asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Fed up 31 October, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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If you remember the euphoria that surrounded the election of Obama four years ago, that’s a bit how it was here in Japan when the Democratic Party of Japan took power from the Liberal Democratic Party, who had had pretty much a monopoly since the war. The names might sound almost identical, but in fact the DPJ were supposed to stand for a complete break from the stale policies and embedded corruption of the LDP – a “Change Has Come To Japan” feeling. Hah. Now the current prime minister, Noda, has public support figures under 20%, as do the DPJ.

People are thoroughly fed up, with plenty of reason to be. The DPJ have kept hardly any of the promises they made before the last election:

  • Okinawa. Okinawans have got even more to be fed up about than the rest of the country, and a good bit of it relates to the American army bases that occupy 18% of the main island. Hatoyama, the current DPJ leader promised he would move the highly dangerous Futenma air base out of the centre of Ginowan City, off the island and out of Okinawa prefecture. Eventually, betrayed by civil servants in the Foreign Office, he was forced to accept the plan to move the base a bit north to Henoko, on the same island, just as the LDP had already arranged. Okinawans were furious, and still are, and local opposition in Henoko has meant the base is still in the middle of the city – the worst outcome.
  • Free motorways. This was always silly, and after a couple of weekend trials seems to have been quietly dropped.
  • Child allowance. This struck me as a good way of redistributing a bit of wealth down to the younger generation, who would spend it and stimulate the economy, but since the LDP won a mid-term Upper House election they’ve successfully blocked it, along with most of the other useful-sounding legislation the DPJ were trying to pass. (Americans, does this sound familiar?)
  • Free high school. Another good idea that may not have been actually dropped, but one you don’t hear much about these days.
  • Pensions. Another big one. Everyone knows the government has a huge deficit and the consensus of opinion among young Japanese seems to be that by the time they’re old enough to claim it the pension system will have collapsed. As a result more and more people are failing to pay their (compulsory) contributions, making the situation worse. This is compounded by the big companies which have made a massive shift from employing full-time staff to using part-timers from agencies, who are much harder to keep within the national insurance system. The DPJ promised a fullscale review of the tax and social welfare systems to make a pension at 65 a realistic proposition. All Noda has done so far is force a bill through parliament to raise consumption tax by 5%, losing many members of his party in the process. This tax raise wasn’t even in the DPJ manifesto, and hasn’t exactly proved a crowd-pleaser.
  • Bureaucrats. Unelected civil servants have long had too much power here, and it was often said that politicians just rubber-stamped their decisions. The DPJ promised to rein in the bureaucrats and take power back for the people. The bureaucrats were outraged, fought the inexperienced DPJ politicians tooth and nail, and seem to have beaten them.

Well, the DPJ do have some excuses, the biggest of course being the Fukushima earthquake and tidal wave. This punched a big hole in the economy, and radicalized public opinion on nuclear energy in the process. The government soon promised policies that would “make nuclear-free energy supply possible by 2030” and at the same time authorized the building of a new reactor…

This list is long, but finally we must remember the total mess the DPJ government has made of foreign policy. Former PM Hatoyama must have royally pissed of the Americans when he announced in a public speech that Japan intended to move away from them and closer to the Chinese. The Okinawan base negotiations were, and still are, a complete mess. Noda completed the circle by buying the Senkaku islands after goading by the idiot Tokyo governor Ishihara (more about him in a moment), and provoked the worst crisis in Japan-China relations for years. Meanwhile things are little better with South Korea or Russia.

So, yes, people are fed up. However, the LDP, the main opposition party, have nothing to be pleased about. Their public support might be a few percent higher than the government’s, but nobody expects too much of them, and there’s no guarantee at all that they’d be able to form a government after the election that’s coming up soon. The DPJ want to delay the election as long as possible in the hope that their support might pick up a bit, while the LDP are being as obstructive as possible in the Diet to try and force an early election while they’re a bit ahead. The general public are not stupid and see all this quite clearly. There’s more – Ozawa (remember him?) broke off from the DPJ to form his own party, Osaka mayor Hashimoto has started one up too, our Nagoya mayor Kawamura is hanging about trying to get involved, and just the other day Tokyo mayor Ishihara announced his resignation to form his own party too!

