My desire to ensure environmental sustainability.

Point blank on environmental issues.

Friday, 24 July 2015

This is Japan 2

Transport system and general infrastructure

Talk of transport infrastructure; the highways/superhighways, railway lines, sub-ways, monorails, airports, and ports (water). The locations in which they are built and the design itself, indeed, make none doubt the ingenuity of engineering in the world. Note that over 50% of Japan’s land is mountainous; meaning that putting up structures such as transport facilities is quite an uphill. However, the engineers did something that most of us (or at least me) finds breathtaking and worth an appreciation; instead of revolving around the mountains to find their way, the dug through them and constructed the road and railway tunnels. Additionally, Japan has a channel of islands and accessibility is only possible through bridges that have to run for several kilometers connect the islands; that chapter was closed long ago! I know that such structures exist in other parts of the world, and this confirms that science (engineering) is a real deal.
Two-way road tunnels

Akashi Kaikyo bridge (longest suspended bridge
in the world)
Image Courtesy: Japan

Notably, it will take you lots of time (if not forever) to get yourself to a destination, were it not for Google maps or other location devices. This is because the network of these infrastructural systems, especially in cities like Tokyo, is quite confusing, to an extent that such location devices are your best friends; otherwise you will just make rounds in one place or find yourself at downtown instead of the CBD! One of my friends made a joke out this; that it is only in Japan where you have to use Google maps even from your workplace back home (no offence).  Owing to this infrastructural level, you can rarely experience cases of traffic jam or even accidents; in your country, how many hours do you spend on the road going to the work place or getting back home?
Tokyo sub-way map (this is why I got lost in Shinjuku!)
Image Courtesy: Tokyo Metro
There are various means of transport in Japan ranging from buses, taxis, trams, electric trains, and bullet trains or shinkansen. Although all these means exhibit a great incorporation of technology, the shinkansen caught most of my attention. By the way, I just accomplished that dream of riding in a shinkansen, though the time was too short; not short because of the closeness of my destination but rather the high speed of the bullet train! All in all, I enjoyed the ride- ever comfortable, soothing, and fulfilling. Essentially, the technological ingenuity displayed in Japan’s means of transport, especially the shinkansen and the upcoming MAGLEV Train, talks much about the possibility attaining the unthinkable.  

Shinkansen arriving at Shin-Osaka 
In addition, there are range skyscrapers that create a magnificent view of city skylines in Japan. For instance, The Tokyo Tower and The Tokyo Sky Tree (the world’s tallest tower) are places to visits if you want the real experience of the panoramic view of the Tokyo skyline. The ingenuous skills used to build the Japanese castles are also amazing. These castles, wholesomely constructed of wood and a few metals, were used in ancient times as hideouts during war and as residential places for kings (emperors). Existing in virtually every prefecture, they are now among the top tourist attractions in Japan.     
Himejijo in Hyogo Prefecture
(UNESCO World Heritage site);
purely made of wood and very few metals!

Kochi castle in
Kochi Prefecture

Horyuji Temple (Oldest wooden structure in Japan
  and a UNESCO World Heritage Site)


I remember in the first few weeks of my stay in Japan, I used to upload pictures of various Japanese foods on my social media accounts, and for sure, some of my friends found it scary (better still, not appetizing at all); those comments said it all! Well, I have to admit that I sailed in the same boat with such people for a while; it was my first time to eat such foods except for Japanese green tea and sushi, which I had already tasted at the Japanese Embassy in Kenya! I have been dining on a table full of various sea delicacies; talk of seaweeds, various types of fish (including raw ones, called shashimi), mollusks like bivalves, shrimp, and octopus. Actually, the sea is Japan’s garden. I was only used to terrestrial and river/lake delicacies; that can tell you how strange it was for me in the first few days.


Shrimp and oyster

Partially grilled/raw fish (katsuo no tataki)

Rice is the staple food in Japan, and can be eaten together with various assortments of food like chicken, beef, fish, or vegetables. However, I have to admit that it is very difficult for a vegetarian to survive in Japan, owing to the little variety of vegetables around here; that only reminds me of managu, kunde, sukuma wiki, murenda in back in Kenya. I once tried to use the Japanese corn flour to make some ugali (Kenya’s staple food-しゅしょく), but I did not like the results! Still in search of an online shop, that has the real maize flour! All these notwithstanding, I have come to develop a liking for Japanese cuisines and will soon be offering a detailed look into most of them.    


