Tokyo as seen by a tourist 1 year ago today

There is no denying it: I find Tokyo fascinating; The future of my industry and the world of Blade Runner and ShadowRun incarnated.

I first visited Tokyo in 2009 with my wife and we both loved the place. So alien from anything we had experienced before. We returned in 2010 on a budget and met up with Otaku legend Danny Choo as well as Linkedin connections Megumi Oyanagi and “OsakaSaul” Fleischman.

In 2011 we decided to visit again, this time with a good friend, Phuc Van Dang, who had never been to Japan before. All planned and well under way…

11/03/2011: Japan’s most powerful earthquake since records began struck.

…We still decided to go ahead with our planned visit. After all, it was planned for the 23rd of April, over a month later.

Having not been to Japan before, our friend didn’t really notice the change, but for us Tokyo was a city changed.

The most immediate and visible difference was that the big, vibrant neon lights had been turned off to save energy. Some had been switched on again by the time we visited. Shibuya crossing looked close to its old self but other places there where uncomfortably dark patches in the walls of neon lights.

And the population had changed. The first couple of days passed before I saw single other white person. That had not been the case on previous trips where I was actually surprised at the number of foreigners roaming the streets of Tokyo both tourists as well as residents.

However, whereever we went we were met with the same friendly attitude and supreme customer service, which was a great relief. The Tokyoites seemed to have moved on from the disaster or at least they were putting a very convincing face on.

In fact, speaking to Akira Nishitake, a Japanese artist friend, it seemed that the single worry on the Japanese mind at the time was the effect the looming energy crisis would have on air condition units in office buildings. I have not experienced Japanese summer, but I have heard it is very hot. So hot that some Tokyo-based companies had decided to relocate to other places in Japan fearing the potential of facing a summer without the trusty air con.

We had a wonderful two weeks of holiday in great company with both old friends and new friends. But the single image that stay with me from this holiday is that of empty restaurants.

Almost every restaurant we went to was empty of customers, which always brought the reality back to us: This was a people who was suffering and who either didn’t feel like going out due to personal experiences during the disaster or who felt it was inappropriate to go out as it could be seen as not caring for the suffering of fellow citizen.

Empty Restaurant

Today Japan has moved forward. How could they not? But the there’s still a lot of work left to do. If you want to help I recommend buying QuakeBook –  A Twitter-sourced charity book about how the Japanese Earthquake at 2:46 on March 11, 2011 affected everybody living in Japan.




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