The staff in Japanese stores have always been polite. But now, some of them are polite to the point of ridicule. Please visit our store again. Thank you very much for stepping inside these doors even if you didn't buy anything. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it seems as the politeness covers up relief that even foreigners are starting to return to normal life in Tokyo.
Well, some foreigners. Living in one of the parts of Tokyo most densely populated with gaijins, it is noticeable that many of us have left the city. Almost two months after disaster hit Japan, it seems unlikely that all those who left will return. Most diplomatic missions either temporarily closed shop in Tokyo, or cut down considerably in their service. Some established offices elsewhere, some simply left. But those who meant to come back, largely will have done so by now.
It's not just the diplomats, though. The ex-pat community seems smaller. Some of those who left might not be able to return. I've heard stories of foreigners losing their jobs in Japanese companies after having chosen to leave Japan after the earthquake. It seems harsh, but at the same time I can see where the companies are coming from. If their employers cannot handle earthquakes, there is very little for them in Japan. If you want to live here, you have to accept the fact that there will be quakes, and some of them might be big.
As a consequence of the foreigner-drain from Tokyo, though, certain businesses are struggling. Guest houses for foreigners, grocery stores specialized in imported food, the many lunch places in the embassy area - they have all had to live with next to no demand for more than a month, and now that it is picking up again, it might be too late. Some have closed shop already, and from the look of the (lack of) traffic, others might follow. This is only a small part of the economicl and otherwise problems Japan is facing post-crisis, and in the long run not the most important one. But it illustrates the magnitude of the crisis when businesses not directly affected by the crisis, in a city not directly affected by the crisis, are struggling.
Thus I'd be lying if I said that everything is as it was in Tokyo. It isn't. Much is back to normal - radiation levels included - but there is still a certain gloomy mood hanging over the city. The news are still largely centered around the catastrophe and its aftermath. Closed escalators, dark buildings and other power-saving efforts to compensate for the shut down nuclear plants are constant reminders that the city and the country are still in crisis mode. And despite putting on brave faces there is no doubt that many of us still feel that its uncomfortable with all the aftershocks (fortunately, we haven't had any major ones since I returned. I've only felt one I was certain was a quake, and then several fquakes - fake quakes triggered by anxiety or by injury to your balance, both of whom I've experience frequently since the first big earthquakes in March).
Despite this, people seem intent on staying positive. And once you start looking for it, it is easy to find bright spots in the gloom. I've had the great fortune to spend most of my time back with wonderful friends - some old, some new. Getting back to normal life here - as normal as possible - has been good for me. I've come across things I didn't even realize I'd missed, and I've discovered new loves about Tokyo. Ironically, one of them was born out of the only thing that's really been bothering me since I got back: the heaviest jet lag I've suffered yet. I haven't been able to sleep much at all, and definitely not at night. So several mornings I've been out walking, discovering a (to me) new side to this wonderful city. Before the city wakes up, there is a strange freshness to it, unspoiled by traffic or people. The few that are out are either on their way home from a party or perhaps the night shift, or they are on their way to work. Shops are being cleaned or the shelves are restocked, and you might pass a stray jogger or two. But there is a completely different pace than Tokyo normally can allow. I didn't realize how calm a city of this size could become.
And so, despite the anxiety I felt before coming, the overall impression after having arrived is a good one. Japan found its place in my heart a long time ago; Tokyo has now reclaimed it on behalf of the entire country. A few weeks ago I wrote in my status update on Facebook : "Nothing has changed. Everything is different." Coming back to Tokyo, I think it is now more appropriate to say: "Everything has changed. But nothing is different."