Posted by: patriciamar | October 1, 2019

The Tokyo Millions

It has been a long while since I was able to write, and a short while since I returned from Tokyo to northern California (1 week!).  A few people have asked about my biggest takeaway, and certainly there are dozens of messages and important life lessons learned. This post is about one monumental observation that I had time and time again.


Life in Tokyo with 38 Million Other People

One fantastic aspect of living in Tokyo is that on any given day, you can find the exact sort of event that you are looking for.  You can always find something to suit your mood–almost any niche activity on any given weekend or day.  To me, San Francisco sort of feels the same way, and the reason for this is very simple. 

You’re not the only one. You’re not one of 100.  You’re not even one of 1,000.  For any random event, one of 10,000 might be a solid base. If your interest is at all well known, prepare yourself to be one of 1,000,000. I’m not kidding or exaggerating.  The sheer size of the population is other worldly.

I like going to events.  Buying tickets for a date and time on the calendar months ahead of time is thrilling and gives me something to prepare for and anticipate for months.  Both ticketed and unticketed events helped me get a nice taste of the Tokyo millions, and wowza, sometimes the results were shocking.

Some events, like the Oktoberfest in Yokohama, does not require tickets and is talked about year-round. On the date(s), you walk your way down from MinatoMirai to Yokohama Red Brick and go on in.  Actually, there may have been a minimal door charge of ¥300 or so; it was an amount not worth remembering. 

Inside that makeshift German beer hall, with decorations, a brass band, and legitimate German sausages, pretzels, and sauerkraut, there were so many people packed in that it would make Munich Oktoberfest look empty.  It was stressful and frustrating and AMAZING.  There were so many people that it felt like you were standing on a crowded rush hour train. We were crammed in.  Everyone was holding glass beer glasses.  Everyone was yelling Proost!  Everyone was shouting かんぱい  (kanpai)!

In the spring I went to the Tokyo Coffee Festival, located at the United Nations University Plaza, also the location of one of the few farmer’s markets in Tokyo.  Tickets were all digital (obviously), there was an abundance of unbelievable coffee roasters from around the country and world (obviously), and there were winding lines taped on the ground for the doughnut stand (obviously– and totally worth the line, by the way).  Every coffee tent had an employee managing the lines.  It was interesting and delicious, and a tremendous life challenge to have to balance the spastic caffeine pull of a strong pourover while trying so, so hard to wait patiently in line.

On an additional note, while the Tokyo Coffee Festival was a beautiful event, I have never been so caffeinated in my life.  Maybe once, and I remember that afternoon at Shine cafe in Sacramento very vividly.  The person I was meeting came an hour late, and I was so caffeinated by the time our coffee date ended that they thought I was on drugs.  After the Tokyo Coffee Festival, I was nauseous.  By midnight my heart rate had decreased to normal, but I had the worst coffee hangover.  Who knew!?

At a concert (Kacey Musgraves!), after moving everyone from the ticket scanning/ wristband/ staging area, the staff efficiently moved attendees downstairs and to the concert hall (maybe 3k max), filling the space, to put it mildly.  And once crammed in neatly…

Nobody. Moved.

No one goes to get a drink.  No one goes to the restroom.  You stand, relatively still, and watch the concert.

There is no encore.  You file out.

I have since asked many different people about Tokyo concerts, and they all claimed that this is not how it is.  However, “organization” in my mind is very different than Organization in the mind of someone Japanese, so I think the story is worth sharing.

Are you starting to see a pattern?  There are so many great events, and every time, I’m glad that I went, but wow.  I have been forced to adjust to a much more… populated lifestyle. You are never alone in Tokyo.  

In Odaiba at the Teamlab Borderless facility, even if you pre-purchased a ticket, the line to get into the exhibit hall took over an hour.  Once inside, it was amazing!  I still consider it one of my most memorable and unique Japan experiences.  I spent over three hours inside the exhibition hall wandering around like an entranced child.  I would go back any day of the week despite the line and the entrance fee.   I hear that they are the crew in charge of the shooting stars that will appear at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony next year.  

I experienced so many stellar events in the last year.

When a good friend was visiting Tokyo, we blocked off a morning to get a Japanese souffle pancake.  These floofy treats topped with whipped cream, chocolate, strawberries or candied nuts are pretty much fantastic, but you do need to wait in line.

We waited for 2 1/2 hours.

It took almost the whole day to get there, wait and eat, and I can hardly believe we had the patience to continue standing outside in the sort of chilly March air, but we did.

And again it was worth it!

It was the best pancake I’ve ever had in my life, period.

There is one place, not the one we chose, that infamously makes only 20 pancakes a day. What!?  That is so few.  That’s so close to 0% of the Tokyo population that I’m not going to calculate how many zeros I would need after the decimal.  That’s such a laughably small percentage that it actually makes me happy.

These are just special events.  The reality is that everywhere you go in Tokyo, you are surrounded.  It is busy, but it is organized.  There are tickets and lines, but no one will budge in front of you.  Tokyo is such an amazing and terrifying and amazing place.

After a few months living in the Shinagawa area, I took a long Sunday walk and sent some pictures to the Willers fb group chat.  My brother quickly pointed out that in both pictures there were no people.  I had captured two consecutive pics with zero people.  It was very impressive, but it also demonstrated how I survived in a city like Tokyo.  It was busy and there was constant life and commotion.  You could always find distinctive and extraordinary events, concerts, people, stores, discussions, classes, and more.  But when you wanted a bit of peace, you could find your way along a quiet canal on a Sunday afternoon and get some fresh air and some space.

There are impressive moments when you’re walking across Tokyo and suddenly, you know where you are.  No map required.  There are quiet moments when you are sitting along a canal and a cat is the only soul to walk by.

It is then that you realize that 38 million is a countable number.









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