One of my favorite things to do while traveling the backroads of rural Japan is to discover all the little waterfalls that this country is blessed with. Japan is very mountainous and very wet, so there’s plenty of opportunities for waterfalls and sometimes it seems that every village or every little town has their own handful of scenic waterfalls! Most of these are so “common” by Japanese standards that they are hardly marked on any maps, the only way to find them is to keep an eye out for the little signs that mark the entrance to the trail that will lead them to you. Usually there’s no one else there but sometimes you meet a few other tourists or locals. A couple of years ago while traveling in Yamanashi prefecture not too far from Tokyo I stumbled upon one of those little signs, for a fall called Takane Otaki (高根大滝) within the city borders of Hokuto City (北杜市). Takene Otaki is just one of the little falls in Yamanashi and similar to the thousands of falls you can find anywhere in Japan, but if you find yourself on the back roads of Japan you know what to look out for!
Time for another batch of photos from one of my photo walks earlier this year! Here’s the Sumida river area around Tsukiji, a face famous for being the main Tokyo fresh fish market. Going here for your sushi is ruinous both for your appetite and for your wallet. I once had sushi at Tsukiji and since then I can’t enjoy ordinary sushi anymore. It’s just that different. This day was bitingly cold and the sky was as grey as the river itself. A grey afternoon sky is much better than a clear blue sky when it comes to a photo walk though! Less strained eyes, less sunburn and less blown out over contrasty images. Win-win, in other words! You might think I’m going a little sky crazy in this series, and you might be right. Living as I do in central Tokyo means that I almost never get to see a full sky or a horizon. There’s no horizon in these images either, but a river is the next best thing I think. Tokyo has several rivers and there’s always interesting things to see on or near these!
Visiting Saitama’s Chichibu City last month, I took these photos of one of the tiny little station on the Chichibu Main Line and a few trains from the Seibu Chichibu Line. It’s a classic small town country station, still relying heavily on human operators and not as automatic as the big Tokyo stations full of machines and automatic message systems. The station has a couple of station masters, a kiosk and a small udon and soba restaurants for the hungry traveler. There’s not all that many trains passing through here so every time I use this I have to spend quite some time waiting, so the food services help greatly! This is also an example of how the Japanese have structured their society to make unemployment as low as possible and focus on civic participation rather than maximizing economic returns on every invested yen. Take this station as an example, it employs at least 6 people and serve about 3700 passengers a day, in most developed countries this would be absolutely impossible. The little noodle restaurant can’t make more than a couple of hundred yen in profit every day but it employs two locals and serves the community with cheap and relatively healthy hot foods, which helps the station and provides a point of civic contact for everyone in the neighborhood and the passengers. The work at this station is not physically or mentally demanding, making it perfect for workers who for some reason or other wouldn’t be able to keep up with a younger or more active workplace while still allowing them to participate in the local economy by paying taxes and spending their earnings in the local community and keeping their families afloat. By having a purely trickle down, participatory economic system like this the Japanese civic society and economy becomes incredibly resilient. The owners of the restaurant don’t mind making almost no money at all on their investment as long as they can continue to serve the economy. The low value of the business will allow them the freedom of not having to sell it when they retire or pass on, the restaurant can just be transferred to the staff of another local who knows how to brew tea and cook noodles. It helps keep the older population active and mentally stimulated and reduces the need for older people to drain resources of society in retirement homes or activity centers.
This is a way of thinking about work, life, money, return on investments and profit that I would love to see replicated in the West, or rather brought back. In the west today, in the tragedy we see in Greece with European and US taxpayers (both the present workforce and those not yet born) bailing out the people and banks who made bad investments in a country that they invested in solely for the purpose of a slightly higher profit. Intra-state solidarity being tested when US Republican politicians have shouting matches who can condemn the European bailouts the most and while German ordinary citizens come to resent their Greek brothers and sisters to the south while in reality, they are actually bailing out their own banks and financial institutions. The Greek certainly are not getting any of that money. And so while the fate of millions are decided by people whose only goal in life is to maximize profits, here in Japan, we have a system that values civic participation, stability and work ethics above anything else. To me, this little noodle restaurant in a tiny station in a tiny town in remote place of Japan is as good as any symbol of what makes this country so great.