Sunday, February 05, 2012

"Entering Japan - 1959 and 2012"

I'm continuing to read "All the Best in Japan" by Sydney Clark (published by Sidgwick and Jackson Limited in 1959), and it's interesting to see how radically different control of currency was then compared to now (when there is almost no control at all).

"Since 15 May, 1957, Japan has enabled foreigners to enter the country easily and with a minimum of red tape, for on that date the requirement that each incomer acquired a Foreign Exchange Record Book was abandoned. Now you need declare only foreign notes (which will be entered in your passport), not traveler's cheques or letters of credit, and you need not produce a Record Book or anything else when you wish to exchange sterling, or any other foreign currency, into Japanese yen. When you leave Japan you many take out no more foreign notes than the amounts you have declared on entering. ..... As the import and export of Japanese currency is not allowed except for a small amount for use on Japanese ships or aircraft, all funds for visitors to Japan must be carried in the form of traveler's cheques."

At the time, it must have seemed restrictive and unnecessary to have the controls, but now that currency rates and whatnot have been left up to the bankster gamblers, the world appears to be falling apart financially. Seeing how the bankster gamblers are destroying the planet, the financial controls of a half-century ago seem like a better idea.

"Upon arrival in Japan you will be given a Specified Stores Purchase Tax Exemption Card, and this card, be advised, is decidedly for your benefit, since it exempts, in the specified stores, various important purchases, such as cameras, binoculars, cultured pearls and cloisonne, from the heavy Japanese tax of 16 per cent. And an especially cheering thing about this is that the store deducts the 16 per cent from the price marked on the price tag, so it isn't merely a matter of not adding the tax but actually of deducting it. If, for instance, you should see a nice string of cultured pearls in the Mikimoto window or some other, marked 60,000 yen, which is 59 pounds, 10s, 5d, you'll actually pay only 50,400 yen, which is 50 pounds. Your Specified Stores Purchase Tax Exemption Card has saved you 9 pounds 10s, 5d."

I was quite surprised to read about a 16 percent tax! When I came here in the early eighties, there was no sales tax; then they introduced a three percent tax, and then increased it to five percent. Recently it's frequently in the news that they want to increase it to 10, 15, or some higher figure, as a way of increasing tax revenue, but I hadn't heard any mention of it having been 16 percent in the past.

"I have reported this good news first; but to go back to the beginning of your planning, I have to state that in the matter of securing a temporary visa in your passport the requirements have not yet been fully eased. You must wade through the business in some Japanese consulate, filling in a long form and producing a ticket (or other proof of your plans) indicating that your travels will take you out of Japan (after a stay of less than three months) as well as taking you in. For tourist purposes the consul requires to see your traveler's cheques or a letter of credit from your bank guaranteeing funds to cover the return journey and stay in Japan. For business purposes a letter, in duplicate, must be provided, signed by the managing director or senior official of the applicant's firm, showing his status in the firm, the purpose of his visit to Japan, names and addresses of the companies to be visited, and guaranteeing financial responsibility for the applicant's return journey and stay in Japan. ....."

In the early eighties you still have to visit a Japanese consulate and apply for a tourist visa to visit Japan, but they didn't require you to provide all the financial information mentioned above. At some point, they made it really easy for tourists on short stays to visit. I think all you need now (depending on which country you're coming from of course) is a passport. For a work-related visa, naturally the requirements are much more stringent.

"The customs formalities for tourists entering Japan on the standard temporary visa are simple enough, I'm happy to report, and you will be treated with the usual Japanese courtesy here as everywhere in the country. // One strenuous warning about money seems in order here. Don't try to buy black market yen in Hong Kong or elsewhere before entering Japan. You may have visited countries where the currency black market, or gray market, flourishes almost openly, with little or no effect made to curb it, but Japan is very strict in this matter and it is no part of Japanese politeness to let you off if you have offended. Punishment for evasion is severe, sometimes even involving a jail term. And, anyway, the difference between the legal rate of 1,008 yen to the pound and the black market rate is so slight as to make it scarcely worth while to tamper with the rules even if they were not strictly enforced. ....."

There was no particular reason I needed Japanese currency before coming over, but I went to a bank and bought some before coming over (totally legitimately), as I was curious what the money looked like and it made the upcoming trip more real to have some of the country's cash in hand.

Regarding the exchange rate - this 1959 book states it as "1,008 yen to the pound", and - having a look on-line - I see it's (as I write this on February 4th, 2012), 121 yen to the pound now. That's an incredible change! In fact, the overly strong yen is really hurting the Japanese economy now. It should of course be stronger than 1008 yen to the dollar, but the current rate - set by bankster gamblers - is ruining the economy.

"... One of JTB's very practical accomplishments is the publication of guide-books to Japan. Its most comprehensive effort in this line is a 1,000-page Baedeker-type volume (which is fairly small and easy to carry despite all its pages) called 'Japan, The Official Guide'. For those who wish a smaller book containing most of the essentials, but no detailed listing of hotels and other such practicalia, it publishes 'Japan, The Pocket Guide', and the Bureau supplements this with an interesting little book called 'Quiz', with the sub-heading '700 Answers to Questions on Things Japanese'."

I made use of a free tourist map of Tokyo in the early days (back in the early eighties), but ended up using strictly Japanese maps once I could read place names well enough to use them. There's a 1948 (or so) version of a tourist organization travel guide that I was sent some pages of via scanned images, and it seemed like a pretty good guide.

