Tokyo is without a doubt one of the most interesting cities in the world and also one of the most overwhelming. Returning to Tokyo after 8 years was a bit of a funny experience because in the months leading up to this trip, my memory kept telling me that Tokyo wasn’t nearly as interesting as the rest of Japan – that it’s just a huge busy city. I even started to think that perhaps I didn’t like Tokyo very much. But as soon as I arrived, I was charmed (though still overwhelmed) by its lights and people. And I knew that my remembered impression had been wrong. While visiting is something of a whirlwind, the idea of living in Tokyo now doesn’t seem quite as farfetched. Here is why.
Being in Tokyo feels like being in the world of Blade Runner. Like it’s almost impossible for a city so advanced to exist on our timeline. It can best be described as an extremely orderly chaos. Everything is busy, and there are a million people crossing any given intersection at once. And yet, it’s juxtaposed with so much organization and efficiency. When you have to wait, the wait is orderly, and the line moves fast. Whatever you think fast food is in your country, it’s 100 times faster in Japan. Even the busiest places, like the train stations, are kind of peaceful because they’re extremely quiet. Everyone is so concerned with being considerate and respectful of others that even with as many people as you encounter, there are never any reasons to get annoyed or exasperated.
That being said, as someone who generally hates people, being surrounded by massive crowds all the time can get to be a bit much. I had several moments where I felt completely overwhelmed in the busy streets of Shinjuku or trying to figure out the Tokyo train station. It also feels like there are always multiple bright and distracting advertisements playing at full volume at once. The city can be a lot.
The best part of Tokyo is the food. Though the popular restaurants and cafes have long lines or require advance reservation, there is almost no bad food in Tokyo so you really can’t go wrong. Tokyo has the best beef in the world, the best sushi, the best noodles, the best street food… the coffee could be better, but the lattes are so damn cute that you forgive them for the quality. The Japanese are culinary masters, so eating in Tokyo gives you the feeling that every meal you have is the best meal you’ve ever had.
Certain parts of the city are also fully open 24/7 – we arrived at 6 am and had ramen for breakfast in Kabukicho. And if you find yourself in a pinch, many convenience stores, like 7-Eleven or Family Mart, are open round the clock. And the food in Japan is so good that 7-Eleven sushi is better than most of the sushi you’ve ever had in your life. And the actual best sushi I’ve ever had in my life is open in Tokyo until 5 am. So not only does Tokyo have incredible food, it has this food available at any time.
There is nothing the Japanese do better than convenience. The transportation system in Tokyo is so vast and extensive that there are at least two or three routes to get from any one place in the city to the other. The trains come often and are easy to use. The one downside is that the city is so huge that it does take a bit to get from one neighborhood to the other. I’m so spoiled that I consider anything longer than 15 minutes on the tram to be too far. So having to take two or three subway lines and spend 40 minutes in transit to go to dinner might be too much for me.
Another way life is convenient in Japan is all the automated processes that limit your need to interact with people. Despite being extremely crowded, Tokyo is full of people who want to interact with others as little as possible. So there are a lot of self-service machines, and restaurants where you order from a machine.
Public bathrooms are ubiquitous and squeaky clean, and there is so much thought into making restrooms private and comfortable. Aside from a toilet seat warmer, all toilets are equipped with a bidet, a deodorizer, and noise-making functions to obscure embarrassing sounds. By comparison, leaving Tokyo and flying into Paris with their disgusting bathrooms and lack of organization felt like being dumped in a third world country.
I feel the same kind of kinship with Japanese people as I do with the Czechs because we share similar values. I, too, would rather die than inconvenience anyone. And society just works better when everyone feels the same way and behaves accordingly. Everything is designed with people in mind, which limits situations in which you might step on anyone’s toes (literally and figuratively).
People treat each other with nothing but kindness and respect in every interaction. The American culture I was raised in treats respect as something reserved for high-status individuals, which is why Americans think it’s okay to treat anyone they think is beneath them like shit. But in Japan, everyone is treated with an absolute reverence regardless of whether they are a high-level businessman or a garbage truck driver.
Total Livability Score 6/10
Though I may not necessarily want to live there forever, I think I would like to live in Tokyo one day… maybe only for a few months before I return somewhere less hectic.