Even now, my fourth time here, the thing that gets me most about Tokyo is how silent its public places can be. Every night, changing trains at the busy junction of three different lines, I stand in soundless queues on crowded platforms and hear nothing except for birdsong being piped through the public address system. Once onboard, except for the odd gaggle of high school girls trilling "Bye bye" as their friends get off the train, each long carriage is deathly silent even when you're so crammed together your feet barely touch the floor. People read books, check emails, listen to music, scroll through mobile phone screens, play computer games, stare off into space, fall asleep with their mouths wide open. But only foreigners ever speak.
There are, unfortunately, exceptions. Living near a fire station, I'm regularly woken up at night by the wail of sirens - and a booming, megaphone-loud voice simultaneously thanking motorists for moving to one side.