Business trip to Tokyo - part 3: New vs. old in Japan
Tokyo is the biggest and probably one of the most overcrowded cities in the world with a rich history and numerous peculiarities of its own. It's full of rules, restrictions and signs ensuring that the mass of people is capable to coexist in such dense living and implements various means and tech gadgets to ease the chaos resulting from "unnecessary" human contact. No wonder about that. Tokyo (or Edo, as it was originally named until less than 150 years ago when it became the imperial city and official capital of Japan) was inhabited by over million of people already by the end of the 18th century. Although the emperor still remained in Kyoto, Edo was a de facto capital and trade center since the line of Tokugawa shoguns declared the city as their headquarters.
Heavily destroyed twice during the 20th century, after a strong earthquake in 1923 and later the 2nd world war, the city of Tokyo was fully rebuilt, more or less delicately combining the aspects of old and new, traditional and modern. The city has preserved its genius loci, and it keeps its antique appearance despite being crisscrossed by railways and expressways and dotted with skyscrapers all over. The narrow streets with typical architecture surrounded by the pulsing, modern city around them maybe what makes Tokyo so popular among tourists.
Typical rice wine barrels in front of a typical building and details that blend old and new.
Crime rates are extremely low given the number of inhabitants in this metropolis. You don't need to be afraid not to lock everything up; your stuff is usually right where you last left it.
Even the grocery stores feel, well, traditional, with goods often displayed outside, right on the street. No security around. The Japanese culture relying on rules and manners simply doesn't expect you to do something as incomprehensible and low as shoplifting :)
Religion has a huge say in terms of traditions. Displays with wooden plates at local temples or little papers where people write their wishes and prayers are a common sight around the city...
...and sometimes you dont even know how, you suddenly get from here...
...to here. The city skyline also features green parks with pagodas, lakes, trees and most importantly peace...
...and an occasional geisha :)
Tokyo is indeed one striking city with its specific nature, business opportunities and experience it provides, mainly to "Western" people. Knowing different cultures and how people think are key issues to mutual understanding, in both human and business relations. Here at idioma, we are fully dedicated to help you with understanding different cultures and markets and expand your business thanks to a localized message. Learn more at www.idioma.com!
Business trip to Tokyo - part 2: Reign of machines in Japan
Tokyo is a dynamic city employing various means to manage and transport the millions of people existing within. An elaborate system relying on manners, politeness, discipline and perfectionism prevents the most overcrowded capital in the world from bursting into mayhem. Apart from the rules, demonstrated virtually on every corner by enormous concentration of signs with orders and warnings (see Part 1 of this story), Tokyo – just like the rest of Japan – implements technology and machines to accelerate, minimize and automate almost every imaginable (and unimaginable) activity.
A stand-alone category are Japanese trains and train networks, considered the most elaborate and fastest on the globe. It is not uncommon for Japanese employees to commute very large distances thanks to high-speed rails and trains (and that's also maybe why so many time-killing tech gadgets originate from Japan). After all, if Japanese would prefer car transport to trains, the islands would probably turn into a gigantic, constant traffic jam.
If you have an affinity for cars with no desire to experience the delights of the intense train transport and people pushers, you're bound to come across several peculiarities. How about horizontal traffic lights or "car traps" in parking lots that just won't let you out unless you pay to be released? Pretty smart.
If you need to refuel, don't get upset about the missing stands, just look up. There's another machine to assist you :)
...but if you look up in open streets, you will immediately notice the omnipresent electric cables in thick, yellow bundles. Technical progress takes its toll.
No car? No problem. Two kids to carry around? Still not a problem! By the way, the bike is electric – machines take over everywhere. Also, there's arguably not a lot of mothers who would have the steam to pedal up a hill with two kids aboard.
Another chapter in Tokyo are vending machines of all kinds. From the very common machines selling drinks or packed snacks, you can also buy hot burgers, living crabs, umbrellas, toys, even gold. Yes, the metal. On the street. From a vending machine. The idea is to automate the selling process and remove the "unnecessary" piece in the delivery chain – personal contact. There are fast food joints and restaurants in Tokyo that have removed the front-desk and service entirely, just to oblige their customers through an impersonal interface of a machine. Machines are our new friends!
