Japan, first impressions

sun16nov2008—46w321d87%— 19h02m00s—0utc

Better take on the madness that is Shibuya

Tokyo suits me. It’s just as enthralling, crazy, frenzied, urban and media-saturated as I expected. But it’s also a marvelously liveable city. Public transport is excellent. The streets are safe to a degree I didn’t think humanly possible (with millennia of uninterrupted experience, Asia far outclasses the West at organizing huddled millions). The skirts are short (by anatomical necessity thighs are the Japanese cleavage). The people really are unfailingly polite and graceful. The food’s amazing and there’s a little cheap restaurant at every corner. On top of it all, I find it surprisingly cheap (some disagree though and my only experience spending my own money is from SF, which is as expensive as it gets).

To be sure, I still miss San Francisco, the feeling at ease in a language and culture I own and love, the tangibility of the web, startups, the singularity. Never before had I been so clueless of the language or felt so markedly foreign. On the other hand, I’ve found a language and a culture I’m just as intrigued by and EAGER to own and love. And as for feeling foreign, you need the help of so many people and infrastructure to get by every day, and it all works so smoothly and organically most of the time, that soon enough, in an unsettling way I hadn’t experienced before, you just feel a part of the city, a cell in a huge organism.

I haven’t yet tried the mythical 100mbps broadband speeds (it’ll probably have to wait till I get my own place), but even my hostel has far faster and more reliable web than at Mexico so I’m content for now. Neither have I tried a local keitai (cellphone), though to be honest, what I’ve seen has been quite underwhelming. I’m sure they’ll have incredibly fast data speeds and you can indeed watch TV or pay the subway with’em, but far as I can tell the iPhone’s still head and shoulders above them in terms of usability, design, elegance, interface and screen. That common refrain that cellphones here are 10 years ahead of the States is (or has become) quite misleading.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve realized coming here though is that Asia is for real. I had never entirely believed the reports of its boom and bloom but if Japan’s any indication, Asia will indeed be the driving force behind the 21st century. Everyday something new makes me think of all the BILLIONS of lives that are going out from subsistence farming to this — and I’m happy, it really is one of humanity’s most breathtaking successes, inconceivable in its scale. There’s energy in the air in a way I had never felt before, the oldest world becoming the newest one as it reinvents the West. And this is comparatively staid Japan, I can only imagine what China or India or South Korea might be like at places.

I was frustratingly sidetracked with my hard drive collapsing and then with the incredibly time consuming, stressful but mercifully successful process of recovering my data, but I’m back on my digital feet again with barely a hiccup. There’s still some prior commitments to attend to (family websites…) but soon enough I shall do nothing but learn Japanese and craft up web experiments!

In the meanwhile, new pics on Flickr with lots of captions!

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