The only rule of commuting that matters – just blend in

Reuters has a list of Japanese commuters’ common pet peeves:

1. Noisy conversation, horsing around

2. Music from headphones

3. The way passengers sit

4. Cellphone ringtones and talking on phones

5. Manners when getting on and off trains

6. Applying make-up

7. Littering

8. Sitting on the floor of the train

9. Riding the train drunk

10. Riding a crowded train with a child stroller

Most Mutant Frog readers will probably not find anything new on the list. Even the train companies are aware of them – most are covered in Tokyo Metro’s awesome “Please do it at Home” poster series (above, and read the Sandra Japandra blog if you want to laugh your ass off). Some seem more reasonable than others – can a mother really avoid bringing her kid on the train?

Pet peeves about daily life are simply a part of the human condition – American motorists all get pissed off at people who don’t use their blinkers, and on and on. However, in Japan these complaints seem to take on an extra sense of urgency because commuting on a packed train (often for more than an hour each way) is often so intimate and potentially dangerous. The pressure on your chest as that last person piles on. The feeling of being shoved as people stampede out at a major transfer station. The anxiety women must feel that the hand behind them could start getting too familiar.

With trains as crowded as Tokyo’s, everyone has an interest in maintaining some semblance of order and control. That’s maybe the one thing that keeps people in a tightly packed train from suffering a breakdown (and allows people to concentrate on a newspaper or Nintendo DS).

To deal with this, I think the people of Tokyo (and possibly all Japanese cities) have come up with one unwritten, overarching meta-rule that unites them all – do not stand out. People who stand out violate this order and thus subject themselves to the furtive glance of doom, that momentary registering of disapproval.

Even those who violate a few of the pet peeves themselves will feel annoyed at others who do the same. That’s because this rule is enforced by a million individual pet peeves manifesting themselves passive-aggressively. For example, I sometimes eat chocolate on the train but hate it when someone eats a sandwich or something I can smell. In my head, I feel like my eating is cleaner and therefore less rude.

This might be a stretch, but as a foreigner I feel like I automatically violate the rule just by being different. Once people see a white man they can never be sure if I’ll follow all the rules. Hence, just about every time I enter a reasonably packed train car I am greeted with half a dozen glances. I don’t necessarily think it’s racist–for most people it’s based on experience and it’s no more hostile than the automatic glances that would be directed toward other potential scofflaws – construction workers, thuggishly dressed kids, gyaru, etc etc.

Day in and day out, I share the train with the people who glare at me, and I start to glare back. I get territorial about my comfort zone – the handrail in front of the bench seats gives you enough room to read – and resent anyone who would violate it. I start to understand why people go out of their way to avoid talking to strangers. And I definitely get why people don’t bother giving up their seats to old people and pregnant ladies. Those people are breaking the rule!

This is why I think alleviating the insanely crowded train situation is vital to improving the national mood. I ridiculed Roger Cohen for talking about the gloomy attitude in Japan, but on that point he was right. People look like hateful, unhappy zombies during their commutes. The train companies are doing their best, but I feel like the media and politicians avoid really focusing on it because it’s one of those tough, intractable problems with no good solution. Better to let the plebes focus on how awful it is that some celebrities use drugs. But why not try some bolder solutions, like a second, identical Yamanote line, or double-decker train cars?

As a man with a short commute, I should be the last to complain about this. But I can’t help but thinking about it. It’s a national obsession, and in almost three years of living here it’s become mine as well.

61 thoughts on “The only rule of commuting that matters – just blend in”

  1. Are you suggesting that silence on public transport is the norm in Japan because the trains are overcrowded? In my experience, people pretty much keep to themselves (or, less charitably, “look like hateful, unhappy zombies”) even when the trains are practically empty. With the exception of gyaru, conversation on trains in Japan is usually hushed, even when it is conducted over the phone.

    The idea that there are chikan out there is, of course, disturbing, but somewhat addressed by “ladies only” cars. I inadvertently boarded one once, when I was in a rush. You should have seen the hateful looks I got. Rightly so, too. I changed cars as soon as I realised where I was.

