Why I’ll Never Be an Uptown Girl

I don’t always go to Tokyo, but when I do, I always get really bored.

As some people probably already know, I’m not a big fan of big cities. Places like Los Angeles and New York make me uncomfortable (though granted, I’ve never been to NYC). San Francisco was okay, but I didn’t actually spend a lot of time there. The times that I went to SF were wonderful though. So far, I’ve had a great impression of that city.

Los Angeles is hell on Earth. At the end of Angel (SPOILER ALERT), Los Angeles gets sucked into a hell dimension. I’d argue that it was already there. Hell might even be an improvement.

“Hi, Angel? This is Hell. You can take Los Angeles back. We don’t want it anymore. It’s totally devaluing our neighborhood.”

“Hi, Angel? This is Hell. You can take Los Angeles back. We don’t want it anymore. It’s totally devaluing our neighborhood.”

Aww… Now I feel like I’m being mean to Los Angeles. It’s not that bad…

Okay, maybe it is that bad.

Okay, maybe it is that bad.
(courtesy of Google images. original artwork copyright Whedon, Lynch, and Urru.)

I’ve been to Tokyo a few times now. I can probably count the amount of times on my fingers. Here, let’s try:

hands

(courtesy of Google images)

1 little piggy: Tokyo Orientation. However, I hardly left the hotel, except for a karaoke session with some other JETs.

2 little piggy: Comiket at Tokyo Big Sight.

3 little piggy: U.S. Embassy barbecue in Roppongi.

4 little piggy: Sketch Jam in Akihabara.

5 little piggy: Wisconsin day trip—Asakusa, Tokyo Tower, Water Bus ride.

6 little piggy: Hair cut in Harajuku.

7 little piggy: Doctor’s appointment.

8 little piggy: Follow-up doctor’s appointment.

I think that’s it! That’s actually a lot more times than I thought. But it still doesn’t compare to my friend’s weekly trips. (She goes every weekend.)

For the most part, my experiences in Tokyo have been positive. Those days were a lot of fun!

However, I did feel uncomfortable a few times.

Tokyo Station

For one thing, TOKYO STATION SUCKS. If Los Angeles is Hell, Tokyo Station is, like, Hell’s little brother. If you read about my trip to Roppongi then you know how much trouble I have navigating that damn place.

This is how I feel about Tokyo Station.

This is how I feel about Tokyo Station.
(courtesy of Google images)

Last time I was there, I had to take the Marunouchi Line, and I feel like it took me half a day to find the damn entrance to that train line. I had to walk all the way across the station. That station is too damn big.

Is this even still relevant?

Is this even still relevant?

When I came back to Tokyo Station again on the Marunouchi Line, I got so lost, so I finally just walked up to a ticket counter and asked where the bus station was. The man gave me a map, and I managed to find my way around with that. When I got home, I tacked the map onto the wall near my front door.

photo

On Wednesday, I went to Tokyo again. I forgot to take the map (D’OH!), but since I knew that there were maps at all, I immediately asked someone for one upon arriving at the station. Navigating with a map made it feel like it was taking less time, as well.

Walking Alone

Besides the totally fun times that I’ve already written about in previous entries, I’ve also gone to Tokyo by myself three times.

Those times were… less than fun.

The first time, I went to Harajuku for a haircut on a Sunday back in January. It was an expensive haircut—first, traveling expenses; second, the haircut itself. I rationalized it by telling myself that I would spend all day in Tokyo. I’ve also been told that Japanese hairstylists don’t really know how to deal with foreign hair, so it’s best to go to a more upscale place. Since I wanted layers and those straight-across bangs, I figured it was probably better for me to go somewhere fancy. It’s not like I get my haircut very often anyway. I just desperately needed one, too.

