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Narrow land, narrow homes

Japan is not a small country, despite a widespread belief that this is gospel. It's the 61st biggest country in a list of 234, which ain't too bad. You can see the full list here, but I include a brief summary in km².

Vatican City                  0.4
Netherlands          41 543
Great Britain      229 848
Germany            357 022
Japan                  377 960
California           423 971*
South Africa    1 219 090
Australia          7 692 024
Russia            17 098 242

* Not a country, but my students are always telling me very proudly that Japan is smaller than California. Duh. California has to be big to accommodate all those Hollywood egos.

So, the statement "Japan is a small country" is not entirely correct. What is correct is that its habitable land surface is only 33% of the country; the rest is mountains. 33% of 377 960 =
124 726.8 = just bigger than North Korea, which is number 98 on that list. (I'm pedantic. It's an INTJ thing. Live with it.)

What is also correct is that it's a narrow country, in more ways than one.

I show these stats to my students, and I can see their brains stutter to a stop. Japan is a small country, period, their geography teacher said so in elementary school. Small, poor in resources, vulnerable.

South Africa, on the other hand, is generally assumed to be a very rich country by said students.

I give up.

Doesn't matter anyway, does it, since size doesn't count?

Hell, yes, it does. When it comes to houses, it does, and this is where Tokyo fills me with a combination of respect, horror and terror. Mostly terror.

Tokyo has a population density of 33 000 people per square kilometer. (I try not to think of this, because I'd go mad.) A total of 42.53% of Tokyo's population lives in single households. (Therein lies another story.) That means a lot of small houses. Suffocatingly tiny if you're a child of Africa's wide open savanna.
  
I lived in an apartment of 18 m² when I first arrived in Tokyo. I now live in just under 50 m², which is a tad expensive, but either my bank account dies or I die. My current apartment has other advantages: it's almost square, which increases the impression of space; it has unusually big windows; and it's on the 11th floor with no tall buildings in front of it. It's ludicrous compared to the 250 m² house and 500 m² garden I had in Stellenbosch, but it's the best I can do in Tokyo.

During the past three months, I've been observing the construction of a house in my neighbourhood with interest and alarm.

It's a house. Presumably it costs more than an apartment. It's the size of three single garages on top of each other. Basically.

Here's the empty plot after the previous house was torn down. 




Then they started construction. There's a bit of concrete at the bottom; the rest is wood and what seems to be a kind of plastic. The bathroom seems to be on the bottom floor, the second floor is probably living space, the top floor seems to be a loft-type thingie or perhaps storage space. It has burglar bars, which is unusual.





I marvel at this house. It cannot be cheap, and it's so small, and it offers zero privacy, and gadzooks it must be cold in winter. It's also noisy, with those thin walls, right on the street, next to a yochien (kindergarten), and near a park and an elementary school. 




Yet somebody wants to live there, and is undoubtedly very proud of this sparkling new house, and that brings me back to my own conflicting emotions: do we admire Tokyo residents for their small carbon footprint and ability to make do in limited spaces, or do we run screaming into the desert to sleep under the great Andromeda?

PS: I'm hopelessly late with comments on other posts. I'm currently operating on a scale that's a few aeons behind Africa time. I think my 6-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold has collapsed. I don't know when I will get to everything. It depends whether Ω > 1 or Ω < 1.

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