Hiroshima’s airport syndrome

E-mail from a friend:

I look at the map and there’s a great airport right by the bay of Hiroshima. Great I think. Just like Fukuoka, an airport right in city center, nice and convenient.

But no, that’s the “Hiroshima West Flying strip.” The actual airport is, of course, up in the f***ing mountains, 50km and an hour bus ride away from Hiroshima.

How the f*** did this country get trains so right, and yet planes so wrong?

Check it out on Google Maps. You have to zoom into Hiroshima City to see the smaller airport.

View Larger Map

Hiroshima West was Hiroshima’s only airport from 1961 until 1992, when the new Hiroshima Airport opened outside the city. For a while Hiroshima West stayed alive as a hub for small regional prop plane flights, sort of like Sapporo’s Okadama Airport, but nowadays its operations are limited to a couple of podunk destinations, and everyone else has to either take the Shinkansen or subject themselves to the hour-long bus ride from the new airport.

Japan’s trains lucked out — they were set up (for the most part) before 1920, back when it was easy to find and expropriate land for lines and stations. Japan’s airports are much more recent creations. There are only two significant Japanese airports which predate World War II: Tokyo Haneda and Sapporo Chitose. Most of the major airports of the early postwar era were built as military bases during the war (Itami, Komaki, Fukuoka, Okinawa) and didn’t get civilian operations until the 1950s, by which point they were starting to be strangled by their neighboring cities, right when runway and terminal extensions were needed to handle the new generation of jets. This is how we ended up with inconvenient monstrosities like Narita and the new Hiroshima airport.

(The biggest postwar rail development, the Shinkansen network, is not coincidentally also an inconvenient one in places like Yokohama and Osaka, where they had to stick the terminal in the middle of nowhere for lack of better options.)

To Japan’s credit, most of the big-city airports here are now multimodal, with direct rail connections into the city. There are two rail lines that pass right by Hiroshima Airport — the Sanyo Shinkansen and Sanyo Main Line — and there have been a multitude of plans to connect one or both of these lines to the airport by a spur line, monorail, maglev, ropeway or any number of other mass-transit means. So why hasn’t this happened?

Both of those lines are JR lines, and Hiroshima is one city where JR has an ironclad grip on domestic travel. Tokyo-Hiroshima is 4 hours by Shinkansen: by plane it’s 90 minutes, but the transfer from Hiroshima Airport to the city takes 60-90 minutes depending on how long it takes for the bus to show up, and another 45-60 minutes to get to Haneda and check in makes flying a bigger hassle than it’s worth on this heavily-traveled route. The airlines can stay competitive in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka thanks to relatively convenient airports, but the inconvenience of Hiroshima Airport works in favor of the one company that has the power to make it more convenient.

Some more thoughts on eikaiwa, this time less bile-fueled

I am looking back at some of my writing on eikaiwa and it is pretty cold-hearted, Internet Toughguy stuff (calling them pathetic and useless only to halfheartedly apologize later). I guess as someone the same age as many of these eikaiwa teachers I had trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but forgive me for only just appreciating that:

(a) for a lot of these eikaiwa teachers it is their first time in the work force, so it isnt really fair to lay their industry’s shortcomings at their feet; and

(b) the service offered by eikaiwa schools isnt that much different from the borderline-deceptive practices of a lot of businesses, but you don’t see me calling moisturizer salesladies a bunch of charlatans for peddling dubious claims, or insurance salespeople scheisters for convincing salarymen to gamble their life savings on risky annuities.

Part of the reason eikaiwa can come off so ugly from the Westerner perspective is because, often for the first time, we are only looking at the dark underbelly of the business instead of the neat and polished exterior. Usually we are happy to be fooled into thinking we need cold soda and DVD recorders, but when Westernness and dreams of a better life are being so clearly deceptively sold, it turns our stomachs.

Imagine if our first experience with the circus was to see a clown with his wig off, makeup smeared, and sipping from a flask? I think we might have a hard time enjoying the show after that.

Even without deception, the fundamental principle of selling something is to create demand where it might not otherwise be. That may be hard for me to appreciate as someone who sits at a desk and translates all day. My job seems to have limitless demand that almost literally falls in my lap, and more importantly I have never had to convince someone to have something translated. But were I to lose my job I’d be back in the business of marketing myself as the right person to turn your Japanese documents into proper English.

“Successful entrepreneur” offers free video on how to make money… obviously not a scam

This “press release” for “infinite cash secrets” is datelined from my hometown.  Google helpfully sent this to me in the form of a News Alert. Looks like since I left Somers has become a hotbed of multi-level marketing scams:
Shawver has achieved his online success by using the principles found in a program called The Infinite Income Plan.