    Personally, I like the silence that you interpret as sadness or hostility. In fact the public transport, including the civility displayed by most passengers was one of the best things about Japan for me. I can’t think of anything worse on an otherwise normal train ride than being forced to listen to other people’s conversations. It is one of my pet peeves at the moment.

  2. To me this post was hilarious because I live in New York. Seven of those ten complaints would also be made by subway-riding New Yorkers. The only ones that don’t apply are #4 (no cellphone signals in the subways, though the MTA is working hard in “fixing” this), #8, and, though I’m not sure why, #9. And I just rearranged my commute, switching from a line where I didn’t need to transfer to a somewhat longer route involving a transfer, because the first line was just getting too crowded. We could really use those people whose job it is to push people into the trains over here.

    The “the furtive glance of doom” used to keep commuters in line here, but unfortunately it no longer seems to be working and I’m hearing people play their music louder and having to navigate people who move into the train and then stop immediately at the door, not letting anyone else in, more often. And people definitely look like “hateful, unhappy zombies” during their commutes here too.

  3. That survey is always loaded to some degree because the respondents are given a list of peeves and asked to choose three. The survey designers say it makes it easier to classify similar complaints but there’s going to be a degree of “leading the witness” in such an approach. Chikan are also not included, probably because that is a criminal offence and not just bad manners but they blight a journey for some far more than any behaviour in the list above.

    The “highlight” this year was that 2 “noise” peeves ranked top while last year it was this year’s no. 3 peeve which was the biggest bugbear. If you read the breakdown of the survey, there are some notable differences between the sexes. Women hate drunks far more than men (no.5 vs no.11 for men) while mobile phones are no.2 for men but only no.7 for women.

  4. Ed, I believe the MTA is only installing cell phone radios in the station/platform areas-not in the tunnels.

    And speaking of chikan, the idea that there is anything remotely unique to Japan about this problem is a commonly raised misconception. I’ve heard plenty of stories about creepy dudes on the NYC subway, and the Times has even written articles about it- and transit systems in cities such as Manila, Mexico City, and Mumbai all have female-only cars for the exact same reasons they exist in Japan.

  5. As long as we’re comparing Japan to elsewhere (something I studiously avoided on this blog after somebody told me off for doing it), my impression is that loud conversations and otherwise animated behaviour is often not the norm on public transport in the European nations I have visited/lived in, and it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) happen in New Zealand either. My irritation with the fact that it seems to be fairly normal for people in Washington to talk so that the whole car can hear their conversation is perhaps anecdotal evidence that this is indeed the case. Japan seems to be more an archetypical example of expected decorum, rather than an outlier. How that gets interpreted as sadness, or indeed, wrapped up in the usual stereotypes about the disintegration of Japanese society, I can understand, but I don’t agree.

  6. I actually saw a chikan-like grinding incident on a subway in North America the other day, the victim just pushed the guy away and didn’t even seem particularly put out.

    As for the train grimness problem in Japan, let’s keep in mind that this is restricted to a few areas and people in the boonies would overwhelmingly want to see resources going into free expressways, the expansion of shinkansen roots, etc. Whenever a Tokyo/Osaka problem like this comes up, the response from the other half is a big “boo hoo”.

  7. Mus… resist… urge… to be… vulgar…

    “shinkansen root

    Is that a Japanese version of the mile high club?


  8. The usual complaint about mothers with strollers is that some people appear to believe that mothers should carry the child and fold the stroller away so as not to take up too much space.

  9. I commute 30 mins every morning on the Sobu line from west tokyo into the financial district. everyone looks like zombies. there’s announcements every two minutes. the whole train carriage is festooned with adverts. it’s an experience that makes me ask “what have I done with my life?” every morning prompting a round of searching for jobs abroad or outside Tokyo as I feel “I just can’t carry on with this”. It really is that much of an oppressive experience.

    Sure there are crowded trains and chikans abroad but sorry, Japan wins when it comes to soul-destroying commutes. hands down.

  10. Martin. Take up reading. I don’t like the train ride to work either, so that’s what I do. Except when somebody at the other end of the car is talking to their friend, lover, random passengers, their iPhone, etc.

  11. Thanks Bryce. I actually listen to podcasts of the bbc (especially “woman’s hour” funnily enough) to drown out the incessant announcements.
    The question is, is driving to work less stressful ?
    At least you have your own little bubble and no wretched salarymen
    with their suicide wrinkles.

