Personal space in crowded areas.
One thing that a lot of people comment on when they come to Tokyo is the concept of personal space. While the less busy parts of Tokyo certainly won’t present any challenges, its the more busy spaces like rush hour on major trains and stations, and the busy travel times of the year that can pose some challenges for the uninitiated.
First you should get used to people in Tokyo essentially cutting you off when walking. Tokyo is a busy place, and there are a lot of people in a hurry to go places. Some will step quickly in front of you in a crowd if they sense there is an opening to be had to get them to their destination faster. Generally traffic sticks to the left, and some stations even have floor guides indicating which side of the hall people should be walking (it can change depending on the station). But also keep in mind that there are people who will walk on whatever side they wish.
Second you should get used to bicycles going past you without ringing their bell. There are a lot of bicycles in Tokyo. They can be found on both the road and sidewalk. In a whole week, I only ever heard a bicycle bell once. Another thing that may come as a surprise back home, is that people wearing bicycle helmets is almost unheard of.
If you are here during the new years and want to visit shrines and temples, know that it will be extremely crowded. Often the police help with crowd control. Pay very attention for children. I have walked around several places where children, like back home, don’t think about people tripping over them. They will start, stop, dart, turn a hard 90 without even looking to see if anyone is coming. This can make it particularly tricky in places where it is crowded, and they are below your field of vision (think about those 2 foot nothing 4 to 5 year olds who have the tendency to run even when its a couple of feet.
Lastly with this in mind treat walking like any other activity requiring attention. Pay constant attention for obstacles that may need special consideration. Also get used to be bumped every now and than. Some foreigners say you will quickly get over apologizing to everyone you bump into in Tokyo. Me I recommend doing whatever you yourself are comfortable doing. A quick “gomenasai” or “sumimasen” doesn’t take any time. Just make it quick and keep walking. Stopping to apologize could really cause you more issues as a lot of spaces are crowded and people around you expect the flow to keep moving.
If you have experience in Japan with busy streets, or any tips for handling busy and crowded spaces feel free to share them in the comments below.