Culture shock is the term that would best characterize our entire experience of Tokyo. Having come from the Philippines, a country I have loving labeled as the least efficient nation I have yet to visit, the shock began at the airport. When we arrived at Tokyo Narita, we were off the plane, through a swine flu health check, past immigration, baggage claim and customs, and on to the Airport Limo Bus to Shibuya is less than seven minutes.
The efficiency of Japan is unrivaled. The Japanese embody the idea of service, commitment and hard work for the betterment of the whole, even at the sacrifice of their individual selves. The next thing that surprised me was that NOBODY spoke English. I know that this sounds smug coming from an Anglo American, who speaks 1.5 languages (.5 for my half decent Spanish). But I have come to assume from my trips through Europe and South America that almost everyone in the hospitality industry will have some capacity to communicate in English. Not so in Japan. At our hotel, the Excel Shibuya (highly recommended), eighty percent of the staff was able to communicate at nothing above a 4 year old level. So Preston and I had to resort to points and grunts and “Arigato”s. There was one or two exceptions to this. As Preston and I starred up dumb founded by the boards of the Tokyo subway system an amazingly sweet girl in her early twenties stopped to explain everything to us in perfect English.
When we got in the elevator to go to our room the view was spectacularly urban. Out the totally glass elevator was the main crosswalk in Shibuya. On this Saturday evening hundreds of people were crossing the street. Looking down on from the people fifteenth floor, it felt like we were watching ants scurry rapidly around. I promptly strapped on my running shoes and took off for an amazing run to Yoyogi park. I ran through the streets as the sun was setting and listened to the music pumping from my iPhone. This is the way I want to be introduced to all foreign cultures. As I walked back from the park I quickly noticed the order. The Japanese are the opposite of New Yorkers. They wait at the cross walk even if there are no cars in site and they NEVER step off the curb to get a head start. I naturally offended all of these customs, but was never looked at strangely, or even noticed.
Over the 48 hours that we were in Tokyo Preston and I had an amazing sushi dinner with Tom and Angel’s friend Janet. The sushi bar was simple – eight seats and two sushi chefs who served up the best Omakaze I have ever had. The next day we went to Tokyo Time Square and ate crepes in a roof garden. Then we went to the Meiji Shrine. When we got off the subway it was pouring rain. So we got a yellow polka dot umbrella from a street vendor for 500 Yen and huddled together for the long gravel walk to the Shrine. When we arrived we watched a formal Japanese wedding procession, and then went through the double bow, double clap, single bow process of honoring the great Emperor Meiji who opened Japan up to the rest of the world at the end of the 19th century. The next morning we were up at 4:30 a.m. to wander the frenetic Tsukiji fish market, had a nice sushi breakfast, got on the plan back to LA and were back in the office by 10 a.m. (this is due to the crazy time difference. It’s an amazing experience to take a 10 hour flght and arrive 6 hours before you left!)