By Brian Pasch
Having completed a full day in Tokyo, my first time in Japan, I decided to share a few of my initial reactions of the city. Connor and I will be in Japan for a full week. Tomorrow we will take the fast train to Hiroshima, and later in the week visit Kyoto before coming home. Connor wanted to go to either Japan or China on his Spring Break from High School, so we chose Japan.
The direct flight from Newark New Jersey on United was about 13.5 hours. When we landed Connor was very tired so our first day was nothing to brag about, since he slept the day away. However, today we had a good day in the city, visiting some popular spots using the Subway and taxis.
Since I have traveled around the world, I thought it might benefit others by sharing my first impressions of Tokyo.
- It is very odd to see so many people wearing surgical masks. – I would say that 30-50% of the people walking around town, and 10-30% of the guests in the hotel are wearing white surgical masks. I “googled” the reason and its a mix of being health cautious and being anonymous. This was very hard for Connor to understand and made him feel very uncomfortable. When you see so many masks on people it makes the people of Tokyo seem ice cold, regardless of their intent.
- There are too many police, crossing guards, and government workers on the streets. – In the area of our hotel there are two police officers on every street intersection of any size. There is an over abundance of street crossing guards, safety officers, subway guards, and police in this city. Many of these people carry wooden clubs; go figure! For a US citizen, it almost feels like a Police State. The irony is that people are so well behaved in this country, the police seem like over-kill in this situation. In the end, its just creepy for me and Connor.
- Subway Communications Are Repressed– I traveled on the Tokyo subways and no one on the trains said a peep. It was like a library. Was I visiting a repressed society where everyone has their own private space? Travel on a subway in Italy, and you will have foreign musicians playing songs for money, people chatting on phones, and people laughing with friends. There is no passion visible on Tokyo subways.
- It’s not easy the exit the subways. – I know that this seem odd but I have traveled around the world and have used public transit in the biggest cities in the world. However, in Tokyo, it is not easy to get out of the subways. The signage for English speaking visitors is not very clear. We did eventually figure out a way to decode the signage but this city is not English friendly.
- The Food Is Not That Expensive – If you don’t eat in the Westernized hotels, food prices are very reasonable. For example, a basket of friend chicken in our hotel (3 pieces) cost $27, which is very high. However, a full Sushi dinner and beer at a local restaurant can be purchased for $25. I was warned that food prices were high but in fact, if you are willing to eat with the local people, you will find the prices very similar to the United States.
- Americans are Welcome in Tokyo? – Outside of the hotel, there was no one that said a word to us on the streets, subways. taxis, bars, or in stores that we visited. There was a young lady that wanted to speak with me late on Saturday night when I was walking back to the hotel, but I think that was for a special reason. Tokyo, unlike cities in Europe seems to want to ignore American guests; maybe the language is too hard for them to communicate?
Keep in mind that I have been to Singapore, where that country embraces and welcomes American visitors, so I am not just going through culture shock.
On a positive note, the hotel that we stayed at, The Capital Hotel Tokyu, was outstanding. There were a number of great restaurants nearby as well as a Starbucks! There was also an Illy Cafe nearby, which was a great reminder of how much I miss Italy.
I hope that the other areas of Japan are a bit more welcoming, but I will write about the entire trip when I return. The best part of the experience is that Connor and I have a week alone, without any other distractions. That in itself is priceless!
P.S. Updates from Hiroshima and Kyoto
Here are a few more observations that are very positive about the Japanese culture, and I really liked Kyoto!
- Japanese people seem much healthier than the general US population. More people are walking, riding bikes, and look in decent shape. In fact, the parks are loaded with runners.
- The streets are extremely clean and there are many people sweeping and washing the streets and sidewalks every day.
- Litter is almost non-existent and this is a striking contrast to major US cities.
- The restaurant prices for food are less than what I would pay in Europe, which makes the dollar seem stronger.
- It was very hard to find a US based ATM (Visa) machine in the busy city of Kyoto. So, get cash when you can because I had to walk 10 minutes to get to an ATM at a local post office in Kyoto.
Brian Brian Pasch, CEO