As far as good blogging is concerned, my trip to tokyo could be considered a massive fucking failure. I barely went to any museums, I barely went to any bars (somewhat by design) and I barely saw any landmarks whatsoever. I did however not encounter a meal I didn’t like while I was there (gastronomical tourism for the win).
So what the fuck did I do while I was there?
Mostly, I wondered around.
And it was glorious.
I don’t really know if I enjoyed it so much because I was finally out of China or because it was genuinely just a great place to do it in. I suspect a combination of the two, but leaning heavily on the former. But Tokyo makes a good point of comparison regarding how good city planning can make a city so much more accessible and enjoyable, particularly for the pedestrian.
We begin with the sidewalks. Admittedly, China had developed a bit of a bike share problem while I was there, and this cluttered the sidewalks with literal piles of pikes that no one wanted to take care of. If it wasn’t that, sidewalks in China are often used as parking for other vehicles, including cars. It is also a driving lane for cyclists too lazy or stupid to not drive on the fucking road like they are supposed to. Add pedestrians to the mix and the fact that the sidewalks in China are fucking miniscule, and you spend any given time that you are walking dodging obstacles and fretting for your life.
Sidewalks in Japan are wide, open, clean and uncluttered. Amazingly enough, even at the most crowded downtown locations you never felt swamped by the amount of people at an intersection. But another seeming paradoxical advantage to wider sidewalks is that they help you notice the buildings around you. If you are walking down a very narrow sidewalk there is something of a corridor effect, and you end up focused only on the path in front of you. You don’t notice those things at your side. However, in a wider space, you pivot, you walk in zig zags, you look around yourself, and you notice those stores that flank you.
Another thing to consider was urban density. Most cities struggle to make their outlying neighborhood interesting as cities expand, and Hangzhou seemed to be no exception. What little there was to see was stuck in the rather compact city center, and once you got even a kilometer from it there was pretty much nothing worth seeing around. All there was were block after block of the same uninteresting poorly constructed high rises.
I don’t think I got to know Tokyo well enough to do anything approaching a fair comparison, but from what little I saw the individual neighborhoods had something of their own to offer. The city had a bit of homogeneity to it, unfortunately, but as I walked about it seemed like every kilometer or so I encountered something of note.
Pollution was obviously something that was much better in Tokyo than in Hangzhou, but I don’t think I need to expound more than a few words to explain that to anyone.
Everywhere I have lived, I have enjoyed walking around. China was the first place I had lived in where I had absolutely no incentive to ever leave my house. Tokyo was a welcome change for me, and a much needed transitional step to going back to living in America.