In reading "A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World" by Charles Darwin, M.A., F.R.S., I came across the following paragraph, didn't quite get it the first time, so went back and read it a second time, and then realized something - but first, have a look at this text from Darwin's 1831-36 voyage on the Beagle, referring to a trip he took in Argentina:
"For many leagues north and south of San Nicolas and Rozario, the country is really level. Scarcely anything which travellers have written about its extreme flatness can be considered as exaggeration. Yet I could never find a spot where, by slowly turning round, objects were not seen at greater distances in some directions than in others; and this manifestly proves inequality in the plain. At sea, a person's eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed."
It took me a minute to conceptualize what he was getting at, but then the horizon dropping out of sight due to the roundness of the earth meaning of what he was saying came into mental focus and I realized that - in Tokyo - you very rarely have an opportunity to see very far into the distance at ground level in the first place. The views can be spectacular from the top of high-rise buildings, but while you're contemplating the view, for some reason the concept of being able to see further over the horizon by virtue of being up high doesn't come to mind. And the mental picture of being on a vast and empty plain is like a vision from another planet from the perspective of living in Tokyo, with it's (greater area) population of 30,000,000!
Another thing that is strongly evident between the lines of that book from the early 1800s, is how there is no thought of humankind having the power to destroy the planet, and travel on land was generally via walking or on horses - there were no noxious-gas-emitting automobiles poisoning the air. I love machines and electronics, but I've come to deeply resent the internal combustion engine - and the tremendous damage its use has cased/is causing to the planet.
Another look back at "All the Best in Japan" by Sydney Clark (published by Sidgwick and Jackson Limited in 1959) - this time about the things that the author liked and suggested visitors would also like.
"Those Things You'll Love - Your first shocks of pleasure, following your initially grim impressions of Tokyo street traffic, occur when your taxi reaches your hotel. To your amazement you'll find that when you pay the taxi driver - who hasn't, after all, killed you or anybody else in his mad dash - he will promptly pass you your change, all of it, and drive swiftly away in search of his next fare. He expects no tip and you should offer him none unless he has done some very special service for you. Where else but in Japan could this phenomenon occur?"
This is still true enough, although I would add that over the years, I've had some bad experiences with taxi drivers in every country I've used them in, including Japan. Not all drivers are honest, and some find one way or another to overcharge their passengers. The way that's happened to me here, is with drivers not going directly to the destination. In one very blatant case, I asked the driver to "Stop here please" and he keep driving until the meter went up, and then stopped (so I had to both pay extra and walk back to where I had asked the scoundrel to stop in the first place). Of course, from a taxi driver's perspective, they have to put up with abuse from bad passengers, but I've never done that myself and so don't appreciate being a victim. As it currently stands, I prefer to walk an hour than to take a chance on a taxi driver being honest.
"At the door of your hotel, whether it is the celebrated Imperial, the eagerly desired goal of most American tourists, or some lesser hostelry, bellboys or bellgirls, bowing from the waist, will welcome you and relieve you of your luggage. After you've registered they'll take you to your room, install you politely, bow again and disappear. 'Wait a minute,' you'll say, calling down the corridor. 'Here. This is for you,' as you offer a gratuity. Again he or she will bow and politely decline it. That, as least, has been my experience over and over again, or it was until I learned not to offer tips. Even in the Imperial Hotel, the very nucleus of U.S. tourism, exactly this happened to me on three early occasions."
Not having to tip everyone for everything in hotels in Japan is a really wonderful thing. It's stressful being thrust into the role of direct employer of the people working in hotels and restaurants. I prefer for them to get their wages from their proper employer and think the employer should pay them enough that they don't have to go around with their hands out all the time for extra cash. I think tipping is a truly horrible custom.
As for the Imperial Hotel being the "very nucleus of US tourism"; in 1959, you got 360 yen for 1 dollar, but that's down to about 80 yen for 1 dollar now. As a result, Japan is now a very much more expensive place to visit for someone coming here from a foreign country than it was in 1959. The Imperial Hotel is a luxury hotel and either people with a lot of money to spend or business people on expense accounts are the type of foreign guest that comes to mind now.
