Confusion, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Newcomers to Japan will experience cultural vertigo the first time they try to track down a street address. Japan's system for numbering houses and buildings is logical by Asian standards but inscrutable for Westerners, even those who've been residents for years.

No nice square "blocks" (eight to a mile) segmented by wide streets that intersect at right angles. Major streets in Tokyo no wider than an American alley teach the newcomer why Japanese drivers have scant use for Cadillacs, Buicks or even Plymouths. There may be a will but there's no way.

Culturally speaking, Americans touring Europe (or vice versa) are on familiar turf. But Asian languages are not Latin derivatives. Nor have its national psychologies developed from 3,000 years of Judeo-Christian thought.

Tools of survival
Besides the language resident aliens in Japan must learn something of Confucian ethics, Buddhist sensibilities and Shinto rituals. No need to take college courses in these subjects because their effects are readily apparent in the daily behavior of Japan's 120 millions. 

The depth of culture shock is in proportion to the distance aliens stray from Japan's well-organized tourist routes. Those in Tokyo for a week don't roam far enough from its state-of-the-art hotels and big-windowed tour buses to get into trouble. They'll remember the crowds, service unlike any land they'll ever visit, and hotel food that seems too neatly arrayed to eat. Also shock felt when converting Tokyo prices to their native currencies.

A few brave souls keen to make the most of their moments in Tokyo will skip an afternoon's group tour to the usual kabuki performance or to the glitzy Ginza shops that cater to here-today, gone-tomorrow tourists. These adventurers usually travel in pairs, with train maps at the ready and camera sighted on a commodity much valued by Occidentals: experiencing "the real Japan."

Eager to ride the rails of Tokyo's legendary mass transit, they head for the nearest "gopher hole," which their hotel's desk clerk has told them leads down to the city's clockwork subway system. The adventurers are in for a pleasant surprise when they discover the extensive prairie-dog towns that lie below Tokyo's jammed streets. Most of their fellow travelers back on the tour bus will depart without even realizing that Asia's capital city bustles on several levels below ground.

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Tokyo Below Ground

—Surfing seas of polite humanity—