Arriving at Haneda airport on a slightly overcast Wednesday morning was not the most auspicious way to enter Japan for the first time but even in my severely sleep-deprived state there was still a sense of excitement in the air. I had made it. Finally after literally years of false starts I was in Tokyo and ready to lap up the experience.

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Like scenes from Sofia Coppola’s wonderful ‘Lost in Translation‘ Tokyo was a dizzying rush of new sights and sounds which at times could be quite overwhelming. From the viewpoint of a Brit who lives in China the temptation to make comparisons is unavoidable but Japan really is a completely different kettle of (raw) fish. Whilst wandering the streets I jotted down my first impression on my iPad (of course) and before I get into the full flow of recounting my many stories I thought I’d share them here:

  • Everyone is extraordinarily polite & go out of their way to help – I would only have to stop and look at my map for someone to ask if I needed directions
  • Everywhere is spotlessly clean and tidy – street workers and citizens clearly take a lot of pride in diligently keeping it this way
  • The trains and busses run on time and are barely ever a second early or late – how they achieve this I have no idea but it was might impressive
  • Bus drivers give a constant running commentary on what they’re doing (“I’m about to stop… turning left…”) – strangely robotic and creepy
  • You’re not allowed to make phone calls on public transport although people are constantly on them sending messages – near silence is maintained
  • Japanese salary men all wear the same black suits and carry the same black bags – uniformity seems to be the group mentality
  • Japanese women range from extremely avant-garde to minimalist fashion tastes, wear heavy makeup and many smoke
  • Japanese kids are very well-behaved and very cute – the streets are so safe parents let them walk to school alone
  • There is no free wi-fi anywhere – you need to have a subscription to get online which is highly annoying for travelers
  • At tourist sites you don’t find any tacky souvenir stalls (that I saw anyway) – everything was pretty tastefully presented
  • Shop assistants are constantly smiling and always seem to be in a very cheery mood – they don’t try to follow you around
  • Almost everything is super expensive – at least if you’re used to China prices, probably closer to London in this respect
  • There are vending machines on almost every corner selling just about anything you could imagine
  • QR codes seem to be on everything – from tickets to advertisements they allow people to scan them with their phone to get more info
  • Chocolate bar shaped flip phones are still in vogue although the number of people flaunting iPhone 4s was staggering

It’s easy to generalise when you only get to experience something for a short period of time but Japan was really quite remarkable for a first-time visitor. In the coming weeks / months I’ll be posting in more detail about the different places I visited, from the raw urban energy of Tokyo to the zen gardens of Kyoto with plenty of photos to illustrate. Watch this space!

Comments

  1. Tom F says:

    Hurray, looking forward to your posts on Japan. From what I’ve read it is a place of endless fascination 🙂

  2. Martin says:

    Good read

    Thought I’d post my observations:

    1.100 yen shops are ubiquitous
    2. Getting a haircut is very cheap!
    3. Noodles, ramen noodles. What an invention
    4. Seasonal foods, people are obsessional about this
    5. Uniforms, everyone will own some kind of uniform, trust me.
    6. For a very wealthy country, the banking system is somewhat primitive by western standards.
    7. Identity, be sure to observe regional identity. IE Osaka, Tokyo. Fascinating differences emerge

    • David says:

      Hi Martin – thanks for posting you observations, they’re are great 😀

      I was particularly interested in no.7 – care to elaborate on the differences between regions?

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