That… was a terrible day. I mean, the sun was shining and the crowds weren’t too bad… But I was in Harajuku, pretty much the fashion and shopping district of Tokyo, and I’m sorry, do you know me? I pretty much wear jeans and a tank top 24/7. So I felt like I looked a mess, and I couldn’t go into any of the shops anyway, because they were all too expensive. I also had the uncomfortable, paranoid feeling that everyone was judging me. With their eyes. Tokyo is pretty full of foreigners, so it couldn’t have been that they were staring at me because of that. You know, if they were staring at me at all. Which they probably weren’t.

God, I’m like Tsukimi, from Princess Jellyfish

princess jellyfish

Can’t stand crowds, is afraid of stylish people… likes jellyfish… We’re practically the same person.

I did find one shop I liked—I can’t remember the name, but they claimed to be a “used American clothes” store. It was a small store, and I walked around for a while. The man working there was watching me very closely, and that made me feel a little uncomfortable. But when I bought something, he got exponentially friendlier and asked where I was from. He said that he’d been to California, and that he spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I told him I loved SF, and he seemed really happy. XD He even tried to speak in English, which was really sweet.

After that, though, the day just went downhill. I wanted to find a café or something to read in, so I wandered around for a while, feeling like people were staring at me in a bad way. And I had a cute new haircut too!

A bit windblown by the end of the day, but the fancy haircut stayed fancy.

A bit windblown by the end of the day, but the fancy haircut stayed fancy.

So why did I feel so out of place?

I got lost three times, even with my phone’s map, so I felt like I looked like an idiot, too, backtracking all over the place.

When I did finally find a café, I ordered something, sat down, and just felt like crying. I was feeling terribly lonely, and I think it would have been a much better day if I was with a friend. I managed to force myself to read, but eventually I just felt so uncomfortable being in the city that I got up and left the city 2 hours earlier than I meant to.

I think the reason that day was so terrible was that I was already feeling lonely to begin with. It was back in January, and loneliness was really eating at me at the time. And then I wandered around a city by myself for hours, surrounded by crowds of people in fancy clothes, and I just felt completely out of place, for whatever reason.

On a Mission

About two weeks ago, I went to Tokyo to see a doctor. It was super awkward to ask for the time off, because then my JTE wanted to know things like, “What is wrong with your body? What body disaster do you have? How is your condition?”

|D I don’t know about you guys, but if I ever have a “body disaster,” I’m pretty sure that I won’t come into work to tell someone about it. Whatever the hell a “body disaster” is. I also don’t ever know what she means by “condition” either.

My other JTE asked similar questions, and I tried to just tell them that it was sort of private. They both seemed really worried, but it’s not like I’m dying or anything. (Yet. ;P)

Since I was going to Tokyo, I also needed to take an entire day off, because that’s how long it takes to get there and back. (And also, if I spend the money to go to Tokyo, I’m spending the whole gorram day there.) So when my JTE asked why I needed the whole day and I told her I was going to a Tokyo hospital, she got even more worried. But the truth is, I needed an English speaking doctor who… doesn’t live in the inaka. :/ I’ve already heard terrible things about doctors in the Japanese countryside, and I want my problem fixed, not made worse. My friend recommended this hospital to me, so I wanted to go there. I want to feel comfortable when I go to the doctor. :/

And the further away I go, the less likely anyone in my area will find out about anything, because I won’t be the only gorramn foreigner in Tokyo.

I was really nervous about this doctor’s visit, because I’d never been to a doctor in Japan yet. I have health insurance, because the JET Programme is friggin’ awesome like that, but I still wasn’t sure what the copay was going to be or if the treatments were going to be the same as I was used to.

I had some trouble finding the hospital. I’m illiterate, so I couldn’t read the sign, so I apparently walked right past the hospital. I ended up somehow going in through a back door (why do they have a random unattended back door?), and when I finally found another human being, she led me to the reception room and guided me through the initial procedures. SO HELPFUL. It was like she was sent to me or something, like someone called her on a walkie talkie to say, “There’s an unattended foreigner wandering around the halls. Collect her and report back to HQ.”

