After very nearly deleting the e-mail from the international office in Malmö, dismissing it as spam (the subject was: ‘CONGRATULATIONS’), I got an excited, correction over-excited call from my course friend (and real-life friend) Caroline proclaiming that we both got INU Summer School scholarships to go to Japan. Japan! Wow. The country conjures up contrasting images of traditional houses, powerful geishas, delicate temples and incomparable green nature onto a backdrop of colourful anime, cutting edge technology and competing neon signs. Which Japan would we find? We headed to Tokyo a week before the school started to find out.
Landing in a city of 14million when you’re used to 300,000 strong Malmö you’re mentally prepared for chaos and being permanently lost. But we found that although the metro map looks like colourful spaghetti and there are multiple railways companies owning various lines on the metro, everything is amazingly logically planned. Most signs are in English, colour coded and numbered.
If you ever find yourself lost and can’t speak Japanese then gesture where it is you want to go and the upmost will be done to make sure you get it! Form what we experienced Japanese people are very private and great lengths are gone to not be an inconvenience to others for example
no-one pushes or shoves on the metro, no-one coughs, space is made for everyone with minimal touching and there is absolutely no loud talking on the trains. Maybe it’s these principles that make it possible to have such a high concentration of people without it spilling over into chaos?
Not knowing Japanese many of our experiences happened by chance. We adopted the habit of just pointing at random things on the menu and hoping for the best (all yum!). Much of the action if hidden from street view in Tokyo either underground (cooler and saves space) or up high in department buildings. So if you can’t read Japanese you can’t read the billboards advertising what’s inside but nothing stops you from taking the steps down to see what yummy restaurants can be sampled there, or going up to find men playng betting flipper in a trance (Pachinko). Fancying a cocktail in late night Ginza we acted on the ‘press a random button in the lift’ tactic and ended up in a bar- where the staff were as surprised to see us as we them! After initial excitement and confusion we all got into some old fashioned karaoke (we murdered Country Road), we all exchanged details and mingles with the suits and kimonos.
Tokyo is a sensory overload with music blaring, bright colours and many new things for a Malmö accustomed brain to take in and understand. But maybe understanding shouldn’t be the objective- go with the flow, press the lift buttons and if you get lost there will most likely be a Japanese person who will politely help you out.