Tokyo – City of contrasts

Posted by jerry on January 29th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

Tokyo is a city of contrasts. From its mirrorshades skyscrapers to pockets of human-scale tradition, it is a city well worth visiting. Unless you are just passing through, it’s worth finding accommodation as close in to Tokyo city as possible. Narita, the international airport is 80km from the centre – 90 minutes by bus (which costs Y3000 – or around AUS$30.00 – or ten times that cost by taxi).


The city has slightly grubby lived-in feel to it, as though it experienced a massive building boom from the 1960s to the 1990s then stopped. But despite the deposits of air pollution fallout the city is amazingly tidy. There is virtually no litter on the street, no wrappers, no newspapers or advertising flyers blowing about the street corners. And this from a culture that triple wraps everything in beautiful packages.

On the drive from the airport you can see where the people live – in block after block of 1960s apartment buildings, part of the post-war expansion and building boom.


With a population of around 12 million you’d expect the place to be crowded. But aside from rush hour, this is a city geared up to move people quickly and efficiently.

For a start there are the freeways that criss-cross the city, sometimes on three levels at once.


With that and a very efficient subway and rail system, the place is for the most part surprisingly quiet. The streets are not crowded. The footpaths are not filled with people, and there is a surprising feeling of spaciousness in the heart of the city.

And amidst the wide main streets and impersonal tower blocks there are everywhere pockets of traditional narrow streets on very human scale.



At first glance this is a city obsessed with food. Every few metres sees another small noodle stall or coffee shop. And for the most part the prices are cheap and the food is prepared with care and hygene. Most surprising is the plethora of coffee and pastry shops – delicious French pastries and rich smooth creamy coffee. The coffee prices run from Y300-Y500 (AUS$3-5 – not much different from Australia). And not once did I find burnt coffee. This is an inviting city 🙂

You could pick the good noodle stalls – at lunchtime they had queues halfway up the street. For Y500 you can pick up a delicious and beautifully packaged lunch. And there are plenty of small parks and quiet places to eat.


Then there is the noise, or lack of it – yes even on the main streets it is quiet enough to hold a conversation in normal tones. I heard only one vehicle horn during my entire stay, and no-one except the odd tourist raises their voice. This is a place that seems to respect peace and calm in the midst of activity.


This is also a city that invites you to shop – but more on that tomorrow!


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