Walking in Tokyo vs. Walking in NYC

As a life-long New Yorker, I am intimately familiar with living in a major metropolitan area where walking and mass transit are the norms. However, every time I’ve been to Japan, I’ve found myself at odds with Tokyo’s pedestrian traffic. Despite the fact that I should be accustomed to large crowds, something is perpetually off—as if I’m constantly on the verge of bumping into others.

What I’ve come to realize is that there’s an inherent difference in how New Yorkers and Tokyoites walk in large crowds, and in a certain sense they’re somewhat opposed to each other. So for those who are traveling to Tokyo and feel overwhelmed by all the people (and bikes!) seemingly on a collision course with you, this might prove useful.

One inherent difference is that people in New York City tend to walk on the right, while in Tokyo it’s common to walk on the left, but that doesn’t explain everything. Imagine an ideal situation where pedestrian traffic is flowing through like a two-way street, with an invisible center line roughly dividing the two groups traveling in opposite directions. Take two people walking on opposite sides towards each other. What happens?

NYC-style walking

In New York City, the common tendency is to avoid the center line as much as possible. The two people will see someone headed their way, and will begin to drift away from that center line to avoid accidentally bumping into each other. In my biased perspective, I consider this “normal.” Moreover, while I don’t think NYC is as rough and unforgiving as is commonly portrayed on TV and in movies, you really don’t want to inadvertently start a fight.

Tokyo-style walking

In Tokyo, however, there’s a tendency to gravitate towards that center line as much as possible. If there’s something in the way, they’ll snake around it, hugging the “curve” so that they can get back towards the middle. I’m not really sure why, though I’ve noticed that people in Tokyo take less issue with accidentally crashing into someone. My (unsubstantiated) theory is that people in Tokyo develop a tendency to head towards their destination (e.g. the train platform they need at a station) in as direct a path as they can manage, and that means staying along the center line instead of deviating from it.

Another possibility is that bicycles are allowed on sidewalks in Tokyo but not in NYC, so it might be part of the natural way to avoid bikes. Whatever the reason, walking in Tokyo and not being aware of this can make it seem like folks are constantly making a beeline for you. You’ll think you’re gonna run headlong into someone, only for them to stop at the last second and make a sharp turn to avoid you.

This post has been based largely on my own experience, as well as from talking to people who have been to or live in Tokyo. If you’ve had a different impression of pedestrian traffic there, feel free to chime in.

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Waku Waku +NYC Blog: Top 10 New York Anime and Manga Characters

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I wrote a post about my favorite anime and manga characters from New York City. You’ll notice that many of them are orphans or something like that.

Thinkin’ Thoughts

Getting anime and manga merchnadise in the Netherlands is actually not that difficult I’ve learned, particularly when you live closer to the bigger cities. Though a lot of material is in Dutch, because a lot of people here know how to read in English already a lot of it is also imported from the US. I could be in worse situations.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss New York City and the amazing amount of access I can get with just a short train ride. When I think about how to spend a summer day in New York for me, it involves going to Kinokuniya first, followed by Bookoff (or vice versa), and then moving on to eat at Go Go Curry. They’re all around the same area so it also makes for an enjoyable walk. The sheer weight of my bookbag as it’s stuffed with manga is also a strangely pleasant and familiar feeling, and even reminds me of my high school days. It’s even more fun to relax on the train ride back, preferably with friends, just sharing everything we got while simultaneously peeling off layers of Bookoff price tags (those things tend to accumulate as the same book gets resold over and over).

Perhaps the New York routine is special mainly because it’s where home is. Probably if I gave myself more time here (and actually went to Amstelveen), I could build up a similar routine, but for now I’m content to wait for the moments I go back.