Tokyo: A place of people and propriety

Two things stand out in my memories from when I travelled to Tokyo in July of 2014. The rules and the massive amount of people who live and work there.

As soon as you walk toward the exit of the Narita International Airport you see a sign that reads, “Welcome to Japan. Please respect the rules.” The Japanese people love regulations and follow them even more determinedly than Germans. There are signs everywhere in Tokyo explaining and illustrating the proper behavior they expect citizens and guests of the city to follow. On the subway there are signs explaining that there should be no swinging from the handlebars, no whipping wet umbrellas around and hitting fellow train riders, no eating food or drinking alcohol, no large luggage, no public displays of affection, no loud music, no applying makeup.

The rules seemed never ending and once you exit the subway it continues. Clean up after your dog (or cat), walk on your left side of the sidewalk so as not to collide with oncoming pedestrian traffic, no smoking on the street, and most importantly, no littering.

Tokyo is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in despite the lack of public trashcans. If Japanese people have trash they keep it with them until they can throw it away at home or the office, unlike in the U.S. where some people think it is acceptable to throw bags of trash out of car windows. It is quite a feat that Tokyo is one of the cleanest cities in the world because with a population of over 35 million it is the world’s most populous metropolitan area.

Nowhere was the massive population more obvious than in the Shibuya shopping district. In Shibuya there is a crosswalk that is hailed as the busiest crosswalk in the world. Not only can you cross the intersection in a typical square shape, you can cross it diagonally, causing what one would expect to be sheer chaos, but somehow works with no pedestrians getting struck by cars. I crossed it multiple times, a blonde buoy in a sea of dark haired Japanese citizens, to achieve the closest sensation I will ever have to body surfing. You glide along, as the crowd becomes one giant amoeba that splits and reconnects to avoid a crash with other organisms.

SOC Tokyo2

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo is hailed as one of the busiest intersections in the world with approximately 100,000 people passing through the crosswalk each hour.

After experiencing the crowds of Tokyo, I realize the reason for all of the rules. Deprived of regulations, it would be impossible for the city and all of its inhabitants to function without falling into mayhem. So instead of fighting the rules or the crowd, I learned it is sometimes wiser to go with the tide.

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