Lessons From Tokyo
Updated: Jan 26
Traveling to distant lands is the dream of many, the reality of few. Hopping on a plane and waking up on the other side of the world used to be the musings of science fiction fans. Walking the same streets as emperors of 1,000 years ago seems absolutely unreal. We are doing all of these things, and more, vacationing in Japan. We have only been in Japan for a few, very long, jet-lagged days. Around every corner is a surprise. Around every corner is something I have learned, or been reminded of. Here are a few of my lessons from Tokyo:
1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is a lot here that is modern and new. But there is a whole lot here that probably hasn’t changed in ages. Like the way they prepare miso soup. Or the Oedo subway line. Or the fish market that has been in the same spot since 1935. If it works, let it be. It doesn’t improve just because you add technology to it, or make it bigger. It changes. So leave it be and enjoy.
2. More is more. Ancient Tokyo was called Edo and in the 18th Century, it was the largest city in the world - by far. It had an estimated 1 million people, the next closest might have approached 500,000. Tokyo is not the largest city anymore, but 18 million people (nearly 35 including the suburbs) makes it a pretty crowded place. It feels like every sporting event just finished and everyone is rushing home on the train. But it feels like that all the time. Even at 8 on a Sunday morning. Clearly no one put a cap on the population number. Just build more apartments, open more restaurants, use space more efficiently, and make room for more. Strength in numbers and power to the people.
3. We can be polite even in a hurry. (I’m talking to you, New York.) Due to the sheer volume of people, everything we do involves some sort of line, and a wait. I expected to be rushed through a transaction, or sighed at due to our lack of Japanese proficiency, or hurried down steps or through meals. But there is none of that. Each transaction is handled in turn, kindly and efficiently. Meals are prepared with care, bowed before and served. Nobody shoves past you or cuts you off as you board trains or narrow escalators. Seats are always given to elders. Smiles are offered with broken English. It works.
4. When in doubt, look up. There is only so much land, only so much street space. We are accustomed to searching for restaurants along the sidewalk storefronts. In Tokyo, everything is stacked up. We have to stand back and look up to find our destination as it may rest on the 4th floor, or the 20th, which is the case with our hotel lobby. Look up. Not only might you gain a new perspective, but you might even find what you are looking for. Imagine if we always decided to keep our heads up when searching for the answers.
5. Mind your trash. There are no trash cans here. At least not on the streets. The streets are relatively clean. Frankly, the subways and train stations are impeccable. (I’m talking to you, San Francisco.) Trash that you make belongs to you, to carry around until you find a place for it, which is not the street. Recycling is everywhere. Napkins and straws are nowhere. Trash is put in its rightful place. If Tokyo can do it, any city can, too.
6. We are not alone. I actually can’t believe how many people are here. Tokyo must loosely be translated to “land of millions”. And it has not taken my family long to register that our little bubble in California is just that - a little bubble in a whole bubble bath. We are just a few of the many out there. And if we can remember that, then maybe we can start behaving with everyone’s best interests in mind. Our needs are certainly important, but not any more important than countless others. Our unselfish efforts to take care of the planet and each other are the recipe for long-lasting success. Tokyo can be our guide.