Day 0: Landing and Recovery
Today I landed in Tokyo for the first day of a three week trip around the country. I'm no stranger to long-haul flights. When I was an undergraduate student I had to make the voyage between western Canada and Scotland fairly regularly. In spite of my seasoned travelling, this was a uniquely punishing flight. I made the poor decision of trying to get work done on my flights, and by the time I arrived I paid for it.
I made my way through immigration relatively painlessly and drifted to the airport's train station. By this point, I was running on less than fumes: my tank was empty.
I rested into a coma as the airport train whirred past Narita, through the countryside, and into Tokyo proper. It didn't really click with me---It hadn't really settled that I was so far away until I saw Narita-san standing tall above the canopy of trees. I tried to soak in as much as possible while sinking deeper and deeper into my train seat. Rice paddies, amusement parks, shopping malls, forests all blurring together.
My friend and I found a nice, cheap hotel in Akihabara. Emerging from the station into the Friday-night rush was overwhelming. Salarymen heading to the bars were huddled on every corner.
The first thing I needed was food.
I've travelled a lot; I'm comfortable moving around in places where I don't know the native language. In spite of this, I milled around the same few blocks over and over again---spending well over an hour looking for a place to eat. The major inhibitor was a crushing social anxiety. I didn't want to be rude, but by not being fully aware of social protocol, I was inevitably going to be.
I eventually ended up steeling myself for ramen. Like a social freak, I stood outside of a ramen shop watching how the business people ordered. 1) Go to the kiosk, 2) enter your order, 3) take your seat and hand the waitstaff your ticket. I felt like a social freak for not being able to do something so simple.
It was a slightly solitary experience. People come in, eat, and then leave---a purely nutritional exchange. Like a sit-in taco truck. Only two people the entire time I was there exchanged a word between each other; everyone else ate in silence and then left. Often western people seem afraid of eating alone. After all, You should be able to find people to eat with. That anxiety of looking like a social outcast makes some sense: eating is in many senses a social experience in most western cultures.