University students crowd the floor of a job fair in Shibuya Ward on Sunday, the start of the official job recruitment season for March 2015 graduates.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
University students job hunt
I have to admit that I do not get the annual university students job hunt, which starts now in December (“University students start job hunt,” Japan Times, Tuesday, December 3, 2013). My problem is that the students have not graduated yet. They will not graduate until the spring. Therefore to search for work now by presenting themselves to potential employers as university graduates is a blatant misrepresentation. It’s a lie. In North America, where I am from, university is more challenging. Students there seem to have to study harder than Japanese university students seem to have to do. For Japanese the big challenge is just getting into university in the first place. After that all they have to do mostly is to show up. Graduation is practically guaranteed so long as they stick with the group and show up. How pathetic. North American students’ graduation is not guaranteed until they actually accomplish it by doing the work. They have to show up and work harder, prove their mastery of subject matter, understanding of it and demonstrate their ability to use that knowledge and understanding to analyze things, make new discoveries, generate novelty, and thereby move society, business, politics, the arts and the economy forward. There is no guarantee until it happens.
When I was in college I did not look for work until after I graduated. Until that time all my energy and focus were on my studies, as was right, proper and fitting. I think Japanese students ought to be similarly focussed because it would be a better use of their time, a more honest use of their time, and reflect an appropriate priority. Of course, that’s not how Japan works. Students have to do what they do because the entire society is tooled to function the way it does. But often I would describe it as malfunction rather than function.
Published by The Japan Times on Thursday, December 12, 2013 as "A better use of students' time."
Monday, December 2, 2013.
Japan secrets bill terrorism
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba’s comments that street protesters voicing opposition to the new state secrets bill by shouting it in public demonstrations are doing something “not so fundamentally different from an act of terrorism” (“Secrets law protests ‘act of terrorism’: LDP No. 2,” Japan Times, Monday, December 2, 2013) confirms in my mind the direction that Japan’s conservative government is headed. That direction is to silence opposition by criminalizing criticism of the leadership. It will not only include journalistic and political opposition’s critique of government policy and behavior but comedic parody and satire as well, and also treatment of the state and government in the arts - letters, music, and graphic arts. It will come in the form of a bill mandating respect for the Prime Minister and his cabinet, or for the Emperor, the national anthem and the flag and other symbols of the state, and also symbols of the traditional culture like the Grand Ise Shrine or the Kamakura Daibutsu. Presumably Mr. Ishiba is calling loud street protests a kind of terrorism because he thinks such behavior is terrible the same way we think of a passenger on an enclosed subway train talking loudly on their smart phones contrary to polite etiquette, common sense and posted prohibitions are terrible. Ishiba is demonstrating the classic Japanese obsession with form over content. I mean he is primarily concerned with how things look, and street protests don't look nice to him. By framing opposition as a security matter anything at all can be outlawed. The government could regulate and even outlaw breathing if it so desired and could muster enough votes in the legislature.
We can turn the tables and say that the way the Liberal Democratic Party government rammed the bill through the Diet last week was an act of terrorism, because it’s terrible as are so many other policies and aims of this government and this party. Mr. Ishiba knows about terrorism because he’s a terrorist.
Of course, LDP spokesmen deny that the bill is intended or will be used to prosecute legitimate news reporting or legitimate quests for freedom of information, but one thing we are certain of is that Japanese politicians lie. It’s not that the government is losing our trust or risking losing our trust. The government never had our trust to begin with, only our tolerance.
Published by The Japan Times on Thursday, December 5, 2013 as "Risk of losing public's 'tolerance.'"
Mr. Ishiba isn’t clear about the difference between nation and government, so he denounces anyone who aims a criticism at the government as a traitor or a terrorist. If we think of our country as our parents we might think of the government as a steward. Merely the steward of the moment. One cannot change one’s parents, but we can change the steward.
Sunday, December 1, 2013.