Japan has virtually all forms of weather conditions that you might think of! Some things like typhoons, earthquakes/tsunami, and extreme seasons of the year, were just high school Geography theory until I came in Japan. I am here for the real life experience. Talking of seasons, I have already experienced the full cycle, and the comparison with my country (Kenya) is far off! Whereas Kenya’s seasons are a bit mild, one can readily recognize the changes in weather patterns in Japan’s seasons. This is the first time (初めて) I am experiencing such extreme conditions; new lows and highs of temperature, rainfall and humidity.
To survive the winter, one has to, obviously, invest in heavy wear because the cold is too threatening-the snow literally rains (falls), driving temperatures to negative figures. I remember one of my friends saying “hii baridi inachoma” (Swahili for “this cold is burning”). Please keep warm all the time to avoid catching a cold, or other scary ailments like frostbite and other respiratory diseases. Following winter is a rainy spring during which temperatures are gradually increasing, prompting you to abandon some of the heavy wear. The only problem with spring is the inconvenience caused, especially for those people whose major means of transport is a motorbike or bicycle-time to invest in a raincoat and keep an umbrella as your best companion! Summer is the total contrast of winter. I always thought that the main feature defining summer is high temperature but I was forced to add one more to my list- humidity. The humidity levels in Japan can be so high during summer, to extents that you sweat even at a still position- walking out of the bathroom, sweat is still part of you! Thanks goodness that the Japanese (actually most Asians), have less sweat glands, especially the apocrine glands that are responsible for body odor- too much biology in there!  As for people from other continents, who have a combination of both sweat glands (eccrine and appocrine- still, biology), a deodorant and face towel is a worthy accompaniment. In the living room or any other meeting place, woe unto you, if you have no access to an air conditioner, or fan. As for autumn, the season is a bit calm, preparing you for the winter. Despite these extremes in all the seasons, various festivals accompanying each of them makes days count so fast all through the year.
Further, on Japanese weather, typhoons are a regular occurrence, where you expect the strong winds and heavy rains to cause quite some disturbance. Talk of floods that can wash away property or even people, and winds pushing down enormous materials. Additionally, earthquakes and or tsunami rarely occur, but be sure to witness havoc in case of any. A combination of these natural disasters among others like heat strokes, really cause anxiety. However, the most amazing thing is that, you can always be out of danger if you are an attentive and alert person all the time. This is because there are always early warnings, evacuations centers, standby help desks or hotlines, and most importantly, regular disaster drills; actually, this makes Japan one of the best countries in the globe when it comes to disaster preparedness. みなさんきおすけます(please keep attention all the time and take care).

Education system    

I am not fully conversant on the Japanese education, but what I know is that Japanese is the major language of instruction. Other languages like English are taught as subjects, and no much interest is given to them. You had better start working on your survival Japanese lessons if you want to have a better life here! The schooling system starts from elementary- junior high- senior high, and then university. The university system, especially the undergraduate, is quite similar to what I went through- a lot of course work followed by some tests. On the other hand, the graduate schools are more of research oriented where there is too little course, if at all there is. A graduate student will spend most of the time in the laboratory conducting experiments and others (like me), will be out in the field to collect data. The rest of the time, one will spend it on trying to analyze the data and write a report, things which are sometimes a bit challenging because of the low course content in graduate school (note: personal observation). However, as much as there some weaknesses, I will have to say that the concentration on research work has granted Japan it is rightful position of a home of technological innovations, inventions, and groundbreaking discoveries.


Buddhism and Shinto are the major religions in Japan, with the rest such as Christianity and Islam, accounting for negligible percentages. These two religions (Buddhism and Shinto) have existed in Japan for centuries, and they have a great connection and identification with both culture and traditions. Be sure to find temples and shrines in the proximity of any natural forest, because these religions greatly identify with nature- another reason for high forest cover in Japan! Actually, there is no clear difference between the two religions because one can identify with either of them. Buddhism arrived in Japan from China, and was incorporated with the indigenous Shinto religion. I may not dwell much on the philosophical and or the theological aspects, but what I can say is that, it is spiritually challenging to live in such a society where Christianity accounts for less than 2% of the 127 million. One of the famous missionaries, Francis Xavier greatly attested to this, on his Japanese spiritual journey, something that even succeeding missionaries are facing.  Chances are that, you leave Japan either as an exhausted or strong than ever before. My prayer is to achieve the latter. 
Entrance gate (torii) into a Japanese shrine.


This experience is indeed, quite humbling, adventurous and full of surprises all through. I have come to learn that being developed does not necessarily mean doing away with your culture and traditions, but rather integrating them in the process. That, ingenious ways of doing things and technological innovations are quickly interrupting those saying NO to ideal situations. Notably, culture shock real and the recovery from it depends on how ready you are to learn, make friends, and discover the particular region and its people; mindset! Specifically, the most valuable lesson I have learnt so far is that, we, the people can for sure live to love, help, respect, and serve each other irrespective of race, gender, class, region, or religion. I am still in the process of discovery and the journey of sharing my experiences and thoughts about Japan has just begun. 

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