Due to the discrepancies in culture among the various nations of the world, there are certain to be differences concerning policies dedicated to the management of municipal solid waste (MSW). After attending lectures, viewing resources, and having my own experiences with the methods in which MSW is dealt with, I have come to realize disparities that exist between MSW management in the United States and that of Japan. The divergence in the approaches of the United States and Japan can be connected to the amount of land occupied by each country, how each country utilizes its land, and the timeline of the establishment of MSW policies.
The most obvious reason for the differences in MSW policies between the United States and Japan is the fact that the United States possesses a significantly larger land area than Japan, with Japan being slightly smaller than the state of California. Not only is Japan smaller than the United States, but it also has a higher population density, which means that every bit of the nation’s available land must be utilized efficiently. Because of Japan’s inclination towards the maximization of the use of its land, it leans towards the usage of incineration to dispose of its MSW. Although land is still required for MSW incinerating facilities as well as for landfills for containing the ashes produced by these facilities, they occupy far less land in comparison to landfills in the United States. Not only are incinerators more space-efficient, but Japan even has some facilities that are aesthetically pleasing, such as the Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka, which looks like it could be some type of theme park attraction.
Conversely, because of the expansiveness of the United States, we tend to use landfills as a major method of discarding MSW. Aside from the feasibility of landfills in the United States due to its considerable land area, landfills also exist as a capitalist venture, with the majority of landfills being owned by private companies, thus perpetuating their existence in a considerably money-driven society.
Although Japan favors the use of incineration, landfills still exist within the nation, though they are few and far between compared to the United States. However, Japan has attempted to implement this form of MSW disposal in a more sustainable manner through the creation of semi-aerobic landfills, which expedite the process of waste stabilization, thereby allowing the land to be reclaimed more quickly. The establishment of semi-aerobic landfills stems from the Japanese people’s need to utilize its limited land area to its maximum potential, as landfills that have been reclaimed are often used as parks or sporting grounds. This reclaimed land can even be employed in the progression of sustainable development, which is expressed by the construction of the Sokai Solar Energy Generation Plant on top of a repurposed landfill.
In addition to the difference between the land areas of the United States versus Japan as well as the variations among the ways in which these nations make use of their land, the United States and Japan also differ in the fact that the implementation of MSW management policies in Japan occurred over a longer timeframe than in the United States. Globally, steps towards the proper management of MSW disposal management were not taken until around the 1970s, but by the 1980s, the United States was essentially finished with establishing policies in this area. On the other hand, MSW management policy formation in Japan continued much into the 1990s and 2000s, encompassing topics including recycling and food waste. The fact that Japan was able to go above and beyond the United States’ efforts in the domain of MSW policy exhibits its ability to rally its population behind a common goal and its commitment to sustainable development. Attempts to pass more legislation concerning MSW management, as well as laws regarding sustainable development as a whole or even the environment, have been generally unsuccessful in the United States due to deep divisions that lie within American society. Some Americans believe that the economy and the environment exist at two opposite ends of the spectrum, so we can only commit to one or the other, which means that the United States usually places the environment and sustainable development on the back burner. However, the United States can gain inspiration from Japan as it has realized methods for promoting both its economy as well as sustainable development.
Environmental and cultural factors play large roles in the process of creating any type of policy, and that includes policies concerning the proper management of MSW disposal. In countries such as Japan, these elements may lead to the formation of more progressive and sustainable policies and practices. Conversely, although countries like the United States have made some efforts in the improvement of MSW policy, considerable development is still necessary in this domain. However, because of the vitality of appropriate methods for dealing with MSW to a prosperous society, it is critical that further steps are taken in this realm to ensure an elevated standard of living for both current people as well as future generations.
Solid waste management is a crucial element of a society’s framework because it is vital to the protection of public health as well as the maintenance of community aesthetics. Japan and the United States have implemented some similar policies for the management of municipal solid waste, but due to the divergent cultures of the two countries, disparities exist in how these policies are actually employed. During my time in Japan, I have witnessed ways in which solid waste management differs between Japan and the United States, primarily in realms such as the presence or absence of litter and recycling.
