Tokyo is a very interesting city. Evidence of a long cultural history exists side-by-side with a craze for fads and new things. The drawing above shows a Tokyo McDonald’s next to what looks like an old Japanese tea house. I love that mixture, it’s so positive.
You can get by with very few words of Japanese in Tokyo. This is an incredibly super-polite society. As long as you know how to say hello (ohayoo gozaimasu), please (onegai shimasu), and thank you (arrigato gozaimasu), you pretty much have it covered. In fact, the people say ‘thank-you’ so much that it feels like every third word you hear on the street. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that is is one of those words like “allure” in Italian that can, by inference, mean anything you want it to mean. “Arrigato gozaimasu!” I mean, sometimes I want to say, enough already! Even the ticket machine on the subway thanks you for buying a ticket. I feel rude in comparison.
Everyone uses their cell phones here. Actually, ‘use’ is not the right word, they are ATTACHED to them. People walk down the streets talking in them, looking at them, texting in them. They ride the subways looking at the cell phone screen like it has the answers to life. The play video games on them, surf the internet through them; even pay their subway fares with them. Now, with the exception of paying the subway fare, you can do all these things with your phone in New York if you choose to, but most people don’t. Here in Tokyo everyone does: it is a major part of life. And the people all have little trinkets and bells hanging off their phones, even the most serious looking business man. It seems to be a way to express oneself.
Despite the fact that everyone is constantly yakking on trinkety cell phones, Tokyo is an incredibly quiet city. You can be in the middle of a huge crowd and not hear a lot of people talking or yelling. Even the traffic is quiet, no one ever seems to honk their horn. And you never hear music playing, except if it is coming out of a store front, and then it is likely to be a Bee Gees hit from the 70’s.
I made this drawing in Akasaka, the business district where my sister works. These two ‘salary men’ are playing “pachinko”, which seems to be a mix between a video game and a slot machine. My sister tells me that gambling is illegal here, so if the men win at the game they have to go somewhere else to collect. It seems to be fairly addictive; these two guys never looked up at me once when I was drawing them.
The ‘salary man’, as he is called, is ubiquitous in Tokyo. You’ll see them walking together, smoking in groups, pushing their way on to the subway. They are the stereotypical hard-working, black suit wearing Japanese men who live in corporate Tokyo, work insanely long hours and then let off steam in the bars of the Roppongi district. We saw a group of salary men leaving their office late Friday night, all bowing to each other and especially bowing to a man who appeared to be their boss. Interesting.
By the way, did I mention how CLEAN the city of Tokyo is? Really. Not a garbage can in sight. People actually carry their trash home with them to dispose of it. Now, I think New Yorkers could take a tip from them…