"You'll love the schoolchildren as tourists. At every Buddhist temple, Shinto shrine or other tourist sight you'll see them being herded along by their teachers, for sightseeing is a very definite part of every child's schooling. They all wear uniforms, in deference to democracy, so that there shall be no obvious difference between rich and poor. ......."
This is pretty much still true, although some schools allow regular clothing. I've had several people tell me that they liked having a uniform, as it eliminated the pressure to competitively dress. The "at every Buddhist temple" part is the sensation you'll often have when visiting Kyoto and Nara, but not so much in other areas of the country.
"The multitudes of these children-in-uniform, encountered everywhere you go, will constantly amaze you, even when you grow accustomed to the spectacle. They flow around you like a human river. Often you have literally to plow your way through them. To us these giggling kids are a delight, but to the Japanese government they are a constant source of worry, for the country, with some 90 million inhabitants, is already overpopulated and the national tally has been increasing by a million or more a year. Last year, however, there was a ray of hope, for the net increase was only 935,000, the first time since the war that it has been under a million. You and I will leave population worries to whom they may concern and will selfishly enjoy these swarming, scurrying, buoyant youngsters."
I admit it took me several years to fully get used to seeing school children in uniform out and about here, there, and everywhere at all hours and even on national holidays. In the beginning you ask yourself "Why are they in uniform on a holiday?" and gradually it sinks in that there are a vast number of schools in Tokyo, and sometimes the students will wear their uniforms for a school concert, etc., and so, with the very large number of schools, someone is bound to be in uniform pretty much on any given day.
About population growth - the author mentions 90 million and growing in 1959, and mentions that growth was slowing, but that people were worried about overpopulation. It grew to its current (approximate) 127 million, and now has slowed to the point where it's actually declining, as many people are not having children, or only having one or two children. The big worry now is that - in the words of hysterical TV talking heads - "Japan will disappear" which is utter nonsense of course, but bloody TV always tries to be sensationalist to get people's attention, and then a certain percentage of the population unthinkingly takes the hysteria at face value. (Lest this cynical comment be taken out of context, I hasten to say I'm referring to human beings on planet earth, and not criticizing the residents of any particular country.)
"You'll love the built-in courtesy of all Japanese, young or old, rich or poor, for nothing quite like it exists anywhere else in the world. I'll grant that among the Japanese themselves the formalities of politeness reach heights, or depths, that seem to Westerners absurd. ...... Self-depreciation is also a part of this traditional formality. A hostess offering a superb dinner, impeccably served, will apologize for the poor and meager quality of her hospitality. A person giving a costly and elegant present will ask forgiveness for venturing to proffer so small and worthless a gift. But you and I won't be often exposed to these traditional customs. ....."
Yes, being polite is one of the nice aspects of Japan. As for some aspects seeming "absurd" to Westerners, well - the author had tourists in mind when he wrote "you and I" but as I read this as a long-term resident, I realize that I have fallen into the same habit. It's not as strange as it sounds, as it's just a matter of not being boastful and not loading guilt onto a person by saying "I'm giving you this wonderful thing", etc. In short, it's manners, and once you're used to how they're handled here, it's just the way it is.
"And finally - for I must abridge this catalog of virtues - you'll love the Japanese instinct for beauty. It is an instinct that you'll see, and cannot fail to see, in parks, in works of art, in the widespread passion of flower arrangement ..... We of the West tend always to put comforts first and beauty second. With the Japanese it's quite the other way around. In Japanese inns, for instance, which are very rarely blessed with central heating, the rooms will be cruelly cold in winter and bleakly chilly in early spring and late fall, but to the Japanese customer this doesn't much matter. What does matter very much is that the room shall be decorated with restrained and faultless taste, and there shall be one or two exquisite objects d'art in the elevated alcove (tokonoma), which is an essential of every room, perhaps with one lovely scroll on the wall above it, a scroll having a 17-syllable poem or tradition or an inspirational message painted on it. And it matters very much that the room's windows shall look out upon a bit of a garden, perhaps with one tenderly groomed pine tree visible, and a mossy stone lantern under it."
