Bicycle Parking – making the streets safe for more cycling

Everyone, like even your mum rides a bicycle in Japan.  As transport options go they are cheap, easy to maintain and easy to park.  The last one is a bit too easy sometimes.

Railway stations often have large parking areas for bicycles, sometimes outhouses with multiple levels of racks.  Take  a walk around a Japanese city or outside a department store and the sheer number of bicycles and mini motorbikes is astonishing.  So too are the signs imploring the always polite and law-abiding not to park bikes there.  Recently the problem of bikes parked and abandoned must have reached a crisis point and the friendly reminders needed some reinforcement.

In Sannomiya, several de facto parking areas have been converted for paid, secure bicycle parking.  Garden boxes have been removed to install racks with integrated locks and a pay system.

Bicycle and motorbike parking warden issuing warnings (orange notices).  Bicycle parking area behind
Bicycle and motorbike parking warden issuing warnings (orange notices). Bicycle parking area behind

All bicycles are registered, so issuing an infringement notice is relatively easy.  I’m not sure if owners are being fined or merely cautioned with orange bits of paper; I haven’t seen any bicycles impounded though that option exists.

Bicycle Parking -Sannomiya Kobe.  Suddenly there's a footpath to walk down!
Bicycle Parking -Sannomiya Kobe. Suddenly there’s a footpath to walk down!  And yes, that red bike does say “Ferrari”.

Motorcycles are also catered for, though with cables instead of racks.

Parking area for 50-150cc motorbikes - Sannomiya Kobe
Parking area for 50-150cc motorbikes – Sannomiya Kobe

Carspotting Japan (1 in an infinite series)

In a word, immaculate. Cars, trucks and buses are all immaculately turned out. First sight was a line of Prius α (aka Prius V) taxis at Kansai Airport, the first of which received further cleaning attention from its driver. They were fitted with steel wheels with hub caps, as for the S “L Selection”.

A Prius α getting its windows cleaned by the taxi driver. Note the non-standard wheels and hub caps, shared with the rest of the Prius α taxis from the same company in that rank.
A Prius α getting its windows cleaned by the taxi driver. Note the steel wheels and hub caps, shared with the rest of the Prius α taxis from the same company.

Lots of Prii of every series. Including PHV (plug-in) and both NHW10 and NHW11 series 1 and Prius Aqua (Prius c).  In fact, I was watching a line of 8 cars drive by and 6 were hybrid: Prius, Prius Aqua, Lexus CT, Toyota Sai, Toyota Crown Royal Hybrid, Camry Hybrid.

NHW10 Prius, with bumper-mounted fog lamps
NHW10 Prius, with bumper-mounted fog lamps

At the other end of the scale, in Motomachi near our hotel I saw a Lexus RX570 in left-hand drive (!), blinged out to match the Escalade parked next to it. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get that car. The term “coals to Newcastle” is quite apposite.

EV are not uncommon, such as the iMiEV I saw being chased past Sannomiya.  I caught the obvious shape of a Nissan Leaf from the corner of my eye while waiting for a train.

A surprising number of Jaguars.

Several brand now offer start-stop engines to reduce idling.

Petrol is about Y155 for regular or Y165 for high-octane, which to some residents of Sydney is a bargain. And as usual everyone was travelling at 20-25 over the 80 speed limit, and as far as I could see, no one died instantaneously. There were three tolls (or four if you count TOLL Transport’s facility on the river) between the Airport and Kobe. I lost count of the driving ranges. It was a bit early so no street-legal racing cars to report.

And I spotted a Mitsuoka Viewt outside Okubo Railway station.  Not sure whether to admire or despise that car.

A few points about travelling

This trip to Japan was bumpy, but things somehow fell into place. First was the points-jitsu to get the flights, where at first I was a few points short, but I managed to get just enough bonus points added to make it.  Then the days of juggling flights to get a booking; for some reason there were lots of flights TO Japan but only 1 FROM this time of year.  Escaping the cold? Then I discovered that I had booked the return flight for 23 March instead of 23 February (thank you nice Qantas lady for fixing that).

Flying on points means accepting what whatever route you can get. How does sound; CBR – MEL – overnight hotel – OOL – KIX? The Melbourne to Coolangatta to Kansai was on Jetstar, which for points flyers is the back of the bus and only 20kg allowance instead of 23kg (or 30kg now on Qantas international).

