Japan’s Cars

Owning and driving a car in Japan is this crazy thing where, you don’t really need one, but lots of people have them. In the small community where I live, every family has at least one car, sometimes two, as in my family, and nearly everyone who commutes does so by car. They don’t have to. My children walk to the train station every day to go to school, and one neighbor of ours does too. Cars cost a lot; there are too many on the roads, and no one is getting anywhere fast.

So what are the driving conditions like? What do people drive? Japanese people do love their cars. The automobile industry in Japan is huge, not just in exports, but also in domestic consumption. Not only that, but automobile infrastructure is first class. The roads are well paved and safe, if only for cars sometimes. (Some are not pedestrian or bicycle friendly at all.)

Japanese people value their cars. They keep them clean, with a few exceptions, like my wife and I. There are very few cars on the rode dirty enough to write, “Wash me!” in the grime.

The cars are very well maintained. Every couple of years, depending on the age of the car, they have to be inspected, a process that costs somewhere around ¥100,00 or $1,000. These inspections are costly and ritualized, but the excellent service provided by dealerships make up for some of the unpleasantness. And thanks to the mechanics’ superb technical ability, the cars are better for the attention.

The most popular colors of car in Japan are white, black, and silver, in that order. I fit the mold there. I have one white car and one silver one. 28% of cars in 2009 were white, with 23% for both black and silver. That means 3/4 of all the cars in 2009 were one of three colors. According to DuPont, the company that did this survey in their 2011 Automotive Color Popularity Report, that isn’t true of all countries. The favorite colors of car owners in Europe were black, silver and gray, for example.

The five most popular car models in the first six months of 2013 according to Japan Automobile Dealers Association were Toyota, Prius; Toyota, Aqua; Nissan, Note; Honda, Fit; and the Nissan, Serena. I don’t drive any of those. In my family we drive Suzukis, which is a company that manufactures many “kei cars,” cars with a displacement of around 660 cubic centimeters.

But I still wonder why there seem to be so many cars on the road. There are 591 cars per 1,000 people in Japan. The US has 809 cars per 1,000 people, so there are almost 75% more cars per capita in the US than in Japan. Yet when I drive there just seems to be more congestion here, and I’m moving at a slower speed with more stops than when I drive in the US.

One reason for that may be that, according to the World Bank, Japan had 224, 223, and 222 vehicles per kilometer of road in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively. Compare that to 38 to 37 cars per kilometer of road in US.  Japan has the 5th most congested roads in the world behind Hong Kong and Macao among others.

And in all that congestion drivers continue to burn fuel, and fuel is expensive in Japan. By 2102 data Japan is ranked as having the 18th most expensive gasoline prices in the world as compared to 166 other countries. Japanese cars are very efficient, but on holidays when there are huge traffic jams or even in rush hour traffic drivers burn gasoline just to sit on the road. In fact, Japan has recorded one of the world’s largest traffic jams. On the return trip to Tokyo after the Obon Holidays on August 21, 1990, the jammed up highway stretched for 130 kilometers.

So how do drivers react to these factors, including congested roads and expensive gasoline? Well, they just don’t drive very much. According to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, an average car in Japan travels only 9,300 kilometers (5,800 miles) a year, less than half the U.S. average of 19,100 kilometers (12,000 miles).

People use other forms of transportation. Rail systems in Japan are well developed. My children ride a train to and from school everyday. Many junior and senior high school students ride their bicycles to school. On average 24% of company workers and 6% of students use a car for their daily commute. The car is a much more common means of commuting for those who live in the country, like me, where it is the choice of 64% of the company workers, compared to 14% of company workers from the city. Americans, on the other hand, commute by car 86% of the time.

There are probably many cultural attributes that account for the difference in what people drive and how they do it. Japanese car owners take very good care of their cars, but don’t drive as much as Americans. Those who own cars spend more time and money on them than their American counterparts. Just based on appearance one can see the difference, for example with “itasha,” cars brightly decorated with manga characters and shiny accessories. While conditions may not be as favorable for the average Japanese driver when compared to those of American drivers, they still love their cars.