  12. Well if you compared Japan metro with that of developing nations you will simply love it.
    In my case traveling on Subway Tozai Line in morning rush hour is horrific. I always have one question why these Japanese people never catch the handle which is set above their head. They just like to swing with others when motorman applies break.
    Also you can easily see the difference in train manners by age group.
    Happy tokyo rush hour travelling !!!

  13. The preference for a quiet uninterrupted commute is probably universal, even in NYC and even in Japanese trains that aren’t packed over capacity. I imagine the NYC commute is even worse precisely because people don’t respect these unwritten rules. In that sense there is a need for order during the commute but it can get oppressive in its own right.

    I remember quiet trains and glares of disapproval when I rode the DC subways as well. Often it felt a lot like Japan.

    But the thing about Japan is that unlike the US taking the train everywhere is the norm for much of the country, and that’s what makes it such a defining aspect of life here. Sure there are many sections of the country that rely on cars or have less crowded trains, but you have to admit Japan’s rail network is very extensive and well-used.

    My commute can get pretty hairy (Chiyoda and Yamanote lines, two of the most crowded in the country) but so far I haven’t felt like changing jobs because of it.

    From experience I think driving to work is much less stressful. You’re alone, you can listen to music without headphones, you can eat, you can take detours. It’s no contest. Unfortunately if the whole world drove their personal car to work we’d suffocate all life on earth.

    What is a “suicide wrinkle”? Is it a wrinkle that develops after a suicide attempt?

  14. a “suicide wrinke” is one that develops in your 20s along with the white hair that precipitates a suicide in your 30s / 40s.

    It would great for the birth rate and for conjugal relations if every soapland, hostess bar and brothel had a notice outside saying “do it at home”

  15. ”shinkansen roots”

    That was supposed to be a joke to go with 幹. Not funny, I know.

    幹 does mean “screw” in Chinese though so the other meaning works and is much more funny.

  16. “From experience I think driving to work is much less stressful. You’re alone, you can listen to music without headphones, you can eat, you can take detours. It’s no contest.”

    You might not feel that way if you had to commute by car in someplace like LA.

  17. NYC subways see a lot of people who aren’t used to public transportation – ANY kind of public transportation – maybe not at rush hour, but try riding the subway after a Yankees game sometime. The occasional riders who come into the City for special events, or are tourists, tend not to know subway etiquette, and they’ll block the doors or talk in loud voices as a matter of course. They are also often VERY offended when you accidentally jostle them trying to find space on a crowded train.

    Train manners in Japan or Europe have GOT to be better, just because more people there ride trains.

    Incidentally, I used to have a 1.5 hour (each way!) driving commute, and my 1.5 hour public transportation commute (1 hrs train and .5 hrs subway) is infinitely better. You can’t read or sleep in a car, and you can’t get speeding tickets on a train.

  18. Yeah, I really don’t understand the appeal of commuting by car. You can’t read, you can’t sleep, you can’t text without dramatically multiplying your risk of crashing (and breaking the law). Although I must admit, I don’t mind commuting by bicycle, as long as it isn’t too long a distance.

  19. I prefer commuting by train here compared to others cities I lived in cause it’s clean, on time, the JR lines are outdoors so there’s more to look at than a dark tunnel, no slush on the floor during winter, the signage is clear and it’s not expensive. It’s crowded sure, but it’s rare that I have to wait for 2 or 3 trains just to get on. And Martin, I’m sure if the adverts weren’t there, the price for using the train would be higher. They’re useful for practicing reading comprehension as well.

    “I really don’t understand the appeal of commuting by car.”

    I think the appeal is the amount of personal space you have sitting in your own car and more freedom to make detours for whatever reason. What I don’t like is the road rage that comes with commuting by car. I haven’t driven here, but is road rage common here in Tokyo? Are there clashes between drivers and cyclists?

  20. “They’re useful for practicing reading comprehension as well.”

    Maybe at beginner level, yes. I don’t need any practice personally and I don’t think all the Japs do either.

    “I’m sure if the adverts weren’t there, the price for using the train would be higher.”

    that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.

