It’s been a while since my last post and although I am now back in the UK my Japanese journey continued south from Tokyo to the city of Yokohama. The city is less than 25 miles from Shinjuku, where my base was in Tokyo, but is a separate city. It is considered part of the combined Tokyo metropolitan area I mentioned previously but is a distinct city in itself, in fact the second largest in Japan by population. It started out as a small fishing village but 150 years ago the Port of Yokohama was opened and it quickly became a crucial import and export point of Japan and was soon the country’s leading base for foreign trade. Steady growth continued throughout the latter part of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. The city hit a low point, however, during the Second World War and was heavily bombed reducing much of it to rubble.
As with the rest of Japan, the city had a rebirth after the war and was a key part of the country’s post-war economic boom. After the war Japan joined the Western bloc, aligning itself with the USA and Western Europe as opposed to the Eastern bloc of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War years Japan experienced rapid economic growth, particularly during the 1960s and the early 1970s. Growth continued through the 1980s until an economic asset bubble which reached its peak in 1991. The next twenty years, often dubbed the two lost decades, saw the Japanese economy stagnate and long periods of deflation. Even with this, Japan’s position as a global powerhouse today is still somewhat of a miracle considering how gloomy the situation looked in the middle of the 20th century.
Japan is the third largest global economy behind the USA and China, and was only overtaken by the latter in 2010. Despite this ‘demotion’, the country still leads the way in the global electronics industry which, in this hi-tech world of the 21st century, is surely a positive for the future. As well as setting global standards for the research and development of advanced technologies Japan is still a major automobile manufacturer and Yokohama is home to one of these, the car giant Nissan. Yokohama is also looking to lead the way in the areas of IT and biotechnology. It boasts one of Japan’s highest education levels and it is with this pool of talent that the city’s biotechnology cluster around Tokyo Bay is hoping to expand. Certainly looking down on the port from the dizzy heights of Yokohama’s Landmark Tower there is a hive of activity going on, as well as the world’s largest clock! Well, so they claim. There is a giant Ferris wheel near the waterfront which doubles as a ‘clock’ but I’m not really sure I’d go as far as calling it a timepiece.
Moving on from Yokohama I spent a couple of days subjecting myself to more snow and cold around the foothills of Japan’s famous Mount Fuji, an impossibly symmetrical and picturesque volcano known the world over. From there I headed back to Yokohama to jump on another world famous Japanese attribute, the Shinkansen – or ‘bullet train’ as it is more affectionately known. The superfast trains were introduced during the post-war boom years of the 1960s and led the way in terms of speedy, safe and efficient train travel which much of the world has imitated since. The trains have undoubtedly had a huge positive impact on many aspects of life in Japan, from business and economy to culture and the environment. It is estimated that over 400 million hours are saved every year by using the Shinkansen as opposed to the regular railway lines. The distance between Tokyo and Osaka (at the heart of Japan’s second largest metropolis) is over 500 km but the trains can make the journey in under two and a half hours meaning day trips and even commutes are possible. Furthermore the bullet trains have carried over 10 billion passengers in their 50 year history without a single fatality due to collision or derailment. Rather impressive I think!
Of course the train arrived on time to the second in Nagoya, my next stop, and as the doors opened exactly where they were supposed to, there were two neat queues of people awaiting for us disembarkers to, ummm, disembark. My first stop, laden with suitcase and rucksack, was the tourist office located within the train station as I wanted to get some decent maps of the downtown area. Much to my surprise I spent a good half an hour outside the tourist office chatting to a delightfully smiley old Japanese man! It’s not unusual for me to be stopped by locals anywhere in the world but this chap was genuinely interested in just ‘chatting’ and didn’t want anything from me. His English was reasonably detectable and his opening gambit after discovering I was from London was to tell me how much of a great time he had at the Olympics there two years ago. Amongst many topics of discussion we manage to cram in were communism, Mo Farah, the Japanese royal family and freedom! Most bizarrely, however, was a scrunched up piece of paper he took out of his pocket with various sentences in English scrawled on them. In essence he wanted me to confirm the different meanings of the words stupor, lethargy and absentmindedness. Yes, this sounds a tad strange and it was, but he was so eager I did my best in explaining the differences using the sentences he had written! This went on for a good 20 minutes and by the time I pulled myself away I felt like I was in a stupor!
Nagoya itself is missed off many tourist itineraries of Japan as it is light on both cultural history and modern buzz, but it is the fourth most populous city in Japan. Often referred to as the ‘Detroit’ of Japan, Nagoya is the country’s main hub of all things automobile related. Whilst Nissan have their headquarters in Yokohama, the mighty Toyota have theirs in Nagoya. Toyota is the world’s largest automobile manufacturer and its base town (just outside of Nagoya) was actually renamed from Koromo to Toyota in 1959 due to the car company.
My time in Nagoya was brief and I will be reporting with my final blog from Japan soon. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve included from a couple of side trips I took whilst in Tokyo to help break the monotony of pictures of urban Japan. The extra photos are from the small town and UNESCO World Heritage site of Nikko, the Ushiku Buddha statue (one of the tallest in the world) and Mount Fiji.