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P4110142Tokyo 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.

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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.

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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 :)

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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...

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 ...and sometimes you dont even know how, you suddenly get from here...

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...to here. The city skyline also features green parks with pagodas, lakes, trees and most importantly peace... 

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...Buddha statues...

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...and an occasional geisha :)

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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

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 :)

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STOP

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...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...

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...or run into the train (try that in rush hours)...

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...and better don't stick your fingers between the train doors (who would have thought that)...

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...keep out, don't rush, don't smoke, don't be impolite...

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...don't worry, be happy, and keep your hands safe...

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...had enough? Hold on, there's more!

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In case you didn't know, you should be extra careful when riding escalators in vinyl shoes.

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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.

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...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!

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 At this point, you may have contemplated alternative means of transport instead of trains. Well...better think twice :)

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Next part: Reign of machines in Japan...

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