You are not from Tokyo originally. How did you end up here and what is your profession?
Yes, I’m originally from LA. I actually went to Pharmacy School but dropped out because I felt like it wasn’t for me. I decided to move to Japan in August of 2005 and intended on staying only for 1 year but ended up staying until now (7.5 years later). I’m currently a buzz creator and run a party/ fashion interactive blog (http://maisassygirl.blogspot.com), which I started in 2007, while doing freelance PR for a variety of clients. I recently became a mother so I’m quite busy being a mom but still do little bits of PR here and there for clients when I have time. Before I became a mom I used to party and attend events every single night; averaging about 5-10 parties per day (of course more on weekends). Because I was everywhere before and knew the nightlife in Tokyo very well, I became the go-to person whenever friends or clients came to town.
Where in Tokyo do you live and how would you characterize your neighborhood. Are there any ‘hip’ areas in Tokyo at the moment where people like to live at right now?
I currently live in Jiyugaoka, which is known as a higher end and more residential part of Tokyo. I’m not very far from Shibuya (about 10 minutes by train). Jiyugaoka actually has everything that I would need, like 3 different grocery stores, a few shopping malls, an electronic shop, etc.. I used to live in Nakameguro for 5 years, which is 2 stops away by train from Shibuya and 4 stops away from Jiyugaoka. I think most hipsters and creators live in Nakameguro. It’s very convenient there as everything is a bike ride away. They also have a lot of good restaurants, local bars, and cool hang outs there.
What is the main difference between living in Los Angeles and Tokyo?
The main difference between living in LA and Tokyo is the speed of how people move. In LA, everyone drives and I feel like the pace is much slower whereas in Tokyo, I feel like everyone wants to get to their destination quickly so they walk fast, take the train (which is 99.9% on-time), take the bus, or ride their bike. The pros of being in Tokyo is that everything is ON TIME! Also public transportation is very convenient. In LA, driving can be convenient when you have to carry a lot of stuff but having to find parking sucks. I think living in LA makes you lazier too because I find that I end up driving across the street instead of just walking, like how I would in Tokyo.
Besides your neighborhood, which other parts of Tokyo do you spend time at?
I like to spend time in Daikanyama and Nakameguro. There are a lot of nice cafés and bookstores to chill at. I usually shop in Harajuku or Shibuya because I don’t feel like going far. When I used to go clubbing, I used to party everywhere from Shibuya to Harajuku to Aoyama and sometimes to Ageha all the way in Shin-kiba! For food, I love Nakameguro and Daikanyama and sometimes Omotesando. I think my favorite part of Tokyo these days is Daikanyama. Because I have a baby now, I can’t be in areas that are too busy and Daikanyama has a lot of baby shops and places baby can play. When people come to visit, depending on what they are into I take them everywhere, from Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando, Aoyama, Koenji, Kichijoji…There are a lot of landmarks, places to shop, parks to relax at, and cool architecture in those areas.
How mobile are you in your daily/weekly life and how do you get from A to B in Tokyo?
With the baby I usually take the train and bus or just walk. It’s quite tiring but this is the only way. Getting into a taxi with a baby stroller is not easy. Also I don’t live a cheap taxi ride away anymore. Before I had a baby though I did take a taxi a lot or use a bike. I walked when I had time to kill.
In general, I’m not as mobile as I used to be unless I carry her in an Ergo carrier. Also, I found that most stations are not baby stroller friendly and don’t have ramps when they are popular places like Shinjuku or Roppongi station. Hiroo station does not have escaltors or elevators but a lot of expats and families live there! I don’t understand why they don’t build an elevator! For that stations that do have elevators, I have to walk pretty far and it might not be the nearest exit to the ground floor where I want to go. The first time I went from Shibuya to Omotesando, which is 1 stop on the Ginza line (which I cannot use because there is no elevator), I had to walk all the way to Shibuya Hikarie, and take a few elevators to the Hanzomon line to Omotesando. Instead of taking 5-10 minutes this took almost 30 minutes. I’m used to this now so I can get there faster these days. I think all newer stations have easy access elevators. I am still learning though. Shibuya to Meiji-jingumae (Harajuku) has gotten easier, but I can also take a bus from outside of Shibuya station to get to the Harajuku Crossing.
Finding a particular address in Tokyo is quite difficult. How does the system work and how do you navigate?
I totally agree. I do use landmarks, such as Starbucks or convenient store (7 Eleven, Lawson, etc.). I used to use clubs as landmarks. I think these days people just use Google Maps on their smartphones…but before GPS, I think people just followed paper maps. The real estate people still use physical maps to find houses.
How important is owning a car and driving in Tokyo?
I do not drive in Tokyo. It would be nice to have a car because sometimes I want to go to Costco or IKEA or Akachanhonpo (kids shop) where I would need to buy a lot of big things. But the problem is parking and I think we have to pay about 30,000 Yen (approx € 250 or US$ 320) more to have a parking space in our apartment complex. I have a few friends who drive. I think because their job requires them to be very mobile and they have to travel far sometimes. For instance one of my friends is a stylist so he has to wake up really early or work late sometimes and might have to travel far and having a car is easiest for him.
If you were to buy a new car what aspects would you look for and what are the regulations for owning a car in Tokyo?
If I had to buy a car, It would need to be big enough to fit a baby car seat. However I wouldn’t want a car that is too big because there are many narrow roads in Tokyo. I think it’s difficult to get a license in Tokyo. It costs about 300,000 Yen (approx. € 2.500 or US$ 3.200) to go to driving school and then you have to pass the test and the laws are different than the US so I would have a difficult time understanding it.
A lot of European cities are supporting the use of bicycles in cities with designated cycle lanes and routes. Do you think this could also work in Tokyo?
I think there are bike lanes in Tokyo but people don’t really follow the rules much. In terms of routes, this could work, but I think either way people will take the shortest way even if it’s not the proper street.
How would you improve the aspect of mobility in Tokyo?
I wish all the stations and shops were more baby friendly. Some of the supposedly baby friendly restaurants are downstairs and don’t have a ramp or elevator so it doesn’t make any sense! Perhaps having a lane or mothers and baby strollers would help when there is congestion at the stations as well. Maybe having a car on the train that is only for mothers would be nice. I can’t even count the times when people just push themselves onto the train and nearly break my stroller (I usually carry baby in Ergo during crowded rush hour times). I think there really needs to be a train made for moms.
If you only had one hour to spend in Tokyo – where would you go and why?
I would probably spend it at a baby café where my daughter can play in the kids play area and I can have a quiet time to myself! Hehe…