10 Japanese Certainties

  1. TV presenters will proclaim all food, no matter how disgusting, to be “delicious”.
  2. There will be ten new Prime Ministers by the time this decade is out.
  3. Payment of inducements to public servants serves the greater good by building business relationships.
  4. The miniskirt will never go out of fashion.
  5. Overtime spent in an office = Automatic productivity.
  6. Nature is evil. It must be cleansed by concrete.
  7. Owning an old car is bad for the economy dangerous.
  8. In order to (dis)respect someone, you must first be certain of their age.
  9. English exists solely for the design of unintelligible T-shirts.
  10. The older one gets, the freer one becomes. Once you’re over 90 you can say whatever the heck you want.
cleansed by concrete
#6: Nature cleansed by concrete in Shinjuku, Tokyo
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Panda Death a Metaphor

Relations between Asia’s two giants China and Japan are rarely straightforward. Despite being the second and third lagest economies in the world and doing hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade, a few choice words by a prominent government official or a territorial incursion by a small fishing boat can quickly escalate into an international diplomatic crisis.

This week saw heightened tensions due to a Japanese government announcement that it intends to nationalise the Senkaku Islands, a group of islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. China responded by sending “fishing vessels” into Japanese-claimed territorial waters around the islands. It was the top story on the evening news. Everyone was very upset. The Japanese government’s hand had been somewhat forced into making the purchase, as the right-wing mayor of Tokyo was already arranging for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the islands on behalf of the country.

In a seemingly unrelated issue, Nicewife was watching TV on Wednesday when a Newsflash (the type that is usually reserved for earthquakes and typhoons) announced the death of a newborn baby panda at Ueno Zoo. The zoo director was in tears. The Prime Minister described the death as “very disappointing”. A major department store cancelled its “Happy Panda Week” sale. (Apparently dead pandas don’t sell handbags.) The country is in mourning.

Given that Ueno Zoo is also owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, one can’t but help wonder if the baby panda death is an unfortunate metaphor for the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

baby panda
Newborn Panda at Ueno Zoo  (Photo: Ueno Zoological Gardens)

Life in North Korea

Many areas of rural and semi-rural Japan have a public address system operated by the town council. Multiple loudspeakers are installed on tall poles that are strategically located to ensure that all houses that fall under the council’s jurisdiction are covered. This is the one nearest our house:

The Mind Controller
Mind Controller

The system serves a number of purposes:

  1. It is used to relay announcements in emergencies – such as during the landfall of Typhoon 15 in September when the system kept us notified of the water level of a major river that runs nearby. Several years ago when I was living in a much more rural part of Japan (in northern Shiga Prefecture) the system was used to warn us when bears had been spotted about the town.
  2. Much less usefully the system is used to play “music” at noon and at 6pm. Town councils are seemingly oblivious to the fact that Japan practically invented the modern electronic wristwatch.
  3. Finally, it is used to broadcast announcements about civil events, often at a very uncivil 6.45am on a Saturday morning. Any hypothetical interest I have in attending a council event on a Saturday would quickly evaporate once I am woken up at 6.45 by a loudspeaker imploring me to do what I have already decided to do, albeit now with an hour less of sleep.

So in order, these three different purposes are: practical, unnecessary and annoying.

Some of my friends who live in more rural areas actually have loudspeakers installed in the kitchens of their homes so that messages can be delivered from the town council directly to their brains. The speakers can’t be switched off, nor can the volume be adjusted. The messages are broadcast anytime the council feels like it. This helps councils to enforce a suitably flamboyant style of mourning with respect to the recent and unfortunate passing of our Dear Leader. Is anyone else reminded of a crazy little country on the other side of the Sea of Japan?