William Swinton

William SwintonOccupation:
Membership Manager
Time in Japan:
2 and a half years

I came here in September of 1995 after having lived in Manhattan for ten years because, believe it or not, I was bored. So I thought, "where do you go from Manhattan?" I considered Durban and Japan and decided to visit Japan before I made any reservations to go to South Africa. I had a great time when I was here-I went to Sapporo, Kyushu and Osaka, but not Tokyo-and really, really liked it. So that made my mind up for me.

The thing that is interesting for me about Japan is the way in which some things are extremely convenient and some things which one would expect to be convenient aren' like banks for instance. It's a big surprise because you hear so much about how consumer oriented Japanese companies are and yet Japanese consumers, I think, put up with a lot of things that other industrialized nations' consumers don't. Maybe that's changing now, especially with the economic situation and there being more foreign stores and companies here. But, I don't ever think "oh it's a hard life here," especially having lived in New York, it's just that some things are very, very convenient and some things are inexplicably inconvenient.

There's not anything about Japan that I really dislike. I mean, the traffic while worse than New York is better than say Bangkok. But, in all honesty, I would be hard pressed to say I had a long list of things that I don't like about Japan. You know, I have a low tolerance for not being comfortable and happy, so if there really were things I thought were bad about the place I would already have my plane ticket in my hand; there are so many other places to live.

The best thing about living in Japan is the restaurants. They're all over and the density is amazing. There's a place in Kyoto where it's like every building has ten or fifteen bars or restaurants in it, each of them seating only about five people. So, the volume of different eateries and restaurants and various types of food and decor is the thing I find most fascinating. Actually one of the things that made me think that this was a country where I could live was when I visited Sapporo back in '94 and I went to this bar up on the hill above the city which had a very slick black decor such that it reflected. On one side it had table-to-ceiling windows that looked out over a grove of trees, and on the other side table-to-ceiling windows which had a view out over the city. But, things being reflected, when you looked out of either window you saw the trees and the city at once. So it was just this amazing combination of nature and hi-tech all in one very small space, and that balance, when you find it, makes certain places in Japan, and Tokyo particularly, just really spectacular.

If I could change one thing about Japan it would be the prices. I think that for regular retail stuff, prices are about the same, but in New York we have discount houses for everything and that's a big difference. I mean if you want sheets you can go to Bloomingdale's and pay the same as you would at Takashimaya, but you can also go to the "sheet district" and get them at wholesale prices, and I'm used to having access to that. I think that as a foreigner who hasn't lived in Tokyo for very long I pay more here than I should because I haven't found out where to go to get cheap things yet-although that would probably be the same for someone who hadn't lived in New York for very long.

I don't like to plan too much for the future. I mean, I don't know where I'm going to be in five years time any more than they knew five years ago that a laptop computer would have the power and the access that it affords now. If we have the same quantum leaps in some other fashion then I'm going to go where that takes me. Probably that will be here in Tokyo, but you never know, maybe I'll find another city with great restaurants.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan can be contacted on 3433-5381.

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