Japan and the United States have instated a number of comparable policies to ensure safe and sustainable measures for handling the disposal of municipal solid waste. Japan has instituted a “Sound Material-Cycle Society”, while the United States is focusing on integrated solid waste management; both of these procedures seek to decrease the utilization of natural resources, limit the amount of waste created, and minimize the effects on the environment. In both Japan and the United States, means for achieving these aims include recycling, recovering energy from waste products, and landfilling. However, the manner in which each of these nations is carrying out these practices is different, with Japan in the forefront. To begin, recycling is taken far more seriously in Japan than in the United States, which is exhibited by Japan’s Law for the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling Containers and Packaging that was passed in 1995. In the case of recovering energy from waste products, although the usage of this process has grown in strength over the past five decades in the United States, it is far more sophisticated and diverse in Japan, with different processes being undertaken depending on the type of waste from which energy is being retrieved. Furthermore, the practice of landfilling in Japan surpasses the efforts of the United States because Japan seeks to stabilize landfill sites as quickly as possible so that the land can be used in other ways in the future. An example of this is the Sokai Solar Energy Generation Plant, which we had the privilege of visiting, that was established on a repurposed landfill site.
After being in Japan for only a short amount of time, it became clear rather quickly that Americans and Japanese have quite different notions of how trash should be disposed of in public areas. In the United States, if a public trash can is not easily accessible, garbage will often end up on the ground; this is sometimes the case even when trash cans exist within a reasonable vicinity. Conversely, in Japan, where public trash cans are few and far between, one will almost never see litter on the ground, which is due to the public shaming that will occur if an individual does not dispose of trash properly. Obviously, the Japanese people’s restraint from littering is the correct way to go about properly disposing of garbage in public, but because American people do not care as much about what others think of them, they are more inclined to litter. However, if Americans were to follow the example set by the Japanese, this could increase both the cleanliness and aesthetic appeal of American cities.
As stated previously, Japan places a much greater emphasis on recycling than the United States does, which can be inconvenient at times but is a necessary aspect of sustainable development. Since Japan focuses on recycling as many of its plastic and metal products as possible, this leads to a decrease in the volume of its waste stream because it seeks to find ways in which these products can be refurbished into novel items. The Japanese are meticulous about the disposal of waste products; for example, in our accommodations at Kobe University, each room has three different bins designated for three different types of garbage, and there are scheduled days for when each of these bins can be taken out for collection. Although this precise process of trash division and collection can be inconvenient, it is much more effective than recycling in the United States, where this practice is often ignored due to the extra effort that it requires.
Despite the valiant effort that the United States has made to establish sustainable solid waste management, there is still progress to be made in reaching the same caliber as Japan in this aspect. Japan’s ability to ensure success in this realm is due in part to the harmony of the Japanese people and their skill in uniting behind a mutual goal, whereas in the individualistic society of the United States, people are less inclined to work towards the common good. Fortunately, the United States has already implemented some beneficial policies in this sphere of society, so now it must motivate its people into maximizing the policies’ potential and progressing towards a more sustainable future.
Within the past three weeks, our class has already gotten to experience the two megaregions of Japan: Greater Tokyo, which is comprised of Tokyo and its surrounding cities, and Keihanshin, which is composed of the major cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in addition to the smaller cities around this area. Even though people can easily traverse between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin thanks to Japan’s exceptional railway system, the proximity of these megaregions to one another does not eliminate the existence of differences between the two. Both Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin possess their own unique customs and experiences that make each region worth visiting.
One difference that exists between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin are their mass transit systems. I would not hesitate to say that the Greater Tokyo megaregion has the best, and perhaps even the busiest, transportation system in the world. The train stations were always bustling with activity, and I found myself standing rather than seated in the train cars more often than not. Due to the vast number of individuals who utilize the rail system of Greater Tokyo, it possesses extensive lines to transport commuters virtually anywhere they need to go, as well as top-of-the-line technological innovations to ensure that passengers’ rides are as expedient as possible. In contrast, although the mass transit systems employed in Keihanshin are still miles ahead of any of those utilized in the United States, they are still not at the level of the rail system of Greater Tokyo. I have taken the bus more frequently in Keihanshin than I ever did in Greater Tokyo, and the bus systems in Keihanshin leave something to be desired. I feel that the interiors of the buses could have been laid out in a better manner because essentially every bus ride I have taken in Keihanshin has led me to have to contort myself into some odd position for an extended period of time. In the case of Keihanshin’s rail system, it is better than the bus system but still doesn’t quite measure up to Greater Tokyo’s rail system due to the lack of smart technologies such as digital display panels in the train cars that make commuting more efficient.
