I recently signed up for a DnD session on a Saturday afternoon, after seeing the event posted in a Meetup group. I dug up my dice and old character sheets to bring along. In the half-filled-in log sheet were the last few adventures I played back home - 'Once in Waterdeep', 19/09/2018. 2 days before I moved to Tokyo.
It was my second time playing a Rogue. I was still getting used to the class' abilities and playstyle, which ended up with me separated from the party, hiding under the bed of a circus master commanding dancing mice. While the room was going up in flames. The session lasted past midnight. Afterwards, the DM and I headed to a supper spot, where we had a long talk about DnD, our lives and reminiscing about our previous misadventures. He was one of the last few friends I bid farewell to before leaving. A while later, he stopped running games at the shop entirely to focus on his own business.
I started going to that game shop 7 months prior. I was looking for a social activity to fill my evenings, and I had always wanted to try DnD. The game shop ran DnD nights on Wednesday, so I showed up one evening with an empty character sheet. My second time there, I hadn't RSVPed to any games due to a miscommunication, but that DM was kind enough to accept me to his 8(!)-person table. He was the most popular DM at the shop, and his games would frequently fill up an hour after they were posted. But he had a soft spot for new players, so he gave me priority to his games for my first 4 or so sessions, and patiently answered any questions I had, like 'how do I attack'?
The shop ran 3-4 Adventurers League games in parallel, so I showed up weekly to a different table each time. It was a little uncomfortable at first, since everyone was a stranger whom you would interact with for 3-4 hours. But eventually I learned names and faces, and the shop staff would give me a friendly greeting when I popped in. It became familiar. We laughed a lot, when players insisted on pursuing shenanigans. We had hair-raising escapes and close victories. One of my characters sacrificed himself to take out a big bad, falling into the lava below as his HP hit 0. (I still haven't revived him. RIP Odin.)
Seeing that old character sheet makes me feel rather wistful. DnD is much rarer here, as I found out. Primarily because it's an English medium, so game shops don't run it. DMs are rare and most operate in private groups. And because there aren't game shops to act as centralized points for players to gather, there isn't a player network. As opposed to the rotating pool of players I would see back home. I had hoped to participate in the same kind of community I had, but it seems like it'll be harder task.
Becoming part of a long-term community is generally a hard task in Tokyo, especially if you're a foreigner. It's easy to find meetups and events, yes. But people tend to keep each other at a certain distance, both because of city living and Japanese culture. It's rare to invite someone back to your place, for example, or to get close enough to someone that you'd call on them for help. And Tokyo is also a city of transients. You never know if the people you meet now will still be around in 6 months, let alone 2 years. Back at my old game shop, most people had grown up in the city and planned to continue living there, so there was a familiar culture and a stronger sense of permanence. Here, people will move to another country for work, just as they did to Tokyo. Or get married and move to the suburbs. I plan to stay in central Tokyo for at least the next few years, and maybe settle permanently, but I get the feeling that I'm in the minority.
Still, this is not to say that I dislike Tokyo or that I'm (always) lonely. Tokyo is a great place to meet a huge number of people. Whatever your interest, there's probably a group for it, though it might be Japanese-only and hard to source if you don't already have connections to it. People are generally adventurous and willing to engage with others, since they were willing to come to a big city. And maybe when I've lived here for a couple of years, I might have the community thing figured out. For now - I'll keep searching. And maybe the game I signed up for will be the start of something new. Who knows.