The streets of Tokyo are crowded. Bicyclers, walkers, shoppers, tourists, police, and traffic directors all converge onto the sidewalks in astounding numbers. More people on the sidewalks of Tokyo than in London on a busy, sunny summer afternoon. Watching out for bicyclists proved to be most challenging for me; second nature to residents, however. We saw no collisions during our 16 days in Japan, and we heard only one car horn in those days.
Of note on the streets and in the shops and restaurants of Tokyo – all of Japan that we visited, actually – is the politeness of the Japanese people. While I can’t say we were greeted with warmth, our questions were answered with kindness, directions were given with consideration and care to ensure we understood, and none of my attempts at speaking the language were laughed at. Apparently, my request for a glass of water, please, was understood well enough that no one asked me to repeat myself. Sincere patience with tourists was evident at all the sites we visited.
The trains of Japan are crowded. But it is such a pleasure to travel by train throughout the country that if I were a resident, I would not own a car. The trains are comfortable, impressively efficient and dependable, and clean! Even morning rush hour on the Tokyo trains (couldn’t be avoided) are not as stressful as some of the bus rides I have had in Seattle during mid-day. Packed together with just breathing room between each person, all passengers were quiet – no loud conversations on a phone or person-to-person. Many people slept, some slept while standing up (impressive!), and when a passenger deep in the crowd needed to disembark a group of people moved aside in one motion so that the passenger was able to leave the train quickly. Nicely choreographed from years of practice.
Most impressive and memorable was the contrast between city and garden. Step off the busy street and into a garden – be it large and historic or small and part of a neighborhood shrine – and the feeling is of entering the past. The quiet is immediate and gentle; the air filled with soft fragrance and smooth breeze; muted color and subtle shadow fill the space. Close your eyes for a moment, and the world is as it once was – a garden.