Aside from transportation systems, I have also perceived a difference in the lifestyles of the individuals living in Greater Tokyo versus Keihanshin. While in Greater Tokyo, I noticed that the majority of the individuals living there were between the ages of about twenty and fifty years old, which means that a large portion of the population of Greater Tokyo is comprised of people of working age. This observation falls in line with the fact that many major companies have established themselves in Greater Tokyo, so it makes sense that many working age-individuals are living in this area. In contrast, I have noticed significantly more elderly people as well as children in Keihanshin. Although Keihanshin still sports lofty buildings and a vibrant nightlife like Greater Tokyo, Keihanshin contains more residential areas that are more suitable for starting a family or retiring. From my apartment in Kobe, I can often hear children playing and singing, which is something I never experienced in Tokyo except for on occasions when we would pass by a park.
Such diversity in societal aspects exists among the regions of Japan, which only has two megaregions, so one can only imagine the extensive range of differences between the numerous megaregions of the United States. Although many Americans like to boast their pride in their nation, citizens of differing regions of the country definitely have divergent customs and ways of life. For example, people from the southeastern United States are known for their alleged “southern hospitality”, which is portrayed through kindness, politeness, and charity; on the other hand, people from the northeastern United States are said to be colder and more indifferent towards others. Another instance of regionalism in the United States is differences between people from the East Coast versus the West Coast. Individuals who live in West Coast states such as California, Oregon, and Washington are stereotypically more free-spirited and liberal, whereas people who live more towards the eastern side of the United States, primarily in the south, are said to be more traditional and conservative.
Whether a country is as expansive as the United States or as small as Japan, differences will most likely exist between the various regions within the nations. Aspects of regionalism can be as concrete as disparities in transportation systems or as subtle as personality traits. Being presented with the opportunity to observe differences between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin helped me realize that even countries as small and homogeneous as Japan can still have discernible distinctions from region to region.
Whenever Tokyo appears in movies, it is usually depicted as a glitzy, technological city of the future; after spending some time in this city, I can confirm that there is indeed fact within the Hollywood fantasies. Tokyo, as well as other Japanese cities, have incorporated a variety of “smart” technologies into their societal frameworks that aid citizens in navigating the demands of everyday life. Because of Japan’s emphasis on the utilization of sustainable transportation such as mass transit and biking, many of these smart technologies are connected to this realm of society.
The smart technology that I have become most acquainted with during my time in Japan is the IC card, which is a prepaid train system card that allows users to simply tap their cards on a turnstile before and after they embark on the train to pay for their rides. Numerous cards exist under the umbrella of the Japan Rail system including Pasmo, Icoca, and Pitapa, but our students have been making use of the Suica card. The IC card is incredibly convenient because it allows users to load a desired amount of money onto their cards, with kiosks for adding more money onto cards located at every train station, thereby reducing the need for paper tickets. The MARTA system in Atlanta, Georgia has a similar feature known as the Breeze Card, but the Japanese IC cards prove to be more valuable due to the fact that they can be used to make small purchases at convenience stores as well as their ability to be made available on smartphones.
Another smart technology that has been implemented in Japan’s transit system is the presence of small digital screens within Tokyo’s train cars that display information including station names, stop times, and car numbers in addition to the weather and advertisements. These screens are helpful because they allow passengers to divulge important information without having to focus on the train conductor’s announcements or having to decipher a complicated map of the train system. Although these screens are present in the local train cars of Tokyo, they are absent from the local train cars of Kobe, which has caused me to have to pay more attention during my train rides in this new city. While the lack of digital screens in the Kobe train cars won’t inhibit me from utilizing the train system, the addition of this smart technology would definitely make riding the train a more convenient experience.
Aside from the train system, smart technology in Tokyo also comes in the form of car and bike storage. During our second day in Tokyo, our group had the pleasure of visiting Giken, a company renowned for automated parking facilities. We were brought to an ECO Cycle, which is an automated underground bicycle parking facility, and an ECO Park, which is an automated underground car parking facility, and we were able to view demonstrations of how both services work. Giken’s automated parking facilities contribute to sustainable development because they decrease the need for large parking lots and instead replace them with compact areas that can house not only cars but bikes as well. Although Giken has already established its parking facilities in countries such as Japan, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, it has only begun to penetrate these countries, so its impact on sustainable development will not be visible until the company further diffuses itself around the world.
As shown by the example of Japan, the implementation of smart technologies in a society can be an agent in stimulating sustainable development. Because smart technologies can help enhance the experiences of taking the train or riding a bike, they encourage individuals to utilize these more-sustainable forms of transportation. Despite the fact that progress can still be made even in Tokyo in the realm of smart technologies, the efforts to ensure a future that is both sustainable and convenient are promising.