While the comments about beauty hold true, people's expectations regarding indoor heating have changed a lot in the past 25 years or so. In the eighties, I found it pretty much as the author describes it in 1959, but I'm finding that just as I have gotten used to doing without central heat in the winter, the locals have suddenly gotten used to being warm all the time and - for example - some open-air drinking places in Yurakucho now have to put up plastic sheets and place heaters all around the tables, or customers won't come. So it's come full circle, where they're destroying atmosphere in the quest for comfort. Personally, I find heaps of irony in the fact that I'm now walking around, shaking my head, and thinking "Young people are so weak! Where's their will power? It's as if they think they'll keel over dead if any room they're in is less than 25 degrees. And they don't appear to see how hideously ugly the plastic sheets and heaters are. It's a shame - what's becoming of the world?", etc.
This batch of video clips starts off with Ginza street scenes, and goes to Shinbashi, where I walk around in the area that reportedly inspired the director of the movie Blade Runner (in print very soon after the movie was made - but for some reason, people started saying the inspiration was Shinjuku some years later, probably due to the "Omoide-yokocho" izakaya street, combined with the destruction of much of Shinbashi's former back-street izakaya). While Shinbashi doesn't have nearly as much of a mysterious atmosphere as it used to, there are still some interesting back street places and a little of the old atmosphere (see videos below).
I've posted short clips of the Okuno Building before, but there are two in this batch where I systematically go through the building (actually two buildings combined) one half (1932) first, and then the other half (1934) - explaining some features of the building. And - further down the page - I go through the whole building, taking a systematic look at the fascinating floors, which are a kind of history book that some people are capable of reading/perceiving.
Then there are some scenes from Shinjuku, and various trains views, from the Chuo, Tozai, Ginza, Keihin-Tohoku, Seibu lines, etc. February is the coldest time of year, which keeps the camera from overheating while taking extended videos, but really chills my camera hand! I'm looking forward to spring, but am not so enthusiastic about the coming heat of summer.
Walking through the 1934 half of the Ginza Okuno Building - going from the 1st floor, up to the 7th floor in the elevator, and then back down to the basement (via the stairs) and including a quick view of the front exterior of the building.
Mental forecasts regarding what you expect someone to say have a lot to do with being able to comprehend what people are trying to communicate, and so, when expectations of the listener are different from what the speaker is saying, typically the listener will either hear something the speaker didn't say, or just not understand them. When you cross international borders and look different from the locals in the new area you visit (or live in), this sort of problem intensifies.
In the early 1980's in Japan, most foreigners who visited the country were tourists, and so most foreigners, almost by definition, didn't speak the local language (this was before manga and anime caught on overseas, incidentally), and so there were many times when someone would see a foreigner and *expect* them not to speak Japanese, and so wouldn't hear Japanese even when the person was speaking it properly. (Amusingly, you could call someone on the phone; begin a normal conversation in Japanese, and when you identified yourself as a foreigner, sometimes they were extremely reluctant to believe it, as they basically believed that no foreigner spoke the language well enough to sound like a local.)
In this era, when a large part of tourism to Japan was from North America (north of Mexico) and Europe, there was a fairly reasonable expectation by locals that foreigners spoke English, so there were some (many, actually) strange verbal exchanges (in public, on trains for example) like this (F=Foreigner / LR=Local Resident):
LR: Where are you from?
F: Watashi desu ka? Igirisu kara kimashita. (Me? I'm from England.)
LR: Oh. I've been there before.
F: So desu ka. Sochira-wa, doko kara kimashita ka? (Is that right? Where are you from?)
LR: I'm from Japan!
F: Sore wa wakarimasu ga, Nihon no doko desu ka? (Yes, I know, but what part of Japan are you from?)
LR: I'm from Osaka. Do you know Osaka?
F: Mochiron! (Of course.)
