DRIVING ON TOKYO TIME
Car Life in the Shinjuku District
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Jun 10, 2015
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story and pictures by Roy Nakano
The First Clue
While waiting for the lavatory to free up on a plane to Tokyo, a young boy pops out of the stall, but not before bowing to me. That was the first clue I was in for something different in the Land of the Rising Sun. We would stay in Shinjuku, the administrative center for the government of Tokyo, and home of the busiest train station in the world.
Shinjuku reminds me of the Financial District in San Francisco—lots of young men and women in business suits briskly walking the sidewalks, very few elderly or children, and a healthy nightlife. The latter is a natural outcome of late working hours, which appears to be the norm in this part of town.
Car Life in the Big City
Public transportation in Tokyo is excellent, making car ownership a non-necessity. Not that people don’t own cars here. There are automobile enthusiasts here just like everywhere else. There is a segment of the Tokyo population that is well-known for loving American classic cars and lowriders from the 1950s and 60s. And nearby Harajuku is known for its wild car clubs. But unlike Los Angeles, where hobby cars double as daily drivers, I’m not finding much of that here in Shinjuku.
The city autoscape is a vast ocean of Japanese cars (yes, even more than Southern California). In Shinjuku, you see more models of Toyotas and Nissans than you knew existed. There are some that are actually bigger, and a whole lot that are smaller than what we are accustomed to.
That’s not to say there aren’t interesting vehicles on the road. There are, but they are almost exclusively all Japanese. Blame that on an inspection process that makes it extremely difficult for imports to get through to this country. During my time during the work days in Shinjuku, I saw only one American car—a Transformer-esque yellow Camaro with black stripes. And yet, there are German imports on the streets in numbers not insignificant.
White seems to be dominate color of cars here—even more so than in the United States. All the service vehicles are white. The bicycles are predominantly white. Even the umbrellas. SUVs are rare here. Minivans are plentiful, but you see far more micro cars here—particularly useful for maneuvering some of the micro alleys around this of the country.
For Your Consideration
The people here have a reputation for politeness, but it seems to go beyond that. It’s a culture of consideration. Flight attendants and waitresses pass out towels to clean your hands before meals. Eye contact seems particularly strong among service personnel. Train commuters line up in single files to board. But when the train arrives and the doors open, everyone steps to one side in unison to let the departing passengers out. When was the last time you’ve seen that happen at LA’s Union Station?
“Even the drunks are polite in Tokyo,” say LA Car’s Chuck Dapoz. “The best time to see them is in the subways on Friday evenings, after the business people have finished a hard week’s worth of work. They could be sprawled out on the steps, but they’ll take the time to vomit only on the tracks. Very considerate.”