Friday, March 02, 2012

"Roads, Trucks and Cars, Etc. 1959 and 2012"

Continuing to read "All the Best in Japan" by Sydney Clark (published by Sidgwick and Jackson Limited  in 1959), I notice the road and vehicle traffic situation has radically changed, while rail travel has basically the same reputation (with some changes).  Looking at the section entitled: "But There Are Things to Cope with Too":

"In the interest of balanced reporting I have to state that motor touring in Japan, while perfectly practicable almost everywhere - I have enjoyed a lot of it - leaves much to be desired.  From the tourist's angle poor roads are Japan's most noticeable fault and the fact that a vigorous ten-year reconstruction plan has just got under way does not lend much comfort to those who plan to come now or soon.  Great stretches of the roads you'll want to use are narrow and bumpy and many portions are thick with dust in dry weather, gooey with mud in wet.  ......"

Well, ten years from 1959 was 1969, and here we are in 2012, from which I can report that it's exceedingly rare to find any road that isn't covered with smooth asphalt now.  So much so, that when I find myself standing on dirt (an exceedingly rare occurrence), I look down and marvel, "Wow!  Real dirt!  Just think, this dirt may actually have never been buried under asphalt before!  Amazing!", which is unfortunately not even sarcasm (not much anyway).  It really does seem like some kind of wonderful thing to be standing on actual dirt [comment from 1996].

"Statistics before me reveal that of Japan's vehicles officially tallied in a recent year, buses totaled a surprising 10 per cent.  The figure for trucks (but the majority of these are in and near the big cities, not on the open highways) is a whopping 60 per cent, while that for passenger cars is only 25 per cent, the remaining 5 per cent being scored as 'Special'."

There are still a lot of buses and trucks, but certainly trucks are not 60 percent of the vehicles on the road now.  I do remember being struck with the large number of trucks on the road when I first came here though (in the eighties).  In fact, I think there are probably many more trucks on the open highways now than in 1959 (with a lower percentage - but certainly not absolute number - in the cities).  They have cut rail freight use way down (the Shiodome office tower area near Shinbashi Station used to be a freight rail yard, for example), and have been feverishly burying ever more of the country under asphalt over the past 50 years, so it's gotten to the point where I wish for the opposite of what Mr. Clark wished for back then.  It would be an altogether happier situation if they were now making new plans to *reduce* the number of roads in the country and stop doing everything for the sake of petrol-burning internal-combustion machinery.

"..... If highway travel is bad, railway travel is quite wonderful, for Japan is perhaps the most railway-minded great country in the world.  Rail service is excellent in quality and the punctuality of trains, all trains, is nothing less than spectacular.  I think Japan comes the nearest of any country in the world to keeping its trains so precisely on time that 'you can set you watch by them'."

This is still true, although they have been building large new bus terminals beside major rail stations (Tokyo and Shinjuku immediately come to mind) and more and more people are traveling from Tokyo to other areas of Japan via night buses, which is a horrible development in my view (horrible to be using bloody buses when they could be running trains).  Meanwhile, rail travel on many train lines away from the mega-cities is way down.  Making Japan a car culture is one of the more horrible mistakes of the 20th century I think, and - although young people are less interested in owning cars than their age group used to be, the Godzilla construction industry continues to work hard in the 21st century at burying ever more of the country under asphalt for the sake of bloody internal combustion engines.  I hope oil runs out in the world in a hurry - to put a stop to this suicidal madness.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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