First impressions of Japan

For those that have not been following my every word and movement I am currently in Japan as a Guest of CLAIR which is sort of the international wing of their LGA. I couldn’t blog last night as I was exhausted after a 24 hour journey from home in Liverpool to hotel in Tokyo.

My blog readers will recall that I was very unimpressed by my first impressions of New York but I couldn’t be more impressed by my first impressions of Tokyo. The first thing is that Narita Airport is spotless and extremely well organised. The second thing is that they have excellent public transport. Not only a regular and request bus service to and from town but one that goes to key hotels including the one that we are staying in.

The trip in from the airport was incredible. At one point I was on a two lane highway 30ft above another two lane highway which was in turn 30 ft above another ground level two lane highway. Alongside me was a two level railway one which seemed to have local trains and the other was for the bullet train which I will be going on later in the week.

The other key impression was of total cleanliness. This city is spotless. No graffiti, not a piece of litter, pavements and road surfaces well maintained and safe. At one point I noticed an employee cleaning and polishing a fire escape!

The food is excellent. I am not a great fish eater but I have already eaten raw fish four times. We had lunch in a Sumo wrestlers canteen. If they give me any more food it’s a sport I will be able to have up.

Although we have spent some of the day recovering from the flight and looking at some of the Tokyo sights we have also been working. We have begun to discuss the differences between both the customers and practices of local government in our two countries. We have agreed that we have more in common than most people would believe and that there are many things we can learn from each other.

We also visited a project to regenerate an old railway station. Unfortunately there are few opportunities to do this in Tokyo because the city was almost totally obliterated in WWII. Here the station was been converted into shops and restaurants and the platform is now a viewing area to watch the trains which still run along the tracks.

Interestingly the city planners do not seem to have made much use of the nearby river. In the UK we would have used it and its surroundings as valuable amenity space. In Tokyo it is enclosed behind the backs of apartment blocks and appears pretty dead and uninteresting compared to what it could be. From the Albert Fock to the Thames we know that water in the form of rivers,old docks and canals can play a positive role in regeneration as people want to live near them.

I have also been able to talk to the Managing Director of CLAIR about Japan playing a full part in UCLG at world level. I have agreed to write to him to make some suggestions about who they might get involved in work outside their own region, UCLG ASPAC where that ready do some work.

It is too early for me to bring you more conclusions because I clearly have much to learn. CLAIR are magnificent hosts. They arranged a total eclipse of the moon for us and then arranged dinner at a high level facing it. It was incredible to watch the moon disappearing! I still cannot get used to heated toilet seats but suspect that I might develop a taste for sake!

We have an early start tomorrow as we leave Tokyo for Kumamoto City in the Myagi Prefecture which is in the far South of the Counyry.

Sayonara and watch out for more coherent missives in the near future.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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