Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tokyo vs. Inaka

Ok, just wanted to put this out there while it's still fresh in my mind... although exactly how fresh my mind is in these wee early hours of the morning is highly debateable (it's not even 9 here yet, which is early for me).

So, Tokyo vs. Inaka (boonies, sticks, country, podunk county, land of "purty mouths", etc.). If you're wondering why I say Inaka, it's because just about everyone that's been here more than 2 weeks refers to it as Inaka, even when speaking in English. Now where the city ends and Inaka begins... totally different subject that varies depending on who you talk to and where they're from, but I think that holds true no matter where you're from to an extent. Let's just say that 'suburb' doesn't mean much to Japanese people, and Tokyo's pretty much like NYC in that according to Tokyo, there's only Tokyo and Inaka.

So anyway, one glaring difference in Tokyo/Inaka mentalities was brought to mind as I left the station this morning - there was a guy passing out little tissue packets with an ad attached, which is really quite standard around the country. Equally as standard was that just about everyone walks by the guy without even a second glance, but that's another story.

What is different though is that here in the Tokyo area (I can attest to the fact that this holds true in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb, as well), they much more frequently offer these to me as well as the locals. It's not only this, but also the people standing in front of stores are more likely to target everyone including the foreign faces... except for some of the most aggressive people around, the ones soliciting for the seedier places, who still stay away (this is mostly a good thing - unless you like paying 100USD+/hr. for girls to talk and drink with you). In Sendai, you could walk past these people all day and they wouldn't even attempt to give you anything if you were say, blond and obviously non-Japanese.

What does this mean? Does it mean that Tokyo people are less discriminatory than country bumpkins/inakajins, or are they just more used to seeing a foreign face and thus less likely to clam up? Are the foreigners in Tokyo more likely to speak Japanese and thus more approachable, or are their more English speaking Japanese willing to approach?

I'd have to argue the latter in both of these cases. There are more foreigners in Tokyo for sure, but to be fair there are more Japanese as well. I forget the exact figures, but something crazy like a third of the country's population is centered around its capital and the immediate surrounding area with plenty an Inakajin striving to make the big move to the Big Mikan. There's a lesser known movement in modern times for people to move back to the countryside, but it's still overshadowed by the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing in Tokyo. Just about any internationally-minded Japanese company with any clout has its headquarters in Tokyo, so most international jobs are here. As a consequence, you get more Western foreigners here and definitely more expats working for international firms - something you won't often find up in Sendai or any of the other non-Tokyo urban centers, with the possible exception of Osaka.

As for the foreigners, I'd say that foreigners in the Inaka on average know Japanese more as a matter of necessity since the local populations out in the sticks usually make it rather necessary to use Japanese to get around and have much of any meaningful interaction with the local population at all. In Tokyo, there are those like me and most of my friends that have no problem getting around, but for a lot of the English teachers/American military/expat crowd, it's easy for Westerners to get (relatively) spoiled since the general level of English ability is higher here than other places I've been around the country. I feel I should stress the "relative" part though as Japan is pretty bad about English, thus all the need for English teachers. I know that Japan ranks pretty low internationally and is below a few other places around Asia in that category including Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Bali and Hong Kong for sure, probably more.

So what pray tell was the ad the poor guy was getting paid probably 5-600¥/hr. to pass my way? An invitation for Eikaiwa! I hate to say it, but I guess this is one case where drawing the line between Japanese and foreigner might actually work... or maybe it's a case in which Inaka peeps just know better than Tokyoites that if I want some tissues I'll ask for them. ;P

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