In the beginning of October I spent 10 days in Tokyo.
I gotta say that the very first thing I thought when I arrived in Tokyo was “damn I do NOT miss the humidity”. Even though the temperature was somewhere between 70-76 degrees I guess my body has readjusted to San Francisco weather and I found myself sweating profusely most of the time I was there.
other things I didn’t miss. I didn’t miss riding on crowded trains. They might be fun as an experience once but after that they pretty much suck. I also didn’t miss riding with sick people on the train.
I probably I didn’t catch my cold from someone on a train in Tokyo but I did have a cold for 7 of the ten days I was there. Fortunately it was not at all severe and while I didn’t get to party has hard as I wanted to I was able to at least make it out every day.
What I also noticed though is that I felt more at home in Tokyo than San Francisco. Of course 7 years there vs only 8 months in San Francisco might do that but SF has the advantage of being America, somewhere I’ve lived for 35 years.
The biggest reason has to be my wonderful friends in Tokyo. The first day I was back I saw probably 20 of them. Certain things have already changed in the group, one who was married is no longer, another now has a child, yet another got married. Still, it felt mostly the same.
Of course I ate like a pig trying to catch up on everything I miss so much. I had Koumen twice and Wanzhuji once. I had several Japanese desserts and western ones as well. I got to try Tunisian food, does that even exist in SF?
I know some people who read this won’t like the next thing I’m about to say but something really stuck out for me while I was on vacation and that is how living in Tokyo really made the things that suck about America stick out for me. I know using the word “suck” is going to invite flamers and I could have used something more like “things that are not all that great” instead but honestly, they just suck.
The #1 issue that sticks out is crime. Being in Tokyo is such a welcome from San Francisco. I don’t even think San Francisco is supposed to be considered that bad a place but I have friends that live near the Tenderloin or when I go clubbing down that way and just stepping outside there there are scary people. People who play chicken with the cars passing through. People who are clearly angry at the world. Or, take a look down in the SOMA were where pretty much every 4th parking space on the street there is a pile of glass denoting a recently broke in car. If I go to the AMC Van Ness 14 or the Metron theaters I don’t feel safe. There’s always some group doing something aggressive. My office which is in what looks like the cleanest area of all the bay has a “no guns” sticker on every door. Even my own neighborhood, Noe Valley, which many would think of as safe doesn’t always feel safe to me.
In contrast I can pretty much be anywhere in Tokyo day or night and not worry about a thing. Like I’ve said before, we in America have grown so used to it we just ignore it. It’s not until you live somewhere safer that it really highlights for you how much crap we put up with or that we ignore that we shouldn’t. We should instead FIX!
I brought up vandalism before. Why is that part of American culture? I grew up with it. I thought it was cool to make prank calls. I thought it was cool to pour sugar in someone’s gas tank. I thought it was cool to step on my friend’s brand new shoes. I thought it was cool to go in someone’s backyard and throw the fallen fruit in their garden against their fence. Why is that part of America culture? As far as I can tell it’s not part of Japanese culture. Where did that come from? Why is it just a part of life now in America. We just expect it. We don’t even think that it could be or ever was any different and yet living somewhere where it’s not that way I now know we shouldn’t be expecting it. We should be ashamed of it. As a small example, the people that live across from me by like 10 jack-o-lanterns out for Halloween. By midnight 3 of them had been kicked into mush by kids passing by. Why did they feel the need to do that?
I’m not saying Japan doesn’t suck in other areas or that Japan is perfect. I’m only saying that living somewhere where vandalism and crime are so low has highlighted just how much shit we all ignore in America. Stuff that we should not be ignoring.
Okay, back to the good stuff in Japan, another is food. Food in SF sucks. I used to think it was the best in America. I know I’ve read that somewhere but there’s just something different about food in Japan. They take it to another level or something. It’s like in America everything seems to be going toward genericness. More sugar, larger portions, brighter colors but less taste. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Japanese food or Western food, for the most part food tastes better in Japan than America. I’m not saying Japan is #1. Hong Kong had amazing food too but so far SF has been fairly disappointing in the food area.
The last is racism. I used to think America was the best in that area. That’s what we are told. We are supposed to be the Great American Melting Pot. I always thought that’s where we were headed. My schools were mixed, my friends were mixed. But, since I’ve come back to SF I’ve really felt like racism is getting a LOT worse in America. Each race is carving out their own small insider club and outsiders are not welcome. There are all kinds of Asian events in SF where a non-asian is not welcome. There are all Indian restaurants where you get stares like “you don’t belong here” if you are not Indian. I’ve been told that Hawaii, a place I was raised to believe had the “aloha – love everyone – spirit” that now if they think you are an outsider can you go to the wrong cul-de-sac or beach you can get beaten to death. WTF!
What is making that happen to us? Is it the oppression of “the man?” Is it popular culture’s messages? Is it just a desire to feel power through believing you’re oppressed? Is it less culture mix on TV? Is it 500 channels of cable TV so each group doesn’t need to share anything? Is it the internet that lets us easily keep in touch with only our friends instead of our neighbors? Is it all of the above? I have no idea, all I know is that it exists. I’m not saying Japan is not racist. But I can say that when I’m there those topics rarely come up for me. I feel excepted wherever I go. But, back in SF I don’t which highlights the issues for me.
Oh well, that’s not where I really wanted to go with this post.
What I wanted to end on is that I really had a ton of fun in Tokyo and I really miss my friends and parts of my life there. I wish I knew of way to live there that didn’t require me to live in a 300sqft apartment and never be able to save for retirement and still make games for a living but I don’t see that happening.
SF is getting better as I make more friends. Maybe by the next time I visit Tokyo SF will feel more like home.