And now for a post that’s neither absurd nor moderate.
Yoshinoya – It’s often described by worshipful Japanese pundits as “The Japanese McDonalds”. Well, its not really the Japanese McDonalds. That would instead be the actual McDonalds, which is the same as McDonalds Australia except with radioactive caesium.
Yoshinoya is in the business of selling Gyudon – a bowl of rice topped with fried beef. At any time of the day or night you can pop in here and within 60 seconds be sitting in front of a pile of steaming……….. Gyudon. In part of an ongoing price war with a couple of its rivals, Yoshinoya has cut the price of a basic bowl of Gyudon to 280 yen (just over $3). I was about half way through my bowl before I started to consider whether or not it is actually possible to produce a bowl of Gyudon for $3. I concluded that there must be some parts of a cow (probably somewhere deep in the middle) that are available in some countries (probably China) at a low enough wholesale price for Yoshinoya to make a profit on a $3 rice bowl.
The most striking thing about my local Yoshinoya, however, is how indeterminably sad it is. All of the staff are ladies in their 60s, still working for $10 an hour at this classic fast food joint. The customers are almost all middle-aged men who come alone, stuck working long hours in jobs they hate. They gruffly place their orders without any common courtesy whatsoever. The 60-year-old female workers subserviently run to the kitchen to fulfil them. The decor is dated and tired; the food uninspiring.
Is this the saddest eatery in Japan?
I’ve kinda stuffed up this second “morning” review because I visited this coffee house in the afternoon. Of course that means I didn’t get a “morning” with my coffee, but I did get a very amusing packet of nuts, which I thought justified a post on this blog.
Access: 10 mins walk.
Price: 380 yen
“Morning” in the afternoon: Small packet of nuts and rice crackers.
Viability: New – apparently booming.
The story of Oskar Schindler is fairly well known. He is credited for saving the lives of over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware factory, and his story is retold in the famous film Schindler’s List. The State of Israel honoured Schindler as “Righteous Among the Nations” – a status it endows on Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.
In a town called Yaotsu about 60km from here was born another of whom Israel has deemed “Righteous Among the Nations”. Despite his relative obscurity, at least compared to Oskar Schindler, Chiune Sugihara is credited with saving thousands of Jews during this terrible time in history. Last weekend we visited a commemorative museum dedicated to this man and his story.
Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania in 1939. In July and August 1940 and he used his position as a representative of the Foreign Ministry to write transit visas to allow European Jews to pass through the Soviet Union and Japan to claim asylum in countries of refuge.
He contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to request permission to grant transit visas to fleeing Jews despite them not meeting the requirements for issue of a visa. Tokyo responded that without a visa to a destination country a Japanese transit visa could not be granted. Realising that the Jews coming to his office would be in grave danger from the Nazis if they could not escape, he began to issue visas by his own hand, without authorisation from Tokyo and in defiance of direct orders to the contrary. Given his low position in the Foreign Ministry, cultural pressure to follow orders, and the Japanese alliance with Nazi Germany, this was an incredible act of bravery.
Sugihara hand-wrote visas for up to 20 hours per day. As news spread of his actions, more and more refugee Jews lined up outside the consulate in order to get a transit visa through Japan. This continued for only a couple of weeks after which the Japanese consulate was closed in September and Sugihara was ordered to leave.
Sugihara died in Japan in 1986. His story is not well known in Japan. His humility was such that it was only when a large Jewish delegation (including dignitaries) attended his funeral that his neighbours and friends found out what he had achieved.
The little commemorative museum in Yaotsu does quite a good job at recounting Sugihara’s story despite its paucity of related artefacts. (For example, the only visas on display were replicas.) However, as is typical of most Japanese recounts of World War II, the broader Japanese Imperial context in which these events took place is missing. Despite this shortcoming the museum does a good job at bringing visitors to uncomfortably face the extent of human evil (it includes photos from the Nazi death camps), as well as the joy of redemption brought through a man that chose to do good.
Green* = Go!
Amber = Go, but faster.
Red = Go, provided you are one of the first 3 cars to pass the stop line after the light turns red. (Otherwise reluctantly stop.)
* Incidentally the Japanese call green traffic lights ‘blue’. I once saw a chart comparing the green/blue hue of ‘green’ traffic lights around the world. Japan was very much at the blue end of the spectrum. Still reading? You nerd!
Yesterday I went to the library to do some work. I thought it might be a nice and free alternative to paying $5 for a cup of mud-like filter coffee and 2 hours at a table. I set up my laptop at a nice spot near the window and was just about to get down to work when I noticed a sign:
- No Mobile Phones
- No Food and Drink
- No Portable Electronic Games
- No Calculators
- No Office Equipment
Me: “I’ve brought my laptop from home. It’s ok to use it in the library isn’t it.”Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry.”Me: “You mean it’s forbidden? Really?”Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry”; now looking ashamed of this meaningless rule.Librarian returns to typing on her Office Equipment.
“That’s unusual”, I said.“What is?”“Seeing a snake, here, in October.”“Snake? “
“Do you think it’s poisonous?”, I asked.“No. But I hate snakes!”, one of the ladies replied.“I’ve lived here all my life and this is the first time I’ve seen one.”
The traditional coffee houses on the outskirts of Nagoya engage in a business promotion that, as far as I am aware, is pretty unique to this area. The deal is basically thus: Order a regular cup of coffee before 11am and you will receive a free mini-breakfast. Not to be confused with the actual morning, this deal is called “morning”.
Given that a regular cup of filter coffee (Italian-style coffee hasn’t really caught on here in a major way) at a coffee house in Japan costs around 350 to 400 yen ($4.70 to $5.30), this deal is not as cheap as it may first seem. But given the alternative of paying 350 to 400 yen at 11.05am for just a cup of filter coffee, it represents comparatively good value for money.
During our gap year I am working as a web developer on a freelance basis. Given that I can work from anywhere that there is a chair and a table (and even some places where there isn’t) I’ve been spending a few hours each day working from a coffee house. This gives me the ideal opportunity to do a “morning” review on this blog. Nicewife’s dad is pretty connected, so I will get financial viability info from him. Today I will look at a little coffee shop called “Hanamizuki”.
This coffee house is owned by Nicewife’s school friend and her mum.
Access: 10 mins walk.
Price: 350 yen (We bought a book of 11 tickets, which reduces the price to a very reasonable 290 yen per cup.)
Morning: Hard-boiled egg, a third of a piece of thick toast, small packet of rice crackers.
Viability: Barely breaking even. Undertaken as a hobby.
Atmosphere: Smokey, friendly (except if you’re not local).