Colour coded queues
Back from six days in Japan, I never cease to wonder at how central Tokyo functions so efficiently. Imagine Shinagawa Keihin Kyukoo (ie. Tokyo Yokohama express) station, where one of the Haneda airport shuttles departs from. Trains depart from each platform every three minutes and passengers queue in one of four colour coded areas on the platform at each door, with a separate area for those exiting the trains. When the train comes in, the appropriately coloured queue streams on board. The station announcer sits on a dais a few feet higher so he can see what’s going on. I did notice green coloured ‘walkways’ on the Victoria line platform at King’s Cross on my return but they were broadly ignored by Londoners.
It is two years since I last visited Japan. There’s no doubt more of a spring in their feet: the crane count is up, employment is close to full in real terms and there is more appetite for risk taking at the individual level. But there is a greater realism that Japan’s future depends largely on what the US and China decide and, as elsewhere in the world, the millennial generation is choosing not to make large purchases, which makes it more difficult for companies to incentivise them.
Out in the boondocks, it looks much more subdued. We drove down empty motorways and stayed at onsen (hot spring resorts) which had as many foreigners as Japanese staying. Local town centres continue to hollow out and the number of uncultivated paddyfields - unthinkable ten years ago because of the tax advantages of being a ‘farmer’ – continue to grow. When a mountain road was closed for repairs, there was a female (again, that would not have been thinkable ten years ago) construction worker there to tell us which way to go, despite there being a map as well. You can read that as hidden unemployment or as a sign of Japanese attention to detail.
It is also not a revelation that Japan is much better at dealing with its elderly population. My mother-in-law, who suffers from a mild form of dementia, lives with my sister-in-law and husband. Both have jobs, so she is picked up from home every day by carers and taken to a day care home, where she can have a bath, is able to do a range of activities and, above all, can socialise. In the evening she is delivered back home just before my sister-in-law returns. The cost is below £50 a day. It must be a kinder way of dealing with the problem than what happens here in the UK.
Whither Japan? In my last blog, I came off the fence on the side of the bulls, mainly because I believe Japan is so connected to the recovering Chinese behemoth. My visit confirms that the recent encouraging macro-economic domestic data is consistent with what is happening on the ground. However, demographics and a less than entirely functional financial system – even after many bank mergers – may hold it back.
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