Sturm und Traing

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Japan’s public transportation system has come to symbolize everything right about Japanese society. Almost without exception, the trains arrive exactly on schedule, the stations are air-conditioned or heated depending on the season, and the seats are upholstered. There is little trash or vandalism or crime, and the main problems are those associated with overcrowding — chikan (groping) being the most prominent. I’m not saying I would go so far as to eat an abandoned cupcake found on a Japanese commuter train, but I would be fine with sitting next to it. In New York, it would surely be disgustingly mashed into the plastic seats by a guy with some manner of open wound.

We foreigners tend to give the Japanese a lot of points for the impeccable quality of public transport, but the motivations for excellence do not become clear until one experiences a system failure. Last week, the Den-en Toshi Line stopped running around 10 a.m., and this morning, the widely-used JR Yamanote Line ceased service for almost five hours. The result of these breakdowns is total and utter chaos. The city stops working, and stations are swarmed with masses desperate to receive small pieces of paper from train attendants proving their tardiness was caused by a mechanical problem and not personal transgression.

These events suggest that the precise scheduling is not a consumer-oriented “nicety” or dedication to “proper protocol,” but to a certain extent, an integral part of a mathematical solution to moving large numbers of people around the city in the peak hours of the morning. This morning’s failure of the Yamanote line led to the stoppage of two or three other connecting lines. It’s a very delicate system, and Tokyo’s population increases over the last fifty years due to both industrialization and post-industrialization have only put more and more pressure on its exactness.

In other words, there are too many users on the system, but since the current state of the Japanese economy needs this enormous amount of people coming into Tokyo every day, the only possible option is scientific accuracy in train arrivals.

These functional pressures may lead to a “culture of punctuality,” but no matter how loose and surly train station employees become, the system cannot handle even the smallest deviation. We consumers and train riders appreciate the attendants’ image of order and hard-work, but maybe it’s a bit much to prove a causal link between “culture” and train schedules. The trains in Japan move on time because they have to.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 7, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

36 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    “Culture of punctuality” is bullshit. My classes start when they feel like it. We were much more diligent about starting as soon as the bell rang when I was an American high school student. Here, the kids keep drifting in for as long as it takes, no rush. And I’m at a high level school!

    My recent thought is that for every stereotypical trait of Japan, there is a contradicting practice. Healthy food? Unless you eat at McDonald’s, which is less healthy than its American counterpart. Efficient? Well, not if you count the mountains of paper work and lollygagging salarymen in their offices ‘burning the midnight oil’ by shooting the bull and drinking. Hell, most of the kids aren’t even that short anymore. It’s crazy I tell ya!

  2. channing Says:

    image of guy with some sort of open wound artlessly mashing an abandoned cupcake into a train seat while Marxy contemplates eating it = solid gold, I can tell you’re proud of your work with this one and you deserve to be.

  3. nate Says:

    I’ll beat them to the punch… Do you suppose that other world cities aren’t disrupted in the least when their public transportation breaks down?
    A five hour stoppage is hardly a train delay, and doesn’t really relate to the question of JR punctuality, does it?

    I think the people gathering to get their slip is a good thing. The system functions so well that failure is a remarkable circumstance, and one that the system is ready to deal with.

  4. marxy Says:

    At my university, the more senior the professor, the later he will be to class. (Supposedly, the teachers in the Hard Sciences, however, show up right on time.) Punctuality in Japan seems to be more of a part of power relationships – junior members have to be on time as a mandatory sign of respect to elders – rather than a widespread cultural tendency. As I wrote, trains have to be on time, but when things are more relaxed, punctuality depends on who is involved.

    A professor recently said that keitai are decreasing punctuality in Japan because you can call and report your tardiness to the waiting party. So, is there a technological aspect as well?

  5. marxy Says:

    I’ve waited for a train in New York for 40 mins before an announcement came on and said that the train is out of service. But it’s NYC, so it’s not such a big deal. Even if the trains aren’t running, cabs are cheap and much can be traversed on foot. And your boss isn’t going to dock your career chances because you lack written proof of subway failure. There is just less dependency on the system.