It was a cool, sunny day here. I did a wedding ceremony job at a luxury hotel near Tokyo Station in the morning. As I was waiting for it to begin, resting in the chapel with the other celebrants (singers and musicians) after we had all done our rehearsal and warming up exercises, I looked out one of the windows towards the 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida Ward to the east. I was thrilled to see an advertising blimp beyond the tower, moving slowly. I watched it disappear behind the office tower that I always think of as the Mandarin Hotel, because I know that that rival luxury hotel occupies its upper floors.
Then in the afternoon I was doing laundry at home in Nakano Ward and I was excited to see the same blimp there or, at least a blimp with the same advertising on its sides. But what are the odds of that, even in a big metropolis like Tokyo? I noticed it sailing around in the sky as I was hanging up the wash on the balcony. I think “sailing” is a better word to describe it than “flying.” It was the sound of the blimp’s propellers that attracted my attention: an odd sound, not a jet or propeller plane but not a helicopter either. I’ve seen blimps flying around before, and I remember occasionally seeing them in Canada, too. But I seem to think I’ve seen them more here than anywhere. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived here almost longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and maybe because this is a larger city than Guelph, Ontario. Guelph isn’t a big market for airship advertising.
Seeing this blimp made me think of the much larger dirigibles that were used for transoceanic flight in the 1930’s, before intercontinental passenger planes were developed. And it made me wonder what it must have been like for people back then to see them floating over the city. Not Guelph or Toronto, but New York anyway. Did people on the ground think intercontinental flight was romantically adventurous? A more uncommon experience then than it is today, did they imagine women in diamonds drinking champagne while gazing at the ground below as they passed? Did they compare it to transcontinental train travel? Did they think to compare it to anything else? In my mind I compare crossing the Atlantic Ocean by dirigible to crossing Canada today. I’ve done the latter a few times and I’ll do it again. Four days from Vancouver-to-Toronto.
Whenever I see a passenger jet in the sky - cruising, taking off or landing - I always imagine what the passengers are doing: eating, looking out the window, watching movies or some other entertainment. (The “some other” entertainment is only a recent development.) Maybe I shouldn’t rule out nausea, although it’s not a problem for me.
I imagine dirigible advertising might become more common during the 2020 Olympics. It will add to the memorable sights for visitors to take home with them. Or not.
Monday, November 4, 2013.
On the night of Saturday, November 2-Sunday, November 3, 2013 I dreamed about a violent, destructive earthquake in Tokyo. I was not at home but for some reason found myself on a residential street where people had fled out of their homes with a few of their personal possessions. One man had fled his house with his plastic aquarium and three green pond turtles, one small and the others increasingly bigger. Turtles are my favorite animal. I think they’re fascinating. As a boy in Canada off and on I kept green pond turtles and painted turtles as pets. And a few years ago in Tokyo I once more kept three as pets in my apartment for a couple of years (until they outgrew the aquarium and my wife’s patience).
Back to the dream: after reaching the street and seeing the destruction this guy decided to abandon his aquarium and turtles and flee. Save his own skin. But in the slight chance that he might return he filled the aquarium with water and fastened a tight lid to keep the turtles in.
I yelled at him, “Turtles breath air, you idiot!”
But he was already running down the street. By the time I turned around to pick up the aquarium I noticed that the turtles inside had already managed to pry off the lid. One had escaped and was on the ground outside. The other was wedged between the lid and the plastic side. My own experience taught me that turtles are very clever this way. The ones I kept managed to escape their lidded aquarium and have adventures outside in the living room of my apartment.
Back to the dream: a large crow quickly swooped down and scooped up the smallest of the turtles. I couldn’t save it. But I could rescue the others.
Later in the day, around 2:30 p.m., we had a brief strong tremblor in Tokyo. I was in the middle of watching the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Last Stand and was surprised, remembering the Friday, March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake which struck on a Friday afternoon while I was at home watching the Tom Hanks movie Castaway on DVD.
Monday, October 28, 2013.