Etc. etc. And it was a sort of contest in a way, with each side determined to use the other's language. I had one 25-minute exchange with a businessman on a train, and throughout the entire 25 minutes, I refused to use any English and he refused to use any Japanese, but we were able to communicate that way. (Come to think of it, that must have been amusing to witness from the sidelines. I can imagine someone going home and saying "I saw the weirdest thing on the subway today...")
At stores, you could ask for something in Japanese and the clerk would say with some urgency while waving a hand back and forth: "No English!! No English!!" (As in "I don't speak English!"), but if you said something in English, then they would answer in Japanese saying they didn't understand English(!). And at restaurants (I had several bad experiences at McDonald's, of all places) you would order one thing (in Japanese) and they would give you something else.
Why? Your guess might be as good as mine, but what it *felt* like at the time is that some people were fiercely determined to believe that foreigners could *not* speak Japanese, even when they could, and they would kindly *remind* you of this. Maybe not, or even probably not, but that's certainly how it felt at the time (genba 現場 and ginji 現時 folks! - hop in a time machine if you can and go have a look for yourselves!) In short, it was often a rather difficult time to try to be a normal part of local society.
And then the value of the yen shot up (more than doubling in a very short time) and suddenly Japan was a much more profitable (in overseas currency terms) place to work. In came foreigners from far and wide, and many of them didn't speak English, so the only possible way they had of communicating was to learn Japanese - quickly! So with that group of people, speaking English at them had no effect and locals began to view Japanese as a possible tool for international communication. I still remember the first time I went to a shop in a train station and asked for something, and the shopkeeper just responded as though I were a regular-issue biped. ("Far out! Very cool!" thought I.) And from that point forward, it began to feel more normal going about the city speaking Japanese... until recently that is.
Maybe the stories of mass numbers of foreigners fleeing the country (to escape Fukushima emissions) are true, because suddenly I've begun having some experiences like those I used to have in the early eighties - a full quarter century ago. When I say something in Japanese, I'm increasingly getting "Oh, you speak Japanese!" comments, which I was blissfully free of receiving for more than two decades. I've also begun re-experiencing people in food selling places giving me something radically different from what I asked for. Just this evening I asked for one thing at a counter (and pointed very clearly at it), and the woman inside the shop very steadfastly refused to understand me. The high school students standing next to me understood what I was saying with no difficulty, but not the clerk. Finally, the combination of the high school students telling her she was putting the wrong thing into a bag and the shop owner coming over and telling her what I wanted got me my order. It was freaky. It took a team of four people (all speaking Japanese) - myself, two local high school students, and the store owner to force the woman to give me what I ordered. Weird. Very weird. And a similar thing happened last week at a different shop in a different area of town. Back to the weirdness of the early eighties? [Big, deep, heavy sigh....]
I watched some WW-II documentary programs on the Discovery Channel today and they were interesting to watch, although I came away from the material (a couple of different shows) with a mixture of feelings and thoughts. First, I was struck with how simplistic parts of the coverage were - for example they went on about the Yamato and how it was an amazingly large ship, etc., but completely ignored the existence of the Yamato's sister ship, the Musashi, which was built after the Yamato and included some design changes as improvements. From Wikipedia:
"Yamato (大和), named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, was a battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet, she was lead ship of the Yamato class. She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the largest and heaviest battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load, and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) main guns."
A different program about kamikaze attacks was quite interesting, although there was a weird situation where, when I tried to listen to the original Japanese of the Japanese survivors from the war, it was a Japanese translation of the English translation of the original Japanese! (You could just barely hear some bits and pieces of the original in the background.) Too bad they didn't have access to the original audio that used to be with the original footage, so they could have just used that.
Some of the interviews were really interesting. A couple of things:
A Japanese pilot who had been out in the thick of it and got shot up pretty badly - who expressed his irritation with a commander who led a last squadron of pilots off to die *after* the war was declared over. Three of the people in the squadron were the pilot's friends and he was obviously angry that the commander had thrown their lives away for no good reason.
