educational systems which do little to help the average American. Or how about our food supply as another example. In American schools, we feed our kids over-processed, chemically educed junk food to keep them fat and hungry. Not only does the government approve of this, but they’re the suppliers- like dealers to a junkie. In Japan, most of this kind of stuff would never fly. The result is that Americans a are suspicious, if not paranoid, people. Our survival skills require us to be defensive and aggressive. The Japanese, on the other hand, are more trusting and at ease with their surroundings because they don’t have to fight for quality.
  10. Traditional Japanese temples.
  11. You can wear whatever the fuck you want, anytime, anywhere. Wigs, latex, a monkey costume? Sure, it’s all good.
  12. Incredibly well-dressed, dapper old men. I have a SERIOUS thing for old guys who dress well. Three piece suits, canes, fedora hats, shiny shoes- all of it. It makes me swoon. And in Tokyo, they’re everywhere. I don’t see this enough in LA or Philly.
  13. Small businesses thrive in this city. In fact, they strike me as the norm. In America, every small business is always eventually eaten up by some bigger company with more money. But in Tokyo, it seems as if 60% of restaurants, clothes/food/music stores are all independently owned (that’s a VERY rough estimation, since I can’t find the numbers. But if you live in Tokyo you get what I mean). My hypothesis is that the high cost of living in this city allows for small businesses to thrive. It’s a pretty good trade-off, especially when you grow up in the burbs’ where everything is generic. In Tokyo, every street is lined with something quirky, unique and totally home grown.
  14. No class struggles: This is a concept that continues to baffle me because sadly, my western society is one that is very much divided and defined by class systems. The psychological, sociological, and philosophical implications  of money (or the lack thereof) in our lives are are ingrained in to our heads from day one. Yet in Japan, 90% of Japanese people consider themselves middle class. Yes, read that sentence again if you have to because it’s totally NUCKING FUTS!!! That means virtually everyone here considers themselves monetary equals. It means where you live, where you come from, who you hang out with, date, marry etc is no longer determined by economical class! How beautiful is that? It’s also very strange to me, because in America, like it or not, class is permeating factor on most life aspects. Think about all The Clash songs or John Hughes’ movies about the taboo of high school kids dating outside their class- they just don’t make sense here. I’m still flabbergasted as to how exactly it works.
  15. Sleeping in public: I really like this one! In Tokyo, it’s totally normal to sleep on the train, or to put your head down in Starbucks or MacDonald’s to take a short nap. It can be really rejuvenating! But you do the same in America and chances are you’ll wake up with your wallet missing. Either that, or people will just assume you’re sick/homeless.
  16. Perikura: Japanese sticker pictures
  17. Japanese kids are just cuter. And maybe its something in the water, but they’re all well-behaved, too!
  18. Hang over medicine that works.
  19. Cherry blossom season: People take a week off to sit under pink, cloud like trees to drink publicly while admiring nature. Even Christmas isn’t this cool.
  20. Symmetry: I’ve always like symmetry and Tokyo is full of it! I love the way this city looks- as if it were made up of puzzle pieces that have been thoughtfully rearranged.
  21. Simplicity. The Japanese have simplicity down to an art.
  22. Religion (or lack thereof): People don’t care what religion you choose to be. You can believe whatever you want and no one’s going to give you some obnoxious spiel about how you’re going to hell because you’ve sinned. Homosexuality and abortions are choices each individual can make on their own terms without some asshole trying to tell you otherwise.
  23. Beverage vending machines: This country will never go thirsty.
  24. Green tea everything.
  25. Great city for bikes!! I LOVE riding my bike in Tokyo. The streets of Philly always look like they’ve just been hit by a meteor shower. You could probably bury a dead body in one of the potholes in North Philly. In comparison, riding your bike around Tokyo feels like riding on the marble floors of the Vatican. The streets are smooth, glossy, pristine- perfect for cruising on your two-wheeler. And Japanese people are really skilled, patient drivers, because obtaining a license actually requires that you know how to drive (not so in the states). So you have fewer crazy idiots swerving at you from out of no where.
