The coronavirus upended few sectors as much as travel. Thus the announcement that ridership on Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen was down 84%, and that its operator JR Central lost ¥83.6 billion (around $800 million) in the April-June quarter, down from a profit of ¥206.2 billion a year before, came as no surprise, but was nonetheless another marker of the unusual times in which we live. Since its debut in 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen has been the backbone of one of the densest and most reliable transport networks on the planet. Its average daily ridership of 452,000 people in 2016 made it…


I mostly passed the month of March at my windowsill in Tokyo, minding my plants and parsing the gap between the news pouring into my palm from abroad and the placid springtime city outside. Around the first of March, when Japan had 239 confirmed cases of COVID-19, I was receiving concerned messages from friends and family back home in the U.S., where just 89 people had tested positive. Japan was hogging the global coronavirus headlines as a result of the debacle aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was anchored in Yokohama, and some were grimly predicting that Tokyo would…


Whenever you pass through a JR East train station in Tokyo, sleek images of the latest Shinkansen bullet trains can be found adorning platforms, stairwells, and concourses. The elongated jade snout of the arrow-like E5, its smaller, red cousin the E6, and the elegantly curved figure of the E7 appear primed to speed off the walls, tantalizing harried urban commuters with the promise that their hard-earned money can be translated into a comfortable weekend escape to an onsen in Akita or the ski slopes of Nagano. …


Compared to the view of the yawning interstate heading to the Denver airport, the window of my train as it wends through suburban Tokyo from the airport teems with life unfolding just a few feet away. High school friends and commuters clustered on platforms. In between stations, I can glimpse little houses wedged between narrow streets, shoppers wandering down shopping arcades, and people hanging laundry on their balconies.

It occurred to me as I looked out on the jumble of suburban Tokyo that the castle is one of the paradigmatic structures of American cities like Denver. The castle is surrounded…


Ueno Station, Platform 18, Platform 13.5

How much distance separates platform 18 from platform 13.5? This question crossed my mind when I read an article about JR East’s announcement yesterday that it would construct a new “platform 13.5” at Ueno Station in Tokyo for the exclusive use of a luxury tourist train, beginning next spring. The arrival of the platform and train tell us much as about how global economic forces are reshaping modern Tokyo, but the story grows even more interesting when we consider the place of Ueno in 20th century Tokyo’s symbolic geography.

As spaces of transit and gathering, monumentality and quotidian metropolitan rhythms…


On August 21, Tokyo’s newly-elected governor Yuriko Koike received the Olympic flag from Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes at a rainy closing ceremony in Rio’s Maracana Stadium. After months of international press coverage of Rio’s dire fiscal condition, Brazil’s political crisis, and the threat of Zika, raw sewage in the bay, and unfinished stadia, the hosts must have breathed a sigh of relief that the festivities themselves went relatively smoothly. …


“What the hell, Japan?”

Don’t give me this crap about “a society where all citizens are dynamically engaged.”

In February 2016, an outraged mother wrote an anonymous blog post that soon spread across social media, garnering 50,000 likes on Facebook.

Yesterday we got a wonderful rejection from daycare.

How the hell am I supposed to be “dynamically engaged” now?

I give birth, raise children, go out and work in society, pay taxes — what part of that are you dissatisfied with, Japan?

All this talk of a “falling birthrate” is bullshit.

You say it’s great to have children, but it’s…


Japan is shrinking. The 2015 census results announced in February confirmed that the national population declined by nearly one million people in five years, “an unprecedented drop for a society not ravaged by war or other deadly crisis,” the New York Times reported.

Population decline is the essential trend necessary to understand Japan’s economic stagnation, deflation, and growing stock of empty homes. Decline is a result of rapid aging and falling numbers of births, a process known in Japanese as shoshi-koreika (少子高齢化) and often described as a “second demographic transition.” The first demographic transition — a population explosion that accompanies…


Encyclopedia [object]: a book giving information on many subjects or many aspects of one subject. A non-linear assemblage of interconnected concepts and ideas.

Post-growth [concept]: a stage of societal development reached after the end of sustained economic growth and modernization; a cultural transition with far-reaching impacts on the structure of society, space, family, and consciousness.

Japan [place]: an densely populated archipelago of islands located off the Korean peninsula in northeast Asia, home to 125 million people; a major country with the third-largest GDP in the world; the first advanced society to experience the second demographic transition and population decline.

The…


The Atlantic has an excellent cover story this week on the financial precariousness of the American middle class. Neil Gabler argues that “in the 1950s and ’60s, American economic growth democratized prosperity. In the 2010s, we have managed to democratize financial insecurity.”

By most comparative measures, America is a hard place for ordinary people to live. So many aspects of American life are riven with a much higher level of risk and volatility than most other developed countries. …

Sam Holden

I live in Tokyo and helped to create Tokyo Little House. I like to think about degrowth, geography, cities, culture.

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