One of the first things that struck me upon arriving into Japan was how neat and clean everything was. Not a piece of litter to be seen, no matter where I was…even in the heavily frequented tourist areas of Tokyo.
A great example was when I was at the Tsukiji fish market, generally fish markets aren’t exactly known for its cleanliness, but to my surprise I observed a stall owner sweeping meticulously, gathering the detritus into a pan then hosing and scrubbing the sidewalk in front of her stall. Everywhere I looked nothing was out of place and gleamingly clean…
Later as I was visiting the Meiji Shrine I was walking along the broad treelined avenue that led to the shrine and there was a groundsman painstakingly sweeping the leaves (and I mean every leaf) with a long twig broom into a line so he could gather them, nothing out of the ordinary you might think except that the avenue was a kilometer long.
As I paid closer attention I realized that everyone, no matter what type of work or what age take great pride in the quality of their work, irrespective of the type of job it might be.
It may seem strange but this form of respect is the common thread that binds Japanese society today.
Even in the crowded city of Tokyo people are respectful of the rules, a great example is that no one walks across the road if they have a red light at a pedestrian crosswalk…even if there are no cars. Everyone just waits patiently until it turns green and then off they go – no-one and I mean no-one jay walks. This isn’t just a Tokyo thing either…in every city I’ve visited and believe that it comes back to the utmost respect for the societal rules that everyone obeys.
I like order as well so it suited me perfectly! 🙂
Tokyo is huge and mostly homogenous in terms of who you see, sure there are plenty of tourists but when you’re in a city of more than 13 million people the tourists are definitely outnumbered by a significant margin. That being said I’ve never been in a city where I felt safer, day or night no matter which neighborhood I was exploring, and although few people speak english there is signage everywhere you go and so its an easy city to navigate and live even if you aren’t fluent in the language.
The other thing that’s interesting is that there are “Koban” (small police stations) spread all over the city. Not so much to stop crime per see but to show of order and respect to the local community. The Koban’s symbol is a policeman on a horse with a small child sitting in front of them in the saddle as if he was bringing them home.
Just so you know not a lot of english is spoken by the locals, they’re definitely friendly and more often than not you’re able to communicate via universal sign language…a.k.a smiling and pointing! 🙂 That might make you feel a little uneasy about visiting, but actually its an incredibly easy city to navigate especially because the subway system is one of the best run in the world. There are english signs throughout the system, as well as each subway stop is announced in both Japanese and English.
A couple of tips to get you started when planning for your visit to Tokyo…yes, you know you want to!
Given that Tokyo is absolutely enormous it will make you life a whole lot easier if you choose a hotel that is relatively close to a subway stop. Just sayin… It makes it easy to slip out of your hotel and on your way quickly as opposed to walking long distances before getting on the subway.
My initial hotel was the Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo. Situated on the eastern edge of the inner city and only 200 meters walking distance from the Kinshichō subway station, this was an awesome place to stay and would definitely recommend it. Comfortable in a Japanese way, actually not unlike New York in that respect – they’re small rooms but well appointed. I had an amazing northern view of the Skytree tower – stunning at night as you can see!
When visiting Tokyo definitely buy a Suica card when you arrive. This is a pre-paid, reloadable card allows you to ride the subway as well as trains and buses. Its as simple as tapping your way in and way out after each ride, and it takes the hassles out of constantly buying tickets especially at peak transit times. A couple of huge advantages are (1) you can also use it in convenience stores to buy drinks and snacks, (2) the Suica card can also be used across Japan in most cities to ride their transit systems as well (some exceptions apply so check first).
Prior to my trip to Japan I also downloaded a great app that helps you navigate the Tokyo subway system – City Rail Map. With this handy little app you can download virtually every subway system in the world, yes there is a small fee but I’ve used on many of my travels and it makes life sooooooo much better as it can be used offline as well.
I realize I’m just getting started on my exploration of Japan but even with only a few days under my belt I feel at home.
Next week I’ll be exploring farther afield – Kyoto and Kanazawa!
Until then Sayōnara