Nine hours is short compared to most flights from Australia but this one dragged on forever. It is extraordinary how time stalls when there’s no regular entertainment or meals or screen to indicate position and time to arrival. Or beer on demand.

Oh JAL, your old planes with the small seats made my bum hurt but the service was second to none.   We could be way over our allowance without penalty or even a dirty look.  Starting a flight with a hot towel is the only way to enjoy a flight.  The third beer came with a bottle of water and a smile, not an official warning.  If you want to fly into Kansai – Osaka, you’ve stuck with Jetstar.  (With Tokyo, you have options.)

Comparing JAL with Jetstar is like comparing a fine malt whiskey with yesterday’s coffee gone cold; both are drinks but only one is fit for human consumption.

There is simply no position on those seats that is in any way comfortable; the seat back is the wrong shape, there’s no padding on the armrest, the seat is too soft and too low. I probably can’t single out Jetstar for that, but if I can sit comfortably in the Airport Limousine bus for an hour without numbness or discomfort, then there must be a fundamental design flaw in airline seating.  Somehow I managed to escape permanent disfigurement.

I’ll give credit to the smooth landing 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

Kansai Airport is a vision of cleanliness and efficiency, as usual.  But there’s no concession for foreigners to enter with Japanese family members, so off to the long line for photo and fingerprints for me.  Welcomed in like an old friend, I was.

Fortunately we’re returning in business class and Qantas all the way.  So I’ll carry as much as I can squeeze in my bags, lounge like a lizard, stretch out and order an appropriate amount of fine food and drink.

Probability of strong quakes revised upward for eastern Japan | The Japan Times Online

Probability of strong quakes revised upward for eastern Japan | The Japan Times Online.

The Japanese seismic intensity scale “shindo” is a measure of the effects of an earthquake.  It is more meaningful for what is happening at the surface and at various locations away from the epicentre.  In general, a higher Magnitude means a higher shindo, but there can be circumstances where the effects are concentrated or dissipated.  Consider that when you read, ” the probability of a strong quake of “lower 6” or more on the Japanese seismic intensity scale to 7 occurring in the next 30 years had climbed 31 points from 2010 to an estimated 62.3 percent for Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, 90 km north-east of Tokyo” and “The probabilities for some locations were underestimated before the [March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake].”

Oddly, Tokyo’s probably increased to only 23.2, much lower than neighbouring Yokohama (71.0) and Chiba (75.7).  (Yoshiko-chan, you can go to work as normal.)

[Table from wikipedia – Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale – retrieved 2012-12-22]