Like my friend had said, they had everything in English, and most of the staff spoke at least enough English to explain some things to me (and I understood at least enough Japanese to get it).

The entire appointment ran smoothly, despite a long wait. My appointment was scheduled for 2:00 PM, and it took an hour and a half for me to finally be called to the doctor. WTF.

I’m fine, by the way. Nothing’s going to kill me. And before anyone even tries to ask because they’re “concerned” or whatever, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told my JTEs (several times each):

“Er… it’s private.”

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Japan is just too damn expensive

After my initial appointment, I walked around a park next to the hospital. I took pictures, too!

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known. - Winnie the Pooh

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known. – Winnie the Pooh

039

I also went to Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms. Ueno Park is famous for them, so I thought I’d stop by! It was pretty cloudy, so it wasn’t the most beautiful day, but I got to see some people camped out on blankets and stuff in the park. Spring tradition!

044

I desperately need new clothes (the washing machines in Japan have really done a number on my clothes—where is the gentle cycle?!), so after that, I went to Sunshine City, a mall in Ikebukuro. I didn’t get much shopping done, though. I was nearly out of daylight (a good indicator for when I need to think about heading back before I missed my last bus), and I was starving. I wandered around, looking for restaurants, and I found it.

El Torito.

047

(For those of you who don’t know, El Torito is a Californian chain restaurant. There are locations elsewhere, but most of them are in California.)

It was so delicious. And what’s more, my waiter was cute and even tried to talk to me in English. And German, for some reason. XD When I paid the bill, he said something in German, and all I could do was laugh. Then he said, “Dankeschön,” so I said, “Dankeschön” right back. He seemed pleased. :3

That day actually wasn’t that bad. I didn’t feel as terrible as the day I went to Harajuku, and I think I was so relieved that the doctor’s appointment went well that I just felt good.

After the follow-up appointment on Wednesday (still fine, btw), I went shopping in Sunshine City again. My first stop was El Torito again. XD I WAS HUNGRY OKAY? The cute waiter wasn’t there, unfortunately, and I did end up feeling a little lonely. I was eating alone—again—and there were some other foreigners in there with their friends. So I kinda felt like a loser—some chick sitting in the corner of a restaurant by herself. At a mall. Loser.

After that, though, I went shopping. At first, it was kind of a bust. Everything was too expensive, and worse, everything was too pink and white. WTF is up with all the pink and white in Japan? That is seriously all they had, in every store. I would have taken a picture, but I didn’t want to seem like a creep. |D Again, this would have been better if I had a friend with me…

I felt a little out of place a few times. I mean, I felt out of place every time I looked at a price tag, but the worst parts were when I saw some girls in this ridiculous fashion. There were some ganguro girls working at a store, and every time I walked past that store, I’m pretty sure that we gave each other looks that said, “WTF are you wearing?” XD But that was a mutual thing, so it didn’t make me feel as bad as I felt in Harajuku.

Also, it was still rather lonely to walk around by myself. HOWEVER, I had a mission this time. A shopping list. I had things to do. So for the most part, I was all right.

I found two stores that I liked. One was a little out of my price range, but the girl working there was so friendly. Another was… still out of my price range, but not terribly so, and I loved everything in the store.

But my real mission was to look for clothes I could wear at work anyway, not a bunch of fancy, stylish stuff. Well, as luck would have in, I didn’t actually find anything inside Sunshine City. I went through that whole mall and didn’t find a single thing I liked, could afford, or could wear a work. I ended up buying some shirts at stores that weren’t even in that mall. So the day wasn’t a total bust. I was just amazed that the entire mall didn’t have anything for me. Maybe I missed some stores? I was there for four hours… Just nothing was my style…

The store that was much too expensive for me was quite nice though. The woman who worked there even approached me and tried to sell me stuff. I was surprised and somewhat pleased. Most of the girls tended to avoid me once they noticed I was a foreigner, but this woman was brave and walked right up and started to talk to me. In Japanese, granted, but you know, she approached me at all. And then when I expressed interest in this one shirt, she pulled it off the rack for me and put together an outfit for me and basically made me try it on. XD

There was a downside to this, though, because then when I couldn’t buy the things she picked out for me, I felt bad having to turn her down.

