Tokyo left a big, eye-opening impression on me. It’s a city comparable to New York, with the same tall buildings, the same dense population, the same traffic, the same busy streets, but the people make all the difference. Japanese people are courteous, polite, patient and friendly no matter what. Unlike the honking, swearing, cursing, pushing and jaywalking New Yorkers. Tokyo is busy and bustling but there’s a sort of serenity; it doesn’t make you anxious. I can only imagine how much New York has affected my personality after living here for 13 years, how hard and impatient I’ve become. Being in a city full of happy, smiling faces made me realize it CAN be different.
For starters people in Tokyo stop at each traffic light until it changes. Even if there’s no a car in sight for miles they will stand still, wait and then cross en masse. Signs in the subway say: Do not rush. People walk. They walk fast, but they don’t run. Taxi drivers are actually nice people. The doors open and close automatically so there’s no slamming them or accidents. When you look lost, people will stop and ask if you need help. They will even go as far as to escort you to your destination and carry your suitcase. Tokyo feels safer and cleaner than any big city I’ve ever been to. People don’t eat or drink in the streets. I didn’t see one trash can; I had to go into a store to dispose of my coffee cups. And when they smoke, they gather around a row of ashtrays or inside a covered smoking area. I also didn’t see any homeless people, which I suspect is not an indication that there aren’t any…
I only scratched the surface of what Tokyo has to offer. I didn’t see one temple or shrine, no park or markets. All I did was shopping, shooting and eating, which are all sublime, must-do experiences to begin with. When you shop in Tokyo you have to look up. They might look like ordinary apartment buildings on the ground but a lot of them will have businesses on higher floors. There’s a million department stores, each floor filled with mini-shops for different designers. And in each one the cute sales girls will greet you with a friendly ‘welcome’ so you end up smiling and bowing the whole way up. It’s an exercise in courtesy.
The day after FNO a friend from New York asked if I wanted to join him to the Onsen hot springs in Hakone. We took a train 1,5 hours West of Tokyo, towards Mount Fuji and arrived in a tiny mountain village. It looked like the Japanese version of a Swiss Alps resort, minus the snow. The leaves were turning and it was very foggy that day so the town was veiled with a Sleepy Hollow kind of mystery. The hot springs were located on the side of a hill inside a wooden building complex. To enter you have to wash yourself and strip, women and men separately. Then you can go in the outdoor pools of hot or cold water. It’s relaxing and invigorating at the same. Afterwards I had an hour massage. Then we ate sushi made with local ingredients. And then we took naps on these mats inside a dimly lit room. I passed out completely; the highlight of my day.
Tokyo is an incredible city but it’s the people who make it. I could spend another month there, roaming the countryside and crisscrossing nearby cities. But most of all I’d just like to soak up more of the friendliness and patience. It would make me a better person.