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Tokyo in my Mind

One of the reasons why I love to travel is that it expands our perspectives. By seeing other places, experiencing other cultures, and, living — even for a brief moment — another way of life, we are able to compare our situation with that of other countries. Comparison improves our perspective because it allows us to create a vision and, more importantly, a benchmark for things we need to improve on in the Philippines.

I remember the first time I visited Hong Kong and Singapore, the first thing that I asked was, “Why can’t we have this is our country?” I was referring to their massive and efficient transport system of course. I was just amazed how they can design and build a transport system, based primarily on a train network, that meets the need of their expanding economy.

I had that feeling again during the last overseas trip I had as part of the business delegation of President Bongbong Marcos’ official visit to Japan. Since this was my first trip outside the country since the pandemic severely limited our mobility, I took the opportunity to go around Tokyo after all the official functions were finished. I used their subway, walked, and enjoyed the scenery, and the fantastic Japanese cuisine.

Japan has an efficient public transportation network. It is massive. If you look at the map of just the Tokyo Metro, I doubt it would make sense to you immediately. But it is very efficient. The first thing I noticed was how punctual the subway network was. When the board says your train is arriving at 4:46 p.m., more often than not, it will arrive at exactly 4:46 p.m. It is not perfect, of course, but it’s as close to perfectly punctual as anyone can imagine.

The second thing is that all the trains were so clean. The maintenance they perform on their trains is simply amazing. Even during rush hour they were able to maintain this cleanliness. The customer service was also superb. The major stations in Tokyo, Shibuya, Shinjuku and others serve as a hub that give opportunities for businesses, small or big, to take advantage of the foot traffic around the train station.

The Japanese Transport System is the backbone of the country’s economy. It ties cities and metropolitan areas by allowing workers and customers to connect and reach businesses and companies. In 2021 alone, the railway network in the whole of Japan carried approximately 18.81 billion people. The Tokyo Metro, which has an average daily ridership of 6.84 million passengers in its more than 170 stations, is the major rapid transit system in Tokyo.

I was amazed to learn that their transport system celebrated its 150th anniversary last year. The railway system began in 1872 when the country coalesced on a vision to establish a transportation network that could carry more people and goods, faster, and farther, with the view of transforming their country into a modern nation. What we can learn from their history is the fact that we cannot view the development of a Philippine transport system in a myopic manner. It has to be at the center of a comprehensive development plan that connects every part of our country.

I told my sons, Paolo and Mark, who were also part of the Philippine delegation, that the Japanese transport system should be our benchmark. It is the dream that we should reach for. And that despite all the negative and pessimistic views of some, it is not too late for the Philippines. Japan’s transport system was built in 1872 and perfected over 150 years. They are still improving. They spare no expenses in terms of research and development with regard to their train system. The Philippines, by comparison, is relatively a young country which, just like Japan in 1872, had no tradition of railway technology. I am glad that President Marcos has committed to modernizing our transport system. And more importantly, he has strengthened our bilateral relations with Japan who can help us as we build the foundation of an efficient transport system to support our burgeoning economy.

Another thing I noticed during my recent visit in Japan is how disciplined the Japanese commuters were. They stay on the side and allow those disembarking to go out first before they enter the train cars. When I was standing near the popular Hachiko statue at Shibuya station, I watched the equally famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing where all vehicles are stopped at once to allow a horde of people to cross simultaneously. It is known as the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, with as many as 3,000 people crossing at a time. It was wonderful to witness all that organized chaos. To me, this was the representation of Tokyo, a highly populated metropolis organized by an efficient transport system.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar