According to American economist, Jeremy Rifkin, the three activities that create the most CO2 emissions and use the most energy are 1) buildings, 2)meat production, and 3) transportation. Today I’ll focus on the one that has become a big part of my daily life here in Japan… transportation.
Our 12 years in the states, raising two daughters from pre-teens to adulthood made us acutely aware of the need for cars. Most suburban communities are not set up for easy access to shopping, schools and businesses, either by mass-transit or by foot or pedal. We did the full gambit. Our family grew to a typical four-person/four-car-family. Albeit, Miki’s car ran on used vegetable oil from our restaurants tempura fryer and I enjoyed less cash flowing out for gas with our Prius. Do the math…payments, insurance, gas and maintenance times FOUR. Although, Emi and Miki have always paid for their own cars, insurance and gas, the total cost was still a hefty chunk of everyone’s income.
Circumstances such as the juggling of college finances, and a few car accidents, led us down to “one” car…for four adults, mind you. Now this took some creative scheduling. Luckily, around this time (over two years ago), we, like many others, sold our home and down-sized to a more manageable rental walking distance from the UNLV campus. My school and work was all at UNLV for the last 2 years, so I was able to walk to and from, and had to make a reservation to use “my car” for any errands or personal activities. Toshiaki worked under a mile away so was often dropped off and picked up by one of us, as was Emi when she started working. Miki also walked to campus and the girls used their network of friends to car-pool.
When we were making the decision to move back to Japan, our cost and benefit analysis showed that transportation as well as healthcare would be on the plus side of the “living in Japan” calculations.
A little about the transportation in Japan…
There are 35 million people living and commuting in the metropolis of Tokyo (a city). That’s a little less than the population of the entire state of California, in a space nearly 200 times smaller. Just as China may realize too late, it is impossible, on many levels, for all those people to drive their own individual cars. Traffic, cost, road construction, pollution, safety, to name just a few.Thankfully, Tokyo has a well thought-out, meticulous system of trains, subways and buses-the first sphere of moving people around. The second sphere is the use of private cars, trucks and taxi’s. And the third sphere is walking and biking.
The pros and cons between mass transit and individual vehicle usage are cost, convenience,privacy and comfort. I can pretty much go anywhere I need to go in Tokyo for a small fee. There are convenient sites, apps and tools that give routes based on time, price and ease of transfer. Most people in Tokyo commute this way. With a few minutes of planning you can plan which exit to head for and get to your destination almost like clockwork (minus an occasional train accident or periodic stoppage of line, which are expected this summer due to potential rolling black-outs to make-up for the Nuclear reactors that have been taken off-line, see link regarding stress tests ).
In addition, Tokyo is now on a system where a pre-paid magnetic card can be scanned through your wallet giving ease traveling in and out of ticket gates. They can also be used to paying bills and even vending machine purchases.Eventually, tickets and carrying cash will become obsolete.
Now, the cost of of traveling in a well-planned mass-transit system is definitely less then owning and maintaining one car per person. Especially in Japan where an additional annual cost is attached to a vehicle called shaken. This vehicle inspection cost increases every year to the point that it becomes cheaper to buy a new car than to keep a clunker on the road (the pros for this of course is newer cars have better fuel efficiency and typically less emission… the con? …what to do with all those 10 year old cars?? (that discussion for another post).
But how about convenience, privacy and comfort. To be honest, I do miss singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite broadway show tunes on my trips to my Mom’s. And certainly, controlling my own climate, sounds and conversation in my moving capsule is definitely a plus. Especially, if you have to brave rush hour in a city like Tokyo. My 6′ plus friend Brent took this picture one morning with his long arms. I had a recent experience last week where I was to meet Helen to assist in organizing the filming of a music video sponsored by 5ive planets to raise awareness and funds for the Tohoku relief efforts. This involved traveling from Tokyo to Yokohama in rush hour. I had planned my route; four transfers, one hour, seven dollars… however, I didn’t know (or remember from my early college days in the 80’s) that a million other people would be traveling with me. I felt like a “salmon in a sauna.” I couldn’t seem to get in the right flow of traffic, often swimming upstream against the current of business people moving “en masse” down stream absorbing the summer humidity (70-80%). Needless to say, I was wet and exhausted by the time I arrived at 9 AM to my destination. That was the day I decided that maybe a 9-5 Mon-Fri job was not for me. I have made it through my entire adult life avoiding that, why stop now.
Now, the plus side to “non-rush” hour traveling and commuting as many east-coasters can attest to is the multi-tasking that can be accomplished while getting from here to there. I-pods have allowed me to have more regular meditation periods, learn song parts and lyrics for some fun jobs that have come my way, listen to pod-casts, etc. (I think singing out loud would be frowned upon by my fellow travelers). Reading books or kindles is like killing two birds with one stone, someone else is driving while I can get some reading in. And then of course, long trips on say, the bullet train allows for work on laptop and writing, as well as enjoying food, drink and scenery.
A word about walking and cycling. Need I say, the benefits to one’s health, not only in the physical movement itself, but in the awareness of your surroundings, is beyond measure. It’s possible, if you are present, to see people face to face, discover new things, take new paths and get a new perspective by walking and cycling. At this time of year with the high temperatures and humidity, it’s best to think of it as a Bikram class outdoors and hopefully a shower is close at hand.
Finally, the overall energy use and CO2 emissions when looking at mass-transit vs. private wheels vs. pedaling and walking is an important consideration and needs no further explanation.
No matter what your needs, wants and choices are I hope this was food for thought. I’m off for another day of getting from here to there.