She wasn’t the only person who actually approached me. A woman in another store came right up to me and said, in English, “May I help you today?”

Fashion in Japan

There are a lot of stereotypes about Japanese fashion.

Exhibit B. Lolita. Via Wikicommons.

Exhibit B. Lolita. Via Wikicommons. These girls are “Sweet Lolitas,” specifically.

The truth is that those are subcultures; not everyone dresses like that. Obviously.

I will say this for Japanese people, though: They dress really well. Like, fashionable and nice. All. The. Time. When my students aren’t in school—when they can wear whatever they want—they’re always in these very put-together outfits. Japanese people know how to wear clothes.

To me, someone who puts on jeans and a tank top in the morning, it can look like they’re all trying too hard. That’s not true, of course, though I can’t speak to the actual reasons why they dress up for everything, but that’s what it looks like to me. I’m a casual dresser, so I feel like anything fancier than that is trying too hard.

typical

Exhibit C. Typical El Fashion, circa 2013. Note the jeans and tank top.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend about fashion, first impressions, and body modification. It all started with this article, but we ended up talking about what kind of impression what you wear leaves on people.

I didn’t think about it much before, but I guess I dress casually because I want to be… approachable? Like, I feel like when people are all dressed up and fancy, it’s harder for me to approach them, because I’m afraid they’ll judge me for not being as well dressed or… wealthy. There are some assumptions and prejudices in there, I’ll admit, but it’s also just another part of my total social ineptness.

I suppose on the other side of things, people who see me not being dressed up do think of me as too casual or something. But I just can’t bring myself to dress up. Because that’s exactly what it is to me—playing dress up. When I put on some fancy shit that I can’t run in (a requirement for all my clothes; if I can’t run or lift my arms, I’m not going to wear it), I feel really uncomfortable, like I can’t be myself. It’s just playing a part, and I’m not comfortable with that.

However, when other people dress up, that’s not something I should be judgmental about. Regardless, it’s still intimidating to me… I’ll work on that.

Even if I wanted to dress up… I can’t find a Ross in Japan. (AHAHAHA BECAUSE TO DRESS FANCY, YOU SHOULD SHOP AT ROSS. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.)

Everything is so expensive here!

So anyway, I don’t like big cities

I guess it all boils down to a few things. I don’t like crowds, and buildings should never be taller than trees. I feel lonely wandering around a city alone, which has been much of at least my most recent experiences in Tokyo. I feel like people stare at me a lot in big cities, even though there is no reason to do so. There are more foreigners in big cities, so you’d think people would stare less. Maybe I just stick out.

Like Waldo in a black and white world.

Like Waldo in a black and white world.
(courtesy of Google images)

I’d like to go to the city with friends, but recently whenever I go, it’s for a specific reason (haircuts and doctor appointments), and no one can meet me at a mutually convenient time. I’ll just have to coordinate better.

I’m just really glad that I wasn’t placed in a city. Sure, sometimes it gets a bit isolated out here in the inaka, but it’s better than feeling paranoid and crowded all the time, since apparently that’s how I am when I go to cities.

Also, I like my fresh air. Sometimes it’s too hard to breathe right in cities, and I know that because even when I’m having fun, I end up yawning a lot, which just means that my normal breaths aren’t getting enough oxygen into my lungs. (SCIENCE.)

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7 Responses to Why I’ll Never Be an Uptown Girl

  1. Jeff says:

    Did you have to see a doctor about feminine things? Was there a whoopsie with your cahoozle?