  26. Dualities: The complexity of this aspect of Japan is far too complicated to get into it. But let’s just say, Japan is the only country in the world that exist in balance between the extremities of modern/traditional, sophistication/kitsch, and simplicity/complexity. Somehow, they all co-exist simultaneously.
  27. Neighborhoods: Suburbs don’t exist in Japan, at least not the way they do in the cookie-cutter parts of America. Japanese neighborhoods are full of character- quiet, peaceful, clean, and beautiful.
  28. The interesting world of Japanese sex: It’s too complicated to get into here.
  29. Japanese people are naturally sophisticated. Americans are not.
  30. Tokyo-ites are amazingly stylish- but not in a snooty, nauseating kind of way. Rather, in an inspirational, admirable kind of way.
  31. Matsuri (festivals). If we had festivals like these in America, riots would break out and shit would be stolen.
  32. Everything is clean. Spotless, in fact. I’d put money on the fact that the toilet in McDonald’s is cleaner than the one I used while living at 16th and Christian.
  33. Environmentally conscious: Sure, people waste here too, but in comparison to America, most places are environmentally conscious. Here, recycling is the law. And with the pure amount of people living in Tokyo alone, they have to conserve just to make sure their standard of life is consistent.
  34. For the most part, people are polite. Or at the very least, considerate.
  35. Crows! 99% of people here will disagree with me, but I love the crows in Japan because they’re one of the only things in this country that aren’t minuscule. In fact, their freaking HUGE (bigger than some Japanese people!) and actually quite scary. And thus, they are way bad ass.
  36. Outrageous gaudiness and a culture of kitsch. They’re shameless when it comes to this stuff. It’s as enchanting as it is annoying.
  37. Bath culture: Baths in America are reserved for 5 year olds and hot MILFS with sore feet. Baths in Japan are for everyone, and often done naked in front of a lot of other people. Every neighborhood has its own bath house and its considered totally normal to go in whenever (everyday, if you want) to soak for an hour or two for some R&R.
  38. Karaoke: If you’re a hater, you just don’t know.
  39. Delivery services: I can’t express enough to you my love for the Japanese Mail System. I would give up television for the rest of my life if I could be guaranteed to have mail this efficient in America. Things arrive quick, on time and in one piece. If you aren’t home when your package arrives, you can call the mailman and he’ll come back THAT day! You can deliver anything, from artwork to furniture, at an affordable price. And if you don’t want to take your luggage onto the train on your way to the airport, the delivery people will pick it up and take it to the airport for you!!!!
  40. Manga, anime, and video games: I’m not particularly into video games and computers etc (though I do love manga and comic books), but I still think it’s pretty cool that there is a whole world out here for super geeks. Even I can admit that the high-tech video games and well crafted cartoons are absorbing when they’re done at this level.
  41. Shoes: Japanese people have the BEST shoes! From sneakers, to flats, to boots, to heals. These people really know what they’re doing when it comes to foot wear. They’re much more imaginative and outgoing when it comes to matters of the feet.
  42. Lockers at every train station.
  43. Combinis or convenient stores. Always there, always open. Always have something delicious inside waiting to be eaten by me.
  44. Work ethic: The Japanese have the strongest work ethic of any people. It makes sense that they have the 2nd strongest economy in the world even though its such a small country. It’s both a sad and beautiful thing. Even though I don’t think it’s healthy, I really admire their motivation, ability and drive.  They’re always talking about doing their best and giving 110%. In this sense, I have a great deal of respect for the Japanese.
  45. Reliability: Living in Tokyo, we take for granted that everything actually works the way it’s supposed to. In America, you never know when the vending machine is going to eat your money or when the bus is going to come.  Internet is always going down and packages get lost in the mail. In Tokyo, things like this rarely happen. We go on living our daily lives with the assurance that are expectations will be met.
  46. Clubs: Tokyo has some of the best clubs in the world. And I don’t even like clubbing in America. Take Womb for example. It’s voted the 2nd best club in the world by DJ Mag and it has a 2m diameter disco ball. It’s also 20 minutes away from my house. Amazing.
