People all over the world have seen photos of Tokyo’s infamously crowded streets and intersections. Movies have made crossings like Shibuya’s “scramble” well known. It’s crazy to think that hundreds, sometimes thousands of people cross that intersection every time the lights turn red.
Navigating in this city can be a pain in the ass. I don’t necessarily mean finding one’s way somewhere (which can be a trial in itself), but I mean the act of fighting against a horde of other people all on their own mission. I have noted over the last year the very different styles of speed and maneuvering I’ve found on these city streets, and I tend to strategize my path according to who I will be forced to interact with on the sidewalk.
Apparently late-to-the-office Salaryman (AKA all salarymen, unless they are on their way back from lunch) – There are herds of these men pouring out of every train and station from 7 am to 10 am. They are typically dressed in dark suits and apparently all shop at the same briefcase store. Rather than walk down the street, they seem to teleport from corner to corner because they are moving so quickly. They are the people I most desire to be following because they rarely get in the way. However, these men typically have longer legs than I do, so while I keep a pretty good pace, my short legs make me slower than them. Being trampled hasn’t happened yet…but it could.
The Obachan – The hardy Japanese grandmother fears nothing and no one. She will take to the streets of any city in any time in any conditions with her rolling suitcase and her bucket hat. She does not care if she gets in your way, and you had better not run into her, lest she call you on it and demand an apology (I have seen this). She is slow moving, and you cannot shove her aside without feeling some degree of fear, because while she is a painfully slothlike creature, she can use her secret grandmother weapon to bend you to her will (and make you give up your seat on the train): guilt.
The Lipizzaner stallion – These are women forced to walk like show horses because of their shoes. Depending on shoe style and gait, they may also be referred to as Clydesdales. Their shoe size is either horribly, horribly wrong, or these girls are absolutely clueless about how to walk in heels. When they’re not phony-smiling and taking tic-tac sized steps down the sidewalk, they’re wobbling and clinging to their friends for support. They are slow, their hair may actually be sentient, and they are either ignorant or uncaring of how ridiculous they appear.
The awed tourist – This is the person standing on a street corner with a map in his hands looking around at all the buildings in an effort to find some kind of clue he is in the right place. As a fellow foreigner, I do the concerned head turn and stare long enough for them to look up and make the “help me” face. I slow down and wait for an “excuse me, but…?” More often than not, nothing ever gets asked. These are families consulting the city maps posted in the metropolitan areas. These are people with zoom lenses in Harajuku. They don’t really get in the way. They’re more like roundabout art.
The parent-child escort – Mom or Dad is taking their kid to school. While sometimes one overhears some sickeningly cute dialogue by being near this escort in the morning, we must remember that the parent is only capable of moving as fast as the child is. I have already mentioned my own speed-limiting limbs, and were I half the size I am now, I would likely be half as slow. Add to this the two are usually holding hands. It’s a two-body wide, ultra slow moving sidewalk blocker.
The deliveryman – Throughout the day, delivery trucks run to businesses, shops, and residences. If you so happen to be attempting to pass an alley as a delivery truck is backing out, or as a guy in a striped blue shirt is wheeling a huge stack of packages in your direction, realize that you’re going nowhere for a a few.
The bored police officer – Like the awed tourist, they don’t get in the way much. At busy intersections the police officers occasionally feel as though it is their duty to stand at one of the corners and blow a whistle each time the light changes for pedestrians to cross. See, I was under the impression that the red/stop green/go light was built for this purpose, but I suppose I could just be missing something. These cops blow their whistle in time to the light as it flashes its warning before it switches back to red, too, just in case we can’t see it, I guess. The only way the police officers become an obstacle is when you’re sure one is watching and waiting for you to step out into the street just so they can stop you (which actually would give them something to do with their morning).
The BICYCLIST – This is my most hated adversary on the streets of Tokyo. They are relentless, inconsiderate folk, and if you ride your bike on the sidewalk of this city, I hate you. The streets are crowded, and if they’re not crowded, it’s probably because they’re tiny. But these bicyclists insist on riding their bikes down the sidewalk while dodging pedestrian traffic. They ring bells if they’re behind you to signal you to get out of their way. If it becomes apparent that an area is getting crowded, they will not get off the bike and walk it to a safe distance before riding again. They will instead maintain balance at a painfully slow rate of speed until they bulldoze people into getting out of the way. It is only a matter of time before I turn around and clothesline the next bicyclist who rings their bell at me to move.
All snarky comments aside (mostly), walking in this city is only really difficult in certain areas at certain times. For the most part, as long as you’re paying attention (which so many grocery store shoppers are not), you can avoid most of the traffic and make good time. The pace at which some people walk makes me wonder how they ever get anywhere – I can’t help but make fun of them.
…and their stupid shoes.