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Do as they do

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We spent most of yesterday evening in a local Izakaya nearby our accommodation in Shimotakaido. We met the rest of the Finns and so only the Swedes remained to be seen (rumoured to arrived on Monday!). One of the guys from Cambridge, Tom, had lived in Japan before and was able to speak Japanese confidently enough to order whatever we wanted. Japanese people are usually extremely surprised at his level of fluency and always have a massive grin whilst they are talking to him! We found out one of the bar staff actually attended Nihon University and so she was particularly happy to see us. We are due to meet a few volunteers from the university on Tuesday, and also take our placement test(!) at the same time – it will certainly remind me that I’m not here just for tourism!

Borrowed image from Kaisa's blog!

We decided to go to Shibuya and Harajuku today to check out the sights. The Finns hadn’t been to Japan before and so we showed them the things we liked about it when we last visited [Harajuku girls!]. We are using Suica cards to get around Tokyo, which is pretty much the same as an Oyster card in London but you can also use it to pay for other things such as drinks in vending machines. I have no doubt that this is a precursor to how things will be in the UK in a few years – I am living in the future! The staff at train stations all speak passable English and the station boards are in Romaji, so it is generally quite easy to get around for tourists. I’m quite surprised at how easy it is to get by in Tokyo without speaking a single word of Japanese; simple hand gestures and speaking English in a Japanese accent usually gives the desired result!

The weather was extremely hot and it made it difficult to fully enjoy strolling in Tokyo’s fashion district. Fortunately, we were given free paper fans (in the shape of a Google Places/Maps marker) and later we were also given free wet towels. Usually the free stuff handed out on the street in the UK is next to useless, but in Tokyo they are a welcome sight! We saw clothes stores to accomodate every Japanese teen sub-culture and some to suit Western styles also; price-wise they are not significantly higher than London.

There weren’t many people dressed up around Harajuku, but those that were there received plenty of attention.

Phoebe makes friends with the locals.

This was also the only place where we saw more foreigners than native Japanese people! Indeed, we managed to find an English/American/European/’White’ girl dressed up as a maid and partaking in the same ceremonial posing as a typical Harajuku girl. Although I enjoyed my time there last year, it was very much a superficial impression and I wasn’t able gain any depth of appreciation at all. To get a real glimpse into Japanese culture I would have to look far beyond just the streets of Harajuku… We quickly made our way towards the Meiji Shrine, which I had also visited last year.

Centre court of the Meiji Shrine.

There are small wells/fountains on the side which allow people to wash their hands and also drink the water, if they wish. I used to feel somewhat uncomfortable taking part in this traditional Shinto hand washing since I (obviously) didn’t share any of the associated beliefs. Now I’m choosing to approach it with a more open perspective, do as they do [in Tokyo], and perhaps I will be able to learn something from the experience. What do I have to lose? One of the lecture series as part of the JLSP course is called “The Japanese Mind” and this is definitely something I am looking forward to! As a side note, I realise I don’t have photos for a lot of the things I’m talking about, so I apologise in advance and promise to get better at this in the future!

Category: JLSP | Tags: , , ,