November 28 – December 2, 2017. It was an eventful trip. There were a lot of great coincidences that gave us the full course of the Japan experience. It was unreal how smooth it all went down, our friend lead us through the streets and subways expertly. All over Tokyo, day and night we were walking the streets of Asakusa, Senzoku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, DisneySea, Akihabara, Odaiba, and Kaihimmakuhari.
First, the flight. I’ve never flown before. Got some butterflies in my stomach for a while. I woke up maybe in hour 3 cold and shivering, though. If there was one bad thing about it… I never got the window seats. Didn’t even see the sky and clouds. It just made it feel like going on big buzzing bus for four hours. On the flight to Tokyo I also didn’t have any good entertainment loading so it kind of made it less bearable. But on the flight home, two podcast episodes just filled the time and it passed by quickly without any sleep.
We stayed in a fully furnished Air BnB in Senzoku. Left to our own devices an no other help in our stay there. It was quite authentic. We were freezing in our room because it was larger and the heater couldn’t reach all of it, though. I don’t know if the showers were faulty just normally went between two extremes of hot and cold. Separated to only a few per room, it gave me some more solitary time to wind up and wind down each day too.
Walking. Or biking. It’s such a huge part of Japan’s lifestyle. I believe I’ve never walked that much in a trip before. Our group was pretty much game for not taking any bus or taxi. We even walked between bridges and cities in the middle of the night on the first day. Asakusa and Senzoku were very quiet compared to places back home. There was an alley filled with different shops that crossed through the main road. Passing there multiple times, we saw some interesting ones such as an owl cafe, magikarp bread, and some good chicken wings.
We weathered the freezing cold temperatures, I was without a scarf or gloves. On a very fortunate night a light drizzle made the streets perfect for photography. I only wish I had a better camera. It was the same nights that the town we were staying were celebrating a matsuri, or local festival. It was quite the coincidence – booking the place and date without knowing. Food stalls were lined up with specialty food, or even experimental ones. Couples and salarymen were walking down those rainy streets with us. Like an anime.
Whole cities’ layouts are built around having everyone walk. From the cramped housing districts, shopping districts with only pedestrian walkways between them, commercial areas near the main roads, benches and bike stands everywhere. Even buildings just for bicycle parking. The subways are so efficient that the stations we required were always about one kilometer away. Not that it’s a small distance in any way. It’s this efficiency that dissuades them from owning private cars. Bikes are used when they run their errands around town, no matter what time of day or night. You can’t just make that happen in a few years. This is culture that has been evolving with its cities for centuries. Almost everyone is in stylish monochromatic coats, walking in sync with the city. That uniformity is very easy on the eyes. Speaking of uniforms, yes those skirts are that short in real life, even in the cold.
Customer service in Japan is a huge deal. A cultural artifact that has integrated itself with the modern times. It’s a sight to see, especially coming from a country that does not enforce its rules for the public strictly. Everyone does their jobs with dignity, no matter how seemingly small the tasks are. From clerks confirming your change, police officers dedicated to giving directions, store employees who welcome each customer without fail, those who give out flyers on the street. You would hear ‘irasshaimase‘ at every shop at every turn. They are happy to serve, a perfect service is part of their products. Customers on the other hand are expected to follow various, sometimes even unspoken, rules in return. Even in empty crosswalks they wait until the lights go green. Of course there’s the occasional badass here and there. One night we went to the supermarket and I was confused on how to check out the items at first. It turns out that the clerks will only scan the items and receive payment, each customer was to pack our plastic bags individually.
There’s a fascinating contrast between automation and their hospitality. Vending machines are everywhere providing easy access to commodities such as drinks. Even shops have vending machine-style ordering stations. They are there to make the menial processes much faster. Once the order is served, though, you are treated to a freshly cooked meal done with care. People and their tools work together in unison to make life easier.
The Tokyo Underground; the train networks. What a megastructure. The beating heart of Tokyo’s transportation system. A hallmark of Japanese technology and efficiency. From the little details such all the disabled and blind street markers, the station officers that you can ask help from in every corner, accurate information boards and announcements, conveniently placed benches and vending machines. To the huge trains that run swiftly through its tracks. Everything goes together like clockwork. There may be a crowd people but they all keep moving. Nobody is slacking aimlessly and clogging the walkways. The Japanese are in constant motion in these stations, mindful of everyone else who want to be on time.
That may be about it for the highlights of the trip. Some things that won’t be forgotten soon. For more photos and videos, I was keeping up live threads of each day on twitter. https://twitter.com/i/moments/937029834378584064