Spike Japan?

This site appears to be closing down, but I just wanted to look at a couple of little snippets from this one example of a sub-genre of Westerner-in-Japan blogs.  This group is all about Japan as a has-been, a falling apart place, a backwards anachronism.  “Japocalypse Blogs” I think would be a good title for them, but I can’t claim credit for the pun (two articles from a Joshua Keating is where I first heard the term: 1 2).  A Cracked article I previously looked at could also fall into this category.

So, Spike Japan.

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The above picture is the source of the blog’s title.  The author hears that sometimes when cars hit a guardrail a bolt will stick out at a weird angle, hazarding the legs of any who come nearby.  Apparently this blew his mind.

A more responsible member of the public would have reported it; I preferred to see how long it would remain. It’s still there, and I captured it today to form the photo header for the blog, which is dedicated to taking a look at the overlooked, the neglected, the abstruse, and the overgrown.

Did you know that also there are these big metal things that come barreling down the roads that those guardrails line?  Well, if you jump in front of one as it nears, it will totally run you over!  Amazing isn’t it?

I honestly sometimes don’t know how these people survived long enough to get to Japan.  You need to watch where you walk, I think that is true of anywhere.  Personally when I look at that photo I’m rather amazed not at how dangerous it looks, but how safe.  It seems like you could walk down that road barefoot without any injury!

But let’s look at one other bit from this blog before we depart it:

It may come as a shock to almost all of you living outside of Japan, and to some of you living in the center of its big cities, that as we approach the summer of 2009, swathes of the country are in ruins. It came as a shock to me, too, I have to confess, having lived for almost all of the last decade in the bubble of central Tokyo and only venturing outside occasionally to get to the airport, nearby beaches, and old friends in the mountains.

It’s when I read things like this that I am so happy to have the opportunity to live out in the countryside.  I live exceptionally far from Tokyo, very far from the nearest Core City, and several hours drive away from the nearest city with over 100k people.  Despite this I have yet to see ‘swathes of ruins’ anywhere in my travels.  Sure, I can find an abandoned building  or two, but that’s true of everywhere I’ve ever lived in America as well.  Is there a country in this world, or even a city or a town where there are no abandoned buildings?  At the same time, there are no less than three apartment complexes currently under construction in my city (probably more but these are just ones I can see from my commute); a big, new, modern hospital that just opened a couple of years ago; and there are no lack of places to shop and eat at (though you may not find your favorite chain), and a parade of events and workshops at the community centers.  And all this despite the fact that the population here is decreasing.

I don’t know why so many Westerners in Tokyo get into their heads this idea that Tokyo (and maybe Osaka and a couple of other major cities) are anomalies in Japan; that Tokyo is one way and the rest of the country is this completely different thing.  I’ve traveled quite a bit throughout the country, and every time I do I am struck by how similar it all is.  Sure there are many regional dishes to eat and things to see, but everywhere you go you will always find that people are nice, service is good, places are clean, crime is low, the roads are in good repair, trains are on time, etc.  Tokyo is more like the little town I live in than it is like New York, and my little town is more like Tokyo than it is like the little town I grew up in in the States.

To finish, I’d like to take an equally quick look at a write-up this blog received in The Guardian.  First:

He takes snaps of disused bridges, forsaken hamlets and station platforms lost to encroaching greenery. The photos have an eerie poignancy. Can this really be the world’s second-largest economy?

Presumably anything disused this author comes across in Britain he chaulks up to Britain’s seventh place status in world economy size rankings.  “If only we were just a couple places higher we wouldn’t have any closed railway stations,” he must say to himself.  I’ve got some pictures of life in what is far-and-away the world’s largest economy that would blow his mind.

To finish, let’s look at Yubari, Hokkaido.  Spike Japan apparently has a post on it, and The Guardian article mentions it as well.  An interesting coincidence because I had just seen an article the other day mentioning how the young mayor of Yubari won some kind of international award for his efforts to get the town’s finances back on track (see here for a New York Times article on him from a year ago).  Here’s The Guardian’s take:

Yubari now staggers forward on the crutch of its comically optimistic melon industry, as well as an exceedingly creepy caramel factory, where the employees on the assembly line wear white biological-hazard suits like something out of ET.

First of all, Japan is a very clean country, and people who work in food factories tend to take more precautions when it comes to sanitation than we normally would in the West.  Wearing a white oversuit with a hat and/or hairnet and face mask is par for the course.  No one wants to find a hair in their caramel.

But my main objection is the half-mocking, half-pitying tone both Spike Japan and The Guardian take towards Yubari.  Sure, it appears to be one of those cities that refused to accept a return to agriculture without an attempt to turn itself into a tourist destination and now has a mountain of debt.  But the city seems to be taking earnest steps in the direction of fixing its past mistakes and creating a future for itself.  They are wrong to mock the citizens of Yubari, for I agree with The Guardian on this one point:

As Yubari, so Japan.

As Japan, so the world.  Do you think this planet can support an infinite number of people?  Do you really think GDP can grow forever?  I’ve seen it said before that Japan has already taught the world how to get rich (the so-called “Japanese Miracle”), and now it is in the process of teaching the world how to be rich.  This is true of Yubari as well, where attempts at continuous, infinite growth have failed and now they are learning to both live within their means and at the same time provide a good life for their citizens.  It is a difficult journey that Yubari and Japan are on, but I wouldn’t be so quick to point and laugh whenever you see them stumble, for you will find yourself walking that road one day too.

As a post-script I give you the first comment and the Spike Japan author’s response to it from the Yubari post:

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It reveals his (and all other Japocolypse Watch people’s) true colors:  ‘It doesn’t matter what, I hate Japan.’  Because it makes no sense from any other perspective.  If we take the author’s reason, wouldn’t the kids on their way out have tagged and vandalized the place?  Why do the remaining children not engage in vandalism?  Why do areas of Japan with more children than this not engage in vandalism?  Despite his attempted cop-out with an offset “in part,” the reality is that these kinds of people refuse to acknowledge that things are not all bad, and that, despite all of our Western patting ourselves on the back about how much better we are than Japan (which is doubly comforting because just a decade or two ago we were having such a crisis about not being as good), there are still quite a lot of things that the West could learn from Japan, because Japan has it better.

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