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The Japanese City: Modern and Traditional

By: Carrie Benson


            As the MV Explorer cut through the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and approached the city of Kobe, I had little idea of what I would find as I explored the cities of Japan.  After spending five days in Japan, I had been able to visit four Japanese cities.  The four cities were popular for different reasons and boasted different attractions, giving me different experiences in each.  However, though the cities were very different they all seemed to have one thing in common: highly modernized, urban spaces mixed with deep-rooted traditional culture. 

            Each Japanese city possessed a downtown area that was filled with tall skyscrapers.  The skyscrapers represented a very urban and global Japan.  The tall buildings held everything from business offices to McDonalds chain restaurants to shopping centers, where posh looking Japanese women purchased clothes that look similar to those worn in New York City or Chicago.  Businessmen and women covered the streets, walking hurriedly, talking on high tech cell phones.  At one glance, the Japanese city seemed to be essentially the same as all the other global cities I had visited in other countries.  In Takashi Machimura’s article, The Urban Restructuring Process in Tokyo in the 1980’s: Transforming Tokyo into a world city, the article stated that Japan’s urban restructuring is only beginning and as a result Japan’s cities will continue to modernize and grow.    

 However, as I looked at the streets I realized that something was missing from the Japanese city that had been present in every other city I had ever visited: garbage.  The streets were spotless.  No one had thrown cigarette butts on the street; no one had left empty food wrappers on benches.  It was at this point that I realized that the Japanese city, while seeming similar, actually had a great deal of traditional culture entwined with its cities.  I later learned that perhaps because of this tradition, the Japanese people had far too much respect for their cities to simply throw their trash on the streets.

            After investigating the rest of the city, I saw that traditional culture was everywhere.  When entering a restaurant in Japan, I learned, it is custom to take off your shoes.  As a result, if a person were to look into the windows of eateries he/she would be able to see rows of shoes and well off business people dining shoeless.
Another place Japanese culture could be found was on the busy streets where footbaths are located.  Once in a while there would be small baths used for soaking feet on random street corners.  To a foreigner this seemed wildly out of place, but for the Japanese people, it was perfectly normal.

            In closing, I found the cities of Japan to be very intriguing not because of the tall buildings or because of the number of people that walked their streets, but because of the amount of Japanese culture that was able to seep into everyday urban life. 
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