I was reasonably prepared for a place where people drive on the left side of the road (thanks, anime!) though it’s still something of a shock to see oncoming traffic in the right-hand lanes. I was not prepared for a place where people walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I didn’t realize how ingrained “stay to the right” was in me until I discovered that doing that means finding a lot of people in my way. I’ve been repeatedly having to remind myself to move over. Of course, it also didn’t occur to me that as a pedestrian in Tokyo, it matters where the cars are going, too, so I’ve been surprised not just by my fellow pedestrians and the bicyclists and scooter-riders on the sidewalks, but also by the drivers around me when I cross the street. That’s a potentially dangerous kind of surprise…

It’s good to have an illustration that personal space is culturally defined. My fellow sidewalk occupants, whether on foot or wheels, don’t seem to mind getting close to me as they go by, but every time they do I get a little more jumpy. Together with my confused instincts about which side people will pass on, this hasn’t been entirely ideal for my state of mind. I’m getting used to it though. Going home will probably be briefly painful as I adjust again.

I would never have guessed I’d have trouble with doors. While automatic doors in the US are mostly found in large grocery stores, malls, and other major places of commerce, they seem popular here even in little restaurants on the street. And while American automatic doors either run all the time or use a motion sensor, I’ve encountered two other options here: the push-button on the door, or the pressure mat in front of the door. Embarrasingly, both have been a challenge for me.

Even on large, busy streets, cars routinely park in the outer lane of traffic. As far as I can tell, nobody minds much.

I found a line of parked cars today, mostly occupied by people sleeping, occasionally with door open and limbs hanging out. Taking a nap by the side of the road seems not uncommon.

There’s an elementary school just outside our hotel! I’d wanted to see one, since I can’t believe the depiction in anime is entirely representative, but this one escaped my notice until today I happened to be sitting in the hotel room when a bunch of children went outside for what I suspect was gym class. Particularly surprising to me: the reason I could hear them so well was that they were playing on the roof of the school. I guess when you don’t have much land, you use every flat surface you’ve got? On my walk today I found a second school, with a large group of students sitting in orderly rows in the field listening to some sort of lecture from an instructor with a booming voice. He had a megaphone but he wasn’t using it, and really didn’t need to.

Yesterday in meandering around the streets of Tokyo I stuck to major roads so I wouldn’t get lost. Today, emboldened by yesterday’s success, I went for smaller side streets in the hopes of getting a better feel for life in this city. I suspect I’d discover a lot more surprises if I lived here a few months, but I found several in a few hours:

Many streets that look barely wide enough for one American car are two-way streets. When drivers need to get around each other they seem to be pretty good at getting out of the way and waiting their turn. It’s common for pedestrians and bicyclists to be on these narrow roads too, and the handful of encounters I’ve seen seemed quite graceful. In fact I can only recall one driver honking, because a pedestrian stepped out in front of his taxi on a busy street. I’ve heard quite a lot of emergency vehicle sirens, though. They don’t sound like the sirens in the US. They do sound like the sirens in anime.

Recycling and garbage are left at the curb, but at dedicated “Recyclables and Waste Collection Points”, which I spotted every couple of blocks or so.

Tokyo is more hilly than I expected. Just another thing I didn’t think about. I saw one woman about to bike up a steep hill I had just walked down; I thought she was crazy until I heard the electric motor on her bike kick in.

Am I in an area occupied mostly by rich people? (Near the Chinzan-so gardens, in Mejiro.) Few houses seem to be in disrepair, most cars I’ve seen look like what I would consider a luxury car in the US, and many houses have elaborate (if generally small) gardens. Or perhaps these are people of more ordinary means who place priority on having a car with leather seats?

Am I in an area occupied mostly by printing presses? My wanderings have taken me past more places with the sound of large presses running than any other single type of business I’ve noticed. Maybe it’s just selection bias because printing presses are loud?

A token mention of the vending machines is in order here, because the only reason I haven’t been surprised at the proliferation of vending machines on the streets is because so many other people have been surprised at seeing them. Like everyone says, there are vending machines everywhere. Most of the ones I’ve seen were for soft drinks or bottled coffee; some, for cigarettes. The more surprising goods have eluded me so far. I suppose I could be surprised that the tales of panty vending machines are exaggerated.

There are uniformed people on the street in quite a few places, who seem to be there mostly to direct traffic when needed, and I guess to give directions? I talked with one such fellow on the street in front of the hotel, in my stilted Japanese since his English wasn’t very good. It turns out that he, at least, works for the hotel. I wonder who employs the rest, as I saw them on small back-roads in low-traffic residential areas. Once he’d established that I have a camera, he suggested a place I could go take pictures, but I couldn’t understand the directions well enough, so I just walked down the street in the direction he pointed and found a nice pedestrian bridge to catch the traffic below from.

I think maybe I’m running late for meeting Sarah for dinner, so until next post… あとで!