||Having both previously experienced working life in Japan, we knew before returning that it could be a very testing experience. In certain respects that still holds true; at work Jeroen still experiences inefficient long working hours, risk adverse behaviour and from our perspective ‘beating around the bush’. On the other hand relationships are very important and once these have been established as ‘trustful’ you can get a lot done. How the current worldwide recession, which has hit Japan’s export driven economy particularly hard, may propel changes such as the further erosion of the concept of lifetime employment and the 'salary man' remains to be seen. We hope to stay here for the coming time to see some changes for the positive.
Another aspect of Japan which you notice immediately upon arrival during the 1,5 hour trip from the airport to the city is the immense sprawling nature of Tokyo. The Greater Tokyo area, which includes Kanagawa, the prefecture we live in, counts over 34 million inhabitants covering an area of 13,500m2 according to Wikipedia. Although generally increased in number and height over the last 10 years, you will not see many high-rise buildings for a city of this size. I suppose this has a lot to do with the frequent earthquakes, which at times can be felt weekly. Our 2-storey wooden house feels particularly prone to shaking from earthquakes, but apart from registering with the embassy in the case of a disaster and an earthquake kit by the front door, you learn to get on and live with these tremblings. A new experience was volcanic ash on the car on a Monday morning this February from an eruption at Mount Asama, about 170km northwest of our house. Needless to say we took a picture, then got in the car and left for school.
Of course such a large city with limited parking spaces (you need to prove you have a parking place at your house before you can buy a car), has an excellent public transport system. The tricky part is that from major stations there are many types of trains of the same ‘line’ riding the same routes but stopping at different stations. To ease these inconveniences the Japanese have a number of very helpful transport ‘mod-cons’.
|Platforms are covered in coloured lines to show you where to stand so that you are right in front of the train door when it stops (no pushing and shoving either but neat orderly queues), frequent platform jingles assault your ears to warn you of approaching trains and closing of doors, and in-carriage displays above the door to let you know how long it will take to get to the next station. Despite these aides, believe me, you can still get lost! Being a woman travelling home late at night (but before midnight when the trains stop), has also been catered for with special Ladies Only Carriages. This is where you are safe from intoxicated unwanted roaming hands for the journey home! And forget about using your cell phone on the train – this is a definite no-no!