Saturday, 31 October 2015

A multi-layered perspective


Physically, planning in Japan seemed to be a calamity of buildings, alley ways and mixed densities. My first impression on the train from the airport to Shin-Osaka was that the areas we were travelling through seemed to lack any real land use planning strategy. The densities seemed to vary from village to village while gradually intensifying until we reached our destination.  Fortunately Shin-Osaka itself was loosely based on a grid system with intertwining railways and overpasses which assisted our navigation. The buildings themselves were generally of an unattractive aesthetic based on concrete exteriors, limited permeability and few windows. It was difficult to tell whether buildings were constructed for residential or commercial purposes as they generally looked the same. 

Socially, there was an obvious disparity in wealth that became more apparent when travelling between Osaka and Shin-Osaka. Interestingly there appeared to be very few homeless people despite the wealth disparity, although it became increasingly obvious that there was a homeless population due to the occasional sighting of a makeshift shelter. It seemed as though there had been a conscious effort to minimise the appearance of the homeless population. Whether this diminishment had occurred purposely at the hands of a governing power, the police or social etiquette was unclear, however I got the feeling that the issue was larger than the cities were letting on. 

Economically it was apparent that Japan was thriving. Tokyo and Osaka were obviously developing at a rapid rate. Everywhere you looked there were cranes indicating the commencement of several looming high rises, a phenomenon that citizens appeared to be embracing enthusiastically. Tokyo seemed to be controlling their development in a much more deliberate way, a point which our guide Kit made quite clear. Tokyo had embraced big business which had effected the development of its inner city, making it a vibrant mix of boroughs each of which had its own distinct identity. The Imperial Palace had claimed a very large area of prime metropolitan real estate, leaving the area undeveloped and green. This seemed a strange contrast to the high density development which occurred throughout the rest of the city. This gesture highlighted the respect that the Japanese people have for their monarchy, a value which is worth more to them than any financial incentive.There were a specific set of people that the districts in Tokyo were designed to appeal to such as business men and ‘tea ladies’, a concept that most of the people in our group found somewhat offensive and out-dated.  

Sendai was developing at an astonishing rate despite the destruction it had endured. Citizens, local leaders and construction workers had been making the most of the time and resources at their disposal to reconstruct the demolished towns and infrastructure. Overall those involved seemed to be quite positive and hopeful, a disposition which will assist the rapid reconstruction of the area and the healing of those effected by the disaster. I was astounded by the level of responsibility the government had taken for the tragedy. Not only had they funded the construction of the sea wall, but also funded a lot of temporary housing and devoted a lot of emergency services to the clean up efforts. I found this to be an amazing contrast to how the government in Australia has responded to natural disasters like Black Saturday. In that example no one took responsibility for the shortcomings of the system or the loss of life and infrastructure. This has given me a great appreciation for the respect that the Japanese government has for its citizens, it has also helped me to understand why the country has such high standards of living and innovation.

Harriet Noall