We spent a couple of days last week in Tokyo and I was struck by the contrasts I saw there.
I was amazed at the extent of public transportation available from the bullet trains to the Tokyo Metro. It’s hard to deny the advanced technology present in the Japanese rail system. I don’t think I have seen anything quite so well organized or as integrated outside of perhaps the densest cities in Europe.
For instance, in the Shinigawa station, where we were, they had multiple bullet trains, many different metro lines, and multiple express trains to nearby locations. All located within walking distance within a single station.
I was also struck by the orderliness present within the chaos. We weren’t necessarily taking transport at rush hour, but there was a mass of people moving throughout the station, whenever we were there.
River of people
It looked to me like a river of people going in all different directions, like currents or eddies in a stream – moving around obstacles, forking off to one track or another, with counter streams at least as busy, going in an opposite direction. I guess I had a unique vantage point due to my height but all I could see was orderliness, constant movement and people moving with purpose and calm detachment.
No litter, anywhere
The other thing I found interesting is that there was absolutely no debris on the streets. Masses of people moved through the streets and stations every day but the grounds and roads were spotless. The streets were cleaner than most small cities I have ever seen.
Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and most other major American cities look like trash heaps in comparison. I don’t know what it is about Japan, its people or culture but they obviously care about the way their city looks and try hard to keep it clean.
But office culture endures
On the other hand, Tokyo and perhaps all of Japan still remains stuck in the American office culture of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. As we rode the trains throughout our travels, one could see floors of cubicles, full of workers.
I suppose this is present in any major city throughout the world today, but it seems like telecommuting is not available in Japan. Perhaps this has something to do with their compact dwellings, their culture and/or environment, which requires more face to face time between management and employee. But to my mind this seems counter productive and old world. Note, I may be biased telecommuting from my home day after day.
Nonetheless, I was very impressed with what I saw of Tokyo and the people there. They seem to understand how to co-exist peacefully with high population density and to efficiently move their population wherever they need to go. America should aspire to do as well.