Tokyo and Osaka are two massive clusters of people living fairly close to each other. Tokyo is ranked as the largest metropolitan area by population in the world with about 32 million people, whereas the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area is ranked as the 9th largest with around 17 million people. It’s larger than any American metropolitan area with exception of New York City. Literally millions of people travel through the main hubs of these areas every day.
This naturally lends itself to a lot of opportunities to meet other people as well as explore pretty much any hobby you can think of. There are a lot of great restaurants in the area as well as museums and just plain random going-ons.
And Osaka people are especially well-known for being easy-going and relaxed. Maybe that’s one reason why most of Japan’s comedians come from Osaka, and why Yoshimoto (a famous comedy group) has done so well here. People just love to laugh and have a good time. (Not like those serious folk up in Tokyo j/k)
That’s why it can sometimes be a little strange to hear what one of the most common complaints about the Kansai area is. Especially since it seems like it would be common sense. What is that complaint?
Nobody Watches where they Walk
If you have lived in the area for awhile you might have noticed that some people are pretty oblivious as they walk down the street. Not everyone of course, just some.
For example, you’ll be walking down the sidewalk on the left and a row of people will be walking toward you. Some of them talking to each other, others politely listening to the conversation. And they won’t move to get out of the way until the very last moment. I’ve sometimes ran right into people because I’ve had to stop to the side and they just run into me.
So you could probably just right that off to the fact that they were having a really good conversation and just weren’t paying attention. Okay, that’s pretty valid. But let me give you another real life example:
I was on the subway, on my way to a date with my now wife. I was standing at the subway door looking out. The train doors opened and there she was, facing me. I gave her a big smile. She looked in my general direction, hopped on the train, and turned her back to me to face the door. It wasn’t until I said “Good evening.” that she recognized me and turned around.
Now I could understand this happening if say, I were Japanese and in a suit (like most of the other people on train at the time), but I was a considerably larger (even by US standards) foreign guy in casual clothes. I would think I would have stuck out a little bit.
Another slightly interesting phenomenon in the big city is when foreigners spot other foreigners. When we don’t know each other we tend to pretend like we don’t see each other. I’m not exactly sure why this is, we just do. I suppose it could be that residents here think other foreigners are just tourists because even in the big city, there really aren’t too many other foreigners on the street.
Okay, how about one more example?
One day, I was riding home from the grocery store on my ママチャリ (mamachari, I type of bike with no gears, and a basket in front). My front basket was overflowing with groceries and while steering clear of some pedestrians I managed to fall down into a planter. I crashed my bike, spilling most of my groceries all over the sidewalk. But, as I went to clean everything up nobody stopped to help.
And, actually, it didn’t even seem like they saw what happened. They just kept walking along. I mean, it wasn’t like they looked down and then decided not to help. It was as if they didn’t see anything.
Long time ago, when I first came to Japan, I started off in the countryside. One day, I was riding my bike with several bottles of wine to recycle. I went to pedal up a hill and the chain snapped off of the gears. I immediately went up and over the handle bars and skid on the sidewalk that was covered with the broken glass from the wine bottles.
I hobbled to my feet and within a few seconds a shopkeeper came out of her store to help clean up the glass and give me tissues. The next passerby I met told me to wait as he ran to the nearest drugstore and bought me bandages for my arm. I tried to pay him but he waved me off and went on his way.
My Two Cents
I think there is something about massive amounts of people being in a place that overloads people to the point that they almost literally don’t see other people. It’s as if seeing so many people is something the brain can’t handle and so copes by not tracking them.
I can certainly relate to this because when I go to places like Umeda, a very popular shopping area in uptown Osaka, I get tired within an hour or so of wading through the crowd. It’s like my brain wants to identify every person moving around me. I usually can’t be down there for too long.
I’ve also heard that the majority of people ‘sleeping’ on the trains aren’t really sleeping at all, but instead are closing their eyes to shut out the real world and all the people around them.
What about You?
Have you been to Tokyo or Osaka? What was it like to wade through all the crowds? Have you noticed this phenomena?