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Focus International Voices

Ode to the Tokyo Metro System

Alice Hakvaag March 3, 2018

Call me crazy, but I actually really like my morning commute. Japan is known for its bullet trains, and the Tokyo Subway holds up to the same standard. It’s an hour and ten minutes longer than my previous commute, which involved walking down Diamond Street and turning onto campus, but at the risk of sounding like a six-year-old, I enjoy sitting on the train and being whisked away to school. It gives you a nice long time to sit and think, which is not something that I really had time to do before I left for this semester in Tokyo.

I told my mom that she should just assume that everything takes about an hour to get to from where I’m living, the residential neighborhood of Gyotoku. From campus, the same rule basically applies. I wish someone had told me that before I attempted to walk from Azabu-juban to the Imperial Palace, which was almost two hours on foot. In contrast, if you walk from Temple Main Campus to Philadelphia’s City Hall, it takes about half an hour. Twenty minutes if you’re really walking fast.

I’m not saying that Philadelphia seems to move faster than Tokyo, but there definitely is a noticeable shift in how I’m seeing what’s going on around me. On top of a culture that prioritizes taking moments to sit and reflect, as a foreigner I feel the need to stop and actively observe everything that is happening around me. I don’t want to be the stereotypical American tourist, blundering into everything. I want to understand what’s going on around me, and what I can learn from it. At home, I’ve been working on the assumption that I know every variable that’s going into my life, and I think this is the first time I’ve been able to take myself out of the fast-moving stream.

Being able to slow down has also helped me deal with feelings of burnout. Any second-semester junior knows that this is about the time when doing your coursework just gets more and more difficult, even if you enjoy the subject. As a theater major, couple class fatigue with daily rehearsals and extra-curricular performances, and you have the perfect storm for what could lead to crippling burnout. I was definitely feeling it the month before I left; another semester of auditions and tech weeks made me ache just thinking about it. Watching my classmates auditioning for next semester’s season while knowing I didn’t have to made me feel strangely light as the semester wrapped up. Watching them put up this season from across the world with a bowl of ramen has made me feel selfishly happy.

I’m not saying that I’ve discovered I don’t like putting up shows, or that I’m glad I’m missing what seems to be a very cool season from Temple Theaters. I’ve discovered that it is essential for artists to take a break. Theater majors, and other art majors, are encouraged to be focused on their craft one hundred percent of the time, often filling our times with multiple shows along with a busy theater curriculum. After almost three months with barely any theater at all, I’ve felt less stressed than I have in months. I have been able to actively improve in other areas, like illustration and writing. I’ve finally been able to sit down and read books that I’ve been putting off. I even volunteered at a theater here when I felt ready for it again, and I’m genuinely having fun at every rehearsal, even if I’m just an assistant.

These long commutes and hours of walking around exploring has led to some pretty cool things. First off, while I miss my friends, being a solo traveller can be pretty rewarding. Going to museums by myself is a new hobby I’m going to keep up on. I’ve also grown a lot more comfortable being alone with my thoughts, and I’m learning about myself every day. Finally, seeing all of Tokyo at this perfect pace means I’m absorbing its influence, and I feel a shot of artistic inspiration every time I go outside, whereas at home I was just trying to get through my projects as quickly as possible. Who knew that the solution to this would be to just create a long commute for yourself every day in a city that you want to watch as you pass through.