Charlie Stross on Japan

For the past two years, Charlie Stross and his wife Feorag NicBridhe have been planning their Big Trip to Japan for the World Science Fiction Convention that's just gone by. Now Charlie -- an accomplished sf writer and keen observer -- has written up a charming and fascinating set of observations from his trip. This is keen-eyed stuff from one of the great sf writers of the day.
It's hardly a secret that Japan is a crowded archipelago, but to get a feeling for what this means is quite hard. I'd recommend a monorail journey. Japan probably has more monorails than the rest of the world put together (I told you they'd got our future!) and most of them are fairly cheap. Take a commuter train to a terminus, pay for your ticket – 200-300 yen, or maybe 650 yen for a day pass – and ride up and down the monorail, streetwatching. Most of these pocket railways run on overhead tracks, ten metres up, above most of the suburban rooftops. A sunny afternoon in Tokyo and a rumbling glide across a seascape of frozen tiled waves: the houses huddle together with barely a gap, punctuated by public playgrounds and pocket parks the size of an English suburban garden. Even the obviously wealthy (with Bentleys and Rollers parked ostentiatiously in their carport) lack insulation. I'm told the custom when you buy a house is to knock it down and build a new one in its place – after all, construction is cheap compared to land, and who wants to live in a used house? But high-rise apartments seem to make up the majority of housing, and custom has yielded priority to structural engineering in the small matter of buying and selling flats. I have an unnerving feeling that I'm mirroring the reactions of an American citizen of exurbia visiting Britain's crowded inner city estates: how do they manage to live there, so close together? Part of the answer can be found in any estate agent's window – three bedroom houses at a price that translates into the low millions of pounds – and suddenly Japan feels disturbingly familiar all over again.

See also:
Charlie Stross on the future
Economics in fiction with Stross, VanderMeer, et al
Charlie Stross's Halting State: Heist novel about an MMORPG
Stross's magnificent ACCELERANDO as a free CC download
Charlie Stross got hitched!
Charlie Stross interview podcast
Charlie Stross, posthuman: April Fools' from Paul Di Filippo
Stross's MISSILE GAP: free download
Stross on mini-PCs
Stross and me on the WELL
Stross's Singularity wiki
Stross on the future of history
Charlie Stross on Katrina economic impact questions
Stross's first novel hits the stands
Stross's future-rant
Charlie Stross and Cory's "Appeals Court" free on Infinite Matrix