    I think there is an element of population density – do DC or NYC have such masses of riders? What about Paris? I’ve heard their trains are more packed than Japan?

  6. Jrim Says:

    Just look at the London Underground – it’s the oldest in the world (well, parts of it at least), and many of the tunnels are so narrow that it’s impossible to do maintenance except at night, when trains aren’t running. Suffice to say that it’s a novelty if your train turns up at the scheduled time – but, well, I don’t know any Londoners who bother with train timetables, it’s more a case of turning up and hoping for the best.

    Does the whole system get fucked when one of the lines stops running? Yes.

  7. marxy Says:

    But are there degrees of “fucked”?

  8. Dave Says:

    Marxy, you have a point, but it’s still amazing that the trains run on time *all the time*. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re achieving 99% or higher on time (and the JR definition of on time is considerably stricter than those elsewhere!)

    You’re right that it’s caused by necessity, (otherwise they would just never achieve it in the first place, it’s an incredible effort.)

    While other countries may have the need, they can’t actually make it happen. So I’m very impressed.

    (On the other hand, moving some of your offices outside the city isn’t exactly rocket science – probably easier than scheduling all the trains!)

  9. Arnaud Says:

    Paris subway is not nearly as packed as Tokyo’s. But it won’t be long until it gets, considering the number of cars burning everyday in the suburbs nowadays…

  10. Jrim Says:

    Hahaha. Mate, there are always degrees of “fucked”. As I mentioned earlier, though, the average Londoner is resigned to the fact that the Tube ain’t ever going to run perfectly. Maybe the fact that transport system failures in Tokyo cause such disruption (and methinks you might be exaggerating just a little when you say “the city stops working” during such situations – what, the lights go dim and all the automated announcements start playing backwards?) might just be indicative of a lack of imagination.

    And anyway, what say you about the Swiss rail system, where (apparently) the average route requires numerous changes, between a variety of different private networks, but everything runs (who would’ve thunk it?) like clockwork?

  11. marxy Says:

    Here’s another scenario presuming that train punctuality has been present from the beginning: Japan’s railways emphasize staying on schedule at first as a way to enhance product image/prove the realization of some sort of nationalist goal of modernization, and the success of the system actually encourages more and more usage to a point where the timeliness is now a rational necessity, not just a point of “pride.”

    you might be exaggerating just a little when you say “the city stops working” during such situations

    Yes, but things get much hairier in Tokyo when a line shuts down than I’ve seen in other cities (although I admit ignorance about most examples.). Especially in the morning hours, the trains run on time, not just so people get to work on time, but so they can manage to get everyone into the city in a equally-distributed manner (which is not as big of a problem in the New York region, at least). The most crowded train I’ve ever been on was a morning Yamanote line from Takadanobaba that was just 5 mins late. My headphones were yanked off my head and I had to reach into the closing doors to pull them off a passenger. When I finally got on the next train, my feet were about a meter diagonally removed from my head. The rush hour cars are bad enough, but just one missed train doubles the passenger load.

  12. marxy Says:

    But it won’t be long until it gets, considering the number of cars burning everyday in the suburbs nowadays…

    I kept checking Yahoo News, and the headline about rioting stayed the same, but the number of “cars burned” kept increasing every hour.

  13. Arnaud Says:

    I’ve just watched the french midday news, the riots were at a peek yesterday with 1408 cars burned (along with a few schools and public facilities) as the movement started reaching other major cities. The number is about 4800 cars burned in 10 days. But I guess this has nothing to do with the subway, sorry.

  14. guest Says:

    Puntuality is analogous to bowing: Both operate on a sliding scale. There’s no reciprocal exchange of late slips, that’s for sure! But, this particularly patronizing form of authoritarian micromanagment aside, aren’t hierarchical patterns of punctuality a pretty widespread phenomena? Is it especially pronounced in Japan?

    “Supposedly, the teachers in the Hard Sciences, however, show up right on time.”

