yours, tiramisu

sumimasening my way around

I thought I’d take it easy this trip to Tokyo since I didn’t plan at all. Two days in, I’ve logged 22 miles, 56,000 steps on concrete in barefoot shoes. It’s okay, though—my overworked feet will have time to recover in China. The sheer amount of walking I’ve done is testament both to how pedestrian friendly Tokyo is and to the way I still try to minmax my travels at the expense of my physical and mental health. Old habits die hard.

I wrote a while back about how one of my favorite things about traveling is getting to microdose on cluelessness. These past few days in Japan have taught me that there is such thing as too much of a good thing. The last time I was in a place where I didn’t speak the local language was seven years ago (France and Italy), and there I could at least read, if not understand a little. In Japan many people don’t try to (or simply cannot) accommodate you if you don’t speak English, an unfortunate detail exacerbated by my Japanese-passing looks. People speak to me in Japanese and expect me to respond to them in kind, not changing their approach even after it’s apparent that I cannot.

This morning I visited a tiny onigiri restaurant and tried my best to order from the all-Japanese menu. The cook spoke to me only in Japanese even after I said nihongo wa wakarimasen (“I don’t know Japanese”) and stared blankly in response to his prompts, repeating everything as I tried to guess what he meant. After a difficult few minutes ordering, an Australian lady walked in and ordered in English, to which he responded… in English! Granted, it was very broken English, but still—why weren’t we afforded the same cooperative treatment when we were clearly struggling? Mom says it’s because we’re Chinese. I’m vaguely aware of the history between Japan and China, but I’m not convinced it’s to blame for what I saw this morning.

Because of this and all the visible and invisible social rules, I feel like I am overdosing on idiocy here all the time. I get in people’s ways, walk on the wrong side of the road (on accident), and get in a lot of sumimasen-filled awkward interactions. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, but I also feel overwhelmed by not knowing the social norms and the local language. I’d have such a rough time if I moved here.

The writerly side of me wanted to write a nice eloquent post after each day of travel; the lazy (more realistic) side hasn’t felt like writing at all. They compromised and wrote a bulleted list of observations, which I suppose beats not writing at all.

It’s 8 PM and I’m falling asleep. Photos and updates forthcoming, I hope.

yours, tiramisu

#english #japan #travel #wordvomit