The Most Expensive City in the World

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January 11th 2003
Published: November 11th 2006
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Hey everyone. I know it’s been a while but things have been quiet in Tamagawa-town. The endless winter, marked not by snow but interminable rain seems finally to be drawing to a cease and the season of cherry blossoms and rice field plantings about to begin. When the weather warms, I plan to ride my bike to even my most distant schools, seven miles away.
Meanwhile, time continues to move slowly, yet inexorably, and I find myself with less than five months to go before I pack my bags and head back home to adventures mostly domestic in nature, and lacking the thrill of new discovery and experience. My last few months will be marked by contradictory impulses to save money while seeing as much as I can of this fascinating country.
The long goodbye has already begun. Last week, I returned to Tokyo for the first time since I first set foot on Japanese soil to attend a conference for teachers returning to their home countries. Representatives from the various embassies and corporations were on hand to give practical advise about getting a job, taking advantage of skills earned on my program, as well as the old reliable workshop “how to make a resume.” One woman came up and spoke about how she’s been out of work for two years after various odd jobs in retail and in business fell through. She told us how bad the economy was and we should stay in Japan if we could. The others were a bit more inspirational, but I don’t regret my decision to head right to grad school and deal with the real world in good time.
Going to the conference was a great opportunity to run into old friends and another chance to see one of the most vibrant (and expensive) cities in both Asia and the world. The prices didn’t disappoint, particularly when I missed by mere minutes the last subway back to the hotel and had to settle for a cab. By the time I arrived back at the hotel twenty minutes alter, I found myself looking at a wallet that was about 35 dollars lighter. Tokyo certainly is not a city that never sleeps. The subway system, just like good old Boston, shuts down completely somewhere in the vicinity of midnight, and the cab drivers proceed to do very well indeed.
Being in Tokyo, of course the question of what to eat comes up. As the capital of the country and a center of fabulous Japanese cuisine, what is one to do? Why, eat at Friday’s of course, which I did, not once but twice in succession. Over the course of the five days, I also managed to sneak in Subway, Starbuck’s and Denny’s. I never had French toast that tasted so good. N.B. the service on this side of the Pacific is just as lousy, unusual for Japanese restaurants. Waitresses didn’t feel a compelling need to clean tables after people had finishing eating. Another American influence: the ten percent service charge at Friday’s, just for the heck of it. I would bet any amount of money that the waitress never saw a penny of it. Tipping is simply not done in Japan. Still, my hot caramel apple cider at Starbuck’s, my tortillas and guacamole at Friday’s and my tuna fish sandwich at ever cheap and dependable Subway’s went a long way to satisfying my desire for things American. I think I can last here another few months now.
Then it was back home to the rural backwaters of Western Japan where lo and behold they had built a new road. I think there is approximately one road per person in my town. Construction is probably the only reason there are jobs at all in my town. Graduation was yesterday. It was a bittersweet moment, being the very last graduation of the school. Graduates number 2656 to 2666 walked down the proverbial red carpet in front of the mayor and the traditional dignitaries who seem to age five years with each ceremony. From April, the two junior high schools in my town will merge, (to make a grand total of 80 students) and the first graduate to walk down next March will be christened number 1. The ceremony was as packed with ceremony and tradition as humanly possible, every bow choreographed and every speech timed. Ample attention was given to each graduate, an easy situation when they number but eleven. Now they go off to high school in cities near and far, and will never live fulltime in Tamagawa-town again unless they have an incurable thirst for building bridges. In two years, the town itself will merge with neighboring towns and cities, and my beloved town will literally fall off the map. I am witnessing the end of an era in rural Japan.


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