    From what I understand, a lot of things are different in the hard sciences (students actually work in college, for example). Still, I’ve met foreign researchers who complained that nobody would contradict the head of the lab, even on minor points, and that everyone kind of worshipped him (yes, it’s always a him). Not good for science, certainly, but it may be that this kind of reverence, as a social perk, makes up for a less outrageous income disparity between superiors and inferiors.

    This is probably a dumb question, but is there any way to quantify this kind of non-economic social stratification? Is it possible to compare social capital and economic capital, or does that just put us in apples and oranges territory?

    Lastly, let’s not minimize the problem of chikan. I know a number of women who absolutely dread crowded trains. Could it be that the desire to avoid such trains (and harassment at work) acts as a significant incentive for women to marry and exit the work force? If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say the LDP planned it that way…

  15. Mark E Says:

    several things –

    1) Agreed. Senior-junior relationships generally work the same round the world. One is usually not late to meet a superior if one can help it. On the other hand, if it someone being met is not particularly important, leaving the house 10 minutes late – it will slide.

    2) Tokyo, or more precisely put the Kanto area is the largest metropolis on the planet – so in that vein, marxy is absolutely correct in saying that the degree of ‘fucked-up-titued’ is greater. This should seem only natural, the scale is larger. That is the simple version.

    3) People are also addicted to the train efficiency in Tokyo. The reason people have difficulty functioning without it, in contrast to Londoners who have come to expect delay and other assorted imperfection, is it is trustworthy. When the trust is broken, I assume a lot of people stand around in, assuming that things will get back to normal in 5 minutes, it is dependable after all – thus creating an appearence of totally collapse of society….well, maybe not that bad, but….

    4) Finally, Train Otaku. Has no one else seen the train video games? They are in game centers, for the PS2, PSP…probably other stuff, but didn’t notice. Slightly boring, but for a hundred yen, you get your money’s worth for game play time. I know there are train fanatics in other parts of the world, but that there is a market big enough in Japan for these type of games is facinating. There is more going on here than pride in modernity (not that M isn’t a factor), there is an otaku (somewhat obcessive at that) componant to Japan’s rail utopia.

    5) Oh yeah and – there has to be a good point to be made about the Kobe Hankyu crash, the young guy, drinking the night before with JR West folk, (Not the oil barron JR Ewing mind you), and then under so much pressure to keep the train on time that he derailed and killed a number of people…just to throw that out there.

  16. Graham Says:

    The direction of causality between train punctuality and a “culture of punctuality” mystifies me. It’s clear, however, that the utter lack of alternatives to train transport in Tokyo is exceptional. Two points of comparison:

    Chicago — When an El line stops running (usually because of a fire on the tracks), the advice going out over the radio and television from the Chicago Transit Authority is to use alternative transportation. This works because people can usually get a ride from a friend or take a bus in a pinch.

    New York — When a major line stops, there is limited chaos, but the system has some key redundancies. Multiple lines run parallel and they aren’t mutually dependant. Crosstown busses in Manhattan and relatively good train and bus coverage in the boroughs fills gaps. Taxis are cheaper than in Tokyo, but many subway riders still can’t afford a cabride home.

    In both Chicago and New York, if you get stranded on your way home, you can change plans and stay out at a diner or a bar until the problem clears up, and the trains never stop. And in both cities “I was stuck on the A train/Red Line at West 4th/Fullerton for 20 min” is a valid excuse for tardiness.

    Whether this is because New Yorkers and Chicagoans are less culturally punctual than Tokyoites is beyond me.

  17. i.m. dead Says:

    “the trains in Japan move on time because they have to”

    that’s sooooooo zen dude!

  18. Chris_B Says:

    trains: file under obvious

    how is it that wannabe science is allowed to use such a prefix to differentiate itself from the real thing?

  19. marxy Says:

    Senior-junior relationships generally work the same round the world.

    But at least in most other countries, there aren’t such minor gradiations of senior-junior, and in most Indo-European languages, there are barely honorific system that verbally delineate these exact distinctions in hierarchy. This is changing rapidly in Japan, but vertical hierarchy directly influences every part of Japanese culture in a way it only does more subtly in other parts in the world.

    aren’t hierarchical patterns of punctuality a pretty widespread phenomena? Is it especially pronounced in Japan?