I bought a Halloween pumpkin today. This is the one I bought. Medium size. About 2,500 yen, or $25. I found it in a flower shop near Ogikubo Station in Suginami Ward. I've been buying Halloween pumpkins for years. Not the first year I was in Japan, but ever since I had children at least. It's fun for them and me. But this year I worried that I would fail to find a pumpkin. I had been looking - flower shops are the usual laces - without success for several days. But the shop in Ogikubo was my last attempt. I knew there was a shop near the station there, and I had to go there any way, so I decided to try. Plus I remember seeing a large pumpkin there on a previous walk through the area. But I’ve learned that just because a shop has a large pumpkin does not mean that I will be able to buy it. Some flower shops have them only as window decorations, not as merchandise for sale.
In past years it had been becoming easier to find a proper American carving pumpkin, so I was surprised by the trouble I had this year. Originally the problem was that "kabocha," which is translated as "pumpkin" actually means "gourd." So most of what are sold under the name "kabocha" are in fact tiny orange or green gourds inappropriate for Jack-o-Lantern carving. Good for eating, though. When I did manage to find a proper pumpkin it was very expensive, like over $100, or 10,000 yen. The prices have come down considerably but are still much more expensive than comparable sizes in North America.
Part of my motivation to make one last effort today to find a pumpkin is that I knew I had an English class with a 3-year old girl in the evening and I thought it would be a wonderful experience for her to help clean a pumpkin. (I did most of the carving at home before going to the school. All the girl had to do was dig her hand in the goo and pull out the seeds.) I was right, too. The girl, and her mother, loved it. Many pictures were taken. She was fascinated by peering inside through the top at the burning candle and the warm glow. She was very smiley. She took home a paper cup full of pumpkin seeds. I urged her mother to wash them then wrap them in wet tissue for several days, check them every day, and watch them germinate and sprout roots. I later learned that her mother baked most of the seeds and they ate them with salt and kept only a few to germinate.
Halloween is really catching on here. When I arrived in 1989 there was nothing. Now department stores, dollar stores, school windows, variety store, and advertising goods are all prepped for Halloween. I even saw a recent television newscast with Halloween pumpkin motifs decorating the stage behind the announcers. There are children's costume parades on public streets. Not just foreigners, but Japanese and their young children, too. There is no widespread Trick-or-Treating, but there is certainly localized Trick-or-Treating. On the American military bases, of course, but also in Japanese neighborhoods here and there. My wife and I used to organize a neighborhood Trick-or-Treating party in our neighborhood for our children's friends for many years. We gave it up after our youngest finished elementary school.
But Halloween here will never rise to the level of what it is in North America. As I have written before, in Japan Halloween is contextualized as a kind of cosplay. There is no Christian All Saints / All Souls tradition to accompany it. No Celtic tradition. No slow evolution of customs and beliefs over time. Instead, like it does with so much else, Japan has just imported a version of the modern festival wholesale.
Jack-o-Lantern images are everywhere, but no actual Jack-o-Lanterns. This is why I was so surprised to find such trouble this year finding a proper pumpkin. Japanese know the single most famous Halloween decoration, but for them it is just a poster. They are mostly unacquainted with genuine Jack-o-Lanterns carved from large orange carving pumpkins.
Today I left my fresh Jack-o-Lantern at the English school to display during the week. I will be back there two more evenings this week, so I will have more than one opportunity to fetch it home. I would like to bring it home to burn on my balcony on Halloween Night.
Japan is not habitually known as an immigrant-friendly society. It’s a very conservative place and the traditional ideological message has been One Homogenous Nation, People, Language and Culture. It has never, ever actually been factually true, of course. Japan has a long heterodox history and a measurably diverse contemporary population. But in the past it was n easy conclusion to reach - easier for Japanese describing themselves than for foreigners observing them. These days I am increasingly impressed by the diversity I see in my classrooms. I work in public high schools. There are always bicultural young people in my classes, and in recent years it seems there are more of them than ever, although statistically ‘international’ marriages are a small minority of marriages (but a significantly larger proportion of divorces). Currently I have a large number of dual-nationality, bicultural children with one parent hailing from Korea, China, the Philippines, Australia, Africa, Russia and Iran. Chinese and Koreans are especially numerous. It’s kind of strange to walk around school and see black African students, or Caucasian Russians chattering away in Japanese with their friends. But remember, they are also Japanese, and from a legal perspective no less Japanese than people who are not bicultural or dual-national.
