Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The age old question enters the mind when one contemplates one aspect of life in Tokyo / Yokohama: The Almighty Station.
Go to most any area in Tokyo / Yokohama and you’ll find that the most commercially developed area is the 駅前ekimae (the area in front of and immediately surrounding the station). Read an advertisement for a business and it will invariably tell you how far on foot that business is from the nearest station or stations. NOVA my former employer was so particular about this that it even incorporated 駅前 into its name. Convenience-wise this is optimal. As a selling point, here in Japan, it’s invaluable. Proximity from the station can directly affect profits.
I catch myself wondering from time to time which came first the station or the 駅前. Probably the station…
NY, however, is not so station-oriented. Development takes place everywhere almost irregardless of proximity to trains. Maybe its because trains cover almost every inch of the city or because, overall, there is such a relatively small area under discussion.
Manhattan might be the biggest city as far as business is concerned because of Wall Street, but size-wise and even population-wise, it is inconsequential compared to Tokyo. Grand Central Terminal or even Penn Station ain’t got
nothing on Shinjuku Station or Tokyo Station. Penn Station, which I used to think was ridiculously overcrowded, sees 600,000 people a day while Shinjuku Stations sees about 3.22 million a day.
Shinjuku Station si basically a city unto itself.
What this means is you might find extremely important institutions in not especially convenient areas in NY. For example, look at the United Nations (Though it isn’t actually in NY, but basically a country unto itself.) It is a good 10 or 15 minute walk from any subway. (I should check, though. NY changes so damn fast I wouldn’t be surprised if they built a monorail from Grand Central Station to the UN by now)
The impact this has on life in Japan is this: though you may not be able to find any damn addresses in Japan, you can always, ALWAYS, find your way out of a place. The neighborhoods are like toilets (immaculately clean toilets) and the station is the drain, so almost all traffic leads to and from the train. If you need to find a station, follow the crowd or cyclist (or in the evening walk the opposite way) and you can’t go wrong. At least I haven’t in 6 years.
And, if you’re driving, well, god bless you and keep you cuz I haven’t even attempted it in 6 years…for one reason. Actually two reasons.
1- The trains go everywhere so you really don’t need one…
2- That Left – Right thing
Yes, this is another big difference between the design of NY (and most any other city in America) and Tokyo / Yokohama (and most any other city in Japan)
I never really thought how challenging life must be for left-handed people living in America. Most everything in America is conceptualized, manufactured, and designed with the right-handed person in mind… Actually, not only the right-handed person, but the, I don’t know, right-minded person. And, growing up in this kind of environment trains your brain to think right is right, and left is wrong or at least awkward.
It becomes a problem once you move to some left-leaning country like Japan where not only are the steering wheels of cars on the left (wrong) side but so is the traffic, which seems to be going the opposite (wrong) direction. The latter causes (or caused) a bigger problem than the former. Ontop of that people tend to veer left. Escalators are left oriented (at east in Tokyo / Yokohama they are…I noticed it was right oriented in Osaka / Kyoto.) I’ve heard that samurai wore their katana (swords) on the left side which might be partof the reason why. They certainly weren’t part of the Commonwealth (former British colonies) which today most of the left leaning countries are or were part of. Also, the British technically assisted japan with the construction of its first railways.
Statistically the ratio of left handers to right handers is the same worldwide with right handers outnumbering left handers considerably. So I don’t know why Japan continues to be so left-oriented. The impact on life here is I have to think twice and stay alert at all times. My right trained brain, even after 6 years on this left brained island, still tends to veer me right. When I cross the street for example I tend to look for danger to my left (cars come from the left in the US) but that first step has been a doozy a number of times, so often that I’ve compensated by giving equal diligence to both directions, something I never had to do back home.
And while I’m on the topic of remaining alert at all times, I should mention (and I’m sure i have in earlier posts) that Japan in general is designed with either shorter people or the act of bowing in mind. Clearance in doorways, for example, is something that my brain refuses not to take for granted, no matter how long I live here. For some painful reason it refuses to accept that Japanese dwellings, businesses and even mass transportation are not built with my specifications in mind. Maybe I’m just being stubborn or it’s some kind of subconscious form of self torture…
Whatever the reason I have to force myself to remember to bow whenever I enter a room in most dwellings or even board or exit a train. That 6ft- something looking doorway should have a sign hanging from it saying low clearance (and maybe it does…I still can’t read fluently, but I doubt it.) I can’t allow myself to be distracted or a painful collision will result. I’m still involved in these head-on collisions at least once a day (down from an intolerable number) immediately followed by my version of a Homer Simpson “DOH!!” (a blood curdling “FUCK ME!” or “This FUCKING country!”
…scaring the shit out of the Japanese around me…that is, the ones not laughing their asses off (-:
coming soon: part 3 Transportation