We don’t have a car in Japan. We live in the centre of Osaka, which means that the furthest we need to walk to reach essential places like the closest Korean BBQ, Western wine shop, or Pablo’s bakery is about 300 m.
Also, public transport in Japan is amazing. The tube and trains run like Haile Gebrselassie – fast and reliably. For example, the Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet trains) carry about 350 million passengers annually but the systems’ performance record is out of this world (at least in comparison to the UK). In the past 50 years, the average delay (including delays due to natural disasters) is 36 seconds.
The Shinkansen is not an exception. The tubes that I have taken for the past 14 months to work and to my son’s school have stretches that are amongst the busiest in Japan. Yet those tubes are practically never late.
These Japanese train/tube operator stats are as embarrassing for the British train operators as you realizing that you accidentally walked all the way to the subway carrying a full bin bag which you had meant to dump at your building’s communal waste disposal room. For example, the service from our hometown, Brighton, to London has been late every day for a year (link to a Metro article). Japan’s punctuality stats demonstrate that trains can run on time even in extremely heavily populated areas with frequent natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.
A natural disaster for Network Rail (back in the UK) is a couple of flakes of snow or some leaves on the track, and these justify the cancellation or delay of pretty much the whole network.
Finland is not too bad in terms of train punctuality or coping with ‘natural disasters’ such as a bit of snow or some leaves. However, it’s easy to be on time when the tube ‘network’ in the capital city, Helsinki, looks like this.
Just in case some of you Finns reading this blog post are not aware of what tube maps in big cities look like please find below Osaka’s tube map.
In any case, due to the location of our apartment and the brilliance of Japanese public transport we feel we don’t really need a car. And given the carbon footprint we are stomping on the atmosphere with our frequent flying back and forth between the UK and Japan, us not to having a car here is probably the least we can do for the environment.
And to be honest, I am not that keen on the cars that many people have here. You see, the toasters illustrated in the photo below (and at the top of the page) are actually not toasters, they are Japanese cars!
I can but assume that the designer of the car above previously worked for a kitchen appliance company like Kenwood (designing toasters, microwave ovens and table top grills), and even though he is now working as a designer of Asian cars, he still longs for the days he was at Kenwood.
By the way, the reason why I used the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to the designer of the cars above is not because I think car designers are necessarily men, but because I think that no woman could have designed such unattractive cars. I feel many men value functionality over aesthetics(other than when they are looking for a partner) – I’m sure most of them wouldn’t care if they drove to the supermarket, squash court or work in a tank or a golf cart as long as (a) it gets them there and (b) it is fast.
On the topic of cars, the colour of cars in Japan is like the Japanese salarymans’ attire. Spotting anything other than black or white is unusual. A silver car (or a grey suit) is a statement in Japan. And if you drive a maroon or metallic blue car, let alone a red Merc this probably means that you are a foreigner, the reason being that people in Japan generally view individuality as a negative thing (illustrated by the Japanese proverb – ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’). Consequently, a lime green or pink car would fit in to a Japanese city as well as Tom Hunt would fit in to a feminist movement’s pro-science conference – as anything other than bait for an angry mob, that is.
Photos below illustrate that black and white cars are the name of the game in Japan.