Foreigners Feeling Isolated in Tokyo (and Japan)

Non-LIT specific topics about Japan and Asia - culture, customs, food, people, art, film etc.
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Foreigners Feeling Isolated in Tokyo (and Japan)

#1 Post by Guest » Sun Oct 17, 2004 4:10 pm

Some quite fascinating topics were coming up under an unrelated topic so I kind of wanted to shift discussion to a new topic more in line with it.
Lost in Boston wrote:I’ve traveled extensively in five continents and Tokyo is unique in terms of the isolation that one experiences as a foreign traveler. In Europe things are only marginally different than the U.S. Same for Australia and Latin America. Even in China, India or other parts of Asia a smile is a smile and body language is the same or similar to body language in U.S. culture. As different as China or India are from the U.S. you can find common elements, overlap, connections.

In Japan body language is different. Customs are different. Social values and fundamental systems like the family are different. As a westerner I look different. I’m a foot taller than anyone else on the subway. My hair isn’t jet black. I’m isolated by my physical differences with those around me. I don’t speak the language. And I can’t even make eye contact and share a smile or a nod with someone like I can in almost any other country. The contact with Japanese is formal and not entirely understood by the westerner. The ritual of giving gifts is captured perfectly when Bob arrives at the hotel jet-lagged and is greeted by the same contingent of people who will pick him up the next morning. The exchange between Bob and the translator during the photo shoot captures the sense you have that more is going on than you understand. As a westerner in Japan you're left feeling a joke is being played on you and you're the only one not getting it.

I’ve traveled to maybe fifty countries and Tokyo is unique in terms of the isolation and remoteness I feel when traveling there. You arrive jet-lagged and spend the sleepless nights sitting on the window ledge at the hotel looking out at the skyline with its flashing red lights. You flip through the channels on the television and watch the bizarre talk shows or recognize a western movie that’s been dubbed in Japanese. You find yourself starring at other westerners in the hotel restaurant or bar, looking to make some connection. The film has all these elements.

Japan provided the perfect setting for the film. The perfect backdrop for two people, both isolated in their marriages, to meet and connect. The film wouldn’t have worked for me if shot anywhere else.

I also think Coppola is paying homage to Tokyo in the film, not mocking it as some have suggested. Just as Woody Allen’s Manhattan will always make me think of New York in black and white with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background, I will also picture Tokyo at night with Girls by Death in Vegas playing in the background. A stunning film.
This is fascinating. Let me ask you Lost In Boston, does your company provide education on customs and ettiquete or language for foreign countries or have you studied it on your own? Does it help?

When you travel on business to Tokyo, do the people you are doing business with like to go out to bars or restaurants or anything to make your stay and the business more enjoyable?

I read that people under 35 are more into adopting and understanding western customs. Have you found younger people there more open to some kind of less formal personal interaction?

I found these website which talk about customs etc:

http://www.geocities.com/traveljapaneasily/jpeq.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/

http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/

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#2 Post by Lost in Boston » Mon Oct 18, 2004 1:25 pm

I've read several books covering the subject of doing business in various countries including India and Japan but I've not taken any courses. Most of my business dealings in Japan are with coworkers and we are a U.S. based company so I think my Japanese coworkers are tolerant of my mistakes.

There is one fellow in our Tokyo office that I've gotten to know very well during our nine year working relationship and he has helped coach me on some aspects of Japanese business culture. Regardless, Japan is a closed society in many respects and as an American there will always be much that I cannot understand.

Evenings are typically spent going to dinner with coworkers and the food is always Japanese, often Shabu-shabu or sushi. Lunch is usually a Bento box at the office or noodles if we're traveling to customers. Dinner is always followed by the obligatory karaoke and yes, the catalogue of songs to choose from includes Brian Ferry's More Than This.

Japanese people are obsessed with certain aspects of U.S. culture and English words on clothing are common. The words or sentences are usually nonsensical. Most young Japanese people in public wear headphones and a mp3 player and send text messages on their phones constantly.

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#3 Post by Alen S » Thu Feb 24, 2005 4:08 am

Very cool and insightful...
I am wanting to go somewhere very far removed from Southern California.
I always think Japan. The aesthetic of the culture interests me, among other things. Same with my best friend; we both enjoy a lot of Jp influence, mainly entertainment like manga, videogames, movies, etc etc...
Your description of the feeling that a joke is being played on you amuses me. I think of the joke my friend and I recite about Japanese people shunning us if we ever went to Tokyo: "Baka Gaijin..."
Haha...
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#4 Post by Tokyotraveller » Fri Jun 17, 2005 2:13 am

I would agree with the foregoing in many respects. I spent over 2 years in Japan and while I formed some close friendships there are still things they would tell me I would never understand because I am not Japanese. I found Tokyo to be particularly insular. Mostly I think it has to do with it being a huge city and not necessarily a particularly Japanese trait as I found people in Sapporo and most of the rest of Hokkaido to be most welcoming and interested in foreigners...at least to a point.

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#5 Post by Azshi » Fri Jun 17, 2005 10:56 pm

Great topic; thanks for redirecting the conversation!
sorry I don't have much to add!

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#6 Post by Lost in Boston » Wed May 10, 2006 6:54 am

I'm back in Tokyo on business. As I write this I'm listening to the Lost in Translation soundtrack and looking out the window of a high-rise luxury hotel at the blinking red lights atop every skyscrapper. The hotel is next to Zojoji Temple where the monks ring a large temple bell six times each day. As I listened to the first song from the soundtrack Intro/Tokyo I realized the first sound that you hear is that of a temple bell.

