Recently I was lucky enough to spend a month pretending to live in Tokyo. Now that I’m home and settled back in Canberra, Australia, I’ve been thinking about the differences and similarities between these two great capital cities. While Canberra and Tokyo are certainly not wholly representative of their countries (in fact I think the citizens of both countries would be horrified if that were the case) by directly comparing them, some of the physical and cultural qualities of each come into focus. I can also only speak with a true understanding of one of them, and as an outsider for the other.
Population: It goes without saying that the size and population of each city is vastly different. Tokyo’s metropolitan area has a population somewhere around the 13 million mark. Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory surrounding it has a mere fraction of that with a population of around 380,000. Australians are generally averse to the idea of high-density living, but I see a lot of advantages to it and believe it’s something we need to embrace.
Some people hate crowds, but I don’t mind them. In Tokyo I feel safe walking alone at night and shops and restaurants are generally open for much longer. Canberra, on the other hand, is like a ghost town after 7pm weeknights and on weekends when office workers generally stay in their homes and local area. Sure, we’ve all seen the footage of trains in Japan getting crammed full of people, but on the upside, you never have to wait more than 5 minutes for one to come along. They’re also not like that all the time, and are generally filled with people of all ages going to all sorts of places until late in the evening every night of the week. In Canberra, we think it’s great if you only have to wait 15 minutes for the next bus if you just happen to miss one (don’t even get me started on buses running on time…)
Police presence: Despite the reported low rates of crime in Japan, there’s a noticeably stronger police presence in Tokyo than Canberra. On nearly every corner there’s a small building with a sign identifying it as a Koban or police box.
There’s usually a lone policeman sitting behind a desk inside during the day. Their main purpose it would seem (possibly due to the low rate of crime, refer above) is giving people directions – it’s very common to walk past and see the policeman studying a map helping someone to locate a shop or restaurant or whatever else they’re in the district for. In Canberra, I couldn’t tell you where our local police station is and in any case, they’d probably get annoyed if you just asked for directions. In the area we stayed in Tokyo, there was a Koban just around the corner, and I can think of at least three more I either ran or walked past on a regular basis.
Green space: It’s another obvious one, correlated to population, but standing at the bus stop on my first morning back to work (waiting for the bus which was running late) I gazed down one of Canberra’s main roads and noticed two things: there was not a single other person to be seen in either direction and there was a whole lot of green space and trees (purely for the sake of having green space and trees) and a big blue sky above.
Having taken more notice of (and written about) Tokyo’s flowerpot gardens I appreciated the use of the limited space they have there to create something natural in an otherwise concrete landscape. Here in Canberra I’ve realised how lucky we are to have, what is really, a surplus of green space.
These observations are certainly not ground breaking but they do continue to pepper my everyday life as the weeks since I was in Tokyo pass. Please read Part 2 for more contrasts and have a look at my other posts on Japan.