Monday, January 31, 2011

8 Things Japan could Improve: No. 8. The Railways

I can't claim to speak as an expert on Japan, but I thought that some might be interested in reading my thoughts on things Japan could improve. This is staggered with the publishing of my list of 8 unmistakable pleasures of Japan. For your comfort, posted in parts. Far too long as a single list.

    Okay, given, they are some of the best in the world, (from what I've seen) but this bears saying. Railways everywhere could improve, a lot. Japan has the least excuse because they are so renouned for the speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their railways. How it still remains possible to transport two people in their own vehicle at a lower cost and higher speed than transporting a trainful of people over the same distance remains a mystery to me. If I want to get ten people from point A to point B, even if the trains run along the same route as the people do, even in Japan, it will cost me about two people's train fare to pile everyone into two cars and drive.
    That brings to mind one of the simplest things that could be done to make train travel more popular - perhaps not in Japan, where almost everyone rides the train alone - but everywhere. Introduce discounts for smaller groups. If I want to drive from point A to point B, it costs me almost exactly the same amount to transport one person as it does to transport five. If I want to transport five people from point A to point B by train, it costs me exactly five times as much. Certainly, the cost decreases very little less for the train company to transport five individuals than one group of five - but wouldn't it make more sense for them to compete with cars, if they want the business? Also, we must remember, it does cost them a little less - less time at the ticket machine, less time with a ticket-handler, and likely, less time at the station, since five moving as a group move more efficiently than five individuals. Also, and this is a major point, it costs them less in missed stops. Five as a group are less likely to miss a stop than one of the five individuals, especially with the incredible Japanese ability to sleep on the trains.
    Speaking of train companies, what exactly is the deal with separate train companies? They don't actually compete, because none of them run on the same tracks, except in a few exceptionally busy areas, and, frankly, they just get confusing. To fill the unaware in, there are five major train companies in Japan, JR, JR West, JR East, JR North and JR South. To make things more confusing, JR West handles trains mostly in the South, JR handles trains in the Tokyo area and betwen Tokyo and Kyoto, JR East handles trains in the North (All the way up to the tip of Japan). Where they all come together, in Tokyo station, five train handlers come together in one station, with very little guidance as to which goes where, and how to get to their respective ticket machines. In addition to this, there are innumerable local lines of both subway and above-ground trains, which often require exiting one station to walk across the street to another. In Kyoto, several subway stops are located about a block from the stops of local trains, which are located another block (and blocks in Kyoto are suprisingly long) from the bus stops.
    I suppose I was just disappointed, as I had been led to expect more. In Japan, I paid about $14 per person to take a local train from Narita airport, about an hour and a half ride, to Tokyo station. There, the train was packed. In Italy, I paid about $8.50 per person to take a ride of the same distance in an hour, from Pisa to Florence. There, the train was newer, nicer, and less crowded. In Japan, we paid $8 per person each way to take an fifty-minute train ride from the suburbs into the city. In Los Angeles, with its famously terrible public transport, I paid variously $11 per person for a (one day) round-trip ticket from the suburbs to the city. (A great convenience) in a much, much nicer train. In Kyoto and Tokyo, I paid something around $5 per person per trip to take a local train for single short (~20 minute) rides. For the same price, I could get a one-day pass on the "local trains" of LA, or a three-day pass on the local trains around Rome. For a country renouned for the efficiency of its local transit, Fail, Japan, Fail.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Here, for now

Dear Faithful Readers,

I have truly been neglectful, I am sorry. Things have been so busy, and I have been involved in several other writing projects. I do bear good news, however – you can hope for more consistent updates from me soon. You see, we have arrived in Italy, and are now settled into an old house in the hills of Tuscany. The house is rustic, and I don't think there's a telephone or TV cable to be found. We can only connect to the internet by use of a cellphone modem, which thankfully works faster than my memories of the 14.4kbps modems of my childhood – when it works at all.

Still, this has somewhat limited internet access. Why, you may ask, would this mean that you will receive more consistent updates? Quite simply, because I am now free from distraction. In the high-speed internet world of Japan, I could distract myself with any number of things. Now, I am looking forward to being forced away from distraction, and so long as I can keep myself from trying to challenge my Father's old Freecell records, I can find much more time to write for all my writing projects. Hopefully, I will even be able to schedule blog several documents at a time, so that even if there is a break in my writing schedule, you will still receive the updates you so faithfully deserve.

So what happened to Japan? Japan went quickly, but it is by no means over. In the next month I hope to write a number of things reflecting on Japan. I have always found reflection, rather than report, to be a more meaningful way of retelling. So, I'll call my procrastination intent, and say that it is all the more fitting, here in the land of ancient stones and old cheeses to recall the past, and mull over my time in Japan, rather than reporting it in the, perhaps more Japanese, sense of immediacy. (Speaking of old cheese, our host bought us such a Gorgonzola Grace hesitates to kiss me after I partake – I wonder if the cheese is named after the mythic beast.)

So, in short, look forward to a number of updates. I have planned:
Selections from a series of interlocking short stories I am writing set in Japan.
A series on things I do and do not like about Japan, things that could be improved, and things that should never be changed.
Hopefully (internet speeds permitting) I will also be able to upload some pictures, as well as hunt out pictures from Flickr and Picasa that represent better than my pictures the views I have seen.

I hope that from here on in, my updates come as often as they should, and that they are as enjoyable as I can make them.

(updates subject to internet connection, and probably won't be consistent for the first week as I try to get the writing started).

For now, good reader, I bid you adieu.

Your Yeoman Scholar

Thursday, January 13, 2011

not to make anyone jealous....

but I'm posting this from a nozomi shinkansen @300km/h and Fuji is pulling into view.