Worried that your neck is too short? Have no fear, the neck stretcher is here:
Try using it for a few weeks. The results are astounding:
A chain café in Japan. Lunchtime:
“Welcome! Customer, will you be eating in?”
“Very good. What would you like?”
“I’d like a medium-sized café latte, please.”
“A… sorry, what was that?”
“A café late, please. Medium size.”
“One café latte! What size?”
“Medium – ’Em’ size – please.”
“Okay! That’ll be ¥360. Please wait by the counter for your drink.”
Two minutes later, by the counter:
“Here you are. One small ice coffee.”
Last week former North Korean spy Kim Hyon Hi was flown into Japan for talks with government officials and the relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang. It was believed that she might have information about the abductees, who were kidnapped some thirty years ago.
Though Mrs Kim was able to provide some details, mostly relating to the abductees’ private lives and hobbies, it’s unlikely that her visit will help Japan-North Korea relations, nor will it help Japanese officials gain a better understanding of the world’s most insular country. Her information will have been decades out of date: her links with North Korea were severed in 1987, when she was arrested in Bahrain for the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858. She has since spent her life living in confinement in South Korea.
Meanwhile, the Japanese media went bezerk over the amount of money that was being spent looking after Mrs Kim. Roads in Tokyo were closed and legions of police mobilized in order to ensure safe passage to her hotel. According to TBS, a Tokyo-based broadcaster, she was even taken on a 35-minute helicopter ride over the capital; a ride that could have cost as much as ¥1.4 million (about £10,400). Sakadazu Tanigaki, the leader of the opposition LDP, condemned the government’s lavish treatment of Mrs Kim as ‘nothing but performance’.
Mr Tanigaki is right to bring up the issue of cost – a lot of taxpayers’ money was spent on security. However, coming from a politician whose party while in government was renowned for pork-barrel dealings and a staggering lack of inertia, the phrase ‘pot calling the kettle black’ springs to mind.
Last weekend saw me in Inuyama, Aichi prefecture, for my sister-in-law’s wedding. It also mysteriously coincided with the daring escape of a number of monkeys from Nagoya University’s research institute, which is just a few minutes’ drive from my parents-in-law’s house.
Although I can’t say that I was directly responsible for the simian breakout, I like to think that my presence spurred them into devising a plan that MacGyver would have been proud of, namely the use of tree branches to catapult themselves over an electrified fence. Unfortunately, none of the monkeys had given much thought as to what to do after that: they moped about immediate area like bored kids at a christening until researchers lured them back with peanuts.
It is believed that the recaptured monkeys are watching The Great Escape every day for tips. They also wish to make contact with some underworld types who can provide them with false identities, Swiss passports and tickets to Rio.
My, doesn’t time fly in the world of Japanese politics? It seems like only yesterday that Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ finally managed to chuck the pork-barrellers of the LDP out of power, and yet here we are, just months later, with yet another unelected Japanese leader on our hands.
Putting questions of legitimacy to one side for the time being, it’s good to see that Naoto Kan, the new prime minister, isn’t from one of the grotesque political dynasties that dominate the Diet. The grandfathers of the last four prime ministers – Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda and Abe – were also prime ministers themselves. Tellingly, none of these political darlings lasted longer than a year in office. It comes as no surprise that their ‘superior’ breeding and first-rate education failed to prepare them for the real world, and for the demands that come with governing the world’s second largest economy.
While Hatoyama doggedly dug his own grave over the US military base on Okinawa, Naoto Kan kept mum. By neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the idea of moving the base off the island he may very well be able to dodge the issue entirely, or at least kick it into the long grass for the time being. Hatoyama’s dithering seriously damaged the US administration’s trust in Japan. Kan needs to repair that trust, and also begin to enact the policies that the LDP fought last year’s election on, most notably reform of the institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.
The political elite have been in a malaise for so long that, like the chained prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, they have little or no understanding of how the real world functions. Hopefully, Kan will be able to drag some of them towards the blinding reality of the outside world. Unfortunately, content with their world of shadows, most of them will probably try to get rid of him as swiftly as possible.
I received an email from the HR department this morning to announce the beginning of Cool Biz. This means that male employees can forego neckties for the next three months, while office air conditioners are turned up to 28°C to reduce running costs (and ultimately help the environment).
