It is always a bit presumptuous to make impressions of a country after only seeing a small slice of one city. This is true especially when that city is a capital city, which often operates far differently than the countries more remote regions. Still, even with just a few days in Tokyo, a few first impressions have been made and has been a recurring trend of my first two and a half days in the city and likely to be repeated in the next three and a half weeks in Japan.
Incredibly High Population Density
Japan has always been said to have one of the highest concentrations of people per available land area. In fact, it is in the top 10 of all the countries in the world at 337 persons per square kilometer compared to 32 per square kilometer in the USA, ranking near the bottom. This high concentration of people, especially in Tokyo, has illustrated one fact very quickly: it is packed. Very packed. So packed that 90% of the time there is zero room on the subway, and the main underground stations are like mini-cities of themselves, taking over 15 minutes to walk across, and containing full shopping malls, food courts, as well as other services.
While getting out to smaller towns will help alleviate this problem, and Tokyo being on the extreme side of huge population densities, it is likely to be a recurring theme throughout the country. As one who does not like big cities, it has been daunting to figure out how to navigate the tight confines of the underground trains, as well as figure out where the heck you are relative to.. well, just about anything.
Old Meets New – Look Below the Surface
Tokyo reminds me of Cairo. The population densities are huge, highways are wide, and there is a general feeling that the city itself just doesn’t ever quit. Most buildings, especially residential, appear to be old and dated on the outside much like Cairo. However, unlike the Egyptian capital, Tokyo hides an ultra modern interior for those willing to find it beneath the surface. This was first presented to me while exploring the Shinjuku District of Tokyo, which to many is about one thing: electronics. Not just any electronics, hundreds of gadgets that wont be State side for years, all for reasonable prices.
The outside of the buildings do not give the district justice. Sure, the old buildings are decorated with Neon and advertising on any space possible, but the insides really shock the senses. For underneath the appearance of an old building, lies a 9 floor shopping mall of all things electronic. Not only this, there are multiple of these style buildings on the same street. Of course, like most of Tokyo, right next door is a random shrine, offering an odd juxtaposition of old meeting new.
Itadakimasu – Please Serve More!
Food lovers dream anyone? Two days in Tokyo has already introduced me to a brief, but all encompassing cross section of Japanese cuisine. Hiroshima style Okonamiyaki? Tried it, loved it. Osakan style Takoyaki? Yep, delicious. The list goes on and on. Traditional style seating is available at full establishments, or you can do like the masses do with street vendors, eat around back on children’s stools and small tables in the blistering summer heat.
I was initially prepared to be shocked at the price of food, hearing horror stories about ridiculously expensive meals. Figuring Tokyo would be the most expensive, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was only spending around $8-$10 per meal for a medium sized portion that included meat and a beverage (often water). Sure, its not a feast for $4 like I’m expecting in Thailand, but a full meal for under 1000 yen is a win in my book. If only the rest of Japan can follow this trend.
While not all of my first impressions are very pleasant, I am rather pleased with how Japan has been treating me so far. I am hoping that the crowds will thin out some in the other cities I am visiting, but my instinct is telling me that this is not going to be the case. Luckily I can spend that time when I’m crammed like a sardine in a train car day dreaming about playing with some new electronic gadget or eating another okonomiyaki.