I’ve only been in Tokyo for a few days, but I think I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the city and how to navigate it. Here are some of my first impressions:
- No surprise, but the public transportation here is excellent. I have been able to get everywhere in the city using only the trains (and walking of course).
- The language barrier is not as intimidating as I first thought. I was a little nervous about getting around and communicating with the Japanese, but so far, it has not been an issue. The train stops are all listed in English and most restaurants have had an English menu which they are quick to give me when I sit down.
- There are lots and lots of people, and they are all Japanese. At any given moment, I am usually the only non-Japanese person in the immediate area. In some of the more touristy spots, like the Imperial Palace or Shibuya crossing, I might see a handful of foreigners, but this city is very homogeneous. One of my favorite moments was when I tried to enter the train during morning rush hour. I was the lone person walking up the stairs while hundreds and hundreds of Japanese walked by in the opposite direction. There is no keeping a low profile or blending in.
- The city is clean! You would be hard pressed to find any litter on the ground despite the fact that there are hardly any trash cans around. Japanese find it rude to eat or drink while walking and so that may contribute to the lack of litter. Even though it is clean, the city has just enough urban decay (e.g., graffiti, worn paint) to keep it interesting.
- People do not sit down in public, unless at restaurants. This statement is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is very little loitering or sitting in public spaces. I find that there are very few benches or chairs around the city. There were several times I looked for a bench and could not find one, even in a park.
- Tokyo is way more westernized than I thought it would be. Some of the wards, like Ginza, had a very North American feel to them. Also, western brands are everywhere. I fully expected to see McDonalds and Starbucks, but I was shocked to see a Hooters and a Dennys. When people are dressed casually, I see lots of jeans and athletic shoes, with Nike, New Balance and Adidas being the most common brands.
I know there is so much more to Tokyo and its culture than I have listed here, but unfortunately I don’t have much opportunity to dive deeper on this trip. I’ll have to save that for my next visit.