What Livable Looks Like in Japan

A visit to far away friends provides a tour of livable sights and scenes in and around Tokyo

What's New Pussycat?

A lot has changed between 1986 (when I lived in Tokyo) and my return three decades later to visit longtime friends. Cat cafés, such as the one I popped into (pictured), allow animal lovers and the pet-deprived to relax among friendly felines. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Walking in the Middle of the Road

Located about an hour south of Tokyo, the city of Kamakura is home to a Great Buddha. One path to enlightenment is this elevated pedestrian corridor that runs down a busy boulevard. 


Photo by Melissa Stanton

Shoppers and Cyclists Welcome

Tokyo is a densely populated city with dozens of town-sized neighborhoods. In the Jiyugaoka area, as in much of the city, the best way to get around and run errands is without a car. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Criss-Crossing the Street

The crosswalks may look like an invitation to chaos but they work, allowing pedestrians to cross a roadway or intersection once rather than twice or more to get where they're going.  

Photo by Melissa Stanton

A Wide Walkway

Streets and sideways get crowded with commuters at certain times of the day. Having a super-wide crosswalk helps keep pedestrians moving and vehicles at a safe distance. 



Photo by Melissa Stanton

Tickets and Translations

Japan's vast network of train lines enable people of all ages and abilities to travel within Tokyo and beyond. The route map can be intimidating, but information and assistance is available in multiple languages.

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Smoking Section

People wanting to smoke don't just step outside and light up on the sidewalk. Instead, they step outside and then into a designated smoking area. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Clean Commodes

Public toilets are essential to making public spaces welcoming and usable. Many restrooms in Japan provide seat cleaner in lieu of paper seat covers to ensure sanitary seating and reduce the amount of paper used and trash created. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

High Tech Toilets

In-floor squat toilets were once the norm. Today, technically-savvy seated toilets are de rigueur. Both home and public toilets include personal cleansing choices, temperature settings, air freshening and background noise options.

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Pictures Say It All

Written Japanese uses four alphabets  Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and Romaji. (You can read Romaji.) Pictograms, such as the ones shown on this restroom door, translate into every language. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Indoor-Outdoor Shopping

In the largely residential Oyama neighborhood of northwest Tokyo, the area's main destination for shopping and dining — essentially its Main Street  is a covered, open-air, pedestrian-only corridor called "Happy Road."

Photo by Melissa Stanton

For Display Only

Plastic food displays in restaurant windows help entice diners and enable those who can't speak or read Japanese to point to their selection — or match the writing on the displayed item with writing on a menu. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

A Fridge for a Few Hours

Many large train stations open into department stores that house hard-to-resist gourmet markets and eateries. Customers who aren't headed straight home can rent a cool locker for storing perishables.  

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Courtesy is Contagious

In Japan, even adults read comic books (aka: graphic novels). These illustrations, which are often placed at or near train stations, remind people to be courteous to those needing assistance. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Priority Seating

Signage reminds passengers to give up certain seats on the train to pregnant women, people with injuries or illnesses, parents with small children and older adults. (One-third of Japan's population is age 60+.)

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Staying in the Safe Lane

Although most city streets are traveled by all sorts of users regardless of a roadway's narrowness, twists and turns, streets with designated lanes for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles make getting around safer for everyone. 

Photo by Melissa Stanton

Then and Now

In many ways, Toyko today felt newer and more livable than when I lived there. It also felt age-friendly, which was helpful since my local friends, my Japanese mom (holding photos of us from 1986 and 2017) and I are all now AARP-eligible

Photo courtesy Melissa Stanton

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Melissa Stanton is the editor of AARP.org/Livable and the award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter.
Slideshow published July 2017

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