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What Livable Looks Like in Japan

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

  • Two young women visit with an orange cat in a Tokyo cat cafe.
    Photo by Melissa Stanton

    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.   

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  • A pedestrian walkway in Kamakura, Japan, runs down the center of a boulevard.
    Photo by Melissa Stanton

    Walking Down the Middle of the Street

    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. 

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  • Many streets in the Jiyugaoka neighborhood of Tokyo are pedestrian and shopper friendly.
    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. 

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  • Multiple crosswalks provide paths for pedestrians in Kamakura, Japan.
    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.  

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  • A very wide crosswalk in downtown Tokyo.
    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. 

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  • Ticket machines in a Tokyo train station.
    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.

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  • A designated smoking area on a Tokyo street.
    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. 

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  • Toilet seat cleaning instructions in a public rest room.
    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. 

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  • The push button controls on a high-tech toilet in a Japanese rest room
    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.

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  • Visual signage on the door of a public rest room in Tokyo.
    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. 

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  • Happy Road is a covered pedestrian mall in the Oyama neighborhood of Tokyo.
    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."

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  • A plastic food display in the window of a restaurant in Japan.
    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. 

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  • Refrigerated rental lockers in Tokyo.
    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. 

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  • Illustrated signage in Tokyo public places encourage being helpful and courteous to people in need.
    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. 

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  • Priority seating signage inside a Tokyo subway.
    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+.)

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  • Signage in the Oyama neighborhood of Toyko shows lanes for walking and for bicycling.
    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. 

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  • The author's Japanese mom holds a picture frame with snapshots of her and the author from the past and present.
    Photos from 1986 and 2017 courtesy Melissa Stanton

    Then and Now

    In many ways, Toyko today felt newer and more livable than when I lived there years ago. 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— Melissa Stanton is a senior advisor with AARP Livable Communities and editor of and the AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter.

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Slideshow published July 2017

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