Magnitude-Shindo Number / Meter reading Effects on people Indoor situations Outdoor situations Residences Other buildings Lifelines Ground and slopes Peak ground acceleration[10]
0 (0) / 0–0.4 Not felt by all or most people. Indoor objects will not shake. Buildings will not receive damage. Less than 0.008 m/s²
1 (1) / 0.5–1.4 Felt by only some people indoors. Objects may swing/rattle very slightly. Upper sections of multi-story buildings may feel the earthquake. 0.008–0.025 m/s²
2 (2) / 1.5–2.4 Felt by many to most people indoors. Some people awake. Hanging objects such as lamps swing slightly. Homes and apartment buildings will shake, but will receive no damage. No buildings receive damage. 0.025–0.08 m/s²
3 (3) / 2.5–3.4 Felt by most to all people indoors. Some people are frightened. Objects inside rattle noticeably and can fall off tables. Electric wires swing slightly. People can feel it outdoors. Houses may shake strongly. Less earthquake-resistant houses can receive slight damage. Buildings may receive slight damage if not earthquake-resistant. None to very light damage to earthquake-resistant and normal buildings. No services are affected. 0.08–0.25 m/s²
4 (4) / 3.5-4.4 Many people are frightened. Some people try to escape from danger. Most sleeping people awake. Hanging objects swing considerably and dishes in a cupboard rattle. Unstable ornaments fall occasionally. Very loud noises. Electric wires swing considerably. People outside can notice the tremor. Less earthquake-resistant homes can suffer slight damage. Most homes shake strongly and small cracks may appear. The entirety of apartment buildings will shake. Other buildings can receive slight damage. Earthquake-resistant structures will survive, most likely without damage. Electricity may go out shortly. No landslides or cracks occur. 0.25–0.80 m/s²
5-lower (5弱) / 4.5-4.9 Most people try to escape from danger by running outside. Some people find it difficult to move. Hanging objects swing violently. Most unstable items fall. Dishes in a cupboard and books fall and furniture moves. People notice electric-light poles swing. Occasionally, windowpanes are broken and fall, unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse, and roads suffer damage. Less earthquake-resistant homes and apartments suffer damage to walls and pillars. Cracks are formed in walls of less earthquake-resistant buildings. Normal and earthquake resistant structures receive slight damage. A safety device can cut off the gas service in some residences. Sometimes, water pipes are damaged and water service is interrupted. Electricity can be interrupted. Cracks may appear in soft ground, and rockfalls and small slope failures take place. 0.80–1.40 m/s²
5-upper (5強) / 5.0–5.4 Many people are considerably frightened and find it difficult to move. Most dishes in a cupboard and most books on a bookshelf fall. Occasionally, a TV set on a rack falls, heavy furniture such as a chest of drawers fall, sliding doors slip out of their groove and the deformation of door frames makes it impossible to open doors. Unreinforced concrete-block walls can collapse and tombstones overturn. Many automobiles stop because it becomes difficult to drive from the shaking. Poorly installed vending machines can fall. Less earthquake-resistant homes and apartments suffer heavy/significant damage to walls and pillars and can lean. Medium to large cracks are formed in walls. Crossbeams and pillars of less earthquake-resistant buildings and even highly earthquake-resistant buildings also have cracks. Gas pipes and water mains are damaged. (Gas service and/or water service are interrupted in some regions.) Cracks may appear in soft ground. Rockfalls and small slope failures would take place. 1.40–2.50 m/s²
6-lower (6弱) / 5.5–5.9 Difficult to keep standing. A lot of heavy and unfixed furniture moves and falls. It is impossible to open the door in many cases. All objects will shake violently. Strongly and severely felt outside. Light posts swing, and electric poles can fall down, causing fires. Less earthquake-resistant houses collapse and even walls and pillars of other homes are damaged. Apartment buildings can collapse by floors falling down onto each other. Less earthquake-resistant buildings easily receive heavy damage and may be destroyed. Even highly earthquake-resistant buildings have large cracks in walls and will be moderately damaged, at least. In some buildings, wall tiles and windowpanes are damaged and fall. Gas pipes and/or water mains will be damaged. Gas, water and electricity are interrupted. Small to medium cracks appear in the ground, and larger landslides take place. 2.50–3.15 m/s²
6-upper (6強) / 6.0–6.4 Impossible to keep standing and to move without crawling. Most heavy and unfixed furniture moves and becomes displaced. Trees can fall down due to violent shaking. Bridges and roads suffer moderate to severe damage. Less earthquake-resistant houses will collapse or be severely damaged. In some cases, highly earthquake-resistant residences are heavily damaged. Multi-story apartment buildings will fall down partially or completely. Many walls collapse, or at least are severely damaged. Some less earthquake-resistant buildings collapse. Even highly earthquake-resistant buildings suffer severe damage. Occasionally, gas and water mains are damaged. (Electrical service is interrupted. Occasionally, gas and water service are interrupted over a large area.) Cracks can appear in the ground, and landslides take place. 3.15–4.00 m/s²
7 (7) / 6.5 and up Thrown by the shaking and impossible to move at will. Most furniture moves to a large extent and some jumps up. In most buildings, wall tiles and windowpanes are damaged and fall. In some cases, reinforced concrete-block walls collapse. Most or all residences collapse or receive severe damage, no matter how earthquake-resistant they are. Most or all buildings (even earthquake-resistant ones) suffer severe damage. Electrical, gas and water service are interrupted. The ground is considerably distorted by large cracks and fissures, and slope failures and landslides take place, which can change topographic features. Greater than 4 m/s²

Here’s a map of Japan with satellite imagery of earthquakes and tsunami.

The Newcastle Earthquake of 1989 was Magnitude 5.6 with an MMI of VIII Destructive.  If the peak acceleration figure of 1m/s^2 is correct, its shindo number would be 5-lower; but from personal experience it was probably closer to a 4.  And for further comparison, Newcastle was at the lowest probability level for an earthquake (despite its history of 1 every 50 years) but since 1989 has been put in the top level.  There’s still no special building code requirement, but I’d be slightly over-engineering to be safe.


