Tokyo alone boasts a GDP of 1.9 trillion USD. Its obsession with detail and discipline brings it 226 Michelin starred restaurants in 2015, 132 more than its nearest rival, Paris.
The doors close in synchrony with the platform edge barriers as the crowds meticulously complete their boarding exchange. This is not always the case, though, as during rush hours, Railway Pushers are hired to pack people onto the train by squeezing them from the outside, sometimes with a giant shovel.
Aside from those who board from the airport stations, passengers are mostly in their 50s, dressing in dark overcoats, brown derbies, and leather briefcases. Most stare at their smartphones while others read manga, all sporting a certain poker face lowered intently to avoid eye contact. Nobody talks. It is as if everyone onboard is united under the sole purpose of listening to the ceaseless bombardment of wheel squeals.
Home to 35 million people, Tokyo boasts a GDP of 1.9 trillion USD in 2012, which is more than the GDP entire of countries like Canada or South Korea. It hosts the third largest stock exchange by market capitalization. Its research university, University of Tokyo, ranks best in Asia and 21st in the world.
Its obsession with detail and discipline brings it 226 Michelin starred restaurants in 2015, 132 more than its nearest rival, Paris. In 2020, it will be hosting the Summer Olympics for the second time, the first Asian city to do so. What is most impressive is that all of this is achieved within the span of three generations, after firebombing raids by United States Army Air Force destroyed most of the city in 1945.
Streets sprawl endlessly over the horizon, contouring cascading layers of concrete houses and skyscrapers. Lights flicker in codes of a cultural undercurrent cognizant only by the truest Tokyoites.
Together, those companies operate 882 interconnected rail stations in the Tokyo Metropolis serving 40 million daily passengers. A glance at the railway map is enough to get a sense of the engineering magnificence and the efficient coordination of this political, economic, and cultural centre of Japan.
Traffic flows like rapids through the formidable architectural gorges. Streets sprawl endlessly over the horizon, contouring cascading layers of concrete houses and skyscrapers. Lights flicker in codes of a cultural undercurrent cognizant only by the truest Tokyoites.
I stare into this panoramic blur poeticized by Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. So this is what Bob Harris saw when he arrived Tokyo in that black taxi.
It wasn’t until the Meiji Period that Tokyo’s urban planning began a rapid process of Westernization, culminating in the city layout and high risings that delineate the modern skyline we see today.
Then there is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a solemn and majestic structure that splits into two towers from the 33rd floor to the top (48th floor), offering a splendid view of Tokyo and Mount Fuji. It is designed by Kenzo Tange with a Modernistic interpretation of a Gothic cathedral.
And of course, who can overlook the breathtaking beauty of Tokyo Midtown – a mixed-use commercial tower owned by Mitsui Group, one of the largest keiretsu in Japan – and its $25,000 USD per night Ritz-Carlton Suite.
They were single- or two-story wooden houses with tiled roof, slightly elevated off the ground by stone plinths. Those townhouses, called machiya, were heavily influenced by construction techniques of China’s Tang dynasty. They coexisted in the city with temples and shrines as well as residences of the provincial Daimyos, the powerful lords of feudal Japan.
It wasn’t until the Meiji Period in the latter half of 19th century that Tokyo’s urban planning began a rapid process of Westernization, which, together with the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and WWII destruction, resulted in the city layout and high risings that delineate the skyline we see today.
Tokyo is the epicentre of a collision between two cultures that are polar opposites. Since 1853, Japan has been on a delicate quest to integrate Western influence into its national psyche.
At the same time, however, are the proliferation of indoor smoking and meal-replacement drinks. On top of that, there is a general lack of hand soaps in public area, with people assertively sneeze into open air.
Another example is the ubiquitous presence of convenience stores selling wonderful hot snacks and yet with absolutely no place to eat them. In fact, no one eats on the streets. Not in transit, benches, or anywhere in public other than in a restaurant. Figuring out Tokyo, or Japan for that matter, is like trying to catch an eel – the moment a clear grasp seems to be at hand, it slips away farther than ever.
150 years later, this distinction of East and West remains prominent in all aspects of Japanese life, from its immigration and refugee policy, zaibatsu and its reincarnated keiretsu, all the way to its rigid bureaucracy, arts, etiquette, and the Japanese language itself.
One only has to observe the dynamics between individualism and collectivism, tolerance of democratic expression and the lack of civil disobedience, and gender relations to see how there exist an unyielding tradition underneath the cloak of Westernization.