    Probably, but the Japanese customs are much more rigid. Objective, written proof is required over just a verbal apology. Punctuality must have some roots in regulating efficiency, but in Japan, it especially becomes an important way in which to show group dedication and suboordination to authority, going so far as to actually reduce (at least short-term) efficiency.

    Is it possible to compare social capital and economic capital, or does that just put us in apples and oranges territory?

    One of the reasons scholars are interested in social and cultural capital is they want to know how the two correlate with economic capital. I would guess that social capital in Japan is less valuable because the rigidity of the employment system generally prevents individuals from cashing in their social capital to get better and higher paid jobs at other companies (although this is changing.) If you see the old lifetime employment system as a means of labor control, creating a culture when seniors are “honored” by juniors is just a way to have workers legitimize the closed labor system with cultural attributes and forget that they are boxed in by the management.

    Lastly, let’s not minimize the problem of chikan. I know a number of women who absolutely dread crowded trains.

    I think chikan is a real problem and I didn’t mean to be dismissive. The new women-only trains do seem to be a realistic solution. Do they work not that the hype is gone? Why did they take so long to impliment in the first place?

    It’s clear, however, that the utter lack of alternatives to train transport in Tokyo is exceptional.

    Yep. And even when the Yamanote line shuts down, it cost me 400 yen to go on private subways to get to a normally 160-priced stop. (For future reference, when the Yamanote line stops, you can just show your JR pass and train attendants will let you in for free apparently.)

  20. Chris_B Says:

    on the fuckedupedness of train pricing: I still dont understand why if I get on the hanzomon subway line and sit in the same seat until I get off somewhere down in kanagawa, why is it I get tripple charged for “changing lines”? same for when the tozai or chiyoda lines turn into JR lines.

    on social capital: dont underestimate the value of the OB network. Where I’m employed I’ve seen senior guys come in from outside and bring a pack of middle managers with them based on connections alone.

  21. womble Says:

    One of the strange things I have noticed since the recent train crash is that the “this train will be 2 minutes late” signs have all but disappeared. Now, unless the train is going to be more than 5 minutes late there’s no notice at all. A lot of the outcry about the crash was that JR West was making punctuality more of a priority than people’s lives, so the tardiness is understandable but it’s odd to realise how many of the trains before the crash must have been breaking the speed limits that are now strictly adhered to in order to create the impression of efficiency.

  22. der Says:

    OT: Can someone please explain the title pun to me? I don’t see how you get from “train” (“a” with lips spread, unrounded) to “Drang” (“a” roughly as in “sun”, but articulated further back, in any case with lips rounded).

    Apart from that, the reference to a movement that professed enthusiasm for nature and dealt with the unease of man in contemporary society is of course a subtle comment on the topic.

  23. guest Says:

    “Probably, but the Japanese customs are much more rigid. Objective, written proof is required over just a verbal apology.”

    It’s funny how downright “low context” this appears! But I guess it’s properly orthopraxic.

    By the way, I think I confused things a bit because I made a major error of jargon in my previous post: I assume that getting to show up late/leave early, not remember people’s names, etc. should count as symbolic capital or maybe cultural capital, but not social capital, as these priveleges don’t depend so much on who you know as they do on everybody knowing who you are and recognizing your superior position. So I guess I was wondering if/how disparity in symbolic capital makes up for the comparatively small disparity in economic capital in Japan, and if there’s any chance of quantifying this?

    Quick rhetorical question: Would one have as big a chikan problem on a train packed full of, say, Swedes? Logistics is certainly part of it, but it’s not the whole story…

  24. marxy Says:

    on social capital: dont underestimate the value of the OB network. Where I’m employed I’ve seen senior guys come in from outside and bring a pack of middle managers with them based on connections alone.

    These are rich guys getting richer, no?

    Can someone please explain the title pun to me? I don’t see how you get from “train” (“a” with lips spread, unrounded) to “Drang” (“a” roughly as in “sun”, but articulated further back, in any case with lips rounded).