    Now that the mandatory embarrassing mocking is out of the way, I HATE CROWDS TOO. Even Eugene, which isn’t all that huge compared to real big cities, gets super frustrating when all the people are out on the weekends. I’m just trying to ride my bike, here. Please get the HELL OUT OF MY WAY!

    Also, that theory on yawning has been cast down as baseless. We have absolutely no friggin’ idea why mammals yawn.

    • How big is Eugene? I agree, it’s really annoying when it’s crowded and people don’t pay attention and get in your way. BLARGH. I mean, whenever I felt like I was lost in Tokyo, at least I stepped off to the side to try to figure out where I was…

      The theory has been disproved? Well, I always feel like it’s true… There have been a lot of times when I’ve been in a stuffy room and yawned up a storm, but the moment I step outside, I’m fine. I’ve heard another theory about yawning, on why it’s contagious anyway–because it’s a way for mammals to (silently) tell the group to pay attention to something. I dunno if I believe that, and I can’t remember the details, but yeah.

      Also, wtf is a cahoozle. XD You’re an ass.

  2. Kim says:

    Chiba city is much less of a hassle for haircuts and there are a ton of awesome places all around the station AND delicious cafes and places to shop. I would totally recommend it (I hate Tokyo too) Chiba city has everything you need and less people/ chaos. Plus the bus takes you right where you need to be and you can walk to everything.

    The hospital in Kamogawa also has English speaking staff (I think…) I am pretty sure that Liz included that in her guide for you guys.
    For basics the countryside doctor directly next door to the school is full of nice people (I went there with my 104 degree flu fever).. but I agree that for “other” things it is easier to just go to an English speaking doctor.

    Was the JTE Ms. K? Nosiness!! I dunno what you told them, but you can always just tell them it is private and they SHOULD just let it drop. Do you generally go straight to the principal to ask for days off? or do you ask a JTE to ask for you? I guess if it is the latter that could explain why they want a reason… but really they shouldn’t be asking you at all >_<

    I honestly don't see the draw to the big cities. Tokyo is great, but once you have been there a few times you have seen everything you need to see and it is all such a hassle!! Enjoy exploring the inaka instead :D There are dozens of cool shrines/temples/buddha/etc easy driving distance from your house. HISTORY AND CULTURE! I think I left a bunch pamphlets for places to visit.. DO IT!

    OH and there are a bunch ROSS-esque stores in Tateyama… Chambre/Avail are similar in a lot of seasons and JHoneys is awesomely cheap and easy.

    • Haha, yeah, I like Chiba City a lot better in general. I’ve been to Chiba City more times than Tokyo; I’ve just never had any problems with it, so I never wrote a blog entry to complain about it. XD

      Uhhhhhh they’re both Ms. K? XD Also, they both basically did the same thing. And yeah, I usually go to them first, because I want to make sure they don’t need me around on whatever day I want to take off. And I don’t know how to ask for time off in Japanese. |D I always botch it somehow or feel like I’m telling instead of asking or something…

      Well, I’ll check out those stores, but I’ve walked about Jusco and I haven’t found anything I really like yet. :/ The reason I went to Tokyo in the first place was to find some variety… and you can see how that worked out. (WHITE AND PINK. EVERYWHERE. Useless.)

      Yayyy! I like exploring the inaka. It’s always pretty and it has plants. I should actually write an entry about the exploring I’ve done recently…

  3. 万理/Mari says:

    You know though, I’m glad that it seems like your visit to the doctor itself went well.

    As for the city thing… urk. Cities are lonely, lonely places. In literally no other situation can you be so thoroughly surrounded by people and still be so utterly on your own. IME it’s okay if you’re with someone else you can gawk at the sights with, or if you’re traveling with a strong sense of purpose, but just wandering around by yourself is insanely depressing. Plus, the air quality is awful, and the atmosphere itself is always more tense than it is in a less urban area. So I sympathize… and I also think that being miserable is sort of inherent to being in a city. |D

  4. Vaieeeee says:

    LOL! I love your photo inserts!

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