From the sky bar of my hotel I have an incredible view of the city including the nearby Tokyo Park Hyatt Hotel. Tokyo is a fantastic city but it has become even more magical for me because of this sleepy film I love so much.
Last edited by Lost in Boston on Thu May 11, 2006 7:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#7 Post by jml2 » Wed May 10, 2006 8:01 am

Lost in Boston wrote:I'm back in Tokyo on business. As I write this I'm listening to the Lost in Translation soundtrack and looking out the window of a high-rise luxury hotel at the blinking red lights atop every skyscrapper. The hotel is next to Zojoji Temple where the monks ring a large temple bell six times each day. As I listened to the first song from the soundtrack Intro/Tokyo I realized the first sound that you hear is that of a temple bell.

From the sky bar of my hotel I have an incredible view of the city including the nearby Tokyo Park Hyatt Hotel. Tokyo is a fantastic city but it has become even more magical for me because of this sleepy film I love so much.
I'm so envious!! except for the being there on business part :P

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#8 Post by Flyonthewall » Wed May 10, 2006 1:14 pm

Lost in Boston wrote:I'm back in Tokyo on business. As I write this I'm listening to the Lost in Translation soundtrack and looking out the window of a high-rise luxury hotel at the blinking red lights atop every skyscrapper. The hotel is next to Zojoji Temple where the monks ring a large temple bell six times each day. As I listened to the first song from the soundtrack Intro/Tokyo I realized the first sound that you hear is that of a temple bell.

From the sky bar of my hotel I have an incredible view of the city including the nearby Tokyo Park Hyatt Hotel. Tokyo is a fantastic city but it has become even more magical for me because of this sleepy film I love so much.
Im like jml2... Im green with envy.. :D :roll:

Before my time is up, I need to travel there and experience it at least once.
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#9 Post by Suntory » Thu May 11, 2006 2:31 pm

That's right, one day its going to be US that are posting from a luxury hotel in Tokyo looking out on the view and blinking red lights! :P

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#10 Post by Lost in Boston » Thu May 11, 2006 6:55 pm

I leave for Narita Airport and the long flight home in a few hours. Last night was my last evening in Tokyo and I got back to the hotel late after a dinner of shabu-shabu with some good friends. I was sitting on the window sill looking out at the blinking red lights and one last time and I remembered that my mobile phone takes video. So I put the song Tommib on for a soundtrack and simply held the phone up to the window. I now have a nice 30 second video clip on my phone of the Tokyo skyline with the blinking red lights and the music from the movie.

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#11 Post by Lost in Boston » Thu May 11, 2006 7:06 pm

Took a photograph using my mobile phone looking out the window of the hotel room and realized afterwards that had I been sitting on the bed in my robe and slippers it would have looked a lot like the movie poster.

http://home.comcast.net/~js.ross/LiT.htm

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#12 Post by Flyonthewall » Fri May 12, 2006 2:55 am

nice.. I really need to seriously start planning on going there. Even if its not the Park Hyatt (which I know would cost an arm and a leg) but maybe somewhere close.

Btw.. does anyone know of any hotels in the vicinity of the Parkl Hyatt that are somewhat more affordable? :roll:

Have a safe flight home 8)
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#13 Post by Lost in Boston » Fri May 12, 2006 1:58 pm

I'd suggest the Tokyo Prince Park Tower Hotel. Rooms start about $200 per night and if you request a room with a north or west facing view you'll have a fantastic view of the Tokyo Park Hyatt and Shinjuku from your room (request an upper floor). The Sky Bar on the top floor of the hotel has a fantastic view of the entire Tokyo skyline and has much the same look and feel as the New York Bar at the Hyatt (which will be completely remodeled this summer). The rooms at the Park Tower have big window sills, perfect for sitting on and come with robes and slippers so you can even dress like Bill Murray. Let's you create the same experience as staying at the Hyatt for several hundred dollars less per night. I've stayed at both hotels and you don't give up much by staying at the Park Tower.

From Narita Airport you can take the limo bus to the hotel for around $45. Getting around Tokyo is easy using their safe and clean subway system. Meals range from cheap eats to the sky is the limit.

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#14 Post by Flyonthewall » Fri May 12, 2006 11:40 pm

sweet!!

Thanks for the info. $200 / night still a bit steep but it may be worth it just to be there and experience it at least once.
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#15 Post by mothling » Sat May 13, 2006 8:21 am

Lost in Boston wrote:...the New York Bar at the Hyatt (which will be completely remodeled this summer).
Noooooooooooo :(

I am hoping to travel to Tokyo with a group of friends in 2 or maybe 3 years time, and I was doing some pricing up on the internet at the Park Hyatt website and on a seperate airline website, and altogether it comes to roughly £1,450 each for a week at the Park Hyatt, with two people to a room. This was including flights too.

I must admit I was expecting it to cost much much more.
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#16 Post by Lost in Boston » Sat May 13, 2006 9:50 am

Sadly, if you want to see the New York Grill and Bar at the Hyatt as it appears in the movie you need to hurry. It closes July 24th for remodeling and reopens September 1st.

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#17 Post by mothling » Sat May 13, 2006 9:05 pm

I am really sad to hear that. I was so hoping to visit the New York Bar and Grill as it appeared in the movie. I know this us purely spectulation but what do you guys think the remodeling will turn out like? Do you think it will be only a bit different or totally different and not resemble the NY Bar & Grill as we know it?
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