    It’s a terrible, meaningless pun. I apologize. Although “drang” sounded in English is like “draing” and the old JR slogan was “Traing (Train + ing). (Why not Training, which is an actual word???)

    It’s funny how downright “low context” this appears!

    Yes, indeed. Good catch.

    Would one have as big a chikan problem on a train packed full of, say, Swedes?

    You’re essentially asking where the high rate of Japanese perversion (or sexually-focus otakuism, if you will) comes from, and I would guess that the education system’s constant seperation of the sexes probably would have some impact, no? Are there other modern countries where a large majority of girls and guys absolutely never share the same school until the university level? Shoot me down if I’m way off…

  25. Chris_B Says:

    the women’s only cars aint nothin but a baind aid on the chikan cancer.

  26. MC Says:

    The seperation only takes place at private schools. What about public junior high school kids who dress for PE together in the same room? Then again that might explain the “Lolicon”. I think it’s something more closely related to cultural characteristics of passivity and non-interaction, which I think has less to do with “official” seperation than with individual inability to interact actively with the opposite sex. Or perhaps a result of the unaturally close bonds between mothers and their sons? I thinkther eis something to this chikan phenomena and “sexual otakuism”-upskirt photography, fetishism, enjo kosai, mizu shobai, S&M culture, etc…

    On another note have you ever read any of sociologist Shinji Miyadi’s books? I’m not at your reading level and I don’t think any of his books are translated into English, but he has written about a lot of contemporary problems (I read an interview in English several years ago): Ex. The Choice of Uniformed School Girls-where he looks at the question of why young girls would sell their panties, rather than looking at why there is a demand for them.

  27. alin Says:

    unaturally close bonds between mothers and their sons?

    ho ho ho, methinks we’re regressing into victorianism here. onanism too is unnatural and so is homosexuality.

    i have a few times used the term ‘oedipal’ here without actually explaining what i meant , therefore getting comments like : oedipal,? hey there’s the whole mazacon in japan etc.

    now, on a tangent, and briefly, i’ll try explain what i meant when calling marxy oedipal. to me the crux of oedipus’ is not the extent or even nature of his deed, which in the context is not only perfectly understandable but probably pardonable by any legal system including that of his own place and time, rather it’s the stuff going on in his own consciousnes/conscience, his own paranoiac interpretaion and judgement of what had occured that is the cause of oedipus’ own oedipal complex which on one hand puts him in a problematic, paranoiac relation with the concept of authority (like marxy),( his superego if you want) on the other in a chicken and egg kind of way reinforces the tabu, or actually creates it. ( Now, i suspect this is not too out of line with the Deluze/Gauttari somewhat impenetrable stuff in Capitalism and schizophrenia.)

    anyway, back to japan. simply because the (psychological, because we’re not talking about extreme cases of actual intercourse) taboo and paranoia does not exist or is much weaker derogatorily calling it unnatural is ,well, ethnocentric to say the least.

    japanese children have been having basically equal to now if not more ‘unnatural’ relationships with their mothers long before katakana words became common. (fact noted by many early western travellers and commentators) so again to cut it short this becomes another wholesale attack on a culture that’s simply different to yours.

    having said this, there surely are issues and stuff. a lot of it have to do with the fact that the old ways have not and probably will not dissapear while new stuff is never imported wholesale so often messy stuff does come about.

    somewhat but not entirely off topic http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20040619f1.htm
    very far from yamanote-sen though

  28. marxy Says:

    derogatorily calling it unnatural is ,well, ethnocentric to say the least

    This whole super-sensitive cultural-relativist wing I have on my blog that likes to scream “ethnocentric” every possible post has a fundamentally flaw to their main arguments: Japanese behavior and psychology have changed fundamentally over time.

    his own paranoiac interpretaion and judgement of what had occured that is the cause of oedipus’ own oedipal complex which on one hand puts him in a problematic, paranoiac relation with the concept of authority

    The problem with saying “the Japanese do not have anti-authority complex” is that it’s Presentism – you are extrapolating the post-70s unpolitical Japanese behavior as an eternal trait of the Japanese. You are denying the massive 1960’s Ampo riots and the great student participation in anti-government left-wing protests. Or the strength of the labor movement in the 1950s.