There’s talk of a “third force” in Japanese politics but it’s hard to be too optimistic about any of this. Ishihara is a raving right-winger who, like some other older LDP dropouts, seems to have inherited the outlook of the military era of the 30s. He hates communism (ie hates the Chinese), hates the Americans who defeated his country in 1945 and hates the “socialists” who he thinks have taken over the teachers’ union and are destroying Japan ( he fired some teachers for failing to stand up for the national anthem ). He also wants to completely re-write Japan’s pacifist constitution. Ishihara can be an entertaining speaker though, and joins the DPJ in lashing out at the civil servants. (Of course he isn’t in the position of having to actually do anything about them.) It was Ishihara’s plan for Tokyo to buy the Senkaku islands earlier this year that pushed Noda into buying them for the government. Ishihara would have put up anti-Chinese posters and who knows what, and Noda thought preempting him would keep things smooth with the Chinese. (He was wrong.)

Hashimoto is younger and a little more sane than Ishihara but still pretty much right-wing/authoritarian, as are most of the other politicians milling around looking for some of the action, except Ozawa who’s just a populist. Nobody has any particular expectations of any of them. People have had it with politicians in general. This all reminds me of nothing so much as inter-war Germany just before Hitler was elected. Exaggeration? Maybe. We can take hope from Marx – (roughly) “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

Get ready for a good laugh.

 

 

The Wrecker again (yawn) 12 July, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:52 pm
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“Wrecker” Ozawa has come to Asazuke’s attention before, eg here and here , and he’s been up to his tricks again.

Now, nobody I know enjoys paying taxes, and there are arguments to be made against raising consumption tax – for example, it’s regressive, and hits the poor harder than the rich – but that the Japanese government needs to straighten out its finances seems beyond doubt. Noda the boring prime minister, for lack of any more inspiring ambition, seems to have decided he wants to go down in history as the one who finally succeeded in forcing this tax increase down the necks of an increasingly inert and despondent Japanese public. There was no mention of such a tax increase in the manifesto of the Democratic Party of Japan at the time of the landslide election when Japan decided it had finally had enough of the Liberal Democrat Party, but politicians don’t generally base their campaigns on the promise of Higher Taxes.

The DPJ have actually done a lot less than they promised in those heady days a couple of years ago, but even without the earthquake and tidal wave there’s no way of avoiding the fact that Good Times are not really just around the corner, here in Japan or anywhere in the world for that matter. The bills for the consumption spree the developed countries have been enjoying the last 100~200 years are lining up to come in and hit us one after another. (Pity those in Asia and Africa who never got to come to the party, but are still going to get their share of the tab anyway.) Now Ozawa – to return to today’s topic – hasn’t actually put up any nifty proposals for dealing with any of Japan’s problems, but he is definitely against an increase in consumption tax, he voted against the recent Diet bill and has left the DPJ, taking some 50 members with him, to start a new party.

Maybe I’m cynical, but it looks as if he just thinks that no-tax-raise line will get him some votes in the election that must be held by next year at the latest. His “Peoples’ Livelihood First” (or whatever) party’s other line to date is opposition to nuclear power. Now that’s one I totally agree with, but it needs to go along with an urgent huge shift to renewable energy sources, about which they are saying nothing to date. That would cost lots of money, implying more cuts in our standard of living. There’s no way out, but politicians the world over are still avoiding looking reality in the face. Ozawa looks like a populist, just like Nagoya mayor Kawamura.

There are other new forces floating around that O. would like to team up with, Osaka’s Hashimoto and Tokyo’s Ishihara. Both these are trying to present themselves as some kind of cleansing New Wave in Japanese politics, but both are somewhat rightist-populist and don’t seem too keen on getting together with the somewhat leftist-populist old-school money-politics Ozawa.

Meanwhile, the public, going by recent opinion polls, don’t give a ****. They dislike the DPJ, they also dislike the LDP, they have no expectations of Ozawa’s new party – this is the fourth time he’s split off to form a new party – and more than 50% don’t support any party at all. Everyone’s just Fed Up with the whole business. This attitude is understandable, but it doesn’t really lead to any productive action. Is anyone else reminded of prewar Weimar Germany by all this? If we get a new Japanese Hitler before long don’t say I didn’t warn you…

 

Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
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This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

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An evening in the country 19 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,people — johnraff @ 1:32 am
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We had invited Yamada san over to our place for a drink, but, a couple of days before, he called up to suggest his place instead. It turned out to be a much better evening than the Cold Sake Debacle of last year.

