One of the interesting things about Japan is the complete absence of any kind of zoning or other apparent restrictions on development. I may be wrong, but my impression is that, if you’ve got the land, it’s more or less yours to do with as you wish.

Within a block of my flat, you can find:

  • A fifteen-storey apartment building
  • A few houses of such squalid, dingy appearance as to elicit snobbish comparisons from an inhabitant of São Paolo’s infamous favelas
  • The South Osaka offices of a yoghurt company
  • A café
  • A 60s-themed bar
  • A walled and barbed-wire-surrounded religious institution (did someone say “cult?")
  • A warehouse distributing something I can’t identify
  • A railway line
  • A hospital

In some places, there are paddy fields of lilliputian dimensions lodged between shops, restaurants, and houses, although not in areas quite as urban as my locale.

I don’t “get” rice, by the way. I like to eat it, but I can’t understand why anyone would want to get involved in producing it. I walk past paddy fields on my way to work each day, and it seems to be a largely un-mechanised, thankless task to actually grow the stuff. Considering the low density of the plants – there is about 10cm between each and the next – I can’t see that it’s awfully profitable, either, even with the massive subsidies. (Apparently, a government-supported organisation buys the rice from the farmers at their uncompetitive price, and sells it on to the distributors at less than cost, so that each bag of rice has a secondary cost paid through the tax system.) It just looks like more trouble than it’s worth, to me. You can see the old women that used to work in the rice fields; they are easily identified by the 90º angle in their backs from all the bending over.