Contents so far
A Mixed Economy Japanese Style: Housing
A Mixed Economy Japanese Style: Housing
As I began to try and put this section together I realised that it required dividing into two parts if I was ever going to reveal anything concrete. As you have now had an extremely limited view of the diversity of the housing the next stage is to show how commerce and industry is woven tightly into this urban landscape. This is a construction and combination of urban space the like of which we simply do not know in London and, I would hazard, in the western world.
The picture above shows the space below a domestic house from which someone appears to be running either the supply of or the re-cycling of specific items of commercial catering equipment. The mixture of occupation and the level of skilled and semi-skilled workshops operating in any street defies our comprehension. Just four minutes down our street there is a small workshop complete with two lathes, a decent size bit of block and tackle on a steel girder frame with an assortment of drill benches.
A father and his two sons run their own small precision engineering business there and in conversation explained that they mostly make components for Toyota. There are literally a dozen or more such workshops on the twenty minute walk between the HMiL residence and the Daie Department Store.
Leaving aside the wonder you feel when you walk around and discover that the bloke next door is actually engineering parts for Nippon Electric's Nuclear Power Plant (yes they may only be the widget that goes on the bluffer's valve but....), as I said, leaving the wonder aside, you have to be amazed by the economic implications of this ability to spread national corporate business out amongst very small local producers.
Such an incredibly eclectic mix with boundless diversity acceptable within very small spaces could not operate if it was not for attention to detail (Deets, I know you are appreciating this). If we take a look at the photo of the rubbish truck shown above then the most obvious juxtaposition is the shiny and spotlessly clean rubbish truck, packed with modern technology, carrying a broom of a design that hasn't changed since we lived in caves. But for the expert in this area of detail appreciation the real cherry on the cake is the fact that on this very, very modern truck there is a "broom holder" which I can absolutely assure you was designed with this type of broom in mind. You can see the tech drawings on the designer's laptop:
"Yes, and this is the broom holder and as you can see we favour the traditional broom as it really has no peer when it comes to efficiency and cost."
Once again, Japanese pragmatism at its finest expression, for my money this is one of the key qualities that has helped to produce a premier powerhouse economy.
But this pragmatism extends into a deep consideration for the urban environment. You see we could not operate this intensity of industrial and commercial interests in the very heart of residential areas because who would want to live next to, for example, a meat packing factory or a cement works? If you get within 100 yards of either of these two types of establishment in England you are going to be up to your eyes in dust, packing materials, stench and god knows what rubbish strewn around. That's why we have designated areas called industrial parks (yeah parks, that's quaint eh!) well away from where we live.
But this is Japan and business is business so if you have a cement factory then you have a responsibility to your environment and to the local people. Business needs to be done, people need to be employed, profits need to be made, there is no point having your cement works miles away from where the building is going on. So the pragmatic solution is to make sure everything is clean.
Now we all know that the Japanese worship the God of Clean but when it comes to the combination of the word business and clean, with the possibility of profits suffering if the job is not done well, then these guys are fanatics. Above you will see two cement mixers that passed me on my walk to Daie. Please study the picture carefully, please note just how clean these operational cement trucks are!
These beauties could have just pulled out of the cement truck showroom, I mean they are gleaming. You may ask why there are cement trucks around on my short walk to Daie, well it is because there is a cement factory in the neighbourhood and when I say factory I do mean factory! (remember you can click on these photographs to get a larger image!)
Please also take the time to digest just how clean this cement works is. This could have just come out of the cement works showroom but no, this has been there for years. In your minds eye, you may need a few valium before you do this, in your mind's eye conjure up any image you recall of seeing a British cement factory. Hold the image for as long as you feel able and then look again at the picture above.
Can you see it, do you see what is missing from the Japanese cement works; its the rust! There's no rust, and there isn't anything blowing about in the wind, there isn't a dirty grey cloud issuing forth.
I have been coming twice a year to Meguro for many years now and believe me when I say that on the first time of seeing the cement works I just couldn't believe what I was looking at. Check out the tyres on these lorries, are they caked in dust, mud, grime etc., look at the ground, is it a pot holed puddled mess of mud and slime which the lorries can pick up and discharge across town? I can stand for hours watching this place as literally hundreds of lorries come and go each day.
Now you may know many annoraks; petrol heads, train spotters, plane spotters but I bet you haven't ever come across a cement works enthusiast before! But you just remember over the next few days when you are out and about and see a cement mixer, remember these pictures and take a look at what our offerings in the genre look like. Lift the veil from your eyes and look at how your environment is treated by business.
Ultimately this high density of mixed resources, this cornucopia of productivity which doesn't compete with the domestic environment but co-exists side by side with it, is possible because of a simple basic of Japanese society; good manners. Manners are a code of social behaviour which a group of people agree and buy into. There would be immense shame for the directors if the cement factory caused distress to the neighbours through being careless with the management of their process. A small engineering works can exist in a domestic street precisely because until the sliding door opens you do not know it is there. Piling rubbish up outside of your business is not an option if you want to stay in business! It simply isn't Japanese.
All around these quiet back streets you will see people waiting at the traffic lights for the green man to flash and say you can cross. I watch as people stand there when there is absolutely no traffic whatsoever. They stand and wait until they are given permission to cross, to do otherwise is to break the rules and when you break one rule all rules are then liable to be broken. Do you know what, I also wait for the green man to come on. To do otherwise would simply mark me out as a rude foreigner who has no respect. Even the children wait at the lights for permission to cross, what sort of example would it be to set them if I just strolled over because there was no traffic?
So there it is and isn't it strange. We think of the Japanese as a regimented people who all have this odd habit of bowing and being dreadfully polite. We think of their identities being submerged in the social mass where being different is frowned upon. We think of them as part of a social machine, part of an inhuman surge of social conditioning. I say we, perhaps this is not you but I am sure for the western reader these words have a resonance because they do exist in our history of racial stereotyping.
But when we really look at it, we wade through the inconsiderate rubbish in our streets, our businesses run for profit without any sense of social responsibility and our culture is like a pressure cooker which boils away any sense of respect in our communities. One has to ask exactly who are the victims of a "social grinding machine"?
I like the manners and the clean streets, that's why I come here.
Coming Next: A Mixed Economy Japanese Style: Commerce (Part Two)