Friday, September 18, 2015

Mental Maps and Familiarity (Jonah)

It’s coming up on almost two weeks since I’ve moved to Tokyo, and I seem to be settling in alright.  While admittedly I don’t have the best sense of direction, my mental map has definitely improved since I’ve arrived.  My dorm (RIR Shiinamachi) is located on a street in Nagasaki, Toshima, Tokyo.  The road that I’m on serves as more of a “main street” for my area, which is about a 20 minute walk from the main center of Ikebukuro.
My street
At first, this main road was my life.  There’s a convenience store 2 minutes down the street, and at the end of the street is Shiinamachi station which essentially is my portal to any other area in Tokyo.  I knew where to buy toiletries and gyudon, and not much else.  But now that I’ve been here for a while, my mental map has definitely grown larger.  I know have a comprehensive understanding of the street that I’m on, the many types of shops available there, some idea of how to get to Ikebukuro, and general knowledge of my campus.  
My first map.
I think that one of the more interesting aspects of this mapping exercise is that instead of starting with a focal point and expanding outwards, I have multiple focal points that aren’t exactly connected.  For example, I have a separate map for downtown Ikebukuro, but it is less detailed and in no way connected to the area I live in as represented in my earlier maps.  But now I have a general sense of what direction I need to head to get to Ikebukuro, as well as a vague understanding of one main road I can follow straight to Rikkyo’s campus and then Ikebukuro proper.  Soon the connections between all these hubs of sorts will be made clearer (although I admittedly think having mobile data access and google maps has student my geographical awareness a bit).
A little more clarity.
Concerning how I feel in these areas, I still definitely have an overwhelming feeling of being a foreigner.  However, in Nagasaki I am more confidently walking down the street to the convenience store and other shops as opposed to slowly walking and staring at everything in awe.  But just as soon as I “mastered” my area and became comfortable with the usually tranquil Nagasaki shrine, I was surprised yesterday by a sea of people and a festival occupying the space, making my new home also unrecognizable.  The experience of having the character of a neighborhood changed entirely through one event really hammered in the idea of how a city is a living, breathing, and changing organism.

I’m sure as time goes on I’ll feel more and more at home here, but even though it has only been a short while I have been very happy to live in a place that truly feels like a neighborhood.  

1 comment:

Reid said...

I have the same feelings when it comes to seeing Ikebukuro as a separate "sphere" from where my dorm is. The only places I know in Ikebukuro are the area around Sunshine 60 and the path between Ikebukuro Station and Rikkyo. And even though it still feels like I know very little about Ikebukuro, I still know a lot compared to what I know about all the places I pass on the train daily. One day I may try stopping at a few of the stops between Shiki and Ikebukuro just so I can experience these places besides through the train window!