Cool Biz is a fantastic idea: it means fewer sweaty old men on the streets and a considerable reduction in the amount of CO2 that power stations pump out. It also has the knock-on effect of producing more than a few comedy moments as bamboozled salarymen adjust to the brave new world of dressing in a smart-casual manner. Their plight is worsened by the prime minister, who is legally obliged to dress like an extra from Magnum, P.I. all summer long:
Of course, not all salarymen dress like aliens trying to blend into a middle-class American family circa 1985. A quick peruse of magazine racks in local bookshops reveals a bewildering variety of style-related magazines for the modern gent.
Middle-aged chaps who are looking to add a bit of edge to their look should turn to Leon. The key phrase here is choiwaru oyaji, which (sort of) translates as “bad-but-cool old guy”. Put simply, Leon is for forty- and fifty-something lady-killing dandies who want to look like they’ve just stepped out of a Milanese cafe. Check out those white jeans! Gaze in dumbstruck awe at those medallions!
Slightly younger fellows should take a gander at Men’s Ex, which has considerably fewer photos of George Clooney wannabies with twenty-something women. It’s fairly conservative in its recommendations, leaning more towards classic business attire and the preppy look than its Italian-inspired rival.
There is also a phenomenal number of one-off magazines – called mooks (magazine+book=mook) – which cover all kinds of style-related issues. Men’s Ex recently produced a guide to looking after and tailoring clothes which is proving very popular in this current economic climate of belt-tightening. Its article on how to properly clean leather shoes came in very handy after I got caught in a nasty downpour:
Another big-selling mook is this one on shirts. It contains all you need to know about the humble dress shirt and tie, including a dizzying array of ways to tie neckties…
… and a handy guide for coordinating shirts with ties and suits:
If you’re expecting well-written, thought provoking articles on a par with GQ or Esquire in these magazines then you’re in for a shock. The line between advertising and editorial is virtually nonexistent. In fact they are, pretty much, 200-page advertorials. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, per se: they do have some very interesting content, and some sections – especially those on maintenance – go into absolutely staggering detail.
Fresh seafood is, as you would expect, easy to come by in Japan. In fact, pre-packed prawns are sometimes so fresh that you might end up debating whether to put them in a frying pan or an aquarium:
(Postscript: Unfortunately Terry et al didn’t live long, happy lives. They were simply too delish for their own good.)
Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward is not renowned for fishing, but this particular pond is always popular. In fact, part of it has been specially kitted out for city-dwelling Ahabs.
The greenness of the water makes me wonder if any normal (ie, one-headed) fish can survive. Perhaps a scuba diver occasionally hooks half-dead trout on the most forlorn-looking of fishermen’s hooks, just to keep their spirits up.
For those of you who regularly watch BBC World News (come on, it can’t be just me!), you’ve probably noticed an eerily similarity between its Japan-related reports. It seems that no matter what the story, be it whaling, dolphin slaughtering or population decline, robots manage to get in there somehow. Take this story on immigration, for example.
Is there really any possibility that robots will replace human nurses? I’d say the chances are slim, to say the least. Considering that even the most advanced robots still have trouble mastering the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs, I can’t envisage them pottering around nursing homes changing soiled bedsheets and helping old chaps put on their pyjamas. And of course robots don’t pay taxes or buy goods, and they most definitely don’t have babies.
Nevertheless, a lot of BBC news reports seem to gloss over important issues in favour of portraying Japan as a nation of robot-mad, insular lunatics. I don’t know anyone who thinks the use of robots in frontline service/healthcare industry jobs is even remotely feasible, nor do I know anyone who seeks to preserve Japan’s “racial purity”. There may be a small, but vocal, minority of right-wing politicians and nutters who hold such views, but they should not be seen to represent the opinions of the majority of Japanese.
From a business standpoint there is little debate about whether or not Japan needs immigrants: the domestic car industry already relies on immigrant workers (especially Japanese-Brazilians), and the country’s most powerful business group, the Nippon Keidanren, is strongly in favour of granting more foreigners permanent resident status. When the Japanese government finally faces up to the Big Decision – increased immigration or a crippled economy – it will, I’m sure, choose the former.