    I tried cycling from Musashino to Ginza but it was too much effort and a bit boring so I gave up after a while.

    Apparently the worse commuter trains are

    1) Denentoshi
    2) Tokaido
    3) Chuo

  21. “The question is, is driving to work less stressful?”

    I have been commuting by car for over a month now, and I must say that it does have its advantages. For me, the personal space is nice, but also the freedom to listen to types of music that would be horribly drowned out on a subway is also a plus.

    Road rage does exist, but it’s usually not the fault of cyclists, and brought on more by the absolute glut of taxis in this city. Yesterday, I saw a taxi sitting in front of a ambulance with its sirens on, but not even attempting to move out of the way. I felt the same frustration I feel when I see someone refuse to give up their seat on a train.

  22. Having just moved to Dubai and as of last week commuting by car, I have come to truly appreciate the pleasure of it. Of course, it depends on the city. I can drive to work in neglible traffic and park for free just minutes from my office. If any of those factors were not there, I would not enjoy my commute.

  23. Peter brings up something I wanted to ask about… how is it that elderly or pregnant people are breaking one of the rules? I don’t really understand why people rarely give up their priority seats.

  24. BTW, speaking of “blending in” — I can recall cringing when being on the same subway as Adamu because he tends to talk SO *LOUD*.

  25. “Apparently the worse commuter trains are

    1) Denentoshi
    2) Tokaido
    3) Chuo”

    Source? And as far as the Tokaido and Chuo lines, are you talking about the section within Tokyo? My daily commute is on the Tokaido line as well, but within a completely different section of the country…

  26. Dan,

    The quick answer is that I don’t know. I will say that I have seen people give up their seats, but for every altruistic person that will give up his/her seat, I have seen at least one person who just can’t be bothered with the disruption, it seems.

    Perhaps they are wishing that onlookers would be more tolerant of their decisions not to give up their seats with the rationale that an exhausted 28 year-old needs the seat far more than a rested 65 year-old. There are hundreds of scenarios you could imagine, but really it boils down to there being more value in enduring whatever stigma is attached to not having any “omoiyari” than there is in being the person who gives up their comfort for the sake of a total stranger.

    That being said, I’ve found myself in situations where I gave up my seat to a total mess of an oyaji — this guy was hanging from the straps like some piss-drunk marionette — on a crowded Tōkaido line train, only to have him stare back at me like Harpo Marx, not even able to muster the words that he didn’t need it. Well, he didn’t take the seat. In fact, while one other man (the man he was about to fall and/or vomit on) and myself tried to persuade him that he needed to sit down, some other schmendrik took the seat…

    Courtesy should never be performed for the reward, but here what I’ve noticed is that there is no reward.

  27. I’d much rather take public transit to work than drive (because one can read or watch bad TV on an ipod) but right now I have a 5 minute walk so I don’t even deserve an opinion.

    Having only spent a few weeks in Tokyo I didn’t really get the full train vibe, but in my inaka, I’ve never seen a pregnant woman or a person with a small child stand on a crowded train. Old people tend to get less sympathy.

  28. “Old people tend to get less sympathy.”

    “Perhaps they are wishing that onlookers would be more tolerant of their decisions not to give up their seats with the rationale that an exhausted 28 year-old needs the seat far more than a rested 65 year-old.”

    That’s the way it was explained to me by a 30-year old salaryman once. And if you have ever watched an obaa-san out on a midday shopping excursion, you know that they have MUCH more energy.

  29. I gave up my seat to a hunched old obaasan who looked horrified that I should have thought it necessary to do so. She didn’t take it. At the next stop a dude with remarkable hair came on and slumped out in it. Last time I bothered trying.

  30. “Source ? ”

    my extensive social network.
    Which bits do you think I mean, Paul ?
    Maybe, you know, the areas where all the
    workers go

  31. See, I have had varying reactions when offering seats to people. Some feel bothered that a stranger would dare invade their space, and some go ahead and take the seat. Pregnant women tend to be no-nonsense and take what’s offered (they wear that badge on their purses for a reason). On a couple occasions when I’ve offered a seat to old ladies I have had to go through the annoying polite refusals before she would sit down.

    In crowded conditions any movement is a considerable nuisance to everyone else, so you might as well stay in your seat.

