New York. From Broadway to numerous tourist spots like the Statue of Liberty, many Japanese people hold an image as a land of unlimited entertainment. At the same time, many of us may also relate the city with things like high prices and, likely due to the popularity of American crime dramas in Japan, violence.
During a recent trip to New York, I asked several Japanese people who have moved there to share their impressions of the city with the rest of us back home. I’ve also added some of my thoughts, and hopefully this list will give you a good understanding of what parts of New York stick out to Japanese people who have stepped away from the TV and onto the streets.
・There are an unusually large number of Subways
We have Subway in Japan, but by far the largest foreign fast food presence here is occupied by McDonalds. Surprisingly, in New York, it seems to be the other way around – especially in Manhattan, where you never have to worry about finding a place to get a sandwich as there seems to be a Subway on every street. Stores are staffed mainly by cheerful Asian people and sandwiches are stuffed with vegetables for a filling and healthy meal.
・New Yorkers are ‘Tsundere’
The Japanese word ‘Tsundere’ refers to the personality of being cold or sarcastic on the outside, but turn warm and extremely affectionate around certain people or in certain circumstances.
This is exactly how we would describe New Yorkers. While they wear an expressionless face and give of a cold impression, they will help someone in trouble without hesitation. Even on the train, they give their seat up to other people without cracking a smile or frown. It’s hard to think of this as an intentional act of benevolence – it’s just what they do here. In this way, New Yorkers are similar to Tokyoites, though there also seem to be a good number of gaudy middle-aged women akin to those often seen in Osaka.
・Taxi drivers are Bangladeshi or Nepalese
Not just that, but many of them are seasoned professionals who have been working in the city for over a decade. There are likely many people who make more here than they could back home and many are probably sending remittances to support their family.
Payment is completely automated so drivers can’t rip you off.
・Store personnel are too friendly
If Japanese store staff were as friendly as New Yorkers, people would see it as being over-familiar and be turned off. However, probably because it doesn’t feel like they’re just trying to butter you up for a buck, the friendly attitude isn’t uncomfortable.
From personal experience, staff at the AT&T store struck up a conversation with me about anime and our hobbies, and the staff at McDonalds enthusiastically consented to my special request for an item not on the regular menu, saying something like: “All right! We don’t usually do this, but I’ll make it this time just for you!”
・Eating out is expensive – even more than Japan.
Coming from a culture that doesn’t tip, the American 20% rule is a difficult adjustment for the Japanese wallet. It seems that restaurants in New York are particularly expensive, and we recommend thrifty travelers stick to shopping at the supermarket and bringing it back to your hotel.
The exception her is steak. Eat steak in New York. It’s amazing.
・New York is safe!
Many Japanese people associate America with crime and violence, but New York is actually a pretty safe place, especially when compared to places like Los Angeles. Police officers can be seen standing in watch here and there, allowing New Yorkers and tourists alike to walk the streets with a feeling of safety. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down when walking around – something that is true for any country, including Japan.
・New York smells like pee
Well, not all of it, but even in fashionable downtown shopping areas the smell of urine sometime lingers in the air. We’re not saying that Tokyo and Osaka don’t, on occasion, smell a bit pissy – they do. But your chances of breathing in some fresh ammonia are much higher in New York.
・New Yorkers speak their mind while respecting the other party’s opinion
If they like it, they’ll tell you they like it. If they don’t like it, they’ll tell you they don’t like. And whatever it is they’re telling you, they’ll listen to what you have to say too.
Even looking at internet forums, there doesn’t seem to be much ungrounded accusation and slander – unless someone really deserves it.