After spending her first year at Miami Ad School’s Wynwood location, fifth quarter copywriting student Daphne Lefran had the experience of a lifetime, interning in Tokyo at Ogilvy & Mather Japan. Miami Ad School advertising internships are not your garden variety, “fetch us some Starbucks” deals. The school is able to offer its students hundreds of internship opportunities, because agencies around the world have made their Miami Ad School intern teams fully-integrated parts of their creative departments. Students arrive to find desks fully equipped and, in most cases, work already waiting for them.
But while the real-world experience earned by working in an ad agency or design firm is extremely valuable—and the primary reason Miami Ad School makes internships such a key part of its program—the exposure to other cultures can be a mind-altering, perspective-changing, horizon-expanding experience. This is just as valuable to a student’s growth as a creative, as well as a human being. Here is Daphne’s account of what living in Tokyo did for her perspective and how it changed her forever.
In my next life, I’m going to be Japanese. It’s decided. A Japanese life is the one for me.
Every time I travel, my mind is consumed wondering what the lives of the people that live there are really like.
What do they do for a living?
What do they do for fun?
Are they happy?
Maybe I should’ve been a sociologist, but instead I’m a copywriter. But I guess that sometimes, it’s the same thing.
Any-who, I found the answers to some of these questions about this little place called Tokyo. I came to Tokyo for an internship with Ogilvy & Mather Japan. For nearly three months, Tokyo was more than just a new backdrop—ready for me to get wrapped up in—like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. No, Tokyo was home.
In some ways, Tokyo was like meeting an old flame. It wears its quirks with charm in a way that is slightly intimidating, yet entirely magnetizing. It made me love it for the things that you don’t see anywhere else—for its peculiar contrasts and bizarre offerings and for not losing its traditions in light of modern times.
What I love about this city is that it feels like it is always in flux.
Among the swarms of people, things are always moving. But it never feels overwhelming. It’s organized chaos, and there is actually something quite calming about it. It’s hard to put into words.
The whirls of people are complemented by flashing lights and animated billboards. But at night, it’s a whole different place. The city comes alive and it’s sensory overload at its finest. Robotic sounds from pachinko parlors and neon signs make it feel like you’re trapped in a video game.
One big hurdle was communication. Aside from the fact that I don’t know a word of Japanese besides, “hello,” “thank you” and “beer” (which is biru by the way)—the tone of voice and facial expressions are completely different here.
For instance, the Japanese don’t know how to say no. Rather, they say “no,” but in such an inoffensive way that it can be very confusing even for native speakers. They say “no,” but never actually use the word. One has to pay close attention to body language or indirect phrases. Japanese people rarely speak in extremes, making it difficult to really comprehend what is being said. Particularly so when you’re an inappropriately-direct American, which includes every single one of us. This commonly occurs in workplaces. At the beginning of my internship I was told that in Japan, “You need to read the air.” That couldn’t be any more true.
Tokyo is a land of juxtapositions—from the modern to the traditional, simplicity to intricacies, the lush peaceful gardens alongside the chaotic streets. You have the wacky, weird and wonderful Harajuku district right next to the peaceful and serene temples of Shinjuku garden. The people are reserved and well behaved by day, although it isn’t rare for them to stay out all hours on a work night.
Even the technology has this sense of dichotomy. They say that Tokyo is the city of the future. However, Japan is somewhat stuck in the past. You can see all the wonders of technology from the 90s—old buildings, fax machines and letters sent via post instead of emails. Here they like to do things manually and perfectly. The toilets may be the most cutting-edge technology—complete with buttons, music, air fresheners and even a butt warmer if you’re lucky.
Tokyo is a window into the future—only here people respect their traditions, and their world.
Living abroad anywhere—never mind Japan—is an adventure. It’s not easy to board a plane and step into a land and a culture that is so foreign that you end up in a state of constant disorientation. Stuttering and getting lost in the supermarket buying cereal and rice for the first week because, well, it’s the only thing you recognize.
But to appreciate Tokyo, you have to go “around the corner” to discover its hidden secrets. You may find them in the colorful dances during Matsuri festivals or the daily habits of the people around you. It may be the bustling of a packed Shinjuku platform as the next train arrives precisely on schedule. Perhaps it’s that restaurant lingering on the third floor of a residential building or a temple buried among the skyscrapers. You learn about Tokyo through its sights, smells and sounds, and once you start discovering them the city is yours.
It’s here where the rooftops are high-fiving the sky; where the tiles that sheath the temples and shrines glisten in shades of red, gray and blue. It’s here where humans live cooperatively and respectfully of one another.
It’s here that history seems ageless and forever doesn’t seem that far away; where you understand the paradox of being present and lost all at the same time.
Maybe some people won’t understand how you can find solace beneath the glittering neon lights. Perhaps I don’t even fully understand. But all I know is that Tokyo is the type of place that politely taps you on the shoulder each day and says, “Wake up.”
Thanks for the wake up call Tokyo, and thanks for being home.
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