    The worst are older women who lord over the seat as if they were entitled to it. It always bugs me when someone gives in to their pushiness.

    I will admit that when speaking English with other foreigners I tend to forget my surroundings. Whatever, everyone should be allowed to be that guy once in a while.

    In related news, this morning I was actually able to sit down on both legs of my commute! If only every day could be New Year’s season.

  32. “Whatever, everyone should be allowed to be that guy once in a while.”

    You’re gonna be the next “Do It At Home” poster with that attitude, bub.

  33. Your extensive social network? I guess.

    Yes, Tokyo is the center of the universe and everywhere else is irrelevant. I was reminded of that the last time I went there on business.

    I wouldn’t mind moving there myself if I have the chance, but the way people dismiss other regions of the country pisses me off.

  34. well a few good friends shall we say : )

    Tokyo is a concrete dump. I wish I could get out.

    The commuting is just too much and it’s ridiculous.

    The Chikannery is much worse than anywhere else in the world,
    they even have cameras on the Saikyo line now for feck’s sake.

    If you are going to move to Japan, Paul, move to an actual self-contained city
    like Kyoto, Sapporo or Fukuoka.
    Tokyo is a sprawl like LA or Lagos. it doesn’t have a heart of a center, just loads of shitty empty places like Roppongi hills which are the future for this city.
    A big shallow gang bang for designers, architects, urban planners and other charalatans.

  35. I live in Japan now. Not living in Tokyo now but it might be necessary to move for career reasons. If the job opportunities were better elsewhere I wouldn’t consider going there, but there you have it.

    For what it’s worth I’ve enjoyed visiting and like the city well enough, but the attitudes of a lot of people living there are…pretentious at best. Some of the attitudes of posters here only confirm this…

  36. “The Chikannery is much worse than anywhere else in the world,.”

    As I mentioned above, that simply isn’t true. It’s just another old cliche trotted out to make Japan look like a country full of salarymen who are so suppressed that they turn into sex maniacs when noone is looking.

  37. Alex Kerr pointed out a trivial solution to Japan’s commuting woes: abolish the “sunshine laws” that are responsible for the fact that nearly all residential buildings in Japan are low-rise. (Nope, earthquakes have next to nothing to do with it!) If higher-density buildings were allowed near the city center, people could live closer to where they work and there would be much less need for those insane multi-hour commutes.

  38. Moving the government, bureaucracy, stock exchange, etc. out of Tokyo would make sense. If not to help the commute situation, to provide a less attractive WMD target. There has been real talk about doing this for ages now.

  39. The same Alex Kerr that encourages the preservation of as much of the old-fashioned city scape as possible?

  40. Jani, there was actually a skyscraper building boom before the financial crisis. An Asahi report said “As of March 2005, there were 216 separate plans to build high-rises of 20 floors or taller in the 23 wards of Tokyo alone, according to Real Estate Economic Institute Co. When all the skyscrapers planned around Japan are included, the number soars to 450…With eager customers as rabid as they are, it is no wonder. In Tokyo last December, 98 percent of the condominium units in high-rise buildings were sold”.

    This prompted a backlash as the residents sought to preserve local neighbourhoods. The Supreme Court gave a mixed ruling, turning down one application for a new apartment block to be reduced in height but supporting residents’ right to benefit from a decent skyline. (As an aside, Tokyo has over 20 places called 富士見坂, meaning they once had a view of Mt. Fuji from street level, but, with high rise development you can now only see it from the one in Nippori).

    Even with the bankruptcy of many developers, 2011 will still see the completion of the 52-storey Owl Tower in Ikebukuro and plans remain for a 65-storey wholly residential complex in Nishi-Tomihisa, Shinjuku ward in 2013. The Tokyo Towers development near Kachidoki Station (2km from Ginza) is currently the city’s tallest residential complex at 58 storeys. The twin towers house around 8,000 which is greater capacity than the slightly taller Cross Tower in Osaka. I recall reading that developments around Tokyo Bay led to an application for new school in the area which was unique at a time that many schools are suffering from a decline in pupil numbers.

  41. Kerr’s fanatical about preserving natural landscape and traditional wooden housing, but there’s virtually none of either left in Tokyo or any of Japan’s other big cities. I’ll take a decently built skyscraper over a block or two of 1980s-era “mansions” any day.

