The Streets of Japan

One huge departure from other countries that Japan’s cities make is that it is structured around walking. There are streets that are open only to pedestrians. There are retail stores and malls and restaurants that you can get to only by walking a fair distance from either mass transit or the carpark.

This one defining characteristic is what makes me love Japan. Whereas in, say, American suburbs and cities the middle class would commute from their safe private apartment to the safe shopping district or the safe workplace enclosed within the safety of their car, and in between the commute might venture through several bad neighborhoods, in Japan the middle class is invested in the upkeep of their streets and alleys and their public infrastructure.

The streets of Japan are decent and clean and hospitable, and one does not need to be in a car to feel safe. Families throng through promenades, as do unsupervised children and men and women of all ages. Groups of elderly congregate in the many public parks adjacent to the roads.

Roads are narrow, and often single-lane. Multi-level buildings huddle up close to each other, giving the pedestrian a sense of coziness; you do not know what’s around the corner past the next street, you do not know where the side alley will lead, but you know that it will be safe. Vending machines outside every other establishment give the pedestrian decent refreshment. This is simply heaven for the flâneur.

In the heart of cities people may dress in bright, whimsical colors. No need to worry standing out, many others do too. No need to appear strong and powerful. No need to appear street-smart. No need for that extra caution. Enjoy the freedom you have as a pedestrian. Feel free to feel at home in the public spaces of Japan.

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