My road is under construction. It seems that the water and gas pipes under the street are not as earthquake-safe as they could be, and needed to be replaced. The process has been painful and inconvenient, but I know it’s worth it to be safe. The other day the road was so torn up in front of my house that I couldn’t get in. Or, I could sort of get in, but there was no way my bike was making it – there was no solid road on which to ride; even I had to tiptoe through dirt. The lady who was “minding” the front of the road (i.e. standing by the do-not-enter sign and being extremely sure that no one really enters) shouted out for someone. The next thing I knew, a big, burly guy was lumbering toward us. Seriously, how many big, burly guys have you seen in Tokyo? They exist and they work construction, unsurprisingly. Without a second thought, he picked up my bike, ten-pound battery and all, and carried it down the street, depositing it neatly by my house. The whole time this was happening, the minder-lady apologized over and over again for the terrible inconvenience.
The city of Tokyo, ku of Minato (a “ku” is like a borough of New York) is laying new gas lines in front of my house. The construction will take approximately six weeks, if I’m looking at the information properly. The city placed a sheet in my mailbox a while back, in both English and Japanese, letting me know of the dates and the affected areas for road closures. I promptly forgot about it. But then the men in lovely little blue uniforms arrived in front of my house and stayed all day – day after day after day.
True to form, they bow as I pass, and now that it’s been a few weeks already, we say “ohayo gozaiemassu” (good morning) upon first meeting, normally around 8:15am.
Daily, they dig up the street between 9am and 5pm. And daily, by 5pm, it looks petty much as if nothing happened there.
Here’s a photo of the very front of my house at 10am one day last week that made me worry about getting my car out that evening to take Bailey to swim practice. That’s a pretty big hole in the street – more akin to a ditch, actually!
And now, here is a photo I took in the same spot at about 4:30pm that same afternoon:
I had asked them anxiously, in my ridiculously inefficient Japanese, if I’d be able to move my car that day. They assured me with big nods that I would. I did not believe them. But now I know, if they promise, they promise. This is the efficiency I’ve come to know and love in this country. I know there are countless examples of inefficient bureaucracy, but construction, at least, is always perfectly planned.
One thing that I have learned in my multiple years in Japan, is that Japanese society, in general, is not litigious. Certainly not in the way Americans are. In fact, if an accident occurs, most often Japanese people pay actual damages, not pain and suffering compensation.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with regards to construction. As you can see from the pictures here, I was very very close to an open construction site. They are building that building before my very eyes. I could walk within inches of the site and no one worried it. In fact, yesterday I walked right past a big, open hole in the road through which new pipes were going to pass. There was a garage with a car parked in it nearby and out of respect, they had covered the entire car with plastic for protection. When was the last time your car was protected from the ravages of road work?
You see, if I fell into the hole, or hurt myself on the construction site, I’d get my medical bills paid for, but it would be something that would set me up for the rest of my life. Not like in the U.S.
Liability is a whole other animal overseas. Each country deals with it in different ways. In Japan, people trust each other but also they know to be careful and they don’t step in holes in the street by accident or on purpose.
They just don’t do it.
It’s a whole new world when you take liability out of the equation. It makes life much simpler.