...and in case you wanted to store your luggage, it requires a higher technical education :)
In contrast to highly elaborate technology luring around every corner, it's fascinating to observe how state-of-the-art machines blend in with culture and traditions thousands of years old, but no less visible for that matter. More about the fusion of old and new in Japan is coming soon in our blog :)
Business trip to Tokyo - part 1: Japanese Signs
Given idioma's headquarters are in Tokyo, this happens to be a common business trip target for our managing director in Prague. Despite being used to the different culture after years of living in Japan, visiting Tokyo after a longer period of being exposed to Central European free-thinking can still strike hard. On the other hand, it's interesting to perceive how cultures are literally clashing. Behold, Chapter One from a manual of "How to overwhelm your average tourist in Tokyo": Signs.
Love and signs are all around
Roads, sidewalks, walls, glass walls, doors, windows. The Japanese sense of manners and organisation demonstrates throughout the need to organize and structure as many activities and processes as possible.
Of course, there's nothing strange with signs painted on roads, at least not when they relate to traffic – such as prohibiting pedestrians from blundering into unwanted places. But how about a sign painted on the road, prohibiting you from smoking on the open street in four languages (Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English)? Let's try to find similar one, say in Vienna or Paris :)
...and in case you were distracted and missed an announcement, they repeat at very short intervals, even onto benches and walls. Very expressive visuals ensure you understand even if you unable to read Japanese.
Never let you down
One could consider this cultural difference as a helpful aid that never lets you down if you possess the ability of reading. A true sign paradise (or better said hell) lurks in train or subway stations and the never-ending passageways. They appear one after the other, each one eager to deliver its own specific prohibitive or directive statement, and it can sometimes be hard to keep track of all the well-intended signs.
Don't stop here...
...or run into the train (try that in rush hours)...
...and better don't stick your fingers between the train doors (who would have thought that)...
...keep out, don't rush, don't smoke, don't be impolite...
...don't worry, be happy, and keep your hands safe...
...had enough? Hold on, there's more!
In case you didn't know, you should be extra careful when riding escalators in vinyl shoes.
Now this one actually helps if you're not familiar with local customs. Japanese drive as well as walk "British-style" and you do want to keep to the left on escalators, walkways, in staircases or while walking in crowded corridors as long as you don't want to be frowned upon. After all, Japan is the land of politeness, and when in Rome do as the Romans do.
...spekaing of politeness, did you ever switch on the "Manner Mode" on your phone when getting on a train or bus? When commuting in Japan, dive into your phone's mode settings and then hold on!
At this point, you may have contemplated alternative means of transport instead of trains. Well...better think twice :)
Next part: Reign of machines in Japan...
Hanami - the celebration of spring
Every year, spring in Japan gives an energy boost and invites to festive get-togethers. Spring in Japan indicates change with new beginnings and endings. The business year and even the school year both end in March and begin anew, fresh in April – around the same time as the cherry tree, Sakura, blossoms. It is a season where college graduates say their goodbyes and the young work force begins new careers. People across Japan wait for the Sakura to bloom in their region. The Sakura Zensen, or “Cherry blossom front”, indicates in what regions in Japan the Sakura is blooming. Naturally, the flowers start blooming from the south as it gets warmer, working their way up to the north following each of Japan’s islands in her archipelago.
Defend your spot under the tree!
As soon as the Sakura blooms in their region, people are quick to reserve a spot under a tree so they can gather for a Hanami, “flower viewing”, together. You will see one blue plastic sheet after the other spread out under every Sakura tree as far as the eye can see. Many families enjoy the scenery during the daytime, relaxing and enjoying the warm sun-rays and cool breeze. University students, particularly freshman, get together and try to get to know each other, breaking the ice with stuttery introductions. And then there are all the company workers, men and women alike, who are ordered to find a spot for their company, waiting alone under the blooming trees to secure a good spot before it is taken by somebody else. Almost unimaginable to the western mind, this waiting can last many hours and even days! Then after work, when all the coworkers are available, they gather to eat, drink, play games and sometimes even sing together. This goes on well into the night even after dark. If they run out of food or drink, they call the local pizza or sushi delivery, and use GPS coordinates for the point of delivery…
Spring celebration at the cemetery
Some people even bring private electric generators and floodlights so they can enjoy the Yozakura, “cherry blossoms at night”. Aoyama Bochi, the big cemetery in Aoyama in central Tokyo, is a famous Hanami spot and extremely popular for its Yozakura. The cherry blossoms are especially pretty at this sacred place, and throughout the night you will see many people gathering. Being a cemetery, there are graves everywhere but it doesn't seem to bother anyone. People enjoy Hanami, celebrating their goodbyes and new beginnings with those who have long since passed away.