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The Sea Firefly
October 2, 2012 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Umihotaru is an artificial island on the Tokyo Bay Aqualine that has had to reinvent itself as a tourist trap to justify the continued maintenance of a little-used bridge-tunnel crossing.
posted by 256 (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is so neat.
posted by cashman at 9:21 PM on October 2, 2012


So, once all the tourists are on the island, they flood the underwater tunnel and…?
posted by Nomyte at 9:25 PM on October 2, 2012


Google Maps satellite view with Street View available.
posted by XMLicious at 10:08 PM on October 2, 2012


I imagine the crime rate is low there, even for Japan. One cannot exactly expect to make an escape via car chase.
posted by sendai sleep master at 10:27 PM on October 2, 2012


The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is yet another huge waste of Japanese taxpayer money (to the tune of $11 Billion USD.) This is yet another reason why Japan's government debt is the highest in the world.

Umihotaru is nothing to be proud of.
posted by gen at 10:47 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was once invited to Tokyo by the out-of-touch millionnaire chairperson of the countryside company I worked for at the time to spend the day with him and his family. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that I was invited not because the chairperson was interested in getting to know me or to pick my brian about what steps he could take to further internationalize his company, but instead to be a conversation partner for the day with his university-aged son. I had had plans to spend the day at the beach with some friends, but agreed to go because, well, when the chairperson invites you to spend the day with his family, you go.

We spent most of the day driving around the city, and they showed me all of the typical touristy things I had already seen dozens of times before (the Shibuya crosswalk, Tokyo Tower, Electric Town in Akihabara). I pretended like it was all new to me and feigned surprise and amusement just to be polite, but in reality I was bored out of my mind.

The last stop of the day was Umihotaru, which I had never even heard of at the time. We got there and parked just in time to see the sun set over the ocean horizon. We were just on the tail end of a particularly nasty weather system, which made for an absolutely amazing sunset. It was definitely worth missing out on the beach.

I've been in Japan for four years now and have seen a lot, and that awkward evening at with my boss's family Umihotaru is still one of my fondest memories. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Kevtaro at 10:51 PM on October 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've been in Tokyo for almost eight years and only vague heard about Umihotaru and the tunnel. Didn't know it was such a construction boondoggle, but that doesn't surprise me in the least. I think there's more accountability these days, but Japan is notorious for expensive taxpayer-funded construction projects that serve to line the contractors' bank account and little else. And those contractors, very very often, are directly connected to organized crime, i.e., yakuza.
posted by zardoz at 11:01 PM on October 2, 2012


I've commented on Alex Kerr's Dogs & Demons which goes into detail on how Japan's post-war reconstruction has been unchecked and has led to this.
posted by gen at 11:06 PM on October 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is yet another huge waste of Japanese taxpayer money (to the tune of $11 Billion USD.) This is yet another reason why Japan's government debt is the highest in the world.

Which would be a problem if it weren't the case that Japanese sovereign debt is overwhelmingly held by Japanese people. As it is, it's more of an accounting issue and a policy choice than an actual problem.
posted by smorange at 11:15 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Umihotaru is nothing to be proud of.

Well, it's better than an aircraft carrier or a stealth bomber.

I'm staying in countryside Japan for the next few months, right in nuclear power plant central - Tsuruga. Due to the earthquake, tsunami and meltdowns, all of the 15 nuclear power plants in the region are shut down (except for one).

Construction has been stopped on Tsuruga No 3 and No 4, and it looks like Tsuruga No 1 and No 2 will never reopen (it turns out they're located on an active fault).

So, government is funneling pork barrel projects. It was announced yesterday that the Hokuriku shinkansen line will end in Tsuruga. The Monju fast-breeder, which serves no useful purpose any more with the de facto end of nuclear power in Japan, is also going to be restarted.

However, from my perspective, these pork barrel projects, while they distort local economies and form dependencies on slush funds, are great news.

People in Tokyo and some of the other big cities really do not understand how tough things are in rural Japan, or the profound and wrenching changes that are taking place. They don't understand at all.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 PM on October 2, 2012


KokuRyu: "the Hokuriku shinkansen line"

It's Always Five Years Away!™
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:59 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which would be a problem if it weren't the case that Japanese sovereign debt is overwhelmingly held by Japanese people.

That fact buys Japan time (in fact decades) but the debt is still outstanding. It is owed to Mr. & Mrs. Watanabe, and not PIMCO, but at some point even the citizens will want their cash back.
posted by gen at 1:05 AM on October 3, 2012


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:35 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:35 PM on October 3 [+] Favorite removed! [!]


0000ff?
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:22 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


People in Tokyo and some of the other big cities really do not understand how tough things are in rural Japan, or the profound and wrenching changes that are taking place. They don't understand at all.