An American sailor who was on a destroyer that was hit by kamikaze pilots - commented that it was one thing to be trying to kill each other by shooting at each other, etc., but that there was something about the kamikaze pilots that made it personal. It's an angle I'd never thought of before. As a dispassionate concept, it doesn't seem like much, but hearing from a man who experienced it directly - personally - the full meaning of it came through pretty clearly.
This is why I have the greatest respect for actual archival film footage and interviews with survivors. I hate the reenactments with modern actors that it's so popular to mix in with documentary footage. I think it's a horrible mistake to do that. If it's historical footage, that's one thing. And if it's a modern reenactment with modern actors, that's another. The two should not be mixed.
I'm continuing to read "All the Best in Japan" by Sydney Clark (published by Sidgwick and Jackson Limited in 1959), and it's interesting to see how radically different control of currency was then compared to now (when there is almost no control at all).
"Since 15 May, 1957, Japan has enabled foreigners to enter the country easily and with a minimum of red tape, for on that date the requirement that each incomer acquired a Foreign Exchange Record Book was abandoned. Now you need declare only foreign notes (which will be entered in your passport), not traveler's cheques or letters of credit, and you need not produce a Record Book or anything else when you wish to exchange sterling, or any other foreign currency, into Japanese yen. When you leave Japan you many take out no more foreign notes than the amounts you have declared on entering. ..... As the import and export of Japanese currency is not allowed except for a small amount for use on Japanese ships or aircraft, all funds for visitors to Japan must be carried in the form of traveler's cheques."
At the time, it must have seemed restrictive and unnecessary to have the controls, but now that currency rates and whatnot have been left up to the bankster gamblers, the world appears to be falling apart financially. Seeing how the bankster gamblers are destroying the planet, the financial controls of a half-century ago seem like a better idea.
"Upon arrival in Japan you will be given a Specified Stores Purchase Tax Exemption Card, and this card, be advised, is decidedly for your benefit, since it exempts, in the specified stores, various important purchases, such as cameras, binoculars, cultured pearls and cloisonne, from the heavy Japanese tax of 16 per cent. And an especially cheering thing about this is that the store deducts the 16 per cent from the price marked on the price tag, so it isn't merely a matter of not adding the tax but actually of deducting it. If, for instance, you should see a nice string of cultured pearls in the Mikimoto window or some other, marked 60,000 yen, which is 59 pounds, 10s, 5d, you'll actually pay only 50,400 yen, which is 50 pounds. Your Specified Stores Purchase Tax Exemption Card has saved you 9 pounds 10s, 5d."
I was quite surprised to read about a 16 percent tax! When I came here in the early eighties, there was no sales tax; then they introduced a three percent tax, and then increased it to five percent. Recently it's frequently in the news that they want to increase it to 10, 15, or some higher figure, as a way of increasing tax revenue, but I hadn't heard any mention of it having been 16 percent in the past.
"I have reported this good news first; but to go back to the beginning of your planning, I have to state that in the matter of securing a temporary visa in your passport the requirements have not yet been fully eased. You must wade through the business in some Japanese consulate, filling in a long form and producing a ticket (or other proof of your plans) indicating that your travels will take you out of Japan (after a stay of less than three months) as well as taking you in. For tourist purposes the consul requires to see your traveler's cheques or a letter of credit from your bank guaranteeing funds to cover the return journey and stay in Japan. For business purposes a letter, in duplicate, must be provided, signed by the managing director or senior official of the applicant's firm, showing his status in the firm, the purpose of his visit to Japan, names and addresses of the companies to be visited, and guaranteeing financial responsibility for the applicant's return journey and stay in Japan. ....."
In the early eighties you still have to visit a Japanese consulate and apply for a tourist visa to visit Japan, but they didn't require you to provide all the financial information mentioned above. At some point, they made it really easy for tourists on short stays to visit. I think all you need now (depending on which country you're coming from of course) is a passport. For a work-related visa, naturally the requirements are much more stringent.
