Japan Thru Non-Japanese Eyes

Laurence Bush (USA) outsider@jps.net

Author's self-introduction:

I live in Southern California a few minutes from Disneyland. I work as a computer consultant. I have college degrees in Psychology and Computer Science. I occasionally write about literature in small press magazines. For example, I recently reviewed Yumiko Kurahashi's "Woman with a Flying Head," a collection of fantasy stories translated into English. I'm utterly obsessed with Japanese literature and culture from anime to Zen and have visited Japan twice. My Japanese Horror Literature website is


Tokyo: Strangely Familiar


We Californians expect Japan to be strange, but it was strangely familiar. At first glance, Tokyo seemed like Los Angeles. On a hazy afternoon, our bus from Narita airport entered the city from a high freeway overpass, and in every direction there were short, grey office buildings hiding the land and sandwiching the trees. Like Los Angeles, the city streets disappeared into vast mesh of modern concrete and steel.

Descent into the City

As the bus descended into the city, differences gradually appeared. The familiar fought against the strange. Well-known gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants seemed different at street level with their strange signs and equipment. AM-PM minimarts had stacks of incredibly thick books, which I later found out where comic books. Gas stations had pumps suspended from above to save space. Buddhist temples and automobile showrooms shared the same blocks.

Arriving at the Tokyo Prince Hotel, it seemed like another other quality hotel. The room was small and pleasant enough with a spectacular view of Tokyo Tower. There was a feeling of being closed in, even from the seventh floor.

Tokyo Tower

The next day, we went up to the observation deck of Tokyo Tower to get a sense of vastness. I was surprised by the large patches of green that covered much of the city. The Imperial Palace alone is a huge island of green in the middle of the urban sprawl. But for the rest, it was still buildings, buildings and more buildings as far the eye could see. The Sumida River and Tokyo Bay were barely noticeable.

Culture Shock in the Streets

Back down on the street level, the culture shock struck. Uniformed students would leave there backpacks on the sidewalks unattended while they shopped in a crowded Family Mart in the Ginza. They seldom locked their bikes. Street vendors would leave merchandise unattended. It was like crime did not exist. Every two blocks there seemed to be a mini police station, known as a koban, attended by a couple unarmed officers. This impression of a crime free environment increased at night, when I saw people walking alone everyone. Young and old, male and female, everyone thought nothing of a midnight stroll through a park or trip through the burlesque night club area of Shinjuku.

On these safe streets, the first problem for the foreign tourist is getting around. Only the major streets have names and streets sign are not common. Buildings have no numbers. The Japanese seem to favor modest signs and discreet entrances. I often walked right by my destination several times without seeing it. Fortunately I knew enough Japanese to ask directions and understand answers. Everyone was very anxious to help, even to the extent of drawing little maps. Going anywhere was an adventure. It was never a question of whether I had to ask directions, but how many times I would need to ask to find a place.


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