Memoirs of a Harajuku Girl, Part Two: Adventures in Navigating Please and Thank You Society

Tokyo can best be described in four words: frightenly efficient and brazenly polite. There is no better place to go for the directionally challenged and those weary of today’s ill-mannered public. Got a business meeting? Look at the detailed map in English and Japanese drawn up by your colleague. Feeling far afield in the massive metro? Just peer above you for assistance, for every 50 meters is a color coded sign detailing your line and stop. Only in Japan can a weary wayward traveler pick a subway exit by major department store or Shinto shrine. Everyone is eager to be of assistance in Tokyo, even if they don’t speak your lingo. I had one store clerk talk to me for a full half hour in unintelligible Japanese as I was cruising around her department even though she knew from my puzzlement and tentative smile, that I understood zero native speak. It was as if she was hopelessly optimistic that by speaking long enough, I would come to dialect clarity and that jabbering on was better than the unacceptable alternative, being of no help to me.

Thankfully, niceties outdated in the States rule here as do beautiful wrappings and neatnik pleasantries. Where else would Subway wrap your Diet Coke in a taped paper bag and stores happily cover the smallest purchase in the prettiest of bags and “laminate” to protect against the rain? Brilliant. Each neighborhood has a unique feel: buttoned up Mitsukoshiomae, tony Omote-sando, neon-soaked Roppongi with discount powerhouse Don Quiote and the trendy girls after my own heart in Harajuku. But regardless of your landing pad, one feels valued here, honored, special, a member of an ordered and respected society: something that no amount of encounters with disinterested gum-popping salesgirls or agitated commuters in America can conjure up. Long live Tokyo. In the land of the Emperor lies hope for civilized society AND civilization.

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