Aaron Boyd
2 min readMar 6, 2024


I flew out to Tokyo by myself when I was like 19 or 20, back in the pre-iPhone era of clamshell phones. I'd just purchased my first cell maybe a month or two prior.

It was my first time visiting a foreign country that didn't speak English, and I was hauling around all this heavy luggage with no real guide beyond a notebook full of directions and contact info for my hostel.

The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was the silence of Narita International Airport. I'd heard louder mausoleums. The second thing I noticed was a large statue of a hot dog wrapped in the American flag preparing to ritualistically eat his own head.

"At least I know I'm in Japan," I thought.

The third thing was taking the Kessei Skyliner--basically an elevated train that takes you on a 70-mile journey from the airport to the actual city--and seeing the farmers in wide-brimmed straw hats hunched over in rice paddies and thinking "this is a real thing."

I got off around 6 or 7 PM, and began to slightly panic when I realized the directions in my notebook--"turn right at the blue sign"--are kind of useless in a city where there are 800 signs on every building.

But then I noticed this calmness in the air, this unnatural quiet in such a massive city. A woman on a bike casually rode down a clean alley. Unattended bike baskets full of unsecured groceries just sat on the curb as their owners shopped inside. Everything smelled like fish, which isn't my thing but good for them, I'm sure they like it.

And even as this naive, vulnerable, gullible kid from the other side of the planet who speaks zero Japanese, has nowhere to go, and is carrying all his cash on him, I felt completely safe.

I found a larger hotel a few blocks away. I didn't want to be that Asshole American who expects everyone to speak English, but I did want to know how to politely ask in Japanese "Do you speak English?", so I brought a phrasebook.

I practiced in the bathroom for a couple minutes before approaching the front desk. Except I got really nervous and asked "hbbiyheuybgviebvy&^*?" instead.


"........do you speak English?"

"Yes. I do."

I fucking love that city.