Thursday, 10 June 2010

Tokyo: My First Impressions

Tan Tai Hiong: Tokyo: My First Impressions
Today at 6:40pm

Visiting a new place is always an interesting and enriching experience, especially if it has a different climate, people, and culture. While for the citizens or frequent visitors to a place take everything for granted, it is definitely still an eye-opening experience for someone new to it.

This is my very first visit to Japan, it’s only for a four-day meeting but the meeting is certainly an important milestone for ASEAN-Japan relations in terms of trade in services and investment area. OK, put this aside, as well as the glitch in hotel reservation problem, the experience in the city is definitely exciting and I can’t refrain myself for not writing down my observations of this vibrant city. Here we go, these are what I find:

1. Ultra-efficient and hi-tech society

The hard working trait of Japanese is well known since long time ago. In this modern age, I find them always up-to-date with all the latest available technology. The taxi drivers are always equipped with GPS tracking system to find places and get there quickly. The hotel people are well aware of latest weather forecast before we ask, and are always able to tell us how to go to places we want most efficiently. Local shops and small restaurants are equipped with vending ticketing machine. The list continues.

By the way, my hotel room is so small, which is common in Tokyo anyway. But I’m amazed by the way things are arranged and packed in the room. It packs so many facilities, and still comfortable!

2. Fashionable yet tense and serious-looking community

You walk around the city, take the train, everywhere you go you will find that women and men alike here are very fashionable. They seem to be very appearance-conscious people: not only clothing but also body shape, hair style, everything related to the looks. Definitely plenty of good looking women and men here. Most people move around during work days in very formal suit and attires. Just like in New York City. Most of them, however, seem very serious and tense, unlike the more relaxed society in other part of Asia (such as in Southeast Asia here). Pity them?

3. Friendly, helpful, and honest people

Despite the notorious atrocities of Japanese during the 2nd world war, as well as the behaviour of some Japanese behaviour abroad, the people I encounter here are very friendly, helpful, and honest. When explaining direction, the people here will do extra work make sure that I go to the right direction. Taxi drivers and shop owners will not try to cheat you. I hope I’m not just lucky.

4. Multiple-story homes

I haven’t spotted any single-floor homes yet. All the homes and buildings I see around all have many floors. I was told there are some, but they must be very rare.

Almost all people in Southeast Asia here live in single-floor homes, and I know the majority of them have the ego of requiring ownership of a land.

While living in multiple-story homes may not be the most comfortable way of living, I seriously think that cities around the world need to consider converting to multiple-story homes. As population grows, more single-floor homes will just consume more and more lands. And the earth won’t grow bigger. So we will keep eating out lands necessary to preserve the environment. We need more lands for greeneries, not buildings.

5. Bicycle culture

Bicycles are ubiquitous here. Almost can’t spot any motorcycle. Bike lanes, bike parking lots and facilities are everywhere. Some businessmen ride bicycles to work wearing suites. Mothers go around carrying kids using bicycles. Some use road bikes, some use city bikes, some use folding bikes. Special section on bicycles books in the bookshops. The list continues.

Seriously, I think all cities in the world need to have more and more bicycles. Stop being snobs requiring only the most comfortable and most expensive cars. Bicycles emit zero pollution, takes much less space (reduce traffic jam), and are healthy to ride. We still need cars of course, for transporting many people and cargoes for long distance. And I believe experts are developing greener cars technology. But for bulk of personal transport, bicycles are really the most useful and efficient vehicle.

6. Umbrella park

Only first time I spot existence of such thing. Buildings here (may be not all?) are equipped with facilities for us to “park” our umbrellas upon entering the buildings. We just click-it there, pull out the key (tagged with numbers). That’s it. Self service. Nice touch.

7. Local foods

I never enjoy Japanese foods before. Until I get here. As usual, I always try to find opportunity to eat where the locals eat. This time I didn’t have local friend accompanying me, so I did have language problem. But once I get the food, it tastes so good! The rule remains: eat where the food originally comes from, cooked by locals for locals.

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