JR and High-Speed Rail Sustainability – January 13, 2013

The morning after our return to the east coast, I met and spoke with a former train conductor. We talked about my trip and, inevitably, the conversation drifted toward the railways. It was actually kind of surprising how much he knew about the train system in Japan. I suppose this can be attributed to how admirable the system is to other countries.

In our trip, we were able to quickly and efficiently travel to many locations by train, be it JR or a private company. Trains were on time within seconds and a derailing was pretty much unheard of. The trains were clean, quiet, and the next stop arrival information was announced in both Japanese and English. Every train ride was a pleasant experience, and any stress felt was our own fault (failing to visit the restroom before boarding a non-restroom train, arriving late to catch a train, etc.)

The bullet train, or "shinkansen." It's so sleek and cool.

The bullet train, or “shinkansen.” It’s so sleek and cool.

The size of Japan as a country promotes the use of railways, but could something like this work in America? America is obviously much larger than Japan, but the entire Japanese island archipelago spans a length similar to the east coast of the US, Maine to around South Carolina or Georgia. Could railways be integrated into the east coast US at first?

My train-conducting friend says it is possible, but it will take a bit of time. Japanese railways have been a model system that the US has been jealous of for a while. We definitely could benefit from a serious train system; less pollution and less dependence on automobiles are all ideals we need to work toward. The US national budget simply has different priorities than that of Japan, so our progress toward this train ideal is slow. But it is progress nonetheless. This study tour is named “Sustainability in Japan.” What ideas can we apply to US? Railways are certainly a sustainable form of transportation. Could these become sustainable in America?

More Nuclear Energy Problems – January 11, 2013

In the shinkansen, a news banner at the front of the train car said that a crack was found in the nuclear reactor of one the 54 nuclear energy facilities in Japan. Fortunately, this reactor had already been shut down as of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, but was one of the facilities that officials were considering to reopen. Had it been reopened, the results could have been really bad.

Usually a mishap in some sort of non-nuclear power plant results efficiency loss or complete loss of power generation, not devastation of the surrounding area for generations to come. The Fukushima disaster will negatively affect many people for generations, whether it is medically, economically, or mentally.

Radiation has played a negative role in modern Japanese history for far too long. We need to do all that is within our control to reduce unnatural radiation risk and exposure; getting rid of the nuclear facilities will accomplish this.

A sign seen in the Fukushima train station. The sign reads that your visit to Fukushima is helping the prefecture regain its status. The cute bunny is thanking us.

A sign seen in the Fukushima train station. The sign reads that your visit to Fukushima is helping the prefecture regain its status. The cute bunny is thanking us.

I Like Turtles – January 7, 2013

Today at the temple, there were peaceful pools of water filled with koi and carp-like fish. It was serene and beautiful. But then, I saw a turtle. Back at school, I do research on turtle locomotion and turtle shell mechanical properties, so I naturally I am a freak for anything related to turtles. I noticed something peculiar about this turtle, though. It had red markings on its head. In fact, it was a red-eared slider.

Red-eared sliders, an invasive species of turtle. Spot all three turtles in the picture for a prize!

Red-eared sliders, an invasive species of turtle. Spot all three turtles in the picture for a prize!

Red-eared sliders are not native to Japan, and I figured out later that they were an invasive species in many parts of the world, Japan included. After I saw one, I saw another, and another… Maybe this peaceful garden was not as ecologically peaceful as one may think.

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Turtle species native to Japan, seen in the Lake Biwa aquarium. They are being bums and sitting by the heat lamp.

Space – January 6, 2013

Japan and America have very different ideas of space usage. In America, we have a bigger landmass, so there isn’t as much pressure to fit in (literally). However, in Japan things are different. When we first arrived at the Kinuya Hotel, we noticed that the doors were very small. As we entered our rooms, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two beds that were smaller than twin size, and very much closer to the ground. Don’t even get me started on the bathroom.

80% of our hotel room is represented in this picture. No, that is an exaggeration... more like 70%.

80% of our hotel room is represented in this picture. No, that is an exaggeration… more like 70%.

Usually small rooms get cramped and crowded, but these rooms weren’t uncomfortable at all. After this experience, I began to notice other slimmer accommodations. The roads and the cars that drove on them were much skinnier. An American Hummer car would actually cover the entire road here, that’s no joke. Beyond this, business have less cubic feet of space per floor, but make up for it by having multiple floors; a video game arcade with five or six floors is pretty common. Space costs a lot of money here, and that’s not just Tokyo. Fukushima is a smaller city, and the tight architecture was still there. As Armstrong-sensei told me, Japan grows up and America grows out. The trip is still young though, I might see something different later on!