Bright Lights, Big City (The Sequel)

It's only been a few weeks, but I’m in Tokyo’s rapture. The energy, order, beauty, cleanliness and sizzle of this city of 14 million is enthralling.

One of my first thoughts was about my decade living in New York City (NYC); an experience invaluable living here. I left the Big Apple 11 years ago, so the endurance a NYC requires wasn’t top of mind. The stamina needed was a bit of a surprise during the beginning moments in Tokyo, although I quickly felt comfortable with the rapid pace of the world’s largest city.  The walking and enormous subway system alone is hectic, but if you’ve never had this type of lifestyle, the acclamation could be difficult.

We hit the ground running after arriving on a Saturday morning. Time waits for no one. During the weekend, we explored our area of Shibuya and bought some basic needs for the apartment. We went to a local park, had dinner out, went swimming, visited a playground and soaked in the newness and uniqueness of Tokyo.

Colossal is another word for this place, as some streets are packed beyond belief and as far as the eye can see. Watching 500-800 people on a street corner has not been an uncommon sight. The walking was tough on the kids initially, as not only did we walk more than they are used to, but the temperatures were humid and hot (23c/74f to 26c/82f). 

Takeshita Street in Tokyo
Some of the subways are so far underground that you can walk inside them for 10 minutes - before you get on your train. And the Tokyo trains are everything NYC is not; on time, super clean, air conditioned and orderly. They can be ‘face to face’ packed at times, but if you miss a train, the next one is sure to be 5 minutes later.

The cleanliness of the entire city is almost unreal. I don’t know how they keep everything so spotless.  During our June visit, I saw a worker tidying up a perfectly clean and empty subway car. That picture painted a thousand words about Japan.

After three visits to a store, my lovely wife cooked a delicious chicken curry stew for our first Sunday night dinner. In addition, one of the few appliances we have is a rice cooker, which we managed successfully, although never expecting it to take 50 minutes. It was perfect though.
The food here is outstanding, as I expected from Japan’s stellar reputation. The Japanese have the globe's best longevity (88 for women and 83 for men), and the way they eat is a big reason why. One can buy very good sushi in a local supermarket and eating simple food out is much cheaper than cooking food at home.
Yoyogi Park on a Sunday
Across the street from our building is a large sports complex with a gym, swimming pool, track and soccer field – which is a great luxury. The 2 pools were a boatload of fun with the kids on Sunday, although they have a lot of rules, including everyone wearing a cap in the pool - even bald guys.
After the first 3-5 days, reality started to set in when my wife was getting ready to begin her new job and the kids were starting at their International School.  Needless to say, our children were extremely tired after day one, but their optimism about this new atmosphere made us feel good about our school choice. There are 330 students and 50 nationalities; and they get 50 minutes of Japanese everyday.

I’ve kept my running up during the first two weeks, which helped me to get over my jet lag. I visited a friend in Seiju (35 minutes by train) for a 5k, which will be even more picturesque in the spring, as the cherry blossoms span the whole length of the small river running path we took. Exploring is a vital part of getting to know a new city, so I plan to do as much as I can.

Meiji Jingu (Shinto Shrine)
We’ve also met quite a few Swedes here, which give us that touch of familiarity. In addition, the expat community is strong and I’ve had numerous conversations with people from all parts of the world.  The majority have been lively and interesting, which has been refreshing. My son had his 2nd Sunday of soccer practice already, which he is happy about as he loves the game and the club has an international flavor.

A few invitations for dinner and brunch came our way promptly. Gaining insight and tips about Tokyo from folks who have been living here much longer than we have is important. I also had a friend visiting for business, who invited me to a wonderful rooftop bar. It had magnificent views of the city! Although I was supremely tired that Friday night, I made sure to push myself out the door at 10:30pm, as I hadn’t seen this former colleague in 13 years.

Andaz Tokyo Hotel
Finally, a rare ‘wow’ moment hit me as I was visiting Costco with a long time USA friend. She has been living here for 18 years. As we were walking the enormous aisles, I couldn’t help but wonder….”what are the chances of two east coast USA expats being on the outskirts of Tokyo shopping together?”  A wave of gratitude ran through me.

This is the third country (Sweden and Serbia being first) I’ve lived in outside of my birthplace in the USA. I never imagined having the opportunity to live in such thrilling and/or interesting places around the world. I’m thankful.

It's crystal clear that Tokyo is a city like no other and I can’t wait for it all to unfold in the next 3 years.

I don’t foresee any journey equalling the Manhattan magic, but Tokyo is on track to be a worthy sequel.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Tokyo at Night