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Japan: A motor-vehicle power house but with fewer cars on its own roads!

Just look around wherever you are on Dar es Salaam roads. Which make are those cars and buses you see plying around? Japanese, isn't it? They are. From Toyota, Suzuki, Escudo, RAV Four and what have you; they are almost all invariably manufactured in Japan!

Not only vehicles. Tanzanian shops are full of Japanese electrical gadgets - ranging from TV sets to computers. So clearly, an urge for one to see Japan would certainly be irresistible!

So there I was, smiling, invited by the Japanese government to visit this global industrial power house. But Japan is also a unique and courageous country, preferring to keep low key, though, in international forums. As a case in point, there is a lot of talk these days about nuclear weapons on who deserves to own them and who should not.

But those engaged in this level of talk have never been at the receiving end of an atom or nuclear attack! Japan was. This was in the rains of the Second World War. Its entire locality, Hiroshima, was nuked by one of the belligerents in the Second World War. Eh! Bwana! This is an interesting world. Let us leave it there!

In spite of this attack, Japan has not taken it personally on those who attacked her, least of all keep a grudge. If anything, it has let things to pass - its only passion being the quest for development, development of its own people economically and its contribution to overall global development technologically.

And so I was set to go to visit Japan. My Emirates flight had to take me to Dubai, that famous international flights hub. So connecting Dubai, I kept my eyes wide open looking for the notice board paging flight connections.  My ticket was clear, I was flying to Tokyo. But looking at the notice board paging flights, there was no 'Tokyo' bound flight. My flight number was there on the notice board, but the name was not Tokyo! It was Narita! What the hell is Narita? I am going to Tokyo, not Narita, I told myself.

Chatting up a fellow passenger who looked like a Japanese fellow, I asked: "Is there a town in Japan known as Narita which this flight paged there will have to make a stop-over before proceeding to Tokyo?" "No. Narita is the name of Tokyo airport. So worry not."

Eh! 'Bwana!' Travelling is something else. I had to settle with my Narita! But I told myself: "Ah! If someone was to change the name of Dar es Salaam airport to its new name (yet un-paged) to read "Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere" International Airport, people would be as chagrined and confused as I have been, wouldn't they?"

My Japanese companion aboard the flight explained to me further that Narita was actually a name reflecting rice fields which hitherto dominated the airport before it was constructed. Whatever the case, I took it in one stride as one of those anecdotes or little puzzles one comes across on a safari.

Finally, I was cruising Tokyo and landed safely. Save one snag at the passport control which alarmed me when the passport officer quizzed about my visa that, to his prying eyes, he was not seeing it stamped in the passport, I was perplexed and chagrined why he could not see the visa! Asking for the passport, I perused.  There it was, a huge rubber stamp dominating a whole page of the passport complete with my snap shot!

Apologizing, he waved me to pass by. I decided it must have been a language problem, refusing to take it personally as an unfriendly act. A guide was on hand to receive me. Then, along with a couple of colleagues from African countries, we began our drive into town aboard a tour bus. I was beginning my initiation of discovering the other side of Japan which I did not know.

For a country as agile as Japan in terms of technological industrial prowess, one would be expecting to sight fancy, huge and expensive cars on its roads. We have a name for them in Tanzania: 'Mashangingi.' But I was astonished - this was not to be the case on Japanese roads! There were quite fewer cars on the road into downtown Tokyo from the airport; in fact quite fewer in number compared to those one sees along Dar es Salaam roads even as I stayed a couple of days longer in Tokyo!

The vehicles on the roads were just of modest make and I do not remember, as I was shuttled into the tour bus to have seen any four-wheel on the level of our honourable(s) in Dar es Salaam!  "I say! Jamaa hawa! Si magari haya wanayaunda wenyewe, mbona hawajipendelei; hawayapendi mashangingi!" I said to my self - translating for - Why aren't these Japanese riding those expensive four wheels our leaders are fond of back home?

Of course, I kept this to myself when I asked the guide why there were seemingly fewer private cars on the roads. "Well, the public transport system here is good. So they go for buses - they have little passion or ambition to own private cars," came the answer from the guide; an American born lady from California married to a Japanese citizen.

The trip from the airport into downtown to the hotel booked for us was a shade one hour long and on reasonably fast speed. I noticed there were no traffic jams and conspicuous absence of traffic police unlike Dar es Salaam where we have working traffic lights, but policemen prefer to physically wave their hands this way and that way to usher by vehicles instead of standing aside to book who is breaking the rule of the game. Quite foolish, isn't it?

Actually, this way we compound our traffic jams even more, isn't it? What I learned from the Japanese is that in managing towns and traffic, it very much depends on organization than having in place fly-over structure of roads and endless road expansion. Well, travelling is like going back to school. Hope the powers that be in this country have gleaned the message from this perspective on the country that is predominant in our country as is reflected on our roads and so forth.
E-mail: makwaia@makwaia.com

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Author: MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA

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