Over the course of the past two weeks, I have utilized public transportation more often than I ever have before. From trains to buses and even a ferry, I am consistently impressed by the efficiency and punctuality exhibited by the transit systems of Japan. The form of mass transit that we used most often during our travel leg throughout Japan was the Shinkansen, or the bullet train, which allows individuals to travel easily from city to city.
On the topic of intercity travel, it comes as no surprise that Japan’s intercity transit system surpasses those of other countries. Never before have I experienced intercity travel like that offered by the Shinkansen. The capabilities of American intercity transit systems come nowhere near the Japanese Shinkansen’s capabilities, which is exemplified by the fact that the first thing that came to mind when I thought about “American intercity travel” was the Greyhound Lines bus service. Although Greyhound buses and the Shinkansen both boast Wi-Fi access, power outlets for passenger use, and considerable leg room, the Shinkansen system possesses the advantages of timeliness and availability. Like the majority of American mass transportation systems, one can not always depend on Greyhound Lines to arrive at its destination at the projected time, which is due in part to the buses not having their own designated road lanes for travel. In contrast, the Shinkansen system, like the majority of other Japanese transit systems, is predictable and almost always on time, which is shown by the fact that Dr. Woodall was able to give us the exact arrival and departure times for each of our shinkansen trips approximately two weeks in advance. Furthermore, the Shinkansen has its own designated tracks, which allow it to move unhindered from city to city.
As with other forms of Japanese mass transportation, the patrons of the Shinkansen are generally quiet and respectful. Compared to local train systems, such as those in Tokyo and Kyoto, I noticed more people of other nationalities utilizing the Shinkansen, which makes sense considering that the ease with which one can travel from city to city with the Shinkansen makes it perfect for tourists. As I stated previously, the Shinkansen is almost always a timely service; however, we had the misfortune of experiencing one of the few times when it was delayed. On the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, our train was stopped due to a track inspection, and we were forced to wait for almost an hour, which caused us to miss our connecting train to our final destination. Despite the anxiety that occurred because of this incident, we were able to acquire tickets for a later train to Kyoto, which demonstrates that the Shinkansen system can be flexible and provides users with the freedom to change travel times if desired.
Because Japanese cities are essentially constructed around the mass transit system, it is incredibly simple to locate stations. Stations are usually surrounded by shops, restaurants, and convenience stores, which makes it easy for commuters to amuse themselves or find amenities before their train departs or upon their arrival. In addition, the stations have always been within walking distance of our lodging, which was greatly appreciated as we lugged our suitcases around on our travel leg. Not only are stations easy to locate, but finding information for navigating between cities is also quite straightforward. Although the local train system and the Shinkansen system exist within the same stations, clearly-marked signs point to the area containing the Shinkansen platforms. Overhead displays list the time and platform number for each train, and the tickets inform passengers of their reserved seat number as well as which train car that seat is located in.
The Shinkansen process is designed to make intercity travel as effortless as possible so that passengers are able to journey from location to location with minimal hassle. People are able to ride contentedly due to the provision of internet access, tray tables, and significant leg room; I had to sit next to the tallest student on our program for one of the Shinkansen rides, and even he was able to sit comfortably. If countries like the United States gain inspiration from Japan and improve upon their intercity travel systems, this could promote their usage in the contexts of both business and pleasure, thus increasing the sustainability of intercity travel.
Considering how our group has only been in Japan for about a week and a half, we have already traveled relatively extensively throughout the country, from Tokyo to Fukushima and now to Kyoto. Despite existing within the same nation, sustainable living conditions can be addressed differently inside and outside of a megaregion, such as in the case of Tokyo versus Fukushima. Sustainable living conditions are even handled in different manners from megaregion to megaregion, which is exemplified by Tokyo of the Greater Tokyo Area compared with Kyoto of Keihanshin. The caliber of Japanese sustainable practices is further exhibited by the resilience demonstrated in the region of Fukushima, which was devastated by an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster in March 2011.
