Mobility networks and social infrastructure in Japan

A point that I brought up in class a couple of weeks ago seems relevant to this week’s reading about the need for coordination between regional and local transportation networks.  In Japan, train lines have developed in connection with department stores and large company-owned public facilities like sports stadiums.  In order to generate users for their monumental stores, companies built rail lines terminating directly under the retail spaces.  In downtown cores, several huge department stores will frequently be clustered together, marking the underground location of train stations.  These lines were privately financed and coordinated with other companies’ lines, so that multiple train stations in an area are all connected underground and can be accessed using the same pass.  While Japan’s political-corporate system (keiretsu, sometimes translated as “coopetition”) is unique to Japan and fraught with serious issues, this particular aspect of keiretsu history has been quite successful at meeting the needs of huge amounts of urban dwellers.  The department stores are no longer particularly profitable, but are maintained as multi-story multi-functional places containing entertainment venues, restaurants, coffee shops, arcades, gallery spaces, meeting areas, and retail.  This conglomeration of uses in one area hugely reduces the need for car ownership – almost all of life’s daily and social needs can be easily accessed in one spot.  One can travel from the Osaka airport in the far south of the city to a suburb of Kobe, a city 25 miles west of Osaka, in an hour and a half making just two quick transfers (one in Osaka and one in Kobe) and using one prepaid card. You can also get lunch, pick up fake souvenirs from whatever city you forgot to buy presents from, and have a beer on the train as you go.    By contrast, I once sat in a car in traffic from just Osaka to Kobe for nearly two hours, and we couldn’t even have beers. 

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About audreyontheroad

After four and a half pretty rad years in Osaka, Japan, I'm heading home .... by train. If all goes well and I don't get arrested, train wrecked, or otherwise impaired, I will visit seven countries and have as many adventures as possible on the way.

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