Summer is here and the temperatures are enough to damage my camera even. It is also difficult to take photos of objects far away as the haze of the heat and water in the air makes everything fuzzy around the ages after a few dozen meters. I noticed this especially when I was looking at these old photos from last winter, taken in Yokohama’s Yamashita Park permanent home to the gorgeous Hikawa Maru ocean liner. In these clear winter afternoons you can see for miles out! Although I love summer, every season has it peculiar ups and downs here in Japan.
If you visit Yokohama don’t miss out on a visit to this park, not only is the Hikawa Maru an interesting museum ship to visit, there is also a nearby tower, and the gorgeous piers around the harbor.
Feeding birds seems to be an almost universal pastime for the elderly of all nations on Earth. Here is a gentleman that I met in Yokohama who was kind enough to allow my photography as he was feeding the local gulls one fine afternoon in the sun. When I get to be his age I hope I can return the favor and do my share of bird feeding as well!
Kamishibai, or 紙芝居 in Japanese is a very old Japanese kind of traditional storytelling involving pictures and a spoken story that was originally meant to teach buddhist principles and moral stories to illiterate people but these days it’s mostly funny or uplifting children’s stories. Kamishibai is one of the many amazing traditions that have survived over the centuries here in Japan, and the other week while walking in Yokohama’s famous Yamashita Park I saw this old man making the best of his electric wheel chair give a volunteer performance for both kids and adults. His voice had to be enhanced by a microphone but he still made full use of his dramatic voice and wooden clappers for special effects. Kamishibai as it looks today is most closely related to the way young men in the 20’s and 30’s would use this simple performance art to travel around the Japanese countryside and earn a small living during the hard economic times of the depression, and that is also when the storytelling turned from moral to entertaining. I can imagine local mothers were happy to have their unruly kids spend an hour or two listening quietly to the storytellers while they took care of the home! This man however, is a local volunteer and is proudly wearing the official Yokohama 150th anniversary t-shirt from 2009, cY150!
Now here’s something that might almost make me change my mobile phone carrier! The fantastic Bay Bike system in Yokohama run and managed by Docomo, Japan’s biggest private telecommunications company. A darling of most city planners and local governments around the world, communal bike systems still remain susceptible to so many factors, not least being vandalism, that it’s shown to be hard to implement these around the world. I’ve seen many failed, half failed attempts and very few successful solutions but here’s one that looks really promising! By restricting the use to registered members of the Bay Bike area and having a proper company with know how and resources handle the day to day running of the system the solve so many problems. First, registered users will not ditch the bikes out in the suburb after a long night of drinking, they will be personally responsible for the bikes that they check out. By keeping the system limited to a certain geographical area you also minimize the risk of having all the bicycles end up at the same convenient drop off point (i.e. train stations or car parks). By placing the system in an area that already has a huge population of tourists spread over a wide area with a good interconnecting system of paths and roads you already have the customer base there.
With the cost of maintenance and attendants, there’s probably not going to be any real profits to reap, but instead the system serves as a mobile, free, marketing platform, extremely useful for positive branding in a highly competitive market place, attracting just the kind of socially responsible, environmentally and health-aware customers that are so highly valued today. The money you spend on the system, instead of going to some marketing firm in a big city that invest the earning in foreign stocks or bond, will stay in the local area as local staff will be employed to handle the system, thereby working to positively interlock with the existing local business community. In essence, Docomo is able to “brand” the Yokohama Bay area (which is one the most highly valued pieces of real estate in the world at the moment) as theirs. It is also a great way to train junior staff members in the company and build morale, as it offers a training ground to corporate staff to try out new ideas and strategies without negatively affecting the main income of the corporation (in this instance, mobile phones). All in all, I can’t think of a single reason why this is not going to be a very cost effective way to enhance customer and employee loyalty, environmental awareness, health awareness, branding and marketing, with the not small side effect of increasing turn over and generating steady cash flows which will be more important than ever in today’s volatile stock market. My bet is on Yokohama, and Docomo, for the future!
In practice, you sign up and check out/return bicycle at designated pick up points in the area at a cost of 105 yen for 30 minutes or 1050 yen for a month’s free usage. That’s like, 10 USD? Perfect if you live in the area, work in the area or often visit. Also a cheap way to entertain older kids and young adults who might want to explore the area without mum and dad hanging over their shoulders. These photos are from Yokohama’s famous Yamashita Park.