Haiku reflections on Japan, Snapshots of Japan

深夜食堂

Meshi, shokuji,

call it what you like but that

food is pure heaven

 

I just watched something the other evening called Midnight Diner・深夜食堂, the Japanese version of a Korean drama and only one series of many I am told. It’s also in full-length film format.  It’s an interesting series, with not many episodes, which makes my mouth water at the simple but delicious food the ‘master’ makes with no fuss, from midnight to dawn, as he says at the start, in a Tokyo backstreet, for the various folks who drop in.

Interestingly, his sign outside says meshi-ya which brings me to a language issue.  Meshi・飯 is a very colloquial word for meal, which sounds like it should come from meshiagaru・召し上がる, the, albeit, honorific, form of to eat though it has a different kanji and I have heard it’s only used by ‘certain’ people, like soldiers in the army – it does sound like the English word ‘mess (hall)’ after all, army lingo for the canteen where soldiers eat on a base and I do remember it being used in Japanese army-related films – or people with a limited grasp of vocabulary.  The person who told me this turned her nose up at the word and said I would look rough if I used it, but why? It’s probably the equivalent of ‘grub’ and this meshi-ya is clearly a greasy spoon-type of establishment with various tokyo-ites mulling over their issues (some of them really irritating people I have to say) and the ‘master’, who seems really well-lived and gives good advice in a taciturn way, is well-played by an actor called Kaoru Kobayashi (who shares his name with, among others, a female singer so clearly Kaoru is a unisex name in Japan).   I’d recommend it.  Anyway, I tend to use ‘grub’ a bit but if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t look down on someone else who used it.

Speaking of learning Japanese, Memrise has got very ‘messy’ (get it?) lately and I don’t enjoy contributing to forums at the moment as certain people just don’t respond to my suggestions.   Memrise clearly has its fair share of egos and I can think of one in particular in the Japanese lot while the more polite, obliging ones seem to have given up on the forum which I am sorry to see but for which I can’t entirely blame them.

Memrise is still extremely useful though and I have long since moved onto using it to build my vernacular, including idioms, in other languages.

I haven’t been around for a while but I hope my posts have been enjoyed in the meanwhile.

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Haiku reflections on Japan, International or other matters

Another genius gone

The world loses one

more great artist, this time

a bold architect

 

The great Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has passed away at 65.  Being a fan of architecture, and seeing the Japanese link through her fallen-through plans for the Olympic stadium in Tokyo, I thought I’d mention her here.    I read an article once about her personal style choices which were as expensive and sculptured as her projects.   She certainly seemed like an interesting woman and has to be a great role model for women in the world of architecture, whatever country they may originally be from.

I haven’t seen too many of her buildings to be honest.  Japanese authorities eventually scrapped her Olympic Stadium project which made waves for its sleek cover that resembled a bicycle helmet. Well that’s the kindest comparison and I think it’s nicer to think of a bicycle helmet given the sports connection!! The other one is a very female-specific comparison. Look it up and you’ll see for yourself.  It did look a bit ridiculous whatever it was compared to.  In any case, the whole project was scrapped after copyright problems between the architect and project commissioners and then much debate among other architects and general derision from the public.  I think Japan, Olympics or not, should be spending money on vital things** and or renovate places they already have available.  Tokyo is not exactly swimming in free space!!  The swimming comparison is a reference to another comparison made by a famous Japanese architect.

Construction projects in other countries have been subject to even more serious controversy, non-compensated evictions of residents, flattening of old neighbourhoods and slave labour (possibly including children).  Her company, Zaha Hadid Architects, has also been removed from other projects, in the UK at least, for one reason or another.  Maybe financial or aesthetic or maybe she was too strong a personality for the people commissioning the projects.    I only mention the negative points to show that all geniuses have their detractors but of course people who protested against the above controversies were absolutely right to protest especially where human rights are concerned and perhaps the extent of power an architect holds over a project is not so well-defined.

 

** Hint hint: Apart from obviously vital things they could maybe extend the brand new and recently opened Tokyo to Hokkaido shinkansen line (Tokyo, via Aomori, to Hakodate) further up to Sapporo well before 2030 the year they do plan to have it extended by.  It would spur people on to visit Hokkaido more, sparing the trouble of getting to the airport for domestic flights, and I’d personally appreciate it.  Seeing a photo of the grand opening in Tokyo of this new line, I thought the shinkansen looked appropriately sea-life like, almost what you’d see in a cartoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Haiku reflections on Japan, International or other matters

Population ponderings

Japan needs a boost

in its population and

needs it soon we see

 

This is no ‘new’ news but a report that the working age population in Japan may shrink 40% in the next 45 years is always food for thought as the measures needed to counteract this declining population depends on reversing deeply ingrained cultural attitudes, about mothers, the workforce and Japan’s homogeneity.

Is there a chance for future immigrants to Japan here?   I doubt it too much.  PM Abe is doing all he can to avoid inviting immigrants to his turf.     With the population at 127 million at present, and with only 2% of that being non-Japanese, I don’t see what he has to fear in letting in a higher number every year but he prefers to bolster the fertility rate first which he has been saying every year of his tenure I’m sure,  i.e. produce more Japanese people who in 45 years time will be part of the workforce (you hope).

The solutions put to him included looking after immigration, kindergartens (freeing up or creating more spaces so more mothers, once they have their much-hoped for babies, can join the workplace), elderly care (making it less necessary for people, men or women, to give up their jobs to care for elderly relatives by providing more spaces in homes), removing tax breaks for spouses of employees (which makes them accept poorly-paid jobs, only part-time jobs or to stay out of the workforce altogether), equal treatment (women who make up the majority of hourly or contract workers in offices don’t get the benefits as those with permanent contracts) and decentralisation (getting companies to move out of over-crowded Tokyo by offering incentives such as tax breaks – reversing the trend of rural to urban migration – as women in Tokyo tend to have less babies because they live in cramped accommodation not conducive to rearing families and have few relatives to support them in childcare efforts when they want to go back to work).

It’s heartening to learn that a lot of Japanese think immigration should be upped, at least according to a survey in one of Japan’s biggest newspapers, so that’s a good sign for the future.  The immigrants I would suggest need to be able to speak Japanese from the get-go especially for care-givers looking after either children or the elderly, situations where instant communication is vital.

Decentralisation is a good idea too in theory but a woman might not have support outside the city either, especially if their company does not move to a city where they have friends or relatives.   They might have just as much support among the friends they have made in Tokyo. Also, the company might not particularly desire to move out of Tokyo if it has an otherwise good thing going there.   The elderly care situation is important because the care homes they go to need to be staffed well and obtain subsidies to keep them going.   There have been many reports these days about the elderly, in my own and a neighbouring country, being abused in care homes which is really sad as that is not how they want to live the last few years of their lives, if they do end up in nursing homes.     I don’t know what it’s like in Japan but the culture of filial duty means it is hard for people NOT to give up work and look after them.  Kindergartens are always a good idea as they help children socialise early on but it depends on the mother and family in question who like a lot of countries might be put off by the price (childcare in Ireland for example takes a huge chunk out of a couple’s salary).   I don’t think nannies or au-pairs are a big concept yet in Japan but who knows.

It will be interesting to see what measures they take to counter this diminishing work-force.

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