    Anyway, Kerr’s whole argument was that the excessive legal protection for “skylines”, which are a fairly minor benefit in most people’s book, is directly responsible for the much larger problems of cramped housing and inhumanly long commute times. In other words, a single 50-story apartment building, with park and greenery around it, can provide house more people more comfortably than 10 3-story mansions crammed into the same space.

    If you drop into Singapore, you’ll see that it’s possible to use high-rise housing to support very high population density with a quality of life in most respects far superior to Tokyo. A couple of expensive showpiece apartments to be completed in 2013 are a drop in the ocean, what Tokyo needs is affordable mass high-rise housing like Singapore’s HDBs.

  42. The population of Tokyo reached 10% of the national total in 2008, a trend which continued last year. That’s nearly 13 million, well above the population totals of Hong Kong or Singapore and may even exceed both of those combined. Add up Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba and you get around 38% of the national population. I’d agree that the standard of 80s “mansions” is pretty poor but I’m not sure the answer lies in increasing the population density of the capital.

    The high rise developments which have gone up in the last five years are by no means all expensive showpiece developments. They have helped contribute to the increasing population in the centre. If you could somehow put up affordable mass high rise housing without further increasing the total density then it would be an admirable achievement. However, that would also require tearing down existing lower tier developments and turning them into parks or something. Tokyo might become a more liveable city but it’s a relocation and rent control programme which would challenge even a totalitarian regime.

    I’d favour M-Bone’s proposal to move key functions away from the capital. That might still not do the trick but it is at least within the power of central and local governments.

  43. Jani, there are many of us who do not equate quality of life with high-rise apartment complexes, but who prefer real neighborhoods with houses and smaller apartment buildings or condos. We hang out our laundry on the veranda. We chat with neighbors on the street. We walk to areas full of small shops. Our neighborhoods may not be in the city center, but they are mostly self-contained, and right in Tokyo, an easy train ride away from Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, or other built-up areas. I don’t think Singapore is the only way to go. Tokyo has its own advantages, like single-family homes, that I would not want to give up.

  44. One of the great things about Tokyo is that it has plenty of Jani-friendly real estate *and* Wataru-friendly real estate, often directly adjacent to each other. You can walk a block or two from Roppongi Hills and find yourself surrounded by single-family houses. In most of the world, your neighborhood either has one or the other, but never both.

    I think the city would be a heck of a lot better if they just upgraded the existing train lines. Most lines are running far below their theoretical capacity and a lot of it has to do with poor arrangements for signaling and passing. The north end of the Chiyoda Line, by where Adamu and I both live, is a particularly awful example: the trains are delayed more often than not during the weekday rush hour because of red lights going into Kita-Senju, and every few seconds of delay means a few percent more passengers crammed into each train.

    Moving key nationwide functions out of Tokyo is not the answer — it would just add more inefficiencies to the system as businesses and individuals have to go to multiple cities to get things done. There is probably a solid argument for devolving more functions to regional control, but seeing as the government can’t find its own arse with a flashlight these days, that’s probably a tall order for the time being.

  45. The DPJ has started talking about a constitutional revision that would devolve power to localities, but I have yet to see any specifics as to how that might work. Maybe something like the proposal that was floating around a while back to switch from the current 都道府県 system to a much smaller number of 州 that would roughly correspond to the 地方 would be part of it?

  46. ”more inefficiencies to the system as businesses and individuals have to go to multiple cities to get things done.”

    In the vastly larger US and notably dispersed US, things tend to work okay. Tokyo is like New York, Washington, and LA all in one.

    In any case, the idea is that some of the businesses would suddenly be motivated to move as well.

    Also, think about a massive earthquake (or a missile) that guts Japan’s economic core, politics, and bureaucracy at the same time. There has been trouble with “rapid response” in the best of times so I don’t even want to imagine…. That kind of concentration makes little sense in a country with an amazing high speed rail network and in which the average domestic flight is under an hour. Such a development could also create an incentive to do away with 17 hanko document circle jerks and improve video conferencing, maybe even leading to VR meetings, etc.

