Posts Tagged ‘bicycles’

How high is up: Tokyo Skytree boosts economy for some

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

There’s a Japanese proverb that goes something like: Smoke and stupidity always rise to the highest places. It’s a useful saying when talking about the media frenzy regarding the Tokyo Skytree, which opened to the public May 22. Though it’s not our mission to ponder the psychology of why people like to go to the top of very tall structures and look down on everyone else, whatever the attraction, it hardly justifies the redundantly blanket media coverage of the new broadcast tower in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. Of course, the Tobu Railway group, which owns and operates the tower, couldn’t have asked for better publicity. The number of visitors has so far exceeded its own estimates by 50 percent. No one has bothered to calculate the equivalent value in advertising that this free PR represents but it must

Skytree crowds on opening day (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

be in the billions of yen. And it’s paid off. As of last February, group reservations for tickets to the upper observation deck were booked until July 22, amounting to some 300,000 separate admissions. Because a number of people cancel on a daily basis, the operator of the 634-meter tower has decided to sell an additional 1,000 tickets a day to the lower observation deck (350 meters) between June 4 and July 10 at ¥2,500 a pop. The limit for daily admissions is 14,000, but after cancellations the number that have actually shown up is between 12,000 and 13,000. Altogether, 1.4 million
visitors have been in the tower, 85,000 of whom went to the upper observation deck (450 meters), which costs ¥3,500. Reservations must be made with a credit card (only those issued in Japan are acceptable), and there are no refunds. At those prices and those numbers, it should be no problem for Tobu to pay off its massive ¥400 billion construction cost in a matter or years rather than decades.

Tobu isn’t the only party counting on the Skytree to boost its financial situation. Tokyo Shimbun reports that the “economic impact” of the tower should also be felt nationwide to the tune of ¥174.6 billion and in the Tokyo metropolitan area by as much as ¥130 billion. Even more impressive, Sumida Ward expects ¥88 billion, and that’s just in income. Of the eight Tokyo districts where property values rose in 2011, two are in Sumida Ward near the Skytree. However, according to the Mainichi Shimbun there is some talk among Sumida residents of just how much they themselves will benefit in the balance. About 32 million people a year are projected to come to Tokyo Skytree Town and its retail complex Solamachi, which is considerable given that annual admissions to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea total 25 million. But the surrounding area is more residential than commercial and while local merchants are trying to make the most of the tourist windfall, those who simply live there are wondering if the boost is worth all the trouble. How the influx compromises public safety

Commuting by bicycle benefits more than just your health

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

fun ride station in Aoyama. They also operate two stations for runners.

Fun ride station in Aoyama. They also operate two stations for runners.

One of the components of Japan’s embattled lifetime employment system that remains firmly in place is compensation for commuting costs. In almost every other industrialized country, full-time employees pay for their own transportation to work, but in Japan your employer pays, regardless of how far you live from your workplace. It’s a great deal and certainly Japanese workers take if for granted.

However, it does have its drawbacks, at least for those who don’t work full-time. For one thing, this money is not taxed. Companies can declare it as an expense, but the government does not treat it as taxable income or benefits, unless the worker spends more than ¥100,000 a month for transportation. As a reference, someone living in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, would spend ¥83,000 a month to take the Shinkansen to central Tokyo to work every day.

In a sense, we are all subsidizing these workers’ commutes, which means we are subsidizing the public transportation or automobiles they use to get to work. These costs are also reflected in the prices of goods and services. In addition, the practice of subsidized commutes has fueled past real estate booms in suburban areas, since people who lived far away from their jobs didn’t have to worry about commuting costs (commuting times are quite another matter and warrant a separate study of a more psychological nature). If everybody was a full-time worker it would all be fair, but the ranks of part-time and contract workers are increasing, and they get no such benefits.

The attitude toward commuting by private car, however, does seem to be changing. Unlike benefits for public transportation commutes, benefits for automobile commutes tend to be fixed regardless of how far the commute is or how much fuel is consumed. Now, some companies and public offices are compensating employees who commute to work by bicycle. The Toyohashi city government in Aichi Prefecture, for instance, has added an allowance for workers who bike to work: ¥4,600 a month if you travel between 2 and 5 km, and ¥7,100 a month if you travel more than 5 km. At the same time, Toyohashi has reduced the allowance for car commutes to ¥2,000 a month for less than 5 km and ¥4,100 for more than 5 km.

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