"Japan on Balance - Beware of First Impressions // ...... // To come right out with it, Tokyo sprawls out from its center for miles and miles - and miles - in all directions, including that of Hanada Airport, where all overseas planes touch down, its outer reaches extending further, or so it seems to me, than do even those of London. The city boasts 8,345,404 inhabitants... ..... Because of earthquake hazards most buildings except in the solid center and some scattered secondary centers, where impressive American-type reinforced concrete structures exist in large numbers, are of one or two or three stories and thousands of them are unpainted and undeniably ramshackle. This sight greets the eager traveler."

About the city sprawling out "for miles and miles - and miles - in all directions", this is something that seemed amazing to me for many years. I'd go to the top of the Sumitomo building in Shinjuku and look out over the city, and it astounded me that you couldn't see an end to the city in any direction - it seemed to go on endlessly - as though it covered the entire planet!

"And then the streets! Tokyo has terrible growing pains. New construction is everywhere, especially all through the center, and a new subway, Tokyo's third, is causing added and drastic upheavals. The streets just haven't been able to keep pace with the phenomenal growth of the city and many of them are frankly awful, as are their so-called sidewalks, with bumps, holes, stretches of dirt or mud, and vast obstructions of building materials. They're bad in sunny weather, dreadful when it rains. Yes they are, and I can't honestly soften the picture."

Fifty years on, and there is still construction in one area or another (that's a given in Tokyo, what with the voracious appetite of the construction industry), but the streets are all paved, and the sidewalks (where they exist) are usually in very good condition. The writer mentions that Tokyo's third subway is under construction, but from looking at a history of subway construction in Tokyo, I see this for 1959:

"1959 - Mar. 15th - Opening of the Kasumigaseki to Shinjuku section of the Marunouchi Line (Completed the Ikebukuro to Shinjuku section of the Marunouchi Line)"

Which would suggest that the "third" subway the writer refers to is actually an additional section of the second line - the Marunouchi Line. But then again, the current Ginza Line was originally two different lines, so maybe he's counting that as two? In any case, Tokyo now has - I think - thirteen different subways lines, and they're still expanding the system! This page explains the long history of Tokyo's subway system:

"And what about the traffic on these streets? There we have Pelion on Ossa. It is the maddest, shrillest, craziest city traffic I've ever seen and in the center it gets tied up in knots that a supreme scoutmaster of traffic could hardly undo. Private cars are not unduly numerous but the city fairly swarms with taxis of three types, all seemingly so unconcerned with human life that they are popularly called 'kamikaze cabs'. The smallest ones, mere road bugs but wonderfully agile, have 70 painted on the front or side and this means that they will carry you 2 kilometers, which is a mile and a quarter, for a modest 70 yen, which is 19 cents, and the tariff for longer hauls is also the lowest. A somewhat larger type of vehicle is marked 80 and an American-type car too. Whatever their bracket these taxis race like four-wheeled devils for openings that are obviously as impossible to penetrate as is the needle's eye of Scripture for a camel. If they can't quite make it the driver jams on his brakes at the last second and you pitch forward against the front seat. To accent his urgency the driver keeps his hand on the horn at least half the time. All day and half the night the Tokyo air is filled with an unceasing symphony of motor horns, and these, I might add, are supplemented by the shrill wailing of the noodle vendors' whistles, sounding rather like perambulating piccolos. Far into the night one hears this weird whistling, intended to attract late trade."

I think at the time the above was written (1958 or 1959), traffic was still often directed by a person standing in the intersection (not sure, but...). Now it's (naturally) all traffic lights. As for "kamikaze cabs" - you don't hear that these days (or at least I don't - maybe someone still uses the term), possibly because traffic jams are so dense, traffic just creeps along, so it's not generally possible to drive like that now. Out in the burbs, the taxis do drive fairly fast on narrow roads, but all-in-all, there's not a special image of them dangerously flying about these days.

"The authorities are trying, somewhat timidly, to curb the motorists' horn madness and the papers are full of warnings about fines for 'needless sounding of horns', but that adjective is a wobbly one, hard to define, and the kamikazes, at least, seem to be little deterred by such gentle threats."

This picture of Tokyo being full of honking car horns is hard to imagine now, so efforts underway in 1958 to get people to stop leaning on them appear to have succeeded - you hardly ever hear horns these days, and when people do use them, it's generally just a very light touch to warn someone the car is coming, etc. One exception to this is when someone parks on a street for a delivery, etc., and blocks the road. When a driver is blocked by such a car, some angrily go "BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP ... BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP" (endless repeat) until the offending car is moved.

Regarding "Noodle vendor's' whistles"; that might have been for tofu, as there's a long history of tofu sellers tooting a small horn (not a whistle really) as they ride around on a bicycle with tofu for sale. I actually rather like the sound, but the writer may have experienced something else that I haven't experienced myself. (Come to think of it - I think there may have been a distinction, with the lower toned horn for tofu and a higher pitch for something else? What I clearly remember, and have even recently heard, is the tofu horn.)

"I said I'd come right out with it, and certainly I have, but now I ask you: 'Kindly turn the page' and see what my second and third and nth impressions are."

Indeed! Like any country, Japan has its good and bad aspects! Unfortunately, there have been many people in the past who focused on one narrow spectrum of life here and painted only part of the picture. I think Sydney Clark has done a good job of depicting things with wide-spectrum vision, and so people hopefully won't take offense at his comments about traffic in 1959 (actually probably 1958, as the copyright is 1958, with the first edition of the book coming out in 1959).

"1959 & 2004 Japan"

"Getting to Japan - 1959 and 2012"

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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