From Tourist to Tour Guide

Have you ever visited a country and loved it so much that you thought, “you know, I think I could live here?” That’s pretty impulsive thinking.

Nobody would ever do that…

tokyo shitamachi neighborhood mita koyama-cho

My First Trip to Japan

The first time I visited Japan was New Year’s 2002-2003 and I was very lucky. I’d had a lot of Japanese friends and roommates in university who were eager to show me around Tōkyō, bring me to their parents’ homes in the country, and take me to the best clubs and restaurants. I wasn’t just a tourist looking at Japan from the other side of the glass. I got to participate in the culture and experience everything just as my friends who grew up here did. Everything was fascinating and I had so many questions – and my friends, despite being Japanese, were running out of answers. So, I decided to move to Japan to immerse myself in the language, culture, and traditions until I understood everything and could get it out of my system.

That was almost 20 years ago… and I’m still here, still asking questions, and still wondering when I’m gonna get bored with it all and just move on with my life. But now I’ve taken on the role my friends once played for me. I know the cool neighborhoods, the best restaurants, and crazy stories that bring this ancient samurai capital alive. Don’t think of me as a tour guide. I’m your cool friend in Japan.

travel in japan 1999

Find Your Backdoor into Japanese Culture

Everyone comes to Japan with a different motivator in the back of their mind. For some, it’s anime and manga, for others it’s history and tradition, and – let’s face it, there are those who are just in it for the food and atmosphere.

My backdoor into the culture – and Tōkyō specifically – was through Japanese History. I sorta reverse engineered my way into the present by way of the traditions and customs prevalent prior to 1868, when Japan opened up to the world and became the first Asian country to “modernize.”[i] I think this is what distinguishes me from any other guide you’ll in Tōkyō or in Japan. I’m coming from the angle of a hardcore history nerd living in an ancient land blessed with the cooler attributes of Blade Runner… and it’s been a trip.

But why was that my backdoor? As I said earlier, my Japanese friends showed me around, took me to their homes, explained a lot of things to me – and this was great. But then I started asking history questions. Really specific history questions. I asked architecture questions, language questions, and stupid things like “why do Japanese people bow?” They couldn’t answer these questions, so I had to do the research myself. Bane of my existence… I ask a lot of silly questions, and then I track down all the silly answers.[ii] Then I need to share that knowledge because I think it’s really interesting stuff that everyone should know. So let’s talk about it.

ikegami park tokyo tour guide japan

Passion for Japan
A Passion for Life

Anyhoo, When I design a tour, it has to meet one exacting standard: am I the only one who can do this right? That means, every tour is a passion project for me.[iii] Hell, just living in Tōkyō is a passion project for me. Life in general should be a passion project, right? Which brings me to my super-secret second standard: if you have to work with people, work with people on vacation because they’re just here to have fun, learn, and dive into a whole new way of seeing the world.

So, there ya have it. I’m a guy who thought, “you know, I think I could live here?” and proceeded to actually try and make that work. After all these years, I’m still in Japan and I’m still making it work. Let me share my knowledge and experience with you.

Further Reading:

[i] In many ways, Japan just “Westernized” in the beginning, but soon found its own footing towards becoming “a Westernized nation” with “Japanese characteristics.”
[ii] And you definitely want me on your team in Trivial Pursuit.
[iii] And one that I don’t think it’s possible to train other people to do authoritatively.

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