Rushing to go home after school to catch the running episode of a favorite Japanese cartoon dubbed in English – that’s Astro Boy! And alternatively with Daimos, Voltez V, and Bioman in other days flipping channels to catch two at the same time. That’s pretty much an everyday scene at home with my then little brothers. Years after, my awareness of the Japanese culture widened through Japanese Literature Studies in college. Lucky to have been under the wings of Literature professors who are very passionate about this country. So, imagine my happiness when I finally landed on the Land of the Rising Sun via Tokyo, which looked like Lego blocks from above.
Japan wasn’t part of my travel plans for 2017. Thanks to Flights and Flavours for pushing me and not leaving me any choice. I did some reading to prepare for this travel and it’s amazing how that alone made me want to already come back.
Am not confident to write a travel guide. I may just fall short in my description and facts. This first visit was a lot to process. In a beautiful way, of course! This post will be more of a personal one – the 10 things I loved about this place!
1. CONCEPT OF SPACE
You don’t get stared at even if you look different from everyone else. Quite contrary to a lot of other places I have been, even in my own country. There is that concept of space that leaves you a lot of privacy. No matter how jampacked the trains become, everyone is minding their own business – reading a book or a newspaper or their phones, or taking a nap. There are no loud chatting, if i can just say, there are no chats at all. If there is, it usually comes from tourists. Same concept happens in other public spaces and along the streets – everybody just minding own business.
2. BLEND OF OLD & NEW
Tokyo is undeniably a bustling metropolis. But not far from every modern structure is a nostalgic reminder of its past too. When you cross its busy streets, you see a flock of both the young and the old – shameless colorful hairstyles and clothings (it’s like a huge anime event in some spots) and the classic coat and tie. Not to mention, the very few who still wear the traditional Kimono. As you exit the subways of Central Tokyo in the evening or morning, you are welcomed by the bright structures. But as you enter the alleys and secret paths, you get to experience traditional looking restaurants that bring you back to those old Japanese movies. If you explore more, you will find hidden shrines in street corners. If you are lucky, you get to witness traditional ceremonies too.
3. DISCIPLINE & RESPECT FOR TIME
What adjective to use when you mean the ultimate kind? I don’t know so am just going to use the word in its true sense but mean it in a higher level. I have never seen such kind of discipline anywhere else. There are strict waste segregation rules inside and outside their homes. The AirBNB home we rented has laminated waste segregation instructions to follow complete with photos to help visitors identify what trash is for which bin.
There are smoking areas that are being used rightfully. This means you don’t see anyone smoking anywhere else. The traffic lights are respected by both pedestrians & the drivers. People walk on the right side of the road. Train signs are followed, no matter how hectic the hour is, you get off and get in on the right side.
Trains arrive and leave on time. PERIOD. The train is the most common commute . Therefore, when it is efficient, everything else in most people’s day is set to work timely. If it’s your first time to use the Tokyo train, I wrote a guide post here.
4. LOVE FOR READING
The best place to spot this is while in train transit. It is a familiar sight to see people reading a book, a newspaper, Manga, and e-books. Outside the train, you’ll see book stands that passengers can scout and borrow from and return when done.
I mean literally & figuratively. Although I have only experienced one season of this country, I know how it gets swarmed with visitors in almost every season, Sakura being the most popular. It is nature’s way of telling that there is a time for everything and that it is fleeting.
Other than the natural seasons, when in Japan with all senses open, you will understand how this value for each season is manifested in their culture. Because time is fleeting, each moment should be enjoyed and everything you do made to perfection. If you watch people closely like on how they do things, you will surely feel like you are in the moment – the masterful ways they cook your food & how they plate it, how they pour your drink, and even how they hand you back your credit card or welcome you to their place.
6. COLORS & SOUNDS COMBO
As if bright colors are not enough to attract bypassers, added is an element of sound into it. Central Tokyo’s flashy billboards and soundscape of voices on the streets make it so alive you can’t ignore it.
Can never remove Food from your list of favorite things when you are in a country known to be as one of the best food destinations in the world. Australian Chef Adam Liaw called Japan’s food as part art part culture and Japan as a 120-million obsessed food lovers.
To be honest, even the ones you buy from convenience stores are so worth it!
This country is known for preserving its ancient culture but the ones in charge of it seem to be the same ones leading the innovations. People’s convenience and comfort seem to be the top priority when people build things. Hungry? Find a food vending machine near you. They’re everywhere!
Got time to burn before your flight? Go around and dump your luggages into the coin lockers conveniently located in most train stations.
9. CHILD & BIKE FRIENDLY STREETS
When you live in one of the safest cities in the world with citizens who value discipline, clean streets & efficient commute system, every corner is almost child friendly. You can allow them to walk around on their own. And because I am not very comfortable taking photos of children in public, I only captured a few from the many I saw.
Bikes! They are everywhere. There are bike lanes and bike parking almost everywhere. More than the lanes, you got traffic obedient bikers! It’s just amazing to see!
10. FRESH AIR
We were in Meiji Shrine when a dump truck passed by. I was expecting a foul smell and dirty air to come off it. There was none. That is when I made a conscious effort to really observe the fresh air of the city. I guess when you give people a very efficient commute system, people will prefer it over having cars, thus lessening air pollution. When you encourage bikes by making it the best option there is, people will try it too.
To say that Tokyo is like this and like that would probably to minimize it to this and that. That wouldn’t be fair to it and to any place for that matter. On the other hand, no country is perfect. All have flaws & opportunities. I know Japan has its share. My short trip to just one of its cities made me understand what others are saying is different about this place. They say that the world is divided into three – there’s your first world countries, your third world countries, and Japan. I could understand why and I can’t wait to know more about this beautiful country. I can’t wait to go back!
Related post: Guide Questions in Navigating the Tokyo Train System
Featured Photo Credit: Dani Alamares