    So what changed Japanese behavior? If it was specific institutions and the results originate from man-made economic and educational systems, then there is nothing “ethnocentric” about questioning why the Japanese have lost their political edge. Democracies depend on a dialogue between people and their leaders, and that dialogue does not exist in Japan. Has the system engineered this political apathy on purpose? It’s a question at least worth asking.

  29. roddy Says:

    Has the system engineered this political apathy on purpose?

    I’m still unclear as to what Marxy sees as “the system”?

    Democracies depend on a dialogue between people and their leaders, and that dialogue does not exist in Japan.

    I guess Japan advertises itself as a democracy, but when I lived there, it certainly had the feel of a comfy quasi-socialist society. When reading your comment above, it almost makes more sense to substitute the word America for Japan.

  30. marxy Says:

    The economic and education systems in Japan were created by central decree to serve specific modernizing ends. The “system” is less organic in Japan than elsewhere because changes require high-level access. It’s a one-party state where 60% of the power isn’t even handled by elected politicians.

    I guess Japan advertises itself as a democracy, but when I lived there, it certainly had the feel of a comfy quasi-socialist society.

    Do you use the word “socialism” to mean a system in which there is no private property or just “centrally-collected, authoritarian power”? Fascism had its hands in everything too, but the word is too loaded to use to describe the way a political system works.

    When reading your comment above, it almost makes more sense to substitute the word America for Japan.

    America has also lost some of its passion for “fightin’ the power,” but it would be absurd to think that “political consciousness” is low. The culture war is political, and vice versa. Maybe the fact that it isn’t economic, however, does show something about Japan and the U.S. – political consciousness based on economic conditions has lost strength for the last 30 years.

  31. roddy Says:

    It’s a one-party state where 60% of the power isn’t even handled by elected politicians.

    Not sure where those figures are coming from, but they’re hard to argue with. Would be curious to know what kind of power you’re referring to, but I’m guessing, following the theme of this blog, it’s based simply on who is spending money and who isn’t.

    Do you use the word “socialism” to mean a system in which there is no private property or just “centrally-collected, authoritarian power”?

    I’ll take C please: I mean it in the sense that it seems to me the Japanese government is based more on a western European model than the American one, with a lot of emphasis based on the collective will of elite bureaucrats rather than direct and blunt voting by the populous. I think this works in their favor a lot of the time, providing more social benefits and generally restraining any one individual from putting his or her “mandate” into practice, as tends to happen here in America.

    America has also lost some of its passion for “fightin’ the power,” but it would be absurd to think that “political consciousness” is low.

    Well, I guess “political consciousness” is not low in America. But I can’t help but think that what is considered to be the left in this country would probably be the center-right in a country say like Holland. So while there is political consciousness here, the viewpoints are constrained in a tiny spectrum right down the middle. Not sure if that’s “real political consciousness” or something else, maybe the system in America has “engineered some apathy” here as well?

  32. jasong Says:

    I had someone explain to me (in reverent tones) the importance of the “diagram” — the inherent diamond-shaped building blocks of the train schedules in Japan that allow all the lines to coalesce in near-perfect sychronization. I don’t really understand it, but I would defy any other country to provide national 路線 reference resources as detailed and exact as Japan’s.

    Looking at http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%A1%E3%82%A4%E3%83%B3%E3%83%9A%E3%83%BC%E3%82%B8,
    I just learned two interesting Japanese language points:

    1) The word 「ダイヤグラム」 (katakana of “diagram,” but with a different connotation) inherently refers to train and public transportation timetables.

    2) Train lines that offer two or more flavours of speed (急行、準急、特急 etc.) are strangely referred to as 「優等列車」 (yuutou ressha), which seems to lend a nuance of pride. Marxy, you’re a scholar — give it a scholarly translation.

    Could a tragedy like Amagasaki have been avoided if there wasn’t an all-or-nothing attitude about punctuality? Or would there be more accidents?