The most notable difference in sustainable living conditions inside and outside of a megaregion is the extent of public transportation. In cities such as Tokyo, the train stations are constantly bustling with activity; it seems as if everyone is in a hurry, and finding oneself lost in a sea of people is far from an uncommon experience. In contrast, the train stations in less-urbanized areas like Fukushima are not nearly as animated as those of Tokyo. This past week, as we traveled from Fukushima through Tokyo to Kyoto, the initial train we boarded was at the very end of the rail line, and we were welcomed by an almost empty train car, which has been a rare privilege for us thus far. Although it’s pleasant to be able to sit in a train car that isn’t packed with people, the fact that less-urbanized areas do not possess Tokyo’s extensive transit system means that people who live in these locations rely more heavily on personal cars than do the residents of larger cities. Therefore, providing more accessible public transportation to people living all throughout Japan may help the nation further itself along the path of sustainability.
Differences in transportation also exist from megaregion to megaregion; in my experience, the transit system of Tokyo was better than that of Kyoto. For starters, I felt that in Kyoto, it was a battle between pedestrians, cyclists, and four-wheeled vehicles over who had the right-of-way on the streets. The narrow streets were not incredibly pedestrian-friendly because the only place where people could walk without being in the middle of the street was in the bike lanes, which were obviously designated for bikes. Even though the streets in Tokyo were narrow as well, I didn’t experience this same issue there because fewer people utilized personal cars. Furthermore, I was not terribly satisfied with the bus system in Kyoto. I didn’t get to experience the bus system in Tokyo, so I can’t attest to its quality in comparison, but I did not find the bus system in Kyoto to be ideal because it took a while for the buses to reach each station. Because the buses did not have their own designated lanes to operate, they got caught in general traffic, which made it more difficult for them to reach each stop in a timely manner. However, if the transit system of Kyoto were to be improved to the level of that of Tokyo, this could lead to more sustainable living conditions in the city by increasing the number of individuals utilizing public transportation.
Aside from Japan’s methods for addressing public transportation, a true testament to the magnitude of Japanese sustainable living conditions is the revitalization that has occurred in the region of Fukushima. After the devastation that happened here in March 2011, the area has taken major strides to ensure that sustainability is its utmost focus, primarily in the realms of renewable energy and education. Because a large amount of the damage experienced by Fukushima was due to a nuclear disaster, the region has switched to developing alternative energy facilities for solar, wind, and hydrogen energy. Land in Japan is precious, with only 14% of it available for both living space and agriculture, and the people of Fukushima have been sure to maximize the amount of land that is available for their use. Extensive solar parks have been constructed to generate energy for use primarily in Tokyo, which is a major source of income for people living in the town of Okuma. In addition to solar parks, Fukushima is also developing facilities to generate energy harnessed from the wind and from hydrogen, which sets a precedent for other regions and countries wishing to pursue sustainable energy production. The most inspiring aspect of Fukushima’s resilience was exhibited by the students of Futaba Mirai High School, who have been working on projects to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals within their own community. Because the notion of sustainability is being ingrained within them at such a young age, this will ensure the creation of a generation who is devoted to the protection of the use of resources for all people, both present and future.
Despite only having a few days to spend in Kyoto, I look forward to coming back to explore more of the city later in the summer, and I am excited that I’ll be able to experience the other two portions of the Keihanshin megaregion, Kobe and Osaka, as well. I’m curious to learn more about how the sustainable living conditions of Keihanshin compare to those of the Greater Tokyo Area, and I hope to find ways in which some practices in one megaregion could be implemented in another. In addition to learning from one another, megaregions can also adopt lessons from Fukushima, who has been able to make tremendous progress in the realm of sustainable development through recovery from a disaster.
Although I have spent less than a week in Tokyo, the stark differences between Japan’s transport system and the transport system used in the United States became obvious to me within the first 24 hours of my stay here. After having experienced the public transportation system of Atlanta, a major American city, versus that of Tokyo, a major Japanese city, the mass transit system utilized in Japan is blatantly miles ahead of the mass transit systems in the United States (no pun intended). In Japan, the usage of collective transportation is firmly emphasized; everyone from smartly-dressed businessmen to young schoolchildren clad in adorable uniforms makes use of public transportation. On the other hand, Americans still rely largely on personal cars as their main mode of transportation, which is far less sustainable because the vast quantity of mainly single-occupancy vehicles releases more carbon emissions than public transportation. I have been fortunate enough to explore a considerable portion of Tokyo this past week, and one thing that I have noticed is that the highways are nowhere near as congested as those of Atlanta; in comparison, Atlanta traffic makes the road system of Tokyo look deserted, which is obviously due to the extensive use of the mass transit system in Tokyo. If American cities like Atlanta were to elevate and emphasize collective transportation to a comparable level, this more-sustainable form of transportation could have positive implications that resound throughout American society.
