Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Sayonora, Tokyo: A Newfoundlander leaves the sushi behind to move back home

Now that the CBC's Adam Walsh has returned home to St. John's from Tokyo, he looks at the differences between the two cities and cultures.
Adam Walsh (right) said goodbye to Tokyo and konnichiwa to St. John's after more than three years in Japan. (Adam Walsh/Twitter)

I am home. 

After three-and-a-half years in frenetic and crowded Tokyo I am re-adjusting to life in my home province, and back at my job with the St. John's Morning Show. 

I joke with people that I feel almost as if I'm waking up from being in a coma where my subconscious constructed an imaginary newsroom in a far different, far-off country. 

The juxtaposition from there to here is stunning. 

One of my first assignments back was to do live hits on the show about the opening of the new Costco. There were lines of people out multiple doors with a steady stream coming in and out. 

The new Costco location opened in late June in the Galway neighbourhood of St. John's. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

When busy isn't that busy 

While I could see Costco was busy, I just couldn't get that feeling of busy. It was St. John's busy as opposed to Shinjuku busy.

Shinjuku station was two stops from my Tokyo apartment. It's ranked by Guinness World Records as the busiest train station on the planet. It gets about 3.6 million people a day through its more than 200 exits. Just thinking about the hordes of people in that behemoth of a station can give me the sweats. 

One of the many lines at Shinjuku Station. Guinness World Records says it gets an average of 3.6 million passengers each day. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

So, the Japanese bow a lot.

Whenever they interact with another person during the run of a day, there's bowing, sometimes multiple bows in one interaction. It can range from a slight head nod as an informal hello, to a deep 90-degree bow for a formal apology. Often it's a sign of respect or appreciation. After eating at restaurants, for example, the owners will often come out and give a deep bow as you walk off as a sign of thanks. 

Long story short, I've become hardwired to bow.

So much so that while running the Manuels River trails during my first week back I caught myself giving head nods to people who said hello as I ran by. I looked silly doing it and I'm sure people thought I was strange. I am slowly making progress in resisting the urge to bow, but don't be surprised if you get a head nod from me. 

A Shinto wedding ceremony at Tokyo's Meiji Shrine. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

What's up with the Tim Hortons cups? 

Tokyo has an international rep for its clean and tidy streets. And the greater Tokyo area has about 38 million people.

Think about that.

That's about a million more people than the population of Canada, and there are times when you can almost eat off the streets. From living there, I saw it's a combination of fewer per-capita litter bugs and a bunch of people going above and beyond in terms of ensuring tidiness. Even as the cherry blossoms are falling to the ground and making a beautiful carpet each spring, there are people sweeping them up. 

Cherry blossoms are everywhere in Tokyo in the springtime. Notice what's not in this snap: coffee cups littering the ground. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Here, we have Tim Hortons cups.

I can see there's many of us who are fighting the good fight by not littering and rolling up our figurative and literal sleeves to do neighborhood cleanups. But honestly, what is up with the Tims cups?

It feels like there's not a road in the province that doesn't have a handful of pristine coffee cups freshly thrown out of a truck window. You know what's easy to do? Refraining from throwing crap out the window as you drive. 

Tokyo is a foodie destination city. Adam Walsh says while he'll miss eating there, the craft beer explosion and the efforts of people in the local culinary scene at home have made his return easier than anticipated. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

You must be some happy 

Since I've returned I typically get two types of interactions with people. "You must be some happy to be back" — and "How are you coping with being back?" 

I am not one of those Newfoundlanders who spends his time away pining for home. I'm just not. I love the people here, I tend to dislike the weather and sometimes the state of our grocery store produce can cause me to weep. So I tend to prefer it when I'm asked if I am okay being back. 

Reason being, while living in Tokyo was a blast, I am more than okay with being home again. 

This photo was taken in February. February! That's when spring starts its slow creep into Tokyo. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Yes, the weather sucks.

But you know what also sucks? Having your apartment shake from small earthquakes and wondering if it's the big one. 

I have come back to a city that feels like it's thriving in the face of the obstacles thrown at it.

A typical image of early spring in Tokyo, which begins in late February and ramps up to a cherry blossom explosion by late March. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

From craft beer joints, to night market after day market, it's a place I'm enjoying re-discovering. We've got boatloads of character and there are people here whose passion for life and making things work is contagious. 

I kept up tabs on home while I was away and I caught some of the debate about whether or not to leave in the midst of the economic shambles we're flirting with. 

I begrudge no one of doing what they think is best for them — or following happiness. For my wife and I, we have chosen to return and kick the tires of this place to see how it feels.

And so far it feels just fine. 

Japan's high-speed rail and bus systems meant travel was a breeze. It brought Mount Fuji to a hotel Adam Walsh was staying in. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

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About the Author

Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He works primarily for the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to television and digital programming.

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