03 December, 2012

Life in a Crowded Nation

One thing I'm doing this week is putting together a quarterly news/prayer letter for kids about Japan and seeking to raise their awareness of mission. It's something I've been sending out for many years. This year my theme has been Geography. We've covered "Living on a Fault line", weather, mountains . . . and this time it is "Life in a Crowded Nation".

In my research I discovered this webpage (Japan: Overcrowded from Cradle to Grave). It is a little negative, but gives you an interesting insight, nonetheless, to life in a crowded Japan.

Population density figures, I've discovered, aren't necessarily very accurate. For example, Australia's is 7 people per square kilometre. Yes, it gives the image of spaciousness, but there are places that are much more crowded than that in Australia . . . a places that are much less crowded than that. It is just an average.

So, I've tried some rough arithmetic. Japan has about 126 million people. One statistic says that only 18 percent of the land is suitable for settlement (most of the rest is too steep). That leaves all those people squeezing into only 68,022 square kilometres, which is slightly smaller than Tasmania! The population density of Japan based on those figures gives 1,852 people per square kilometre!

This is our house and our neighbour's house.
Wikipedia gives the population density of the city we live in within Tokyo as 8,980 people per square kilometre. I have to say, that figure is astounding. It certainly doesn't feel that way. I've just ridden to the grocery store and back (less than 10 minutes each way). I saw less than 100 people in my travels. Granted many are at school, work, or inside (it is a cold, bleak day). Some of the inner city suburbs rate at 20,000 people per square kilometre!

But Tokyo isn't the most densely populated city in the world. Part of that is accounted for by the mountains and rural areas that sit at the western end of the "city", where we're been camping (actually it is a collection of cities and properly known as a state, not a city).

One thing that makes it look less crowded is that outside of the main centres, most of the housing is under five stories, and many people, like us, live in two-storey houses. There are less of the towering apartment buildings that you see in Hong Kong and Singapore.

But it does mean that many of the roads are narrow, with many of them without footpaths (US=sidewalk, UK=pavement). And those roads also hold power poles, community rubbish bins, signs, and always, pedestrians and cyclists.So driving can include lots of dodging.

One thing to be thankful for is that, though this is a high density country, the living standards are also high. As are the "tidiness" standards. It is one of the things that impresses anyone who's travelled through Asia. Japan stands out as a very tidy place and it is full of people who show a lot of self restraint and consideration for others, at least when out in public.

Taken from in front of our house last year
in a particularly cold patch of weather. Check
out that pole, it is on the road-side of the gutter!
It's probably easy for people who don't live in a crowded city/country to see the negatives. Here are some:

  • it is harder for kids to find places to run around when houses don't have backyards (and thus for parents)
  • it is unusual for kids to have their own room, if there are multiple children in the family
  • you have to work harder to get along with others both inside and outside the family
  • peak hour travel is very crowded
  • traffic on expressways back into town are crowded at the end of long weekends or public holidays
  • it's hard to find places to park your car without having to pay lots
  • you have to be careful when moving around, by foot, bike, or car: the likelihood of collision is high
  • speed limits are low
These are good to think about when it is all getting a bit much.
  • public transport is convenient. In the city nowhere is an extreme distance from a station and because there are so many people, trains are frequent—often only a couple of minutes apart
  • shopping for staples can be very convenient. There are many small grocery stores, unlike Australia where you often have to go to large, centrally located shopping centres
  • smaller houses are (theoretically) easier to clean, look after, and keep tidy
  • less mowing and gardening (I guess this isn't a positive if those are things that you love to do)
  • various amenities are closer, like schools, medical facilities, etc.
I'm sure there is more, but I can't think of any just now. Perhaps you can help me?

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