Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Queing in Japan

by Berly

I recently returned from a presenting paper in conference at
Japan, as I has read many things about Japan (the second biggest economy in the world, centre of innovation and reverse engineering, etc) I am a bit disappointed to found few skyscraper in Tokyo and Osaka (turn out that taller building more susceptible to earthquake) and little sign of affluence.

But I found people, lot of them. More than 66% of the 127 million Japan populations are living in urban area. With mountains and forest still filling most of Japan landscape, there are more than 50 % of population lives on 2 % of land. With population density of 1,523 persons per square kilometer for habitable land, Japan society is certainly a crowd.

I remember reading (please tell me the author if you happened to know) the supposed correlation between population density and social order. In highly dense population, society is compelled to developed norms where people tolerate other more, being nicer to other or both. It quite makes sense since a shoot-from–the-hip cowboy character would find many reasons to be angry with more people swooshing around (just try to get in Tokyo subway in rush hour).

Combine the high population density with justice system during pre-Meiji era where death is almost the single punishment. That should weed out most of energetic and rebellious gene that did not become samurai. The social system in pre-Meiji era also organized in a mini cell (10 household) where mistakes will result in punishment for all. Thus, the Meiji reform and introduction of western knowledge is imposed on a discipline and responsive-to-direction from-the-top society that said to inspire Borg race in Star Trek series.

I am especially fascinated by the queue for metro/subway in busy station. Instead of standing in random and start queue when the metro arrive, the Japanese just walk to designated place where the door will be, start queuing in neat two lines and wait there until it arrive. Inside the bus and metro, if you hear any ring-tone then you can be sure that the phone is own by a non-Japanese, and of course there are no graffity or bubble gum stain in the public transport. There is unexceptionally high regards for public good.

I have lived in Holland and visited both UK and Germany, all three with long history of population density, structured society and industrialization (even if with less severe justice system compare to Japan). Can’t start wondering if there is any correlation between civic duty (queuing habit, strict law enforcement, norms of saying sorry & thank you, etc) has strong correlation with industrialization and economic growth.

What do you think?


pelantjong maja said...

queue habit, i think, has something to do with the quality of public services. i ll write about it soon since i ve found and observed this issue quite often.

Rajawali Muda said...

Institutional economics! I love it,the way people behave in coping others,habit,routine,and they could not change their habbit, simply because too costly and and too risky.
furthermore institutions (i think) do affects poverty,and impoverishment,through their tendance of working habit,and the way they choose where to work. not the mention the migration habit..nice posting boss..

berly said...

I just read "Gun, Germs and Steal" and "Collapse" by Jared Diamond (hope to post about it later).

Really fascinating; big picture, long view and multi-discipline.

Just trying to apply some of his method to explained Japan a bit.

Yudo said...

it is really impressing, looking your name side-by-side with other PhD students. Your topics are pretty interesting. Can i have a copy of your papers?

Btw Jared Diamond in Collapse also mentions Japan's success story in managing its forest.

berly said...

Thanks for your interest Yudo. I got some good feedbacks during the conference and revising the paper now. Will definitely send you the revised version soon.

I did not mention about re-forestation in Japan since the main point of the post is about queing and social discipline. But it is the same force of top-down conformity at work.