I love Tokyo. Most of this blog is a diary to how much I loved living in this wonderful city. It was an adventure. But now I’m turning the page on that chapter of my life.
Three weeks ago, my husband and I moved out to the Japanese countryside. And honestly, I feel so much more “at home” in rice fields and bike paths than I ever felt in Tokyo.
I lived in Tokyo for almost three years, most of it with my husband Ryosuke.
Tokyo should have been everything we ever wanted – a big city with awesome, driven people. Unique boutiques, interesting start-ups, diversity, convenience, safety, and plenty of other people just like me. The realization that I didn’t like living in Tokyo came swiftly, one afternoon while Ryosuke and I were out in Ibaraki visiting his family. And once I realized it, I couldn’t go back to “life in the box.”
I also had a startling realization that I’ve never actually lived in a large city before. Which in itself is a bit odd. In Texas, we always lived in smaller cities – only an hour (or so) away from Austin. Then we moved go Ghana. Ghana, of course, has large cities, but nothing like Tokyo. I did college in a small town outside of Philadelphia. I’ve always been near large cities, but never actually lived in one. Tokyo was my first time.
This post is a bit of a “Debbie Downer,” but I still wanted to write it. It’s not fair to just pretend my life is a magical, happy movie. I have so many fond memories of living in Tokyo… but also quite a few not-so-fond memories.
These are the things I hated about living in Tokyo.
1. The city never sleeps
It doesn’t. Trains may stop at midnight, but Tokyo never sleeps. There is always stuff going on.
To some, this may seem like a huge “plus,” but I need plenty of “Grace time.”
2. Overworking is normal – and stress is just another part of daily life
I’m a bit of a workaholic. People tell me that with love. But oh man, Tokyo puts me to shame.
My husband was working 14 hour work days – and he was still one of the first people to leave the office every single day. Every once in a while, I would take a train downtown for a meeting at 10pm – with a group of people who were just getting out of work. As I rode the train out of main part of Tokyo (back home) at 11:30pm, the car would be packed (literally packed) with salarymen, in their black suits and falling asleep as they stood.
On Friday evenings, it wasn’t uncommon to see people passed out in the subway station, too drunk (from the mandatory drinking parties) or too tired (from long working hours) to stand – falling asleep on benches and next to walls.
3. The air is more polluted (than you might think)
Don’t get me wrong – by large city standards, Tokyo’s air is incredibly clean. But we lived off a major road… which just made the air worse. Twice a month I would clean our outside windows, tinted grey with exhaust fumes.
I started noticing a real change when I went jogging. When we were out in the countryside, I could easily run 5-10k in the afternoon, as a break. But in Tokyo, after about 3k, I was wheezing and coughing. I have very sensitive lungs – I always have. They don’t agree with city air.
4. The everyday noises never stop
One of the other downsides of living next to a major road (which really, was our mistake) was the constant noise. Motorcycles with no mufflers and cars designed to make more noise (someone please tell me why this is cool?) drove by at all hours of the night. Ambulances drove by, lights flashing, at least once an hour. Often more.
Downtown was even worse. People are talking, trains are rumbling, shopkeepers are calling… it’s just noisy. Really noisy. You can’t hear yourself think.
5. Of course it’s expensive
Our two bedroom apartment in Tokyo came to a grand total of $1450 a month (excluding utilities). Our current place is about the same size (it’s a bit smaller), comes with a garden, and is still less than half that price. And our old place in Tokyo was only that “cheap” because it was sitting next to a major road (ie, noise pollution). A similar listing two complexes behind us in Tokyo ran at $1800 a month.
Everything about Tokyo was expensive. The drinking parties. The busy lifestyle. The food (especially fresh vegetables). The parking. Can you sense a theme here?
6. Elbowing your way through crowds every day isn’t fun
We’ve all heard stories about the men with white gloves who shove people onto trains. They’re not just urban legends, though, they really exist. Like, all over Tokyo.
Why? Because trains in the mornings and evenings look like this:
A couple months ago, I had to meet someone downtown at like 8:30am, landing me in the morning rush.
This is what that looks like, in case you are wondering (on either side of the crowd are two trains, with people trying to shove themselves on).
