City Snapshot: TOKYO

In this regular series, I’ll be posting my take on some of my favourite world cities; a picture in 300 words from some far-flung corner of the globe.

I like being a foreigner in a foreign land. But these days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to feel like one, what with globalisation planting its branded stamp on every street corner from Barcelona to Bangkok.

Not so Tokyo. This city prides itself in being alien. If you’re an English speaker who doesn’t get Japanese, tough. No molly-coddling your western sensibilities here. Tokyo is Japanese with a capital と and you’d better get used to it!

This city is, in a word, ‘busy’. Relentlessly so. But not in the chaotic way you might experience elsewhere. There’s an order to the chaos here. With 9 million people scuttling through its arteries every day, jam-packed onto rush hour trains or zipping out of town on a Shinkansen, it works. Why? Because order to the Japanese is like eating is to Americans, swearing is to the British and striking is to the French. It’s part of the cultural fabric and often impresses. Trains run to the minute. Every time. And if it’s a minute late, there’s a humble apology from the stationmaster. One train I took from Tokyo was delayed by two hours and we ended up on the national news!

Tokyo is famous for its lights and that’s why Tokyo is best seen at night. But equally as dazzling are the sounds. Central Tokyo is noisy with jingles, songs and the bash-bash that emanates from games halls. And the fashion dazzles, too. Conformity – a big deal in Japan – is given a wide birth when it comes to clothes, especially among the young. You won’t see garb like this anywhere else. It’s ultra-cool and ultra, well, different.

Tokyo is simply one big assault on the senses. And if you don’t feel alive when you’re there, you’re basically dead.


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