We have now been  in  Japan for three full days and I have to say that I am impressed with just about everything about the country – at least what I have seen and experienced.

The people are non –interfering and somewhat reserved – in part because of limitations with English – but they are respectful, helpful to the extent they can be and have a strong civic sense. The city – to the extent that we have seen it has to be one of the cleanest cities I have seen. Brito, the day we arrived, said the Japanese strive for perfection and he is right. As I mentioned previously, Tokyo reminds one of Manhattan where everyone walks and the use of cars is limited to the occasional use of taxis which are expensive. There is a heavy reliance on public  transportation with the Metro and Japan rail both of which are super-efficient and extensive with frequent service – in the case of the metro, literally every two  minutes or so and in the rush hour, every 30 seconds! The carriages are very clean unlike what limited experience we had in NYC – the stations are also very modern with everything automated.

It is rare to see an overweight, let alone and obese Japanese person and this applies to the young, middle aged and elderly. This is probably a combination of factors: the diet – they don’t seem to eat much in terms of portions, the diet seems to be focused on protein and less on carbs with a lot of seafood. The other factor is the level of activity – like in the case of Manhattan people seem to walk a great deal and driving is relatively uncommon. Finally, I am sure that genes play a part but when you consider that Asians who move to the West tend to be heavier, it would seem that diet and lifestyle are more important factors than genes.

 I am not one to notice people’s attire but even I was struck by how well dressed women are in Tokyo – I’d call it casually elegant. One rarely sees a slovenly dressed person. In our wanderings we have yet to see any evidence of homelessness. At the same time houses and apartments are small and even tiny by American standards.

Tokyo  is an expensive city – comparable to Manhattan or San Francisco – and for anyone who wants to visit Japan be ready to spend money because it is not a place where one can stint and then enjoy oneself. We are spending two weeks here which is financially practical only because for about 2/3 rds of the time we are going to be in  Tokyo staying with Lekshmi and Brito and so we are spared the cost of a hotel – which given we are here during “Golden Week” hotel prices almost double. Also, be ready to do a LOT of walking – walking 5-8 miles daily is fairly routine and some of the terrain is slightly hilly. Clearly not a place for those who are not mobile or who would find walking to be a hassle.

Today we experienced their metro system when we took a relatively short ride and what I was told about the efficiency, cleanliness and the extensive network is so true. The guide on the city tour we took says  that punctuality is so prized that if a train is late by a couple of minutes, passengers are likely to complain!

A point made to us repeatedly is that the Japanese are scrupulously honest and the crime  rate is very low. We were told that you can literally leave your wallet or phone unattended and no one will steal it. Our guide who spoke excellent English told us that at a local restaurant which her friend owned, there were 22 tables occupied with diners and while  they were eating there was an earthquake and people ran out of the restaurant without paying obviously. But in the span of the next two weeks, every single one of the diners returned to the restaurant and paid the bill for what they were eating because they had not done so at the time. Remarkable by any standards. Similarly she said that taxi drivers are scrupulously honest and one does not need to worry about being cheated on fares etc.

We have met a few Westerners and they almost universally love Japan and some who came here for a short stint invariably end up staying much longer. We met this Western family on the metro – the wife and her young daughter were seated on a somewhat crowded train. The girl gave up her seat for Mini and the wife despite my protestation offered me her seat. The husband was from England and the wife was from New Zealand. They had come to Japan for a two year stint and ended up staying for ten years and counting!

2 Responses to “Initial Impressions of Tokyo”

  1. Peter says:

    Very interesting, and the traits – the honesty, punctuality and respectfulness of the Japanese. I wonder if using bicycles is common there, since you mention that people walk a lot. I have to say that, if the cost of living wasn’t as high as what seems to be the case … Tokyo would be a good place to visit. Wonder whether living out in the boonies of Japan is cheaper. Thanks for this blog, and keeping us abreast of what you are up to …. memories of places visited can be so fleeting, at least for me, that I can relate to this.

  2. Vivek says:

    Rana A, fascinating anecdotes. I’m so impressed by the honesty of the Japanese – imagine leaving a wallet or phone in a large metro like Tokyo and not having it taken.
    Look forward to reading more about your travels in Japan.

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