Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Reflection from a Fishbowl View of Tokyo Japan

By Mark J. Donovan

As I spend this weekend whiling away the time looking out the 14th floor window of my hotel room in Tokyo, Japan, I can’t help but marvel and reflect at the sea of concrete and people as far as the eye can see. There’s a feeling of loneliness in me as I look out at such a sea of humanity. I’m not sure quite why. I’m sure some of the reason is I simply miss my family. But I also think it’s due heavily in part to how insignificant I realize each one of us is in relationship to the Earth and as a species as a whole. Looking down at street level I see waves of people scurrying to and from the Ikebukuro train station, each with their own purpose and mission. Each too with their own goals, hopes, and crosses to bear, as is the case with every human being.

Several floors below me there’s an outdoor Christian chapel associated with the hotel. In just this one weekend I’ve counted at least 6 weddings, with each bride in a beautiful white gown and their betrothed husband in a luxurious tuxedo. As each newlywed couple walked the short 50 feet from the stairs of the chapel to the back of the deck court yard, their family and friends clapped and tossed rose petals over their heads to celebrate their union. Such the dichotomy, to see so sacred and private an event between newly joined couples, against the unending background maze of concrete buildings. As I watched the weddings, it provided me with some reassuring comfort to see that there are still people out there in this world who believe in a religious value system and tradition. And even more so when you consider the fact that they appeared to be Christian weddings, in a country where the majority of citizens either practice Shinto or Buddhism.

At night, the Tokyo skyline is lit up in all directions. Most eerily is the sight of thousands of blinking red lights atop all the buildings. No two are in sync with each other. As a result, the night sky looks abuzz with a swarm of red flashing fireflies. There’s also the regular sound of two-tone sirens going by on the streets below. Often there is an accompanying amplified voice over the siren sound, most likely warning people to clear the road ahead. The voice seems to add a sense of panic to the situation, rather than urgency.

I think part of the emptiness I feel in Tokyo is also due in part to the country’s demographics. To say it’s a homogenous population is an understatement. As I walked the streets and train stations, amongst the tens of thousands of people I saw, only a handful were westerners. So different than the United States where it truly is a melting pot of races and cultures from all around the world. Consequently other than the hotel and airport, very few people speak any other language than Japanese. Similarly, restaurant choices are limited mainly to Japanese and Asian cuisine. Albeit I did find a McDonalds and a Krispy Kreme Donut store, but I chose not to patronage them.

But all this said, the Japanese are an extremely friendly and helpful people. All that I spoke with, or tried to speak with, worked with me to answer my questions or to point me in the right direction. Some even pulled out their cell phones to help translate words for me. I think it also helped that I learned a few basic Japanese words to show some respect for them and their country. Knowing how to say at least hello and thank you in the language associated with the country you’re visiting should be a must-do for every traveler.

So though I feel a little lost, humbled, and diminutive by the sheer size of Tokyo, Japan and its population, I can’t help but marvel and be encouraged to see that life still goes on at the most basic level between its people and its visitors in such a vast place. And when you consider that just a few short months ago this country faced one of the most cataclysmic and devastating events in recent history, it is even more encouraging to see how life continues to move forward. With the weekend nearly over now, my remaining days in Japan will be much faster pace with many customer visits and traveling throughout the country. And I look forward to it. But though I’ve missed my home and family this weekend, I’ve also appreciated the chance to see life from slightly afar and from a fishbowl. It continues to be a personal event for individuals and families, even in a city of 13 million plus people.

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