Wednesday, 11 May, 2005

Things are small here

The conventional wisdom is that Asian people are short compared to Americans.  I can't say about the rest of Asia, but that's certainly not true of the Japanese.  I'm 5'9", about average height for an American man.  Most of the Japanese men my age and younger are almost as tall, and I regularly saw men who were taller than I.  The women seem to be between 5'3" and 5'6".  Older generations are shorter, sure.  My understanding is that I would have to duck my head to pass through doors in some of the older buildings.

One thing I did notice is that there are few Japanese who are grossly overweight.  There are some, but not nearly as many as I see waddling around if I take a walk in downtown Austin.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Japanese are catching up with us in that regard.  I saw many children walking to school during my morning explorations, and noticed that some of the kids (especially the junior high or high school girls) were packing quite a few extra pounds.  I hope the Japanese figure out how to reverse that trend before their population starts to look like ours.

The people aren't any smaller, but most things in Japan are smaller.  The reason is simple:  space.  Japan is about the size of California, but has less usable land.  Only about 33% of Japan's total land area is fit for habitation.  California's population is about 34 million people.  There are almost 127 million people in Japan.  The Tokyo metropolitan area has 28 million people.  Pack the entire population of California into Los Angeles/Orange County, and you'll get an idea of how crowded things are here.  This tight packing of people puts space at a premium.  At one point, land in Tokyo was going for something like $25,000 per square meter.  That works out to $100 million per acre.  Not that you'd be able to buy an acre in Tokyo at any price.

I knew that the average car here is smaller than in the U.S.  A Dodge PT Cruiser looks huge next to most of the cars you'll see in Tokyo.  I didn't realize that almost everything is smaller.  The towtruck above is smaller than my little pickup.  The truck at left is about the length and width of a Ford Expedition.  It's hauling a backhoe that's about the size of a Bobcat.  I saw a construction site where all of the equipment was miniature sized.  It would be very difficult to move large equipment and trucks through downtown areas.  Trash trucks look just like the familiar trucks in the U.S., but they're about 1/3 the size.  I couldn't get over the Expedition-sized cement truck.  I wanted to get a picture, but I never had my camera at hand when one came rolling by.

Some things, like the itty bitty car at right, are just too small.  This thing is smaller than a golf cart.  David caught it on the streets of Tokyo one night.

My hotel room is very small.  It consists of a "bedroom" that is just big enough for a double bed, writing desk/TV stand, a short hallway, and a small bathroom.  The bedroom part is about 8' by 8', and the hallway is about 8' long.  It's small, but comfortable.  I didn't really need a large space anyway.  About all I used the room for was sleeping, showering, and a bit of writing.

Streets and hallways are narrower, bathrooms are smaller, there aren't any garages that I saw, lots of people ride bicycles or take the subway, the streets are crowded, and there are people everywhere.  It's hard to describe the surprise of finding a smaller version of something familiar, and then wondering "Why don't we do that?"  I've seen delivery vans that aren't any larger than my little pickup truck, and I wonder how many companies in the U.S. would rather have one of those tiny things rather than the big trucks that are so common.  I know many delivery drivers who say that they never have a full load.

The lack of space in Japan is, I think, one of the primary motivating factors behind many of its customs.  I hope to expand on that thought later in the week.