After seven days in Tokyo, both myself & IFranca began to discuss how we felt individually about Japan’s capital & the observations we’d made from people watching on metros, in restaurants & amongst the people on the streets of Shibuya, Shinjuku & Ginza.
Un-surprisingly, as we brought our lists together pin-pointing the differences between those of Japan and the Western & European cultures we’ve grown up in, we found that nearly all of the points on our lists matched up in thought, it not wording.
Of the two scribbled down lists from Tokyo subway trips, we both collected about twenty items each, so of those that matched, we present the fifteen most noteworthy in our ‘First Impressions of Japan’ list.
Fifteen Impressions of Japan
Quiet When It Should Be Chaotic – You’d be forgiven for mistaking Tokyo’s city streets for those of a town with a population of less than 1% of the capitals. Unlike most subway systems, Tokyo’s Metro is a quiet as the tallest mountain, as mutual respect for others limits noise pollution – those who you do hear above a whisper are almost always tourists.
Clean – Cleaner than most peoples living rooms, Tokyo (and Japan on a whole) is one, if not the most, cleanest cities either of us have ever traveled to. Pavements lack clutter or empty wrappers of any description, toilets are cleaned, inspected & cleaned once again, and all within five minutes of each other & also, the people themselves hold hygiene as their strictest law, taking care of themselves above anything else.
Respectful – Stranger, friend or family member; neither connection matters as passer-by & close relation give remarkable respect to each other through the bow/tilt of the head for one & all occasions.
No Traffic Noise – Traffic noise almost ceasing to exist, the only noise you can hear from the street is the rolling of rubber tyres over tarmac & the occasional rumble and shudder of an older, less economical car, of which there are fewer and far between.
Welcoming – No arm twisting necessary; shop keepers, restaurant owners & people we’ve only just met looking to take us in with open arms whether we’re looking to purchase anything or not.
Helpfulness – Stopping at a map in the Metro beneath Ginza, not a second goes by before the offer of a helping hand. Staring at the menu entirely in Japanese? It’ll be five seconds or less before the English translation appears, requested or not. And as for the convenience store working coming all the way around the counter to show us soak our Cup Noodle with hot water, well, our rumbling tummies & smiling faces must have thanked her enough.
Always On Time – Recently I read that the Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) are only ever as late as 6 Seconds on average. Only 6 Seconds. In the United Kingdom, most people would be pleased as punch if their train was even 6 minutes later, let alone the 30 that most people are used to. Also, the Tokyo Metro is almost as perfect as it’s speed-demon brother, with trains on time during every occasion we traveled.
Always Giving – People we’ve know for an hour at the most, presenting us with gifts of food, drink & mementos fills us with pleasure but also tremendous guilt for having not even had the chance to offer anything or even deserve the offer to begin with.
Fast Eaters – On one occasion, within the 15 minutes we’d order our dishes of pork & rice, or large steaming bowls of Ramen, we watched as seven people came, ordered & ate their food without the time to breath between mouthfuls. Eating quickly is a common habit amongst those working long days & on the long commute home.
Everybody is Thin – With rice or noodles making up the largest part of the Japanese diet, watching people eat rice for breakfast, Onigiri (rice balls) for lunch & bowls of Soba noodles for dinner; you’re not surprised to find that almost everyone is thin, with only a handful – at most – of larger people, is such a contrast to the plumpness you see throughout the UK & Italy.
Embraces Western Style Without Sullying Its Own – Tokyo, with it’s electric billboards for shop, after shop, after restaurant, after shop, has surprisingly few large international brands amongst it’s streets. Of course you still see the occasional McDonald’s, Burger King & occasionally a H&M, but for the most part they’re fairly well scattered and low in number (the same cannot be said for the increasing presence of Starbucks Coffee shops!).
Runners, Joggers & Sports Enthusiasts – Sprinting around the Imperial Palace, climbing walls inside five story buildings the width of an alleyway & watching the kids play baseball in the nets scattered around the city is refreshing to see, but also gives an insight on how people stay so-so thin.
Awkward Conversations – During one of my brief adventures into one of the noisy amusement arcades somewhere near Shibuya, Franca had the misfortune of being offered a rather sweet deal of some ‘time’ with an elderly gentleman walking near by. Having stifled my laughter & own amusement, I broached this hilarious tale with our friends in Tokyo…
…tumbleweeds & the echoes of silence.
It seems some subjects are strictly unapproachable, and with “smut” making up about 73% of my humour; I felt like a stand-up comedian who suddenly realised they were completely naked. Awkward
Shy, Apologetic & Bashful – ‘Sorry’, ‘Sorry Sorry’ & ‘So Sorry’ became a rolling soundtrack to most of days in Japan’s growing city. People in the street, shops & on the subway are fast to apologize for everything – even our lack of understanding Japanese, something we should be apologizing for.
Obsession – During one of our ‘off the beaten track’ walks past dual-carriageways & the STADIUM, we stumbled upon a line of people & people with megaphones, “is this a protest? is the the banking protest?” we asked each other.
As it turns out, this queue of 200 people+ are excited about only one thing – a merchandise desk for a soon to be performing artiste (j-pop or otherwise).
Whilst we’re used to people queuing at band merchandise desks back in the UK a few minutes before gigs begin & the rush after when people leave, in Japan they begin the rush about six hours before hand.
Dedication? Check Obsession? Check Check
Japan – Japan-a-mised & Summarised
First impressions are an important step to understanding a country, but our second & third impressions of how Japanese life really is begins after we leave the big city & head North, South, East & West towards Yamadera, Nikko, Nara, Kyoto, etc. But so far?
Clean, Polite & Respectful…
…oh, and ramen & riceballs (onigiri) are D E L I C I O U S