  33. alin Says:

    behavior and psychology have changed fundamentally over time.

    sure, so you hail every little change towards the specific direction that is your default and would like to correct everything that falls short or different.
    deep down you would like (maybe this should be past tense) japan to become your ideal of america incarnate. every colonialist’s dream.

  34. marxy Says:

    Would be curious to know what kind of power you’re referring to

    I mean political, decision-making power. Politicians may change, but the bureaucrats are in their ministries for life.

    But I would defy any other country to provide national rail reference resources as detailed and exact as Japan’s.

    I agree, but again, there is more dependency on trains for everyday economic conditions than in other countries.

    deep down you would like (maybe this should be past tense) japan to become your ideal of america incarnate. every colonialist’s dream.

    Again, you’re missing the point. Japan becomes more and more “American” because you are confusing the logic of capitalism with “American values.” I don’t “want” Japan to be like America as much as I want it to face up to the fact that it has a capitalist system in need of decentralized power for more economic growth. Or oppositely, there is much value in throwing off the entire idea of measuring progress in terms of economic growth and rearranging resources to improve the general “quality of life” instead. I’d be happy for Japan to become more like Western Europe, to be honest. Maybe then, they wouldn’t destroy another building with traditional architecture in my neighborhood every week.

  35. alin Says:

    Japan to become more like Western Europe, to be honest. Maybe then, they wouldn’t destroy another building with traditional architecture in my neighborhood every week.

    this is quite a subtle issue.

    on one hand, yes in (western) europe they have this preservation thing where history and tradition is supposed to be measured in the bricks and rocks themselves and this preservation is often carried to the point that the original ends up looking like a fake. (so often the european hon-mono ends up as aura-less, as european, as the new italia-town they’re building now in shimbashi – there surely are exceptions, walk from west to east berlin and you see the difference.) this is taken even furtherto the point that some european cities (benelux) are triming their taller buildings built with modernist zeal 30 – 40 years ago to foreground what i consider their already disneyfied landmarks. not only europe but in sydney, australia in certain areas creative architects have to cheat their way in by making fresh stuff look like victorian terrace houses.
    now japan on the other hand has never placed much value on the object itself (the ‘oldest’ shrine is rebuilt every 20 years), you go through areas of tokyo or osaka and you feel the energy of 100, 200 years ago yet none of the buildings around are older than 40 years. while it’s true that a lot of nasty stuff has been built during showa and much is still being built now, there is also a large number of quite young architects who like kazuyo sejima says just have the traditional thing in their blood and it comes out without having to consciously refer to it. you can see the lightness and clarity of heian and older architecture not ossified and preserved but alive and functioning at say the 21C bijutukan in kanazawa and so much more.

    i’m exagerating to make my point; there is some pretty cool stuff going on in europe and plenty of fascist architecture still erected in japan.

  36. guest Says:

    There was some concern about this blog lacking in ethnocentricty lately, so please allow me to add this as a corrective:

    Contrary to what MC wrote earlier, single-sex public schools do still exist in Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama and Miyagi prefectures. Among these are some of the most prestigious public high schools in the country (not necessarily an oxymoron). Miyagi is the champ, I believe, with 22 single-sex public schools.

    Many of these schools have Old Boys who are very powerful and very conservative, so this is still a battle of attrition in Japan’s current 文化戦争, but the Basic Law for a Gender Equal Society and the shrinking student population should eventually put the last few nails in the coffin. Congratulations to Fukushima, which abolished gender segregation a few years back!

    (I wonder though, when all public schools finally go coed, will ruling class parents just send their sons to private schools, accelerating a trend we can already see in 東大 admissions? Anything to keep their golden eggs from yucky girl germs!)

    I’ve read various things to the effect that the geographical proximity of these single-sex holdouts is no coincidence: One has it that the GHQ official in charge of education reform for the region was not the most progressive, another that education reform started in earlier western Japan, so that, unlike eastern Japan, its gender desegregation was complete by the time the reverse couse brought the conservatives back to power, putting the brakes on reform.