The Japanese expression for bi-cultural children is “hafu,” or “half.” It’s sad because Japanese law does not recognize anyone as being only half Japanese, and many foreigners take it as an insult, like calling someone a “half breed.” (In fact, a well-meaning English-speaking middle aged Japanese woman actually asked me to my face if my children were ‘half breed’? I was bothered partly by the phrase itself, but also partly because I thought she ought to have known better. She could see by my face that her question was not well received.) Many foreigners, including myself, prefer the moniker “double,” largely on the grounds that legally speaking there is no such thing as a “half” citizen. Our children are simultaneously 100% Japanese and 100% other. But Japanese still openly equate nationality with race. I’m afraid that is an association that will never be broken despite the arguments or the evidence. They aren’t the only ones, however. Even today Germany defines citizenship by blood line, not by place of birth. I’m not happy about it, just like I’m less than satisfied by the popular Japanese description of double children, but there you have it.
Becoming a naturalized Japanese is not necessary for a long and successful life here. But it is certainly a feature in the lives of some of the most famous and successfully integrated foreign-born Japanese. Asian or Pacific foreigners are less visually noticeable than Europeans or Americans. People like Takamiyama, Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru, all Polynesian or Hawaiian Americans, and the Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu reached the highest ranks in the strict and tradition-bound world of sumo. Their ethnicity helps them visually blend in more than naturalized Caucasians, one of the most famous of whom is Marutei Tsurunen. B,orn in Finland in 1940 he is particularly famous here as the first foreign-born Japanese of European origin to serve as a member of the National Diet, or Parliament - first by appointment to a vacant proportional representation seat and then later by direct majority election. As a member of the liberal Democratic Party of Japan he served in the House of Councillors (the upper house) from 2001 to 2013. There were some naturalized Korean and Chinese elected politicians before him, but Tsurunen’s Caucasian face made him unique and garnered even more resistance from conservative traditionalists than naturalized Asians met. His supporters are head-over-heels enthusiastic about him but his detractors are usually overly quick to resort to a race-loyalty-tradition argument.
In 1967, at the age of 27, Tsurunen traveled to Japan as a lay missionary of the Lutheran Church, accompanied by his first wife, who was also a Finn (they later divorced). Having decided to become Japanese, he gained his citizenship in 1979 and Japanized his Finnish name Martti Turunen. When he decided to run for public office conservative traditionalists opposed him on the grounds of the presumed compromised reliability of his loyalties - the standard argument against foreign suffrage. Of course it is a ridiculous argument, which never stops certain people from using it. He proved to be a hardworking, honest Diet member who avoided the scandals that so often cling to his native born peers like flies to a cow pie.
More recently is the case of former U.S. Columbia University Japanologist Donald Keene who was rather quickly granted Japanese citizenship after announcing that, following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disaster here he wanted to retire and live permanently in Japan. Partly it was a show of support for the country, and partly it was just that he loved Japan so much and wants to spend his final years here, his spiritual home. Keene is part of that World War II generation of U.S. Naval Intelligence officers trained in Japanese language and culture for use in the American war effort and, later, the Occupation. He is one of the foremost Japan experts of the last sixty years, very recognizable and admired. Japanese don’t like to admit that any foreigner can understand Japan. They like to cling to an atavistic racial nativism. But scholars like Keene and his contemporary, Donald Richie, a Japanese literature scholar and another Columbia University and U.S. Naval Intelligence man put such notions to rest.
Japan will never declare itself a multicultural society. But it effectively is - albeit at a low level - and has been for a long time.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013.
Typhoon 26 , Typhoon Wipha
On Monday 14th the television news reported the approach of Typhoon 26, also called Typhoon Wipha, projected to pass right over eastern Japan, including the capital. On Tuesday 15th it was cool and rainy. The rain started in late morning and slowly grew heavier after that. During a brief visit home in mid-afternoon after one job and before another I checked my E-mail and found a message cancelling my Wednesday school and asking to re-schedule on the December Wednesday already set for my eye surgery (and after which I cannot
work for an entire week, which spoils two December Wednesdays). Maybe the surgeon thinks the date is fixed, but I’m only thinking of it as tentatively set, still open to change or cancellation. It won’t be absolutely fixed until my wife and I see him together on the first or second Saturday of November.