Yeah but surely there's better ways of addressing that then endless pork barrels with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the govt, big business, and sometimes crime taking a cut along the way?

I'm about as far from neoliberal as it gets, but there's a damned good reason that thing went out of fashion in the seventies, accountability is just part of it.
posted by smoke at 4:07 AM on October 3, 2012


My first year here I went on a bus trip with my eikaiwa school. We took the aqua line, and that place is a glorified rest stop (not that Japan doesn't have awesome rest stops). The best thing is that part of the justification was that it would revitalize southern Chiba. Instead, the toll, like many in Japan (so many ideas for FPPs) is so high that people won't use it, which leads to higher tolls to make up for the lack of income. That, and within a couple years of the opening, nearly every major store in Kiserazu, on the Chiba side, closed. Last time I was there, it was a ghost town, just street after street of shops that had closed when the big box stores opened (in anticipation of the increase in traffic) which then closed when no one came.

Like most public works projects, the aqua line was unnecessary pork that no one asked for, no one wanted, and no one uses, but we still have to pay for.

Still, occasionally, when the smog over the bay clears, it looks cool from Chiba City.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:25 AM on October 3, 2012


That first link is triggering Norton with a malicious Java class download notification.
posted by kerplunk at 4:37 AM on October 3, 2012


Looks like a miniature Odaiba. So I'll call it Kodaiba.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:46 AM on October 3, 2012


kerplunk: "That first link is triggering Norton with a malicious Java class download notification."

AVAST also.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:58 AM on October 3, 2012


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

One of the great opening sentences that has had its meaning completely changed by technology. I've always wondered if whomever made the decision to show a blue screen when there was no signal on a newer TV did that just to spite William Gibson.
posted by eriko at 5:36 AM on October 3, 2012


The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is yet another huge waste of Japanese taxpayer money (to the tune of $11 Billion USD.)

and

Like most public works projects, the aqua line was unnecessary pork that no one asked for, no one wanted, and no one uses, but we still have to pay for.

I am unclear on this. It is, after all, a toll bridge. Surely the users are paying for it. Slowly, admittedly.

It does sound like they need to lower the tolls to increase usage.
posted by eriko at 5:38 AM on October 3, 2012


Toll roads in Japan are, well, odd. The construction costs of the road are expected to be fully paid by tolls. In essence, the goal of Japanese toll roads is that they aren't supposed to cost the taxpayers anything. Rather than eating the costs, and using tolls to cover maintenance, the tolls are supposed to actually pay for the structure within a certain time limit. Rather than being a public work, they are companies that essentially start with a huge debt load and an impossible business plan. In the end, most of them end up getting bailed out at taxpayer expense. Same name, horrible misreading of intended policy.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:30 AM on October 3, 2012


I've also been here. A group of friends and I set off from Tokyo in a car trip to rural Chiba to go to a potter-making class. But mostly to just go stay at a ryokan and get drunk. But as people were coming from various suburbs of Tokyo, the first place for everybody to meet was Umihotaru. I'd travelled by car before, and seen various Parking Centers with their special regional versions of mochi, or soumen, or chikuwa, or whatever the locals dream up to sell at these locked in areas. But I'd never seen anything like this one. It was huge, and, at least when I went, largely deserted. It reminded me more of an abandoned theme park from Scooby Do than a refuelling pit. But I'm sure I walked away with a keitai mobile phone strap with some bug on it, so I guess their bizarro marketing worked.
posted by Metro Gnome at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2012


Yeah, it was largely deserted when I went, too. The link in the FPP sounds a bit ad-copyish for me. There's some mention of being cultural ambassadors for Chiba, but I can't complain. For most of Chiba, the ad campaign could really be "Chiba: We're more than just Disneyland and Costco!"
posted by Ghidorah at 2:51 PM on October 3, 2012


it looks like a giant hotwheels playset, just needs the loop de loop part.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 6:16 PM on October 3, 2012


"That first link is triggering Norton with a malicious Java class download notification."

Ditto with AVG.
posted by Lucien Dark at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2012


That fact buys Japan time (in fact decades) but the debt is still outstanding. It is owed to Mr. & Mrs. Watanabe, and not PIMCO, but at some point even the citizens will want their cash back.

The error here lies in thinking of money as if it's a real thing, as if it's subject to scarcity. The Japanese government can simply create the money that's owed. If it did so all at the same time, that'd be a problem, which would require temporarily hiking tax rates (to rebalance the money supply) to suppress inflation, but it's solvable. For this reason, sovereign debt like Japan's isn't a problem so much as a policy choice. And it's not as if Japan has no infrastructure to show for it. Japan is wealthy in this important, meaningful sense. In effect, Japanese people have been investing in their country the same way Scandinavians have invested in theirs, only through different mechanisms.
posted by smorange at 2:45 PM on October 4, 2012


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