"The customs formalities for tourists entering Japan on the standard temporary visa are simple enough, I'm happy to report, and you will be treated with the usual Japanese courtesy here as everywhere in the country. // One strenuous warning about money seems in order here. Don't try to buy black market yen in Hong Kong or elsewhere before entering Japan. You may have visited countries where the currency black market, or gray market, flourishes almost openly, with little or no effect made to curb it, but Japan is very strict in this matter and it is no part of Japanese politeness to let you off if you have offended. Punishment for evasion is severe, sometimes even involving a jail term. And, anyway, the difference between the legal rate of 1,008 yen to the pound and the black market rate is so slight as to make it scarcely worth while to tamper with the rules even if they were not strictly enforced. ....."
There was no particular reason I needed Japanese currency before coming over, but I went to a bank and bought some before coming over (totally legitimately), as I was curious what the money looked like and it made the upcoming trip more real to have some of the country's cash in hand.
Regarding the exchange rate - this 1959 book states it as "1,008 yen to the pound", and - having a look on-line - I see it's (as I write this on February 4th, 2012), 121 yen to the pound now. That's an incredible change! In fact, the overly strong yen is really hurting the Japanese economy now. It should of course be stronger than 1008 yen to the dollar, but the current rate - set by bankster gamblers - is ruining the economy.
"... One of JTB's very practical accomplishments is the publication of guide-books to Japan. Its most comprehensive effort in this line is a 1,000-page Baedeker-type volume (which is fairly small and easy to carry despite all its pages) called 'Japan, The Official Guide'. For those who wish a smaller book containing most of the essentials, but no detailed listing of hotels and other such practicalia, it publishes 'Japan, The Pocket Guide', and the Bureau supplements this with an interesting little book called 'Quiz', with the sub-heading '700 Answers to Questions on Things Japanese'."
I made use of a free tourist map of Tokyo in the early days (back in the early eighties), but ended up using strictly Japanese maps once I could read place names well enough to use them. There's a 1948 (or so) version of a tourist organization travel guide that I was sent some pages of via scanned images, and it seemed like a pretty good guide.
"Japan on Balance - Beware of First Impressions // ...... // To come right out with it, Tokyo sprawls out from its center for miles and miles - and miles - in all directions, including that of Hanada Airport, where all overseas planes touch down, its outer reaches extending further, or so it seems to me, than do even those of London. The city boasts 8,345,404 inhabitants... ..... Because of earthquake hazards most buildings except in the solid center and some scattered secondary centers, where impressive American-type reinforced concrete structures exist in large numbers, are of one or two or three stories and thousands of them are unpainted and undeniably ramshackle. This sight greets the eager traveler."
About the city sprawling out "for miles and miles - and miles - in all directions", this is something that seemed amazing to me for many years. I'd go to the top of the Sumitomo building in Shinjuku and look out over the city, and it astounded me that you couldn't see an end to the city in any direction - it seemed to go on endlessly - as though it covered the entire planet!
"And then the streets! Tokyo has terrible growing pains. New construction is everywhere, especially all through the center, and a new subway, Tokyo's third, is causing added and drastic upheavals. The streets just haven't been able to keep pace with the phenomenal growth of the city and many of them are frankly awful, as are their so-called sidewalks, with bumps, holes, stretches of dirt or mud, and vast obstructions of building materials. They're bad in sunny weather, dreadful when it rains. Yes they are, and I can't honestly soften the picture."