On Tuesday my children's schools were also cancelled for the next day. Comparable to a Snow Day in Canada. Tuesday night (last night) was filled with strong rain, and that turned out to be all the strong rain there was because Wednesday 16th itself saw practically no rain at all. Strong wind blew all day and the sky slowly cleared so that by mid-afternoon there was blue sky and sun. So the three of us were at home together while my wife went out for her usual elderly home care work. She is a Home Care Manager these days, which is mostly an office job. She rarely services elderly customers in their homes anymore. (She is no longer in a position to discover elderly customers in the morning who died alone in their homes during the night, and then having to call an ambulance and police.)
I worked an evening job as usual near Ogikubo Station in Suginami Ward.
When I went to the local Family Mart convenience store Wednesday morning for my morning
paper and drink I took several empty plastic bottles with me in my bicycle basket for disposal in the store’s garbage buckets. I always do. Even though we can dispose of our empty plastic bottles outside our building in the regular Saturday morning garbage pickup they accumulate so fast that I prefer to get rid of them daily at the Family Mart. But this time I discovered when I arrived at the store at the major Nakano Dori-Honan Dori intersection (in Nakano Ward, which is a couple hundred meters down the street from my apartment) that the garbage receptacles were removed because of the storm and I would have to take the bottles home again. I knew there was a risk of the wind toppling my bike and spilling the bottles if I left it unattended while I was in the store. But it would take only between one and two minutes, so I went in for my paper and drink (a new plastic bottle).
Of course when I came out my bike was blown over and the bottles were gone. I don’t mean that they were scattered on the ground and stuck in the road-side bushes. I mean they were completely gone, like they had evaporated or were sucked up into space or something. I looked around. I looked around the corner. I looked across the intersection towards the Police Box. I looked down the streets in four directions. But they were absolutely gone. I felt bad about the litter, but not for long.
A story in today's Japan Times newspaper called this the strongest typhoon to reach the capital in ten years ("Largest typhoon in decade heads toward Tokyo," Wednesday, October 16, 2013). Well, I don't know about that. It didn't seem so to me, but technically - considering the air pressure at the center of the storm, or the maximum sustained air speed - maybe so. The front page story of the Thursday, October 17 Japan Times newspaper reported 17 deaths resulting from the storm and many missing.
The weather forecasts on television on Thursday 17th night were already reporting the formation of Typhoon 27 in the South Pacific and its expected impact on mainland Japan next week. It’s much too early yet to say exactly when and where it will arrive. This far in advance it could go anywhere: stay out at sea; veer off to the Philippines, or Taiwan, or China.
2020 Tokyo Olympics
O n Saturday, September 7th the International Olympic Committee at its meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina decided to hold the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government had been campaigning for the last two summer games, always losing out to other cities. This time it beat out Madrid and Istanbul. So some people are very happy. Most people don’t care about the games but they do care about the possible economic benefits. I observed no “euphoria” as the media described it. Many of the Japanese I spoke to were positive towards the Games for the expected economic windfall. But at the same time there is a sizable portion of the population dead-set against the Games for reasons pertaining directly to the continuing fallout of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor fiasco and the chronic plight of evacuees from the flooded coastal areas in the northeast. In the October 11-24 edition of Metropolis magazine I read a report that surveys show 72% of Japanese people oppose any taxpayer money going towards the Olympics. It sounds like they want to eat their cake and have it, too. Maybe they don’t properly understand how the Olympics work, and where the money comes from.
