From London to Tokyo [JAPAN]

Shivani Salter
Sometimes certain things will remind me of home. I’ll pass a restaurant and it’ll smell exactly like the outside of my granny’s house in the evening. Like when the smell of Chinese food will spill out of the neighbor's window and I’ll say to my mum that we should get Chinese takeaway on Friday. Or I’ll hear a jingle and it’ll sound like the ice cream van that used to park outside my school in the summer and make parents complain about the rising cost of Mr Whippy’s. An odd smell like the back alley that everyone tries to avoid on my granny’s estate. Sometimes it’ll be the way the sun falls through the trees, and I’ll miss the woods near my house in London.
It’s funny the things that can change when you move continents. The homesickness fades after a bit, but it’s still present. The slight ache for the familiarity of home and your family and friends. It’s also the little things. You expect soft serve ice cream to be the same, but oh no. It’s actually quite different. One incident comes to mind: when I said how I missed flakes, and my friends didn’t actually know what I was talking about.
It's also the weather. The UK, known for its rain, is actually quite moderate. We have normal summers and cold winters. When it gets properly hot, nobody knows what to do. But that goes for any type of weather. Too much rain? Can’t deal with that. Snow? Nope can’t be doing with that either. Extreme heat? You're having a laugh. In Japan they are prepared. The heated motorways, the weather alerts. Life is more or less the same, but back at home everyone loses their marbles.
Another change? The toilets. I’m a strong believer that Japanese ones should be used everywhere. It’s so much easier and it’s better for the environment. Though at first, having never actually seen one in the wild before I did just call it “the squirty bum thing”. I soon learned its proper name was “bidet” but personally I think my own name is much more effective. 
There’s also the language barrier. I was born in Japan but left as a baby and only returned when I was eleven. So I arrived being able to count to ten, knowing only “Arigato gozaimasu” and “Konichiwa.” Over the years my Japanese has improved. I know some common courtesy and the varying levels of distress that “yabai” can be said with, though sometimes that distress can just be caused by minor inconveniences. However, I still am very very bad at Japanese and rely on a mixture of hand gestures and simple words that can hopefully be understood.  
I also miss the diversity. In my primary school class of thirty, only two kids were fully white and ethnically English and they were twins. My mum is originally from India but moved to the UK when she was nine, so I was always used to different cultures. In the area I’m from, most of the population are immigrants or descended from immigrants. I think it makes the vibes a bit richer, especially when the class Christmas party featured foods from just about every continent. In Japan however, foreigners are regarded as a commodity. Something that stands out in a largely homogenous country while back at home it’s just normal.
Tokyo also just has a generally different vibe than London, my hometown. There’s the obvious differences, language, architecture (seriously, what is up with Japanese houses?) Why don’t they just build a row of the same house? There’s a house on my road where the roof doesn’t quite meet up and it annoys me. It’s different from where I’m from. Cul-de-sac with a neat row of terraces and post-war sprawling council estates where every house looks the same.
But there’s also the little things. The things that shouldn’t really matter. Like how the water tastes just a tiny bit different and the way the rain falls in Japan and how they don’t make bread the same. Brown bread is a staple food in my life. Have it in sandwiches, for breakfast. With Nutella, butter, beans: you name it. Japan doesn’t do brown bread the same way. It’s more like white bread with a vague taste of wholemeal. Thank god for Costco because I genuinely would not survive without their wholemeal seeded bread. 
Another difference? It’s much cleaner here. By my primary school it was commonplace to have to dodge the empty chicken/kebab box lying astray on the street. Here it sometimes seems like nobody’s ever had any packaged food in the street,  and even if they have they most definitely have never-shock horror— had it in public!. It’s particularly strange because of the lack of bins. The amount of times I’ve quickly dashed into a cobini (convenience store) to use their bin or hoped the wind would cooperate when I tried to throw away my rubbish by a drinks machine bin is testament to this.
All in all, Japan is extremely different to where I’m from. That’s not a bad thing. Just a thing. While it isn’t my favourite place in the whole wide world, I know I’m lucky to have the opportunity to live here. I’ve also met some incredible people, including my best friend, whom I otherwise probably wouldn’t have met and who I love with my whole heart. We still think that we’d meet somewhere else, though. Some people you just have to meet in life and there’s no stopping it. When I move back after I do my GCSE’s, I will miss aspects of Japan, but overall, Japan composes just a few chapters in the story of my life. And when I’m old and grey and wrinkly I’ll look back and think, “God, was I really that skinny?” Though I don’t think I’ll be in any sort of rush to repeat my teenage years.

Shivani Salter was born in Tokyo and then left when she was a baby. She grew up in London for four years, moved to Fiji for three, and moved back to London at the age of seven. She spent another four years in London before moving to Tokyo at eleven with her mum, dad and younger brother. She can speak Gujarati but understands it more. Shivani enjoys reading, writing, playing video games and spending time with friends. She also really loves history and loves to listen to David Bowie and the Last Dinner Party to name a few.

"Soft Serve 50c" by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!