    Roy, so far, most of the debates over “regional control” have been budgetary.

  47. I’m not sure what you’re actually proposing though, M-Bone. If you move the stock exchange to Osaka or Nagoya, the banks and securities houses are probably not going to move with it. They might stick data centers near the new exchange for faster computerized trading response times, but that’s about it. New York and LA did not develop as business centers because of any sort of centralized planning policy — they developed because they had the right mix of geographic and cultural features for the financial and entertainment industries respectively. (The Fed and the Treasury are in DC but DC is not the financial center of the US because it has no financial culture.) Same story with Silicon Valley, Boston, Chicago or any other secondary center in the US. Same story with the secondary cities of Japan, too, except that few have developed the same sort of business culture that Tokyo has — they rely on geography and on certain huge companies being stuck in their ways.

  48. Good points. But, some countries have deliberately placed their capitals in relative backwaters for a variety of reasons (Ottawa, Canberra, Brasilia – a deliberate move like what has been discussed in Japan). Moving the stock exchange is more of a tacked on discussion as it is moving government and the bureaucracy that would make the most sense. Proximity of all of these things is by no means necessary for smooth running of an economy. Among the G12, I’m pretty sure that countries where the economic hub is also the capital are a minority.

    There really is a serious discussion going on about this – (post got eaten because of a link, look up 首都機能移転 on wiki J).

    I don’t really see this as a plan to alleviate crowding in Tokyo, although it may a bit (it would free up some prime real estate in Tokyo, the sale of which could likely pay for the move or become a great lifestyle zone), but it could foster a new zone of development regionally and provide a national project that people could get interested in, and have the added bonus of getting the bureaucrats away from the businesses and expensive nightlife and perhaps isolating them to reduce their power. I’m mostly interested in the disaster/security side though and compared to that upside, I don’t see a whole lot of downside. Planking it less than 2 hours out on the Shinkansen Tokai would be ideal, I think.

  49. Well, Kamei Shizuka wants the Emperor to move back to Kyoto, so why not move the entire central government while they’re at it? Throughout Japanese history the official capital has always been where the Emperor resides, whether or not he’s actually running the government, but if they want to move the actual apparatus of the capital, why not go whole hog?

  50. “why not go whole hog”

    Yeah, that would free up some real estate too.

    I’m all for sending the Emperor back to Tokyo, but I do you really want the whole government around?

  51. There is no way that Kyoto would absorb so many additional people without a huge urban redevelopment project. Alex Kerr would have a heart attack…

  52. “Suicide Wrinkles” – great name for an oyaji punk band. After starting my first post-grad job in Seattle, I commuted from my bland, dull single-guy apartment in Bellevue (think “Office Space”) by bus and the commute was great. All of the middle-classers adhered as closely to the Social Contract as would the residents of Japan or any European country, with a couple of bizarre exceptions because it was, after all, America. But after buying a starter house in a “transitional area,” commuting by bus simply became too weird (old SE Asian women with a live chicken in a cage) or uncomfortable.

    In Japan, I, too, try to bubble myself on the train. One thing I’ve had to change alter my mindset about is standing. The Japanese seem to have an infinite capacity for standing (the “tansoku” factor may be at work here), but I loathed it until I learned to embrace the horror and use it as an opportunity to do some yoga stretches and work on my posture. I prop a book on the shelf above the seats and generally do okay.

    Two things that wear me down over time, though, are the incessant announcements (recently in English as well as Japanese on the Sobu Line), and the shabby, depressing stations, clean though they may be (Sobu Shin-Nihonbashi could well be the anteroom to Hell – it’s one big suicide wrinkle).

  53. Well, the only air carrier that I use no longer flies to Kansai so they can just plain demolish it for all I care!

    Seriously though, I’m thinking halfway between Shizuoka and Nagoya would be best. Not that Tokyo is really so bad….

  54. Hey, thanks for the link!
    I was really surprised in NYC over the holidays to hear a recorded announcement on the 2/3 platform at Penn Station that “crowded trains are no excuse for unlawful sexual assault” (or similar).
    Also grossed out by the hideous City Hall public service posters against sugary drinks. Seen this? I won’t even describe it. Stomach-turning. They could use some nice clean, simple manga-inspired posters, I think.

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