Yokoyama san on a Walk with a Fox

“This basket just keeps getting heavier,” I thought as I slung the woven rope and scrap cloth straps of the split bamboo ruck over my shoulder.

The grass had all dried up in the cold weather so at least the trail was easy to see. The rocks that I step on were dry and dusty. The wind in the cedar trees was gentle, and my jikatabi-shod feet were quiet. So I was surprised when my husband walked up beside me. I hadn’t heard him come up.

“Where are you going,” he asked.

“Where do you think I’m going? To the flower patch you idiot.” We walked along in silence.

Then he said,” Come over here. There’s something I want to show you.”

“What is it”?

“You’ll see when we get there,” he said, and we walked on. We walked past some grave markers, people I don’t even know, and I’ve been here for over 80 years.

“How much further,” I said,”I have work to do, though you wouldn’t know what work is.”

“It’s just a little further,” he said, and as he stepped up to put his foot on a rock, I caught a glimpse of reddish fur through a hole in his trousers. A fox. That’s why I hadn’t heard him walking up from behind me, and that’s why the questions that were even more meaningless than usual.

I reached into my basket and pulled out a sickle. “You’re a fox! You’re not my husband, and you’re just trying to get me lost out here,” and I cut the air between us with the sickle.

The iron in the sickle broke the spell, and the fox returned to his actual appearance. “And don’t you try and trick me again, Fox, or I’ll cut your tail off instead of just cutting the air,” I shouted at the fox as he bounded off.

The fox had succeeded in turning me around a little, but I could figure out the directions with the sunlight coming through the trees, and soon found my way back to the trail.

That event wasted an hour of good working time, and tired me out something terrible.

Super Global Universities: Japan

In order to improve Japan’s universities’ global competitiveness, the Education Ministry is going to recognize 30 institutions which conduct cutting-edge research as “Super Global Universities.”

This was decided on April 8, 2014 at a meeting of university representatives and economists.

The result was that 10 schools that are aiming to be included in the world’s top 100 colleges, or “Top Class,” would be funded for ¥500,000,000 (or about US$5,000,000) for a maximum of 10 years. Another 20 domestic schools that conduct cutting-edge research, what they are calling “Globalization Leader Class,” will receive ¥300,000,000 (or about US$3,000,000) for a maximum of 10 years.

They will also be considering schools have connections with colleges abroad, fund study abroad programs, and teach a number of classes in a foreign language (language other than Japanese). They will recognize the 30 institutions in September of this year.
It has been suggested that the money be spent on inviting leading foreign institutions to set up programs in Japan, to attract more foreign teachers and students, and to boost collaboration with other academics overseas to offer joint degrees.

The goal is to have more than 10 Japanese colleges ranked in the top 100 by 2024.

Japan spends 24.2% of its per capita GDP on tertiary education, which is a considerable amount of money considering that Japan has the world’s third largest GDP. The US and UK spend similar portions of their GDP. China also has two colleges in the world’s top 100.

How much sleep do college students need

Over the course of a semester, I have many opportunities to talk to students. When I ask them how they are, they often say that they are fine. The second most common response is, “Sleepy.”

They sleep in class. They sleep between classes. They sleep on the buses and trains on the way to and from school. They are a sleepy bunch

When I think about my college lifestyle, I was a sleepy person, too. Nodding off in class, sleeping in a chair in the student lounge. There was a reason for that, too. When I was sleep deprived because of working late and then studying later, I was in poor shape for classes the next day.

This is what I learned about sleep as a student*

  • I need kind of a lot as an individual.
  • I cannot work nights and be fresh the next day for class.
  • It is not worth working nights and going to class the next day.

So I took some time off from school, worked, and saved up money for the next semester. It took me 8 years to finish undergrad and grad school, but I found that I had to get all my stuff done by 10pm, get 8 hours of sleep, and get up for early classes the next morning, because mornings were the best time for me to learn.

My students don’t get enough sleep. I know that from hearing their experiences. According to the OECD, Japan get’s the least sleep per person of any other member state.

