A reporter once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western Civilization and he wittily replied “I think it would be a good idea.”
Having been in places of the world where the systems and infrastructures are broken, Japan is a refreshing dip in the cool stream of organization. Japan does so many things right that it’s like walking around in a museum of working infrastructure “paintings”.
Take the public transportation system, for instance. In Osaka, there’s always a subway station within walking distance. The stations are clean. The trains and buses run on schedule. It’s true that you can set your watch by the train.
There’s someone in every station that can help you, and they do. A few times, we looked so bewildered that one of the station help came out and asked us where we were going, and then showed us how to negotiate it. It’s not at all like a subway in the U.S. where you’d consider yourself lucky if you don’t get stabbed, let alone actually helped by an employee.
Deena and I both marveled over the construction sites here. You can’t actually see the construction. The buildings are all draped to hide the process and protect the street from falling objects.
The ground level has a closed fence with one or more guards at the entrance. Amazingly, the guards aren’t there to protect the construction site from theft. They are there to make sure pedestrians, cars and bicycles can pass safely. When we were walking by, they ran into the road, waving red batons and white gloves like school crossing guards, assuring us a safe passage in front of their gate.
We looked inside and were shocked at how clean and organized the construction site was. Garbage and debris were nowhere to be seen. The dirt was covered so it wouldn’t be tracked into the street. At one construction site we passed, we saw the guard washing the street because somehow one of the trucks had tracked mud outside. Amazing, right? What’s the chance of seeing that in North America?
Another thing the Japanese do right is (need I say?) Japanese gardens. Their gardens are just so… well, Japanese! They are carefully sculpted and picturesque from every angle. A walk in the seemless, twisting flow of plants, rocks and trees is an exercise in attentiveness, a walking meditation. The sweet aroma of jasmine wafts by. The paths are turned so that each is like Frost’s diverging road, discovery of another possibility.
I’ve always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of the hard edges of buildings and the soft lines of gardens. To my joy, a recent walk in Tennoji Park sated my fascination. This contrast was very present. Japan’s tallest building, recently completed, towered over the traditional Japanese garden. (Click on the gallery below for larger pictures.)