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10 Big/Best Things in Japan – Part 1

Recently, I wrote a blog about 10 small things that Japan should be proud of. To be honest, most of the items in that blog were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Well, there are many big/best things that Japan has to be proud of. So, once again, with my apologies to David Letterman, here are the 10 big/best things that Japan has to be proud of – Part 1.

10. World’s Largest City

No matter how you slice it, Tokyo is huge. More than 8 million people live in Tokyo proper, and it is estimated that more than 38 million people live in the Tokyo metropolitan area. More people live in the Tokyo metropolitan area than in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas combined. The country of Japan has a total of about 125 million people. So, about 28 per cent of the people in Japan live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Prior to the late 16th century, Tokyo was nothing more than a swamp. There was a small castle there, but it is said it had a thatched roof, making it a laughing stock and useless as a real castle. Late in the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi granted the area of Tokyo to the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu quickly drained the swamps, and constructed a proper castle. After 1600, when Ieyasu won the battle of Sekigahara, giving him control of Japan, he moved the capital of Japan to Tokyo. And by the 19th century, Tokyo was the largest city in the world.

In recent years, just as in America in recent years, there has been a steady migration of young people from the rural areas of Japan to Tokyo. And if anything, that migration is increasing. The lure of the opportunities inTokyo, and the lack of opportunities at home has proven to be too much for them to ignore. But this migration has only added to the size of Tokyo, and has been a steady drain on the populations in the rural areas. And, since most of the people moving are young people, the average ages in the rural areas are steadily increasing. Many are concerned that these rural areas may someday become “ghost towns”.

9. World’s largest fish market

Ask anyone who has been to Tsukiji fish market, and they will just shake their head in amazement. It is estimated that about 20% of all the fish caught in the world pass through Tsukiji. Between 60,000 to 65,000 people work at the market. More than 400 types of seafood are sold by approximately 1,900 wholesalers. And more than 700,000 metric tons of seafood is sold every year, with an annual sales of about 600 billion Yen (about 5 billion USD at the current exchange rates). When you go there, it is difficult to make any sense of the people going about their business in what I can best describe as organized chaos. And yet, the market operates with a typical Japanese efficiency.

The market was initially started by Tokugawa Ieayasu in the early 17th century to help provide food for the growing city. It was initially located near Nihonbashi bridge, and was moved to it’s current location later after a major fire destroyed Tokyo. The current location was built on an area created from the debris of that fire when it was thrown into Tokyo Bay (Tsukiji means reclaimed land). The market will be moving to the nearby city of Toyosu soon.

One of the things that has always impressed me at Tsukiji, is what you don’t notice. With all that fish, there is never a fish smell.

8. Largest car maker in the world

Selling more than 10 million cars each year worldwide, Toyota is the world’s largest car manufacturer. And Toyota is Japan’s largest company by revenue and market captilization, and the world’s 12th largest company by revenue. There are about 340,000 employees worldwide, but its world headquarters are still in Nagoya where the company started in 1937. Toyota was the world’s first car maker to build 10 million cars in one year. Toyota has long been recognized as an industry leader in quality, manufacturing and production.

Since the war, Toyota has strived to improve its quality and manufacturing process. In Japanese it is called “kaizen”, and it translates into English as “continuous improvement”. This improvement by Toyota has been focused in two major areas. They are continually reviewing all processes within the company from the assembly line worker to the CEO looking for better ways of doing things. The second area is employee development.

This is a perfect example of the Japanese adopting a concept and making it their own while improving it at the same time. They certainly did not develop the assembly-line concept, but they have certainly improved upon it to make it even more efficient and productive.

7. Longest life expectancy

According to the World Health Organization, the Japanese have the longest average life expectancy. On average, Japanese women have a life expectancy of 87 years, and Japanese men have an average life expectancy of 80 years. The combined life expectancy is about 84 years.

So why do the Japanese live longer? The truth is no one really knows for sure. There are many conflicting theories from the experts about this. I can only speak from my observations of the Japanese and the Japanese culture. First of all, Japanese food in general is healthier. (Although, some people argue that is not the case because the Japanese diet includes high amounts of sodium.) Generally, the portions are smaller, and include healthier items such as fish and vegetables. The Japanese lifestyle includes more physical movement. In America, everyone gets in the car to go to the grocery store. In Japan, very, very few grocery stores even have a parking lot. So you have to either walk or ride a bike to the store.

6. World’s busiest train station

It is estimated that about 4 million people on average every day use the Shinjuku train station in Tokyo. The Shinjuku station is the main transportation hub between western and central Tokyo. Many JR and other train lines go through Shinjuku station. It is truly amazing just to stand in a corner and watch the waves of people. Most of the people are Japanese “salarymen” going to work at one of the many high-rise office buildings near the station. The sea of dark suits and white shirts at rush hours is truly something to see.

The station itself is huge. There are 36 platforms and more than 200 exits. I must say that even someone like myself who travels all over Japan, has had some troubles finding the way through the maze of passageways and exits. Between the sheer size and the number of people, it can be somewhat overwhelming and intimidating. But I don’t feel bad, because I always see many Japanese people having the same trouble.

However, there is an even more interesting statistic about train stations in Japan that points out the importance of the public transportation system in Japan. Of the 50 busiest train stations in the world, 44 of them are in Japan. I think this proves the fact that the public transportation system in Japan is more than just a public transportation system. It is the lifeblood of the Japanese economy. Without the public transportation system, the entire country, including the economy would come to a halt.

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