“The Infinite Income Plan allows members of our team to consistently earn $5,000-10,000 dollar weeks by combining its state of the art back office with it’s vast array of cutting edge tools, with even more advanced and state of the art tools we provide to our team,” according to Shawver.

Shawver recognizes that just being handed a plan doesn’t mean that people will put that plan into action, and if they aren’t willing to put some time and effort into it, they won’t succeed.

How far does the economy have to tank before we are all Nigerians?
On a related note, I am totally in love with this site Skeptoid, a podcast (with transcripts) dedicated to debunking pseudoscientific junk like Reiki and homeopathy. While the site is generally a gold mine (see my favorites on how to argue with a creationist and the myth of peak oil), most relevant to the topic at hand is his take-down of pyramid schemes called “Bend Over and Own Your Own Business.” To wit:

Here’s a typical way this works. You see an ad in the paper or on the Internet promising financial freedom, owning your own business. For some fee, say $500, you can become a authorized sales agency for XYZ Company, which sells timeshare condominiums or some other product or service. In exchange for your $500, XYZ Company will provide you with qualified leads, and you are free to pursue those leads however you see fit. Call them on the phone, knock on their door, chase them down on the street and make dramatic flying dive tackles, do whatever you can do (at your own expense, of course; you are self-employed), and hopefully get some sales. You, of course, do not have any timeshare condominiums yourself, XYZ Company does; so you need to spend a portion of the money you earned from the sale to have XYZ Company provide the product to the customer. Everything works out swell for everyone. The customer got his timeshare; you earned a profit; and XYZ Company made a sale. So what’s the problem?

Well, your friend Bob was applying for a job at ABC Company at the same time you were selling your old record albums to raise the $500. Bob was given a nice office at ABC Company, was freely handed the same list of leads that XYZ Company made you pay for, and he proceeded to make phone calls on ABC Company’s phone bill until he made a sale. ABC Company paid him a handsome commission, deducted nothing from it, and Bob went home for the day, secure with his employee benefits package. Bob is not only $500 richer than you, he incurred no costs of his own, and ran no risk of being poor since most salespeople like Bob are paid base salaries.

But I understand why you don’t want to turn green with envy. After all, you have your freedom and are self-employed! Bob is not, Bob has to answer to his boss; and that’s a lifestyle you don’t want no matter how nice of a BMW Bob gets on a company lease. Your friend Red feels the way you do. Red is an independent sales rep. He sells products from various companies, and earns a nice commission on every sale. He comes and goes as he pleases, and answers to no man. But when you ask Red how much he had to pay each of his companies for the business opportunity, he looks at you like you’re from Neptune. Red explains “You don’t pay companies to be their sales rep, they pay you.”

And now you see how you’ve been taken advantage of. XYZ Company has sold you on becoming their sales agent, working at your own expense and at your own risk, and also managed to take $500 from you for no good reason. If you wanted to be an independent sales agent, fine; you could easily have gone and represented any of the same companies that Red sells for, and not paid them a dime.

What will the news look like in the future?

Happy new year everyone!

The New Yorker had a nice, concise piece on the financial state of the newspaper industry recently (it’s bad), which concludes:

Does that mean newspapers are doomed? Not necessarily. There are many possible futures one can imagine for them, from becoming foundation-run nonprofits to relying on reader donations to that old standby the deep-pocketed patron. It’s even possible that a few papers will be able to earn enough money online to make the traditional ad-supported strategy work. But it would not be shocking if, sometime soon, there were big American cities that had no local newspaper; more important, we’re almost sure to see a sharp decline in the volume and variety of content that newspapers collectively produce. For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.

A third alternative could be to bundle a “news service” fee into your monthly Internet service provider bill, as has been proposed for “illegal” music downloading.

In his “Cyber Libertarian” column for Ascii, economist Nobuo Ikeda forecasts that newspapers in Japan will become “platforms” — meaning they will eventually shed the high-cost paper distribution system and even their newsrooms in favor of publishing outsourced content under their venerated imprints.

I am not sure what to make of it all, but it’s fascinating stuff and I would love to hear your thoughts!

When I think kabuki, I think Iceland

Another usage of the dreaded kabuki metaphor, this time in the midst of a very entertaining Slate.com report from the protests in economically devastated Iceland.

It is an accusation that sits uncomfortably, a reminder that this weird public Kabuki is, somehow, the glint off larger problems.

In this case, I get the impression that kabuki is not being used, as has become traditional, to represent an oft-repeated piece of empty political theatre but simply as a description of meaningful yet incomprehensible political theatre. Of course, a better choice of metaphor would be noh.