Tokyo's irresistible charms

Tokyo's irresistible charms
A pedestrian walks past a window display of a clothing shop at the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo.

If quirky Tokyo were a person, I would crown it Ms Congeniality and Ms Civility. It felt almost unreal that this congested city of 35 million people could produce unbelievably polite and considerate people I had the good fortune to meet.

As I made my way around Tokyo's sprawling subway network, I witnessed civilised conduct more times than I could recall.

Used to Singapore's overcrowded MRT trains, I was not as amazed by metropolitan Tokyo's sheer number of grey-suited executives pressed flat against each other in the trains. Even as more bodies rushed into the impossibly full trains, they readily stepped aside for others to board or alight.

It was surreal.

I recall many other instances of Japanese civility, like automatically keeping left while riding on escalators in the subways and shopping malls.

Another day, a restaurant did not have the food item I wanted (I could not read the menu which was in Japanese). The young chef-owner walked me to a nearby café he knew would have what I wanted, and then left.

In this way, Tokyo is atypical and unlike the busy metropolitan cities I have visited. The pulse of the city is palpable. It is always busy and crowded, yet strangers think nothing of helping, when approached.

It is as if its people subconsciously rally together in some sort of unprompted campaign to please and ensure visitors have a good time in their city. It did not matter that few spoke English, and some, none at all. It was enough that they were concerned and eager to help, when asked.

Where words failed, I gestured with my hands or gleefully pointed at pictures and signs. Saying "sumimasen" (excuse me) and "domo arigato gozaimasu" (thank you very much) never failed to elicit appreciative smiles all around.

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