NYC vs. Tokyo / Yokohama part 2

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…

Penn Station New York

Penn Station New York

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

Grand Central Terminal New York

Grand Central Terminal New York

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 any time of day

Shinjuku Station any time of 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


13 Responses to “NYC vs. Tokyo / Yokohama part 2”

  1. 1 jturningpin
    June 4, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    That pic of Grand Central freaked me out. I imagined there’d be a heck of a lot more people. Just going through Ikebukuro Station here is enough to give me the day terrors sometimes; hell, one time when things were really crowded due to a 人身事故, I saw a fellow foreign devil freaking out inside one of the station offices screaming, “This isn’t how things work in a civilized country!”

    Of course, he sounded like he was from the U.K., so maybe they freak out more than us ‘Mericans who just drink too much and blog out their rage.

  2. 2 XO
    June 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Wow, you are doing more parts of this series? That is so cool! By the way, the 2nd Ave subway will be a couple of blocks from the UN and it will be done in 2018.

  3. June 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks XO! Yep, a brother ain’t done yet…thanks for the suggestion.
    Damn, you gotta love NY! It only took them 50 damn years to realize the Far East side needed a train line…(They tore down the EL that used to be on 3rd Avenue back in the 30s and 40s I think. I used to be such a train otaku when I was a kid so brace yourself for part 3 (-;

    Yeah JT, us Yanks just refuse to kneel and suck on it quietly and gratefully don’t we? LOL

  4. 4 matic
    June 5, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I dig the write up. No question about Tokyo having infinite times more people going in and out of stations compared to NYC. I thought I was living in the fast lane city in NYC until I visited Tokyo. It is INTENSE there. But I love it.

  5. 6 XYD
    June 6, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Loco…look at the bright side, at least it didn’t take NY that allotted time to think of having the whole state of California a train line. I mean the only thing that we have cross cities to SF and going South is Amtrak, other than that, nothing. California is a little bigger than Japan, yet, it doesn’t have a train systems stretching many miles throughout like Japan has… and we are talking about one of the states that have the U.S. stay afloat (unfortunately… California is in a deficit because of state spending habits)

    • June 6, 2009 at 8:41 am

      La has a subway now right? and SF has BART don’t they? I know they are not as extensive as NYC Subway but LA is as big as Tokyo….

  6. 8 XYD
    June 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Yea SF has BART and LA has some subway I believe, while Sacramento has lightrail. The only problem is that when I compare how extensive the whole of Japan is in relevance to California when it comes to trains going through. Japan beats California easily because California isn’t really connected when it comes to a transportation system using trains. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use a train system to just go all throughout California? Even the countryside’s and not just Amtrak -.-……. which only goes from the west part of Sacramento,LA, SF and all the way south to SD (Like one straight line sorta)

    And like I said, California is a little bigger than Japan, yet we don’t have an extensive system that encompasses the region like Japan has. Japan’s targeted projection is to get it through Foukouku, Ehime, and a little bit more of Hokkaido, and they are doing it fast.

    I guess I am just a big fan of the train system because I see it both commercially as well as financially helpful. Helpful for the citizens of California and draw in people from abroad to sight see California and not just SF, LA, SD and the many other major cities. and I would love to be able to travel on such a system instead of beating traffic to get a job (You know … there are many people from SF that lives in Sacramento because it is cheaper but work at SF for their jobs.)

    • June 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

      I agree, and fortunately so does President Obama (god I love saying that) As part of his economic recovery plan he is going to work on US infrastructure focusing a great deal on train systems so you (or california) may get what you need. As far as this entry is concern I just wanted to address NY and Tokyo / Yokohama, not national because frankly I don’t know much about it…but my sister lives in the Bay Area so I knew about BART, and I saw that Keanu Reeves movie with the runaway bus with a bomb and Sandra Bullock on board and at the end he’s on the subway in LA hehehe

  7. 10 XYD
    June 6, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I will never experience something so crowded unless I travel hahaha. But I really do hope Obama continues with the project though.

  8. 11 Jim McDonald
    June 6, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Loco, you just haven’t been here long enough. After a while, say 10-15 years, you’ll get used to checking right first when you exercise a New Yorker’s god-given right to jaywalk. And you ought to try driving; it’s not half as confusing as you might think (although I have to admit that every damn time I go to the US I flip the wiper lever when I’m planning a turn, then do the same damn thing for weeks when I get back here).
    And, really, Japan’s stations may have more people, but nothing comparable to Grand Central’s main hall.

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June 2009

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