One thing that has really delighted us on our travels is the fact that our assumptions about a place have very often been completely wrong (particularly in Asia). We thought Taipei would be dirty and crowded. Wrong—Taipei is a clean, modern city that holds it’s 2 million residents comfortably. We thought China’s streets would still be swarmed with bicycles and people wearing Mao jackets. Wrong again—the rising middle class here means there are more cars than bikes, and most people have discarded the drab Communist-era rags for any and every patterned and blinged-out piece of clothing they could get their hands on. And we thought Tokyo would be a huge, crazy metropolis. Take a wild guess if we were right or wrong on that one.
To be fair, I guess in some ways, Tokyo is sort of crazy. I mean, there are a lot of people, especially around Shibuya and Harajuku.
The difference is that Tokyo doesn’t feel chaotic at all. Perhaps this lack of chaos owes itself to the fact that the Japan is such a rules-based society, and the rules here say that citizens should be orderly and polite, treat others with kindness and the utmost respect, and speak in a low tone of voice. In fact, we can’t get over how quiet it is here! No honking horns, no blaring music, no clanking of wheels, no sounds of construction. Granted, our aural radars might be off a bit after China, where someone turned the volume up to 11, and then broke the knob off.
This is one of the most delightful things about Tokyo—how peaceful it is for a big, cosmopolitan city. And, similar to our reaction to Taiwan after SE Asia—it’s just so civilized here! I mean, the taxi drivers wear full suits, hats, and little white gloves! There are little lace covers on the seats, some taxi drivers give you free lollipops, and the doors even open and close automatically! Now that’s classy!
From the back seat of a Japanese taxi.
But of course, we don’t like Tokyo just because it’s quiet (that was just the icing on the cake). Make no mistake: Tokyo is a beautiful, vibrant city…
…full of little quirks and oddities…
A pachinko parlor in Tokyo. Pachinko is a strange gambling game that looks like a pinball machine; the player shoots a ball straight up into the machine and depending on where it lands, you can win more balls, which you can trade for tokens, which you can then trade for cash at some other location (gambling is illegal in Japan, so this is how they circumvent the laws).
Women walking through the gardens near Meiji jingu.
…and funky people, who take care in their appearance, whatever that style happens to be.
Kitty cat girl in the Harajuku area.
It is a city that delights in technology and innovation…one look at their toilets, and you know that they are light years ahead of us in the States. Toilets in Japan come with some serious functionality: automatic open opening and closing of the lid. Bidets with varying levels of pressure. Fans and heated dryers (for use after the bidet). Automatic flushing. And (our favorite): some toilets even play music, or a “flushing water” sound, so that you can do your business without worrying that the person in the stall over will be disturbed by any, um, noises.
Despite this fascination with all things new and novel, Tokyo still manages to preserve it’s traditional culture. We saw women getting on the high-speed bullet train in their kimono and dessert chefs checking their cell phones in between hand-rolling Japanese-style candies. And it seems, to the outsider, anyway, that this balance between the new and the old is preserved without tension, and without feeling contrived. It is simply Tokyo doing what it does best—embracing it’s Japanese-ness with dignity and delight, and welcoming you along for the ride.