Living Japan #5: Tokyo “City Girl”

I celebrated a year of living in Japan last July. Work contract has been extended, so I’ll hopefully be celebrating a second year anniversary next year. As I enter my second year, I made a decision to move to Tokyo.

I moved from the suburbs of Yokohama, where most residents were grandmothers and high-school students and residents’ festivals were held frequently. There’s nothing wrong with life over there. The festivals were absolutely nice and my evening runs along the riverbank behind my building were relaxing. In the spring time I could run while enjoying sakura trees. But I felt I was missing out on so many things. It may sound ignorant, but the things I’m interested in: arts, music, performances, artistic experience, world culture, English-speaking global community and classes, are out of reach from this area. I sometimes go to Tokyo for work, too. So although moving is a huge hassle, as I wrote before, I needed to do it.

I visited sharehouses, then convinced myself that they’re not for me anymore. I saw vacant apartments in Yokohama’s Kannai area (affordable area near my favorite area of the city), then decided against it after getting ‘weird looks’ from middle-aged men playing some kind of board game at the park. After a while, I focused my search in Tokyo and saw many apartments. With invaluable help from my friend, I finally found an apartment in the south-western side of Tokyo that ‘felt just right’.

I moved to Setagaya City (Tokyo is a prefecture) in the middle of summer. It’s a very common 1-room apartment (1K in Japanese ‘language’: living and bedroom is separated from kitchen, bathroom, and toilet). It’s in a relatively new building and my neighbors are mostly young people and students. To tell you how crazy Tokyo’s rent is: I’m paying the same amount as for my previous apartment, for half its size. Around my previous home, silence was solid and surprises rare. There were only one or two restaurant, one coffee shop, and the library didn’t have English books, but it was peaceful. My new home is at an intersection of two busy roads, with a window facing an unforgivably huge “NISSAN” billboard for half of the view and the city for the other half, and located far from the main office where I usually work.

This is the “city view” part – should I bother you with the billboard?

It does sound like an unreasonable decision. I learned that many of my colleagues agree on this, questioning this decision both in blatant and discreet, failing to understand why I moved to a smaller, more expensive, more crowded place 45 minutes further from work.

But the truth is, I feel more ‘at home’ in this tiny apartment. I’m good with the sounds of cars and the happy voices I sometimes hear from drunk people walking on the sidewalk. I do miss the sound of schoolchildren playing baseball and being greeted by school guards when I’m running, but I’ve kind of ‘made friends’ with some friendly people in this new neighborhood. Tokyo people are definitely colder than people in the suburbs of Yokohama, but I appreciate some distance and enjoy observing people.

I now have a good balance between working in a quiet village and living in a big city. I do love the beach and the sea, but if there’s not too much around the beach, it becomes more of an escape destination (I think I’ll love San Francisco or Sydney, or of course somewhere on Bali where beautiful beaches are close to the lively city).

The #1 response I got from (especially Japanese) people whenever I told them I’ve moved to Tokyo is that I’m a “city girl”. The positive-thinker in me affirmed in the beginning. But then I sensed a bit of mockery in it: the best explanation I’ve got is that it implies being a “material girl”. But those who know me know that I don’t dig stuffs and I think trend and pop culture are fascinating social fraud. It’s just that I grew up in a big city, I’m used to it. And I have to admit: I love cities. Of course I still can live in smaller cities or even villages, and I did so in Italy and Malawi, but for now living in Tokyo is doable and worth the experience.

I told a friend that I get inspired by people. I’m already getting the good vibes: Tokyo brings out a fresh spirit in me to learn new things and establish new connections. I can frequent state-of-the-art exhibitions. Typical cinemas can be super crowded, but there are pleasant smaller cinemas to choose from. I’m becoming a regular at a local eatery owned by cool young guys. I drown in Tokyo’s lights and purple twilight by the window. I’m happy with that. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it?

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