Now imagine dealing with these kinds of crowds everywhere you go. Breathing in the same air everyone is breathing out – filled with stale breath, sweat, and body odor.
7. Death and suicide
About a month and a half ago, I saw someone die. My work table was next to our giant window (you know, the one overlooking a major road). I heard a crash and looked outside. A motorcycle smashed into a car turning into our building (someone who lived just upstairs, actually). The motorcyclist was thrown about ten meters. There was a lot of blood. His legs were bent funny. His body was directly under my window, no more than ten meters, and his face was pointed at my window. The driver got out of the car and started crying.
Ryosuke got off of work two hours later. If circumstances were different, that could have been him.
Accidents happen, I know, but seeing it like that gave me nightmares. Police officers and ambulances were on scene immediately, but they didn’t take the body away for another 57 minutes (I counted). Then they scrubbed the blood off the road. By the time Ryosuke got home, two hours later, any evidence that an accident would happen was completely gone – save the for car parked three spaces next to ours, with a giant dent in the back.
This wasn’t the first (or the last) time I’ve seen an accident. Two weeks later, we saw a bicyclist run a red light and smash into a delivery bike that jumped the green light (like a motorcycle with a box on the back – delivering pizza). Both people hit the road. Hard. Ryosuke and I helped the delivery man pick up his bike. As far as we could tell, he was ok. Still… it was scary.
I can’t count the number of trains I’ve been on that have been delayed because of suicides – and that in itself is a bit disturbing. Let me repeat that: It’s happened so often, I’ve stopped counting.
I used to live off the Chuo line – famous for the number of train suicides (nicknamed “Chuo-cides”).
And what’s worse – the first reaction of most people when there’s been an announcement of a suicide is calling their boss/work/friend/loved one and sighing into the phone “I’m going to be late, there was a suicide. Again. Ugh.”
As soon as I started doing that too, I knew I had to leave Tokyo.
Ryosuke and I were supposed to meet a friend downtown – and our line said “25 minute delay because of a ‘human accident’.” I called my friend and asked to move back our meeting time, because of said ‘human accident.’ I even sighed.
As soon as I hung up the phone, a wave of guilt washed over me. I don’t want to be the kind of person who views someone else taking their life as an annoyance.
8. Things are cramped together (and tiny!)
My first apartment had this other house nearby. Every time I passed it, I marveled the fact that someone could actually live in there. Or, like, fit in there.
I like having elbow room. I like being able to turn around in a store without worrying about knocking something over with my long limbs/butt.
9. Money, sex, greed, power
You know those movies where the underdog “makes it” and then there’s a string of money, sex, and power?
Living in Tokyo is a lot like that. Or maybe it’s just a lot of people looking for the “next big thing.” I don’t know.
Ryosuke and I aren’t into clubbing. Or nightlife. Or bars. We like hiking, long distance biking, farming, and skipping stones on bodies of water. We’re not nighttime people. We live and thrive in the daylight.
I’m glad we lived in Tokyo for as long as we did. Honestly, we both learned so much about ourselves by living in the largest city in Japan – it was a thrilling and wonderful experience.
But it’s time to move on.
Or, in this case, move out. Neither of us wants to leave Japan – we really do enjoy living here. But we’ve also come to realize that we’re not “city people.” And, as much as I want to stay a “Texan in Tokyo” – it’s really just not working out.
We’ve been living in the countryside for almost three weeks now, and we’ve already noticed a huge boost in happiness and self esteem.
There are plenty of things I loved about living in Tokyo. One day I’m going to write a long post about this city I deeply loved, but for now, here’s just a small list.
- It’s convenient
- It’s easy to meet people who share your interests
- You can get anywhere in the city via (very clean) public transportation
- All sorts of awesome food (even foreign food)
- Easy to get anywhere in Japan via nightbus, plane, or train
- It’s not as expensive as people might think
- It’s an interesting mix of temple nestled between skyscrapers
- The shopping is fabulous (especially thrift stores)
- There a thousands of things to do – you will NEVER get bored
- Themed cafes and restaurants (with live animals, prison-themed, etc)
- Vending machines (and convenience stores) are on every corner
- Friends/family/people are always stopping in Tokyo for a visit
- There are so many random, fun finds.
I loved living in Tokyo. But I also kind of hated it. Life is complicated.