According to a report titled “Human Transit” by Jarrett Walker, he has dubbed seven elements as being the “7 Demands of Useful Service”, namely that transit takes individuals 1) where they want to go, 2) when they want to get there; constitutes 3) a good use of time and 4) a good use of money; 5) respects individuals and 6) provides them with a service that they know they can trust; and 7) gives people the freedom to make and change plans freely. Connecting to the fact that Japan’s mass transportation system is clearly more sustainable than that of the United States, I have also noticed that the transit in Japan meets these seven needs far more seamlessly than transit in the United States. In Japan, specifically in Tokyo, the system of collective transportation fulfills the “7 Demands of Useful Service” because it is 1) extensive and 2) frequently has trains arriving and departing the numerous stations; 3) is notoriously efficient with an almost flawless track record and 4) is relatively cheap and affordable; 5) makes commuters feel safe and 6) provides them with a reliable service; and 7) is flexible enough that individuals do not have to build their lives around train schedules. Conversely, the mass transit system in the United States, especially in the city of Atlanta, lags behind Japan in these aspects because 1) it is not as far-reaching and 2) has a longer time interval for when trains travel from station to station; 3) can waste commuters’ time with considerable waiting periods, although 4) it is still a price-friendly option; 5) does not create an environment in which people, particularly women and children, feel safe and 6) is infamously unreliable; and 7) causes many users of this form of transportation to have to formulate their lives around when it is available.
Our class was lucky enough to obtain the privilege of touring the JR East research and development facility, which has introduced many innovations in the realm of collective transportation and is studying ways to further elevate the mass transit experience in Japan. Before our tour, our guide explained to us that the four main focuses of JR East are 1) safety, 2) service, 3) maintenance of railways, and 4) the environment, and they possess a number of laboratories within the facility that test methods for improving aspects of the mass transportation system involved with each of these focuses. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the facility, but we were able to view many initiatives that JR East intends to implement to improve the commuter experience, such as placing higher ceilings in stations with a higher volume of commuters, developing different types of tile flooring to ensure cleanliness and walkability, and making the process of scanning individuals’ rail passes more efficient with touchless sensors. Overall, it was clear that JR East is committed to taking strides in each of its four main focuses, and as our guide informed us, JR East’s central goal is to satisfy its passengers and provide them with an enjoyable and efficient transit experience.
Due to the extreme efficiency and ease of utilization of Japan’s transit system, it comes as no surprise that the nation boasts the two largest train stations in the world, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station respectively. Although I have yet to experience Japan’s train system after 8:00 at night, the citizens of Japan appear to be incredibly loyal to the usage of this mode of mass transportation during the daylight hours. The lofty rate at which the Japanese use mass transit was made evident to me by how frequently I found myself unable to find a seat due to the sheer volume of passengers. The commotion that occurred during the lunch and end-of-the-workday rushes was reminiscent of the New York subway; passengers were packed into each car so tightly that it was impossible not to come in contact with another person.
The perfect illustration of the timeliness of the Japanese transit system is the fact that a Japanese train that arrived at its station only one minute later than scheduled was a story worthy of making the news. Dr. Woodall cemented the efficiency of Japan’s rail system with an anecdote about how if one left a wallet in a train car, one could simply wait for that same car in the same spot at the station, because within about forty-five minutes, that exact car would return to that exact location with the wallet most likely still in its possession (although he did not recommend testing this claim). Furthermore, Japan has attempted to make the mass transportation experience as efficient as possible by increasing the proximity of train stations, such as Shinigawa Station, to commercial areas, making it easier for commuters to get to work or to find places to eat or shop.
Despite having only been in Japan for a total of two days, after yesterday’s transit tour, many of our group members were capable of navigating Japan’s train system because of the ease with which we were able to locate information (although I will not crown myself as one of those successful navigators). Within each train car, among the rows of lively advertisements, small screens display important information including maps to show the order in which the train will arrive at each station as well as the number of minutes until the next stop. For those of us with little to no knowledge about the Japanese language, we were relieved to find that this information was also available in English. In addition, announcements were also made in both Japanese and English. Perhaps the most pleasant way in which information is relayed within the Japanese train system is through the utilization of hasa melodies, which are catchy jingles that are unique to each respective station and are played to signal that the doors of the train car are closing. Thanks to the instruction of Dr. Watkins and the excellence of the Japanese in orchestrating their transit system, our group will be sure to master this mode of transportation by the end of our stay in Tokyo.