Madrid’s chances were spoiled by Spain’s 27% unemployment rage and related serious economic problems. Istanbul’s campaign was not helped by the anti-government protests there recently that the police suppressed with considerable violence. Tokyo’s case was compromised by the ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant situation, but not fatally so. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that operates the facility is failing to control leaks of radiation, playing wack-a-mole to stop repeated breaches of its containment facilities. Because the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were so unprecedented the power company is simply out of its depth trying to deal with it. I don’t blame them, but it is probably passed time to enlist foreign help in the matter, even though that invites loss of face. Addressing the IOC and the international media Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just blatantly lied about how “safe” and “under control” Japan’s nuclear industry is and the IOC, with its snout deep in the trough as usual, let it pass.
But Tokyo’s emphasis on security and compactness - operating all the Olympic facilities within a few kilometers’ radius in a city already well served with infrastructure - swayed the IOC. Perhaps it was thought that since Tokyo is already one of the most developed cities in the world there would be minimal need for new, expensive development. New existing facilities are adequate and older facilities, like those built for the 1964 Olympics, can easily be renovated and reused. (Wrong!)
The Prime Minister’s rather rosy portrayal of the condition of the country, the work of his government, and the popularity of hosting the Games indicate to me that the man needs to get out more.
Through Saturday afternoon and evening we repeatedly checked the television to look for news from Argentina about the IOC’s decision. But because of the time difference the decision did not come until the early a.m. hours of Sunday 8th here, too late for the Sunday morning newspapers. I variously watch TV, listen to the radio and use the internet to learn news, but I still use daily newspapers as my primary source. I am against the Olympics so I was checking the media not out of supportive excitement but from a wish to avoid one of my worst dreams. My worst dream came true.
It’s not that I am against Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics Games, although some argue that Japan is not mature enough to participate on the international stage. I oppose anyone hosting them because I oppose both the Games themselves and all organized team sports before that. Sure, sports are lucrative, but they are immoral, stupid, useless, and contribute to the destruction of family and society. I wish the IOC, that pack of pervy wankers, would retire itself from our
Here are some of the things that concern me. Support for the Olympics is lackluster among Japanese. The government and media façade is a fraud. The population of Japan is declining by close to 300,000 people per year. Most of that decline is expiring senior citizens who are not being replaced by children due to the very low birthrate. But even though they are seniors they are tax-paying seniors, meaning that the government’s tax revenue stream is slowly evaporating. Parallel to that I think the real cost of the Games will come in about twenty times higher than what the city bid. It usually does for these events, doesn’t it? Japan’s already massive public debt is sure to balloon further out of control, directly attributable to Prime Minister Abe’s policies plus the decision to assume the burden of the Olympics.
39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures currently are losing population. Tokyo is still growing, and the capital is expected to continue to grow until 2020, but then start shrinking soon after that. Even so, by 2020 the population of Tokyo will consist of almost 30% senior citizens, the fastest-growing age group. Perhaps
that means that the city will try to showcase to the world urban design intended to maximize accessibility and participation for aging societies.
Plans are afoot to renovate the old National Stadium that was used in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games (held in October). It hasn’t started yet, which surprises me because I figured the city would be ready to move on that the minute the IOC awarded the Games, considering all its recent (failed) Olympic bids. I predict empty seats. The proposed site for the athletes’ village, the Harumi district on Tokyo Harbor, is on reclaimed land that has been under development for the last thirty-to-forty years. Right now, though, it is still mostly just a bare patch of land. I think someone had better get a move-on to develop it right quick, also. You’d think the bulldozers would be moving already, but they aren’t. There is one subway line servicing that area. New subway lines will not be built because the permanent residential population cannot support it, and the same is true for the expected residential population after the Games. They will sell, or try to sell the athletes’ accommodations afterward as condominium. But to support new train or subway service there will have to be accompanying commercial or entertainment districts that cannot be seen in demographers’ and developers’ crystal balls. The government’s plan to increase bussing routes, timetables and services during the Games doesn’t sound inviting.
The Harumi district technically is not very far from central Tokyo both in distance and in commuter time. But Tokyoites certainly think of it as being far away. Maybe that is unfair and inaccurate, but there it is.
