Why are there so many kouban (police boxes)?

Although Japan does have a low crime rate, Korea’s is just as low and there are far fewer police boxes here. In fact, in Japan one of the main duties seems to be giving people, or even taxi drivers, directions. Same crazy house numbering system here, though, with a whole block having the same number and the blocks labelled chronologically rather than in order along the street. There is a crucial difference connected to that which I hadn’t thought of though:

“In Japan, you can’t even stop strangers and ask for simple directions when you are lost [due to the taboo against talking to strangers]. If you get lost, you  look for a policeman, who will help you because that is part of his job”

That’s an exaggeration, but Korea does have more of a Mediterranean feel of old ladies sitting on street corners who you can ask, and a crowd of people slowly gathering to all look at the map or address and exchange mutually contradictory advice

Why would anyone coat a park in grey dust?

My twelve month old daughter loves the local parks here in Tokyo. In fact, so busy is she sitting on the ground making grey dust clouds, putting grey dust on her clothes, tasting grey dust etc, that she doesn’t find time to try any of the swings, slides etc that she used to explore in our neighbourhood parks in Seoul (which were coated in undistracting soft matting of some kind). Not sure the local government specifically set it up for the entertainment of one year olds. The only possible reasons I could come up with:

– Kids less likely to hurt themselves than on most surfaces (obviously the most important thing in Ni-go-chuu-i-kudasai-ppon)

– Less likelihood of permanent stains than on grass

– Cheap and easy to maintain (an influence on so many things with a flat economy for basically twenty years and totally squeezed government budgets that are not helped by the profligacy of the bubble years, bubble years that local ward governments in Seoul seem to be going through in Seoul right now…)

Much more colourful and amusing posts on parks from the much missed Englishman in Osaka:

Playgrounds of the world

Puny parks

Why do Asian cities choose to plant trees with the smelliest fruit in the world?

I was sitting in this café for about 10 minutes thinking “Man, it smells like someone puked in here” before in a flash of inspiration I looked at the bottom of my shoe and found the squashed gingko fruits that were responsible. In Tokyo, Seoul and most other Japanese and Korean cities the smell can really ruin a walk in the park at the wrong time of year. What exactly are the benefits of these trees that make that reek worthwhile?? Pretty yellow leaves in autumn?? Small leaves so the trees don’t need hacking half to death to stop falling leaves from inconveniencing people?? Anyone got any other ideas??

Why do most Japanese households have a fax machine?

“Everybody had to have a fax machine in Japan… because nobody would come to your cocktail party if you didn’t fax every guest a map of how to get there” Read the rest of this entry »

Why are there comparatively few skyscrapers in Tokyo, despite the high land prices?

Earthquakes and soft ground, small plots of land with individual owners, tax laws that make people reluctant to sell, big Japanese companies tending to have their own buildings, and strict laws about blocking light

It’s the scary Japanese stat of the day Quiz!

According to my new Japanese bible “Saying Yes to Japan”, as of 2003, how many homes in Japan were “either dilapidated, unoccupied, or didn’t meet 1981 earthquake standards”?

Was it a) 25,000

b) 250,000

c) 2,500,000

Answer:  Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Omotesando so different from other streets in Tokyo

= Why does only Omotesando look like a French boulevard?

“This broad, tree-lined promenade had been designed as the ceremonial entrance to [Meiji Jingu] the vast Shinto shrine honouring the Meiji emperor” Shutting Out the Sun pg 146

Why are most recent big airports in Japan in the sea?

According to the Wikipedia Narita Airport entry (a whoooole load more interesting than that sounds), it was due to the riots that happened in the 60s and 70s when Narita Airport was built. “The conflict was a major factor in deciding to build the new Osaka and Nagoya airports (Kansai and Chūbu respectively) offshore on reclaimed land, instead of again trying to expropriate land in heavily populated areas.”

Why are there so many patches of land that are unused, derelict or farm land even in really developed parts of Tokyo?

Property taxes are low, but property sales tax, inheritance tax and gift tax are all high, making it cheap to carry on the same and expensive to change.

Why are there so many pylons everywhere in Japan?

The industry has no incentive to change as burying them is more expensive, and the government agency staff they take out to expensive Ginza hostess bars is not likely to force them. And again, the explanation of earthquake problems is totally bogus- during the Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake falling electrical wires caused a major danger by blocking roads.

More on this in Japanese architecture and town planning explained