After over 22 hours of flights, connections, and delays, getting dropped into the center of Tokyo is quite the experience. Regardless of your departure city, chances are that when you arrive in Japan, you’ll be somewhere cleaner and more efficient than you came from.
As we headed out of Narita Airport on the Narita Express into Tokyo city center, I quickly realized that this was unlike any place I had ever seen before. The train moves very fast, it’s almost dizzying. And despite being full during the height of rush hour, it’s fairly quiet. The only people you can hear are obviously not from around here. Because the sun sets so early in the fall, the windows are dark. But the closer the train moves to city center, the more lights streak past outside.
The train is elevated so there is city above and below you, which gives you the feeling that you’re flying through the kind of city that movies and television have taught us exist in the future. My boyfriend compared it to being in Star Wars and that’s a fairly accurate description. Tokyo is a few years and a few flying cars away from being Coruscant.
When I got off the train in the center of Shinjuku, I felt like a teeny tiny overwhelmed ant. It’s taller than any other city I’ve ever been to and it’s infinitely more impressive. I was reminded of one of the first trips I ever took to New York and the way I felt being in Times Square for the first time. Everything was bright and colorful and it looked like day in the middle of the night. My 18-year-old self was in awe. Central Tokyo is a little bit like that but instead of being packed into five impressive blocks, it sprawls and sprawls as far as the eye can see. You’re surrounded by giant buildings, the facades of which are moving neon characters. The scenery is punctuated by the occasional passing of a train either on street level or above it.
Below all the pulsing electricity are throngs of people – the kinds of crowds you see at sporting events and concerts. They’re out in the street moving every which way. It’s never more evident than when you’re waiting at one of the giant crosswalks of Shibuya and Shinjuku. When the lights turn green, hundreds of people flood the street going in every direction.
And somehow, Japan has almost no traffic. But I guess with trains so efficient, who would bother to drive?