And so we wrap up our coverage of Gordon Price’s study trip, covering Hong Kong, Tokyo and Kyoto over the past three weeks. You can see all his posted pics on his Instagram account.
In his last full day, he shares some additional musings on high-speed rail logistics (and cityscapes), ‘Little Differences’ between Japanese and North American urban culture, and some final thoughts on economic and demographic change in Japan over the past generation that will yield further discussion upon his return. Enjoy…
We are travelling back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen, the worlds most frequent high-speed train system. How frequent? Michael estimates another passed us about every minute and a half. That’s SkyTrain frequency, only these are moving at over 200 km/hour. (Technically, at 13 trains per hour in both directions max, that’s one every 4.6 minutes. The 16-car trains carry just over 1,300 passengers capacity and can be standing room only.)
Little Differences: There is no lock on this men’s lavatory on the Shinkansen – but there is a window (with striping) looking in. It’s a washroom with only a urinal. When using it, your back faces the window, indicating the facility is in use. Clever. (Yeah, I know there seems to be a fascination with toilets in this thread – but it is revealing of cultural attitudes of the most intimate kind.)
Little Differences: On the Narita Express to the airport, there are shelves to store luggage at the head of each car – with cords and locks. This is probably the country with the least need for such security – and not something you’d see on buses or trains in North America. Maybe they do it here because this train is heavily used by outsiders?
Rice paddies in the suburbs. Glance out the window of the train and you’re likely to see a rice field, sometimes only a few acres in size, tightly surrounded by single houses, well into the city itself, not on the rural fringe. These say a lot about the importance of rice in the Japanese culture and how they’re prepared to protect it. Can’t imagine these plots make economic sense, much less the logistical issues related to water management and farm operations. But the political power of the rice lobby is immense, and all parties subscribe. Makes our dairy protectionism look, um, like small potatoes.
I’m going to post two charts that I will come back to on return from Japan, given the importance of their implications. The first is of the country’s Gross Domestic Product – a measure of its wealth. It shows a flattening, which comes as no surprise given, among other factors, a falling population. Predictions from some is that GDP will continue to drop.
This is the important one: it shows that even with a falling population, GDP per capita is increasing. In other words, even as collective wealth declines, individual wealth increases – logically because there are less people. In any event, from the point of view of the individuals who see an increase, a falling population, even a drop in GDP, is not a crisis. Not even a problem. It seems to be a benefit, especially when the cost of housing is also flat or dropping.