Because of the demographics of Japan there is already a significant housing vacancy rate here: almost 20%. If you see a picture of Tokyo’s glorious high-rise skyline or densely-packed urban jungle just remember this: almost twenty percent of what you are looking at is unoccupied, unused, wasted space, not earning any revenue. PM Abe is promoting home construction to help fuel the economy, making incentives like subsidies for first-time home owners, or subsidies for renovations, easing loan interest rates for certain categories of people, etc. The Prime Minister’s rather rosy portrayal of the condition of the country, the work of his government, and the popularity of hosting the Games indicate to me that the man needs to get out more. Right now, ten months into his tenure, nothing has been done to utilize the female workforce, reduce trade barriers, cultivate entrepreneurship, prepare for an aging workforce, internationalize corporate tax rates, find an alternative to nuclear reactors, wrestle government power away from a vast, unproductive and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy and improve relations with Asian neighbors
The bottom line is still that the population is shrinking and we don’t need more houses, apartments and condominiums. We need more nursing homes and hospitals, and a plan to demolish abandoned homes and return the land to Nature, as parks, or woods, agriculture, or grassland.
Friday, October 11, 2013.
2013 Nobel Prize for Literature
The first thing I saw on the front page of this morning's The Japan Times newspaper is that Canadian short story writer Alice Munro had won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature. It was the very first thing my eye fell on when I sat down with the paper to eat breakfast.
Yesterday, on Thursday 10th, I read a story on page three of the paper speculating that Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was the literature prize front runner. Some other names including Munro’s were mentioned - American Joyce Carol Oates, for example, Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich and Algeria’s Assia Djebar. But that report didn’t rate Munro’s chances high. It quoted odds offered by the London, England bookmaker, Ladbrookes, rating Murakami the favorite candidate. So of course I was happy to read that it was the Canadian, and a woman.
I remember that Munro was required reading in some high school English courses when I was a student at Centennial CVI in Guelph, Ontario. She probably still is. But I never read anything by her because I didn’t take those courses. I took different English courses and concentrated more on World Literature. So instead of reading people like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood I read people like William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy (I loved Thomas Hardy), Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Hermann Hesse and Jack Kerouac. Plus, I don’t like short stories. I prefer novels because they seem like a better investment.
I used to like Haruki Murakami quite a bit. His dark novel Norwegian Wood was one of the first Japanese novels I read (in English). But slowly over time I’ve grown apart from his books. His heroes are almost always Japanese Everyman characters - lonely, dull office workers who accidentally get involved in bizarre and absurd situations. I guess his point is to highlight the absurdity of modern life. When I first began reading Murakami the absurdity was part of what attracted me. But over time it became tiresome so I stopped reading him.
Spring time bills
Currently I am concentrating on saving money to pay some of the yearly bills that I know are coming: national old age pension bills (“nenkin”) arrive in March; national public health insurance (“kokumin hoken”)and local ward taxes (“juminzei”) both arrive in June. Japanese bills habitually have due dates at the end of the month because most Japanese receive their pay on or about the 25th. Some of my work pays on that schedule, but not all of it. I have at least four different pay days each month from various part-time jobs. That means that it is sometimes difficult to pay the bills on time because their due dates do not always correspond with my pay days. It’s not a matter of money in the bank. It’s a matter of having enough money in the bank at the right time. You gotta keep track of your money! Penalties are threatened if bills are not paid on time. But if I go to the local city office and explain to them that I cannot pay a certain bill at a certain time because I don’t have the money for it they give every impression of not understanding, like they don’t understand the idea of not being paid on or about the 25thlike everyone else. All they do is repeat, “You must to pay! You must to pay!” Repetition plays a major role in Japanese rhetoric. In debate, speakers usually start by announcing their position, and then instead of laying out an argument of gradual logical steps building towards their position in the conclusion they just repeat the same statements again and again. “You must pay! It’s the law, you must to pay!”
If I miss paying a bill the ward office sends me another one in the post as a kind of gentle reminder. When that happens I just mail it right back to them. I don’t need extra bills because I still have the originals, waiting for sufficient funds. Usually, though, I manage to pay all the bills on time by the skin of my teeth.