There are many quirks to life in the Big Apple, but not all of them are easy to get used to. 

Our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun was in New York recently, adding to his Pokédex at Pokémon GO Fest 2023, and at the ripe old age of 45, this was his first time in the Big Apple. 

To be frank, he thought New York was just another city at first, but it didn’t take long for him to realise that it was a little different to any other city he’s ever visited. In the end, there were five things that surprised him, many of which were entirely different to Japan, so he’d like to share them with us below.

First of all, one thing that amazed him was just how big the city was. Having worked in Shinjuku and walked its streets for years now, P.K. had always thought that this part of Tokyo was huge, but after walking the streets of New York, he felt Shinjuku seemed small by comparison.

▼ P.K. stayed at a friend’s house in Queens but spent most of his time in Manhattan, walking over 100 kilometres (62 miles) during his stay.

The second thing that surprised P.K. was the fact that pretty much none of the pedestrians followed the traffic lights, unless it was at a large crossing with more than three lanes of traffic one way. On one-lane roads, people ignored the walk signals as if it were a matter of course.

If the signal to walk was red and there were no cars coming, pedestrians would cross without any hesitation. P.K. saw a mother do it while holding hands with her child, and a father crossing against the lights while pushing a stroller across the road.

P.K.’s friend, who’s been living in New York for 30 years, told him, “Nobody in New York obeys the walk signals — only tourists do”. Another friend told him that police can fine you for disobeying the signals, though, so P.K. erred on the side of caution. Having been conditioned to obey the signals since he was small, this was one New York habit P.K. just couldn’t get used to, no matter how many times he saw it happen during his stay.

▼ This culture shock goes both ways, though, because when Americans visit Japan, they’re surprised that everyone waits for the pedestrian lights to change.

The third thing that stood out for P.K. was the lack of public toilets in the city. In Japan, you can find restrooms in loads of places, like train stations, department stores, convenience stores, and parks, so you’re never left in the lurch. However, whilst walking around Manhattan, P.K. found himself dangerously close to soiling himself on the first day, when he took it for granted that there would be a restroom close by.

▼ When he did finally find a toilet, there were lines out the door, forcing him to hold on even longer.

After that initial day in New York, P.K. made a point of researching the toilets in the city, and downloaded a toilet map app to help him out.

▼ P.K.’s New York trip involved searching for Pokémon…and public toilets.

Puzzled by the restroom situation, P.K. asked his friend about it, and they told him there used to be public toilets in the subway, but they disappeared because homeless people settled in them and people would use them as places to sell drugs.

The fourth thing that caught P.K.’s attention was the coldness levels of air-conditioned environments, especially on American planes. He found himself already cold as soon as he stepped inside the airport, which made him think the operators must be mistaking travellers for raw, chilled produce like salmon or meat.

▼ If you’re a Japanese traveller going to America, even in the summer, long sleeves are a must.

The final thing that surprised P.K. was the actual cost of the trip. While he knew it was going to be an expensive journey, given the extreme depreciation of the yen, the travel expenses were so high that it made him want to cry. All the little expenses added up, leaving him poorer than it would have had he travelled to New York before the pandemic, when the yen was much stronger.

In the end, though, despite all the surprises, P.K. was really glad to have visited New York. It’s a one-of-a-kind city with many quirks, and once the yen is stronger, he’d definitely visit again…even if he does stand out as the one guy that waits at the traffic lights.

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