My question has always been, “How much sleep do we need”? It turns out that needs vary by age and by individual, but for my students, 7 hours a night is a must. Though many of my students say that they get 6 hours of sleep per night, many studies use 6 hours of sleep as a standard for the sleep-deprived population.

Here is an easy-to-read graphic on sleep by the National Sleep Foundation in the US.

Getting Acupuncture Treatment

If you have a chronic ailment, one alternative to Western style medicine is acupuncture. In this post I’ll tell you about my most recent experience, make some suggestions about what to look for, and what we are entitled to under the Japanese health scheme.

Last year a friend invited me to a yoga class that was being held near the university. I had been interested in yoga for several years, but I had decided to avoid it, because its theoretical basis is from the Indian Peninsula. Since those places are so far away and the environments are so different, I didn’t think it would be appropriate for someone living in Japan.

The teacher, Dr. Maruyama, practices a Japanized form of yoga where the stretching exercises are basically to help build your body for long meditation sessions. That is the practice, and I enjoyed it enough to continue practice myself at home.

Dr. Maruyama is an acupuncturist with a practice not too far from the university. The friend that invited me to the yoga class had received treatment for some problems and then attended the yoga class.

I had been considering getting treatment for, among other things, a nagging tickle in my throat that lasts all year and worsens into asthma in the spring and fall. I can control most of it through diet, but that tickle just won’t go away.

I decided to visit Dr. Maruyama for diagnosis and treatment. He uses a diagnosis technique called the Bi-Digital O-Ring Test. You can see a video about it here.

He determined that I have some imbalances in my immune system that he could treat with acupuncture and some massage. He used needles in the small of my back, and warmed them using moxibustion.

This was my first treatment of three that he recommended. Since I was not referred to him by a physician practicing Western medicine, the treatment was not covered by the national insurance scheme. It cost ¥5,120 for the first visit, and will cost ¥1,120 for further treatments.

Though I am in good physical condition, I was very tired afterward, like I had been exercising pretty hard. The next day I was slow, but otherwise unchanged, though my niggling cough was less noticeable than before. That may be as a result of a variety of environmental changes, though.

If you live in Japan and would like to get acupuncture treatment for something, you can have it covered by the national medical insurance program if you have a reference from a physician practicing Western medicine and if you suffer from the following ailments.

3)Frozen Shoulder
4)Residual pain in the neck from sprain
5)Thoracic Output Syndrome
6)Back Pain

Otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.

There is a variety of physicians in Japan, some of whom practice Western style medicine as well as Chinese medicine. If you are looking to try acupuncture, I suggest finding a physician you trust. A good way to find one is by word of mouth from people who have spent some time in your neighborhood.

Over 5,000 Teachers In Japan Suffer From Mental Illness

This number seems insignificant to me. If there are 934,230 teachers in Japan (2001 data) and 24% of Japanese suffer from mental illnesshttp://www.japantoday.com/category/arts-culture/view/new-documentary-explores-taboo-subject-of-mental-illness-in-japan (2009 documentary) then that would mean 0.53% of teachers have taken leave for mental illness.

options: 1. The numbers are low because reasons for leave-taking are recorded as other illnesses.
2. Administrations adjusting the numbers to deliver a different message.
3. Health issues inappropriately diagnosed.
4.23.5% of teachers are not taking leave for mental illness.
5. Teachers have a very much higher rate of mental health than the general population.

Over 5,000 Teachers In Japan Suffer From Mental Illness.

The Necessity of Building a Language is Decipherable Even After It’s Forgotten

How old is humanity’s oldest language? It appears that Sumerian cuneiform dates from about 2900 BC, so something like 5000 years ago.

In a period of similar length, the Giza pyramids have been covered and re-excavated at least twice.

Now we have something that we must bury that will live as long as and posses more potential harm than any mummy’s curse. Radioactive waste.

The question is this: How do we write a warning that will last long enough and be understandable to prevent future archeologists who may stumble upon our lethal mess? That is a problem that a group of nuclear scientists and archaeologists tried to figure out in Dublin at the Euroscience Open Forum.

It would be best to leave as little of this in the ground as possible so that future explorers need not fear the curse of the energy addicts.