This was written last January, but for some reason, I never posted it. Just as the timing is out-of-sync, so goes my mind. Presently in "technical" mode, it was a challenge to edit. So I apologize in advance for any inconsistencies in reasoning.
So after racking up something like 12,000 air miles spewing CO2 into the stratosphere in order to make a recreational excursion to Japan, I've returned home to America with the sudden realization of just how much energy we waste. Still, I walked into my 42F home (I had lowered the thermostat when I left) and the first thing I did was turn my American-style central heat up to its "Toasty Gaijin" setting. Yeah, I'm an American. And the last three weeks of sleeping in a thick hoodie in 38F rooms warmed only by a heated floor under a thin futon had me dreaming of luxuriously warm forced-air oozing from every vent in my American-sized Fortress-of-Solitude.
While in Japan, my good friend, Yuki, did a great deal of driving in her Japanese-sized, 6-passenger (but only able to carry five humans according to Japanese law), Toyota mini-SUV ("micro" by American standards).Â As much as I enjoy riding the Shinkansen (bullet trains), lugging ski gear up to Zao and Nozawa Onsens made driving an option rather less likely to result in breaking Public Transportation Rule-of-Etiquette number 16 ("Do it in the mountains!").Â However, it bothered me greatly that my partner was filling up at gasoline stations with six-dollar-plus per gallon fuel, and so on my last day there I tried to give her 20,000 yen (about $250).
Yuki stared at the money, evidently confused despite my best attempts to explain that I was only trying to reimburse her for some what she must have blown at all of those gas stations.Â Finally, she explained to me that her car only had a forty-liter (10-gallon tank), that she usually filled it only half-way to save weight for going up hills (and as an excuse to use the toilet and buy snacks), and that at her car's gas mileage she could drive me almost half way back to the US on what I had handed her! Slightly embarrassed at my American concept of fuel economy, I accepted the return of one of the banknotes, most of its worth later going into the tank of my self-propelled Howitzer for the drive home from the airport.
While in Tokyo (as in most Japanese urban areas), there wasn't much need for a car though. Mass transportation is an integral part of the infrastructure for the prefecture's 13-million or so residents, all of whom can apparently be packed onto just three trains.Â A constant stream connect every ward, and swarms of buses course between outlying areas and their nearest rail stations. From there, it's simply a matter of trying to decipher the Gordian-knot of rail lines, interchanges and stations.Â This is perhaps one of the reasons that Japanese feel free to drink so much, especially after work.
But this also explains much about how the Japanese manage to power an ultra-modern nation on half of the per-capita energy consumed by Americans while still blasting 160 decibel rock-music through the nights in a vast network of strobe-lit secret underground nightclubs. Put simply, they are willing to suffer -- cramped apartments, gutless cars, frigid nights, packed commuter trains, rain-soaked bus stops, ringing ears...Â And if that's the case, we Americans are doomed (although we probably won't notice the end when it happens).
Perhaps it's a Buddhist thing for the Japanese, suffering being the First Noble Truth.Â We Americans, on the other hand, prefer to put off the suffering part for as long as possible, and then simply drown it out with excess.Â However, unlike that Japanese "salaryman" passed-out across the reserved seating of a late-night commuter-train, we don't break Public Transportation Rule-of-Etiquette number 2 ("Do it at home!").Â Now if could just get my hot tub powered up to Japanese onsen temperature...