The only practical way to move around Tokyo is its subway system, which is clean, efficient and fast – not to mention quiet.
I can hear the birdsong being played over the public address system, and announcements on trains are kept to a minimum by bright LED screens that show the next station and even indicate which direction I need to turn for my proper exit.
How would Tokyo function without its metro? New York, with its wide streets and countless yellow cabs, and even London, with its buses and bicycles, could perhaps manage, but Tokyo gives me the impression of running at peak capacity. Only efficiency allows it to survive. From everyone walking on the left, to lines forming exactly where the subway car doors open, I see people cooperating to make the best use of time and space. Even the quiet shows the consideration for other people in not talking on cellphones - the reason for the popularity of texting in Japan – or listening to loud music.
The result is a city that can pack a lot of people into small spaces, both horizontal and vertical, although it still covers an area of more than 2,000 square kilometers. That everyone seems to agree with the rules enough to follow them is remarkable for foreigners used to more anarchic societies.
“I lived in Vancouver for a year and I missed the punctuality,” says chef Munesuke Kamiya. “I’d have to wait 15 or 20 minutes for people or trains. So you can never plan properly. You waste time every day.” Kamiya-san has an upmarket restaurant, Gyotei Kamiya, near Akebonobashi in the eastern part of Shinjuku, famous for the world’s busiest train station and pedestrian crossing.
“I love Tokyo and could never live in the country because I hate bugs,” he says. “I would miss the efficiency as well as the food. The worst thing is the way old buildings are always being torn down to build new. We are destroying our history to build high rises that we do not need as we have a declining population.”
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