Tokyo – the city that never sleeps, the lights that never stop shining and crowds that never stop moving. It is ironic how a city so alive is supposedly the most lonely: surrounded by the solitary hum of 35 million people.
I find this most noticeable on train journeys. Crammed between rows and rows of well ordered commuters and students, yet acutely aware that we are all covered by a film of silence, spread smoothly across us like bubble-wrapped sardines.
Crowds become dehumanised, a conveyor belt of individuals on separate journeys driven by a highly efficient gravitational pull towards each destination.
But this is by no means a reflection of unfriendliness. On the contrary I have been approached and offered help by strangers in Tokyo more than in any other city I have visited. The silent carriages and disciplined crowds reflect a new level of societal order and respect that you don’t encounter from the typically rude and noisy hordes of London.
However it definitely accentuates ones sense of detachment. Add to this having zero language ability and the recurring notion of being literally on the other side of the world, at times it is easy to see truth in the cliche – that ‘lost in translation’ feeling.
This provides a rapid lesson in adaptation – similar to the first term at university – where you must thrust yourself into alien environments with only your own self-confidence and bravery to rely on, a terrifying prospect for many I’m sure.
In Japan restaurants are filled with single diners whilst capsule hotels and single seated buses promote being alone and make it a social norm. This contrasts to England where being alone can suggest awkwardness, friendlessness or any number of antisocial characteristics – a social stigma that Japan rightly challenges.
So perhaps it’s not so much as being lonely that maybe foreigners visiting Japan experience, but more a sense of fear of actually being by oneself. This means learning how to become part of your surroundings, rather than just the spectator of them.
I guess in the end like it or not, it is ourself we will spend the majority of out time on this planet with. Therefore it is important if not to like then at least to feel comfortable with one’s own company, or the future will be an even lonelier place.
Hannah Davenport is currently on the Sussex study abroad program, attending Waseda University in Tokyo for a year.