  47. Fit, healthy people: I never realized how depressing it was to be around obese people until I wasn’t anymore.
  48. Japanese girls are hot. And when they’re not hot, they’re at least amusing to look at.
  49. People in Tokyo just do more stuff. They live faster, work harder and are constantly on the move.
  50. Stuff catered towards Asian people: Did you know they have a whole world of stuff made just for Asian people? Because I didn’t. In America, I just use whatever I can buy at Right-Aid. But here, simply, silly things just work better for me- like eye lash curlers for small Asian eyes or shampoo for Asian hair. It’s kind of nice to live in a land where things are made just for you! =)
  51. Tatamis: Japanese flooring made out of rice straw. It’s beautiful and smells nice. It makes sitting on the floor enjoyable.
  52. It’s so easy to meet people in this city.
  53. Safety: When I lived in North Philly, there were days I’d walk home at night with my keys between my fingers. I didn’t feel safe. Here, I can stumble back home drunk at 4am (naked, if I wanted to) and not have to worry for a second. The crime rate is non-existent in comparison to America.
  54. Honesty and good will: 90% of the stuff you lose here will be returned to you. Friends who have lost cell phones and wallets almost always get them back in the mail. Japanese people are really, really honest.
  55. Good costumer service.
  56. Shibuya crossing, one of the biggest, most populated street crossings in the world. I didn’t know you could be in love with a crossing, but apparently, you can. I still get goose bumps every time I cross it, and I do it almost everyday!
  57. Tradition: Japanese culture is riddled with traditions. Coming from a country as new as America, our traditions are somewhat flimsy. I am fascinated by the historical context by which people do things here. I admire that they still honor their traditions, as it makes for a richer, more intriguing way of life.
  58. Tokyo at night is a whole different beast. At night, all the humans turn into werewolves and spend the night prowling for pray. People go crazy amongst the shining neon lights. It’s the perfect place for mayhem.
  59. Food presentation as an art.
  60. Yakuza. Asian gangsters are way cooler than white ones. Especially since they get such bad ass tattoos.
  61. The mind your own business mentality. If you’re bleeding from the eyeballs in the middle of the road, this mentality can prove to be fatal. But if its 6:30 in the morning and you’re obviously just coming home after a long night of partying dressed in sequence and spandex, stuck on a crowded train smelling of cigarettes and booze, the fact that everyone around ignores you because they don’t want to embarrass you is actually kind of comforting. Japanese people are trained to strictly mind their own business, which is why in Tokyo there are so many weirdos that can get away with almost anything. In fact, it seems the stranger your behavior, the more people pretend you aren’t there.
  62. People still pay for music. Rarely do Japanese people actually download music because it’s considered stealing. I’m glad someone is still buying CD’s because I shamefully have not in a while.
  63. Weather/Seasons: Tokyo has really great weather compared to other big cities like London and NY. Fall and Spring actually last three months each. It doesn’t get too cold, and I enjoy the summer heat.
  64. Conformity and sacrifice: This is a tough one, and something I’ve given a lot of thought to.  Everyone knows that Japanese culture is based on conformity. It’s good to follow the status quo, and being different is something most people frown upon. Japanese people really don’t know how to think for themselves, and rarely will they argue with you. On the other hand, in America, we pride ourselves on being the exact opposite; We believe in expressing our ideas and developing strong, individualistic opinions. Thus, most of the time, the Japanese mentality frustrates me because I find it boring and devoid of any real gutsy-ness. But overtime, I’ve come to think that maybe conformity is a choice Japanese people consciously make. Ultimately, they sacrifice their individuality in return for a society free of drugs, crime, poverty and illness. This sort of utopian life standard is something unique only to Japan because of their dogmatic loyalty to “group-think.” Here, community trumps the individual. And thus Tokyo, despite its harsh circumstances, is a flawless, efficient, streamlined city. It’s the perfect well-oiled machine- the way perhaps George Orwell would have imagined it. I don’t know if it’s something I could ever get used to, but there is something deeply admirable and beautiful about the willingness of a person to prize their community over their own well being. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring. It’s  lack of ego. It’s something Americans should learn a thing or two about.
  65. And finally, my number one, all time favorite thing about Japan- The Food. I could write a novella on Japanese cuisine. In fact, I think I will, but I’ll save it for next time.

OKAY. So I think I’ve covered every last freakin’ thing. Now I just hope someone actually reads this thing.

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