M7.3 tremblor could have been an aftershock from 3/11

Japan Times is reporting that the Japan Meteorological Agency said the 5:18 p.m. quake was likely an aftershock of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami [東北地方太平洋沖地震], the magnitude-9 quake that devastated the region on 11 March 2011 and warned of an aftershock from Friday’s temblor of up to magnitude 6 within a week.

A tsunami of up to 1 metre was detected around the coast of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima; the same prefectures affected last year.

Reports from friends in Japan were that the quake was a bit unusual; the motion was up and down and buildings swayed for some 3 minutes.

To cast your mind back to March 2011, here’s a visualisation of every tremblor above M3 during 2011.  Quakes with a Shindo damage rating of 5 or more [explained here] are also listed.  In the bottom left is a counter that shows that there were some 850 M3 or above tremblors from 01/01/2011 to 28/02/2011.

You’ll also note that there was a big quake on 9 March 2011.  When I first heard the reports of 11 March on Australian TV, I thought that they had only just caught up with old news.

The Japan Times – Japan, Russia to discuss territorial row

The Japan Times – Japan, Russia to discuss territorial row

The Northern Territories (or the Southern Kurils from Russia) are another disputed territory claimed by Japan. The Japanese and Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers will be meeting about the islands. There probably still won’t be a treaty, but there might at least be some progress. Protests, on the other hand, are less likely. My guess is that Noda and Putin would like to show strength and calm and are more interested in Vladivostok and Hokkaido in the context of a regional economy.

(When I was in Sapporo in January 2004, the lady in the bathhouse mistook me for a Russian. Her inadvertent remark to my wife – that there was a big, hairy Russian in the male bath – was wrong in only one particular. Everywhere else in Japan they think I’m American.)

Chinese blog – Anti-Japan protests in China

I’ve found an interesting blog called China News 24 from the Ministry of Tofu.  In particular, ON WEIBO, JAPANOPHOBIC MOBSTERS ARE FAR FROM THE MAJORITY that has observations and comments about the anti-Japan protests.

@零零发: Foreign reporters, when you cover anti-Japanese protests in various cities, can you please give up the use of terms that may hurt many innocent people by mistake, like “residents in Beijing” and “citizens of Shanghai”? Can you be more direct and accurate? Like“hundreds of suspicious people in Beijing,” “A great batch of dumb-asses in Shanghai,” “A bunch of nutcases in Shenzhen”… (15,667 shares, 2,927 comments)

Some of the protests are little more than cover for looting.

As reported in the Japan Times on Wednesday 19 September Beijing playing both sides with protests – Foreign threats seen as useful diversion from internal issues some protests have been encouraged or discouraged by authorities according to broader agendas: encouraged where anti-Japanese sentiments will play well and discouraged where locals are more concerned about corruption.

Even as early as Sept. 11, as small groups began demonstrating in front of the Japanese Embassy, there were signs of government encouragement. Mistaken for protesters, two journalists passing by were met by plainclothes police officers and instructed where to go to more effectively protest.

Occasionally in Japan you will see and hear the black “noise wagons” driven by right-wing groups, denouncing China, Korea and foreigners in general and what they see as Japanese subservience to the USA.  Despite their violent rhetoric and the obvious rage in their voices, their protests seem almost benign.  But even those ratbags know how to behave within decent society.  If I was a Korean student living in Japan I wouldn’t try to engage in conversation with them, but I wouldn’t be in fear of being chased in the streets by them either.

A Chinese student studying in Japan wrote that in contrast to the pandemonium in China, people in Japan are dispassionate and behaved reasonably. He also posted an illustrated work depicting a dialogue between him and one Japanese friend of his.


@黎黎要娶呆天使: Since there already have been many kind friends who have reminded me to watch out for my safety in Japan, I would like to thank everyone again here. Besides, please have no worry. Japan is truly a safe and orderly country. No one has taken this opportunity to smash and rob Chinese-owned stores. No one bullied me. Everything is fine. In fact, when there were brawls in China, everything is normal in Japan. And Japanese ordinary people really don’t care about this. Below is a conversation between me and my Japanese friend. (29,026 shares, 414 comments)

I feel just that little bit better now.