Fifty years on, and there is still construction in one area or another (that's a given in Tokyo, what with the voracious appetite of the construction industry), but the streets are all paved, and the sidewalks (where they exist) are usually in very good condition. The writer mentions that Tokyo's third subway is under construction, but from looking at a history of subway construction in Tokyo, I see this for 1959:
"1959 - Mar. 15th - Opening of the Kasumigaseki to Shinjuku section of the Marunouchi Line (Completed the Ikebukuro to Shinjuku section of the Marunouchi Line)"
Which would suggest that the "third" subway the writer refers to is actually an additional section of the second line - the Marunouchi Line. But then again, the current Ginza Line was originally two different lines, so maybe he's counting that as two? In any case, Tokyo now has - I think - thirteen different subways lines, and they're still expanding the system! This page explains the long history of Tokyo's subway system: http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/corporate/profile/history/index.html
"And what about the traffic on these streets? There we have Pelion on Ossa. It is the maddest, shrillest, craziest city traffic I've ever seen and in the center it gets tied up in knots that a supreme scoutmaster of traffic could hardly undo. Private cars are not unduly numerous but the city fairly swarms with taxis of three types, all seemingly so unconcerned with human life that they are popularly called 'kamikaze cabs'. The smallest ones, mere road bugs but wonderfully agile, have 70 painted on the front or side and this means that they will carry you 2 kilometers, which is a mile and a quarter, for a modest 70 yen, which is 19 cents, and the tariff for longer hauls is also the lowest. A somewhat larger type of vehicle is marked 80 and an American-type car too. Whatever their bracket these taxis race like four-wheeled devils for openings that are obviously as impossible to penetrate as is the needle's eye of Scripture for a camel. If they can't quite make it the driver jams on his brakes at the last second and you pitch forward against the front seat. To accent his urgency the driver keeps his hand on the horn at least half the time. All day and half the night the Tokyo air is filled with an unceasing symphony of motor horns, and these, I might add, are supplemented by the shrill wailing of the noodle vendors' whistles, sounding rather like perambulating piccolos. Far into the night one hears this weird whistling, intended to attract late trade."
I think at the time the above was written (1958 or 1959), traffic was still often directed by a person standing in the intersection (not sure, but...). Now it's (naturally) all traffic lights. As for "kamikaze cabs" - you don't hear that these days (or at least I don't - maybe someone still uses the term), possibly because traffic jams are so dense, traffic just creeps along, so it's not generally possible to drive like that now. Out in the burbs, the taxis do drive fairly fast on narrow roads, but all-in-all, there's not a special image of them dangerously flying about these days.
"The authorities are trying, somewhat timidly, to curb the motorists' horn madness and the papers are full of warnings about fines for 'needless sounding of horns', but that adjective is a wobbly one, hard to define, and the kamikazes, at least, seem to be little deterred by such gentle threats."
This picture of Tokyo being full of honking car horns is hard to imagine now, so efforts underway in 1958 to get people to stop leaning on them appear to have succeeded - you hardly ever hear horns these days, and when people do use them, it's generally just a very light touch to warn someone the car is coming, etc. One exception to this is when someone parks on a street for a delivery, etc., and blocks the road. When a driver is blocked by such a car, some angrily go "BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP ... BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP" (endless repeat) until the offending car is moved.
Regarding "Noodle vendor's' whistles"; that might have been for tofu, as there's a long history of tofu sellers tooting a small horn (not a whistle really) as they ride around on a bicycle with tofu for sale. I actually rather like the sound, but the writer may have experienced something else that I haven't experienced myself. (Come to think of it - I think there may have been a distinction, with the lower toned horn for tofu and a higher pitch for something else? What I clearly remember, and have even recently heard, is the tofu horn.)
"I said I'd come right out with it, and certainly I have, but now I ask you: 'Kindly turn the page' and see what my second and third and nth impressions are."
Indeed! Like any country, Japan has its good and bad aspects! Unfortunately, there have been many people in the past who focused on one narrow spectrum of life here and painted only part of the picture. I think Sydney Clark has done a good job of depicting things with wide-spectrum vision, and so people hopefully won't take offense at his comments about traffic in 1959 (actually probably 1958, as the copyright is 1958, with the first edition of the book coming out in 1959).
This batch of video clips begins with side window views taken out the left side of an outbound Tobu-Tojo Line train, and then (after watching a river of umbrellas flowing away from a train station one night), goes over to Ogikubo, where I walk around a little checking out side streets on both sides of the station, as well as a food mall (or food court, although not the same as what are called food courts in the US).
And then, a day after a big (for Tokyo anyway) snowstorm, several views out side windows (and a little through the front cab windows) of an inbound Chuo Line train showing much of the snow still lying about, which is an unusual scene in Tokyo, since it doesn't often snow here.
There are also the typical (for me) scenes of Ginza, Kyobashi, and Shinjuku, with some walking scenes and (naturally) train and station scenes.