ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAITS an expat can have is the ability to adapt, but sometimes what you need most is to just be yourself…
1. Being direct.
Just yesterday, I saw a junior high schooler trying to step off the train get thrown back on by the incoming rush of commuters. I couldn’t stand idly by and watch the poor kid get crushed AND miss his stop, so I “Hulked out” and cleared a path. His smile was worth the scared looks and torn shirt.
“Oh? Everyone’s going to the shitty, fake British pub with over-priced, watery drinks?” Cool! I’d love to come, but I’m beat after such a long week! I think I’ll just grab some ramen and head in for the night. See you Monday!”
3. Unshakeable optimism.
“Wow! Everything is so convenient and organized! Everyone is so kind and helpful for such a big city!” *Gets shoved onto packed train by Train Pushers (oshiya)* “Wow! The trains here are so cozy! Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
4. Personal space.
As cozy as those trains are, when you get one of the precious, coveted seats, you keep it. Tokyo is a huge city, yet I find myself having to hunch over to do my dishes. Some of my friends have to duck into their own doorways. In those conditions, you have to carve out space however you can. (But don’t manspread on public transport, that’s rude even by American standards.)
5. Working hard.
Say what you will about America, Americans work HARD. I don’t need to stay for an extra 5 hours of unpaid overtime because I finished the task in the time allotted, dammit.
6. Being friendly.
Tokyo can overwhelm even the most seasoned traveler. A willingness to smile, offer a hand to lost tourists or even just practice a little English with the kind septuagenarian sitting next to you in a coffee shop goes along way toward preserving your sanity.
“Why, NO! I have no idea how to use chopsticks!” *Eats meal with chopsticks*
8. Clarifying ahead of time.
Some folks like to jump right into things and this city will gladly sweep you up physically, mentally, literally AND figuratively. Personally, I prefer a little chance to prep for most activities if I can. To quote a friend, “It’s not that I don’t want to go along for the ride, I just want to know where it’s going.”
“Yes, I absolutely would like 1 kilogram of your spiciest bowl of ramen, 5 beers and some chocolate takoyaki to go. Throw in some pickled plums while you’re at it…”
10. Hot sauce on everything.
I can’t get enough of most Japanese foods, but I’d be lying if I didn’t keep a small bottle of red-hot ambrosia in my bag for bland emergencies. If that doesn’t sell you, two words: Buffalo Karaage.
11. A love of all things fried.
Nothing beats American southern fried chicken, but Tokyo is still a Mecca for grease lovers. Japanese fried chicken, Korean fried chicken, fried eggs, fried pork, fried calamari, fried squid, fried oysters, breaded fried ham (much better than it sounds), fried vegetables, fried croquettes, fried cheese (soooo many kinds) fried tofu, fried spring rolls, tempura… “Do I want a sausage patty sandwiched between slices of lotus root, then battered and deep fried? Shut up and take my money!”