We get there around 6 and he’s invited some friends over and started grilling some iwana one of them had taken from his pond. Yamada san’s got this great lean-to attached to his timber warehouse, with huge beams in the ceiling, traditional tools hanging on the walls and a big wood burning stove in the middle. He’s got plenty of timber offcuts and keeps the stove well stocked up so it’s toasty warm, even in summer… He says you have to keep the stove hot or it’ll rust. There’s nothing fancy about the place at all – we sit on an old saggy sofa while others have battered armchairs. ( The guy right next to the stove will be roasted in a while. ) Anyway, it’s a good place to drink beer, later wine and shochu (but not too much cold sake), while eating the grilled fish.

The food’s pretty good on the whole. We took something over and other people brought contributions, but later on we get the evening’s feature dish, “tori-meshi”. Meshi means rice, and tori means bird, usually chicken, so “yakitori” is grilled chicken on a stick and torimeshi is chicken rice. Anyway our torimeshi today isn’t chicken, it’s small birds that were caught that day (some of those cute little birds that were round our persimmon tree?), burnt to get the feathers off, chopped up, stewed in soy sauce then cooked with rice. The rice has little anonymous black bits and crunchy bone fragments in, but doesn’t taste too bad if you don’t think too much about it. Many years ago I once ordered “yakitori” in a railway station kiosk and, instead of the tasty chicken I was expecting, got some little birds – sparrows maybe – impaled on a skewer. Compared with that, this torimeshi is quite tasty in fact. After that we have the comparatively innocuous wild boar cooked in a pot with miso, leeks and Chinese cabbage. It’s not smelly or greasy at all – really good. I think some hunters nearby had just caught it.

The place warms up as Y pushes more wood into the stove with his foot. The guy in the Hot Seat has moved elsewhere. This isn’t a young crowd at all – I don’t think anyone here is under 50 – but the conversation is lively and interesting, including the 75-year-old in the corner. Yamada san himself is 72 but still working, eating, drinking, joking and generally enjoying life.

We return home around 11, happy after an excellent evening. It Was Real, as they say.

 

Kawamura again 23 February, 2012

Filed under: news,people,politics — johnraff @ 2:21 pm
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Kawamura’s been shooting his mouth off again. As time goes on the total emptiness of this guy’s head becomes more and more obvious. At first his agenda of halving the numbers, and salaries of over-paid city councillors and passing the savings on to us taxpayers seemed to make sort of sense, but a flat tax cut of 5% always looked like a present to the rich, and we still haven’t seen much after 3 years. Now the “tax cut” theme’s running out of steam he’s been looking around for other bandwagons to jump on. Copying Osaka’s Hashimoto, he’s been pushing for a more powerful Nagoya area Local Capital thing. Power To The Regions or something, joining Hashimoto and Tokyo’s Ishihara in an unholy trio of populism, fascism and racism. Now Hashimoto seems quite clever and Ishihara has at least written some books but Kawamura’s just an idiot.

His latest exploit was to deny the Nanking massacre took place, to a visiting Chinese delegation from that city, no less! That atrocities took place in Nanking in 1937 seems to be established beyond doubt – check the Wikipedia for many links to authoritative sources – but Kawamura’s father was there in 1945 and the local people were nice to him, so there couldn’t have been a massacre. Right?

Japan has its share of Nanking deniers, like the Holocaust deniers, but history is history. My own country, Great Britain, was responsible for numerous abuses during the years when our armies walked over the world, but the Japanese can’t use the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an excuse not to face the truth, any more than the Israelis can justify their oppression of Palestinians by the Holocaust.

The Chinese of course are Not Amused.

 

A certain style… 15 February, 2012

Filed under: people — johnraff @ 2:09 am
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A singer being interviewed on TV this afternoon. She had some hits here back in the 70’s – not bad actually, sort of light Latin-flavoured songs that she wrote herself. When it came up that she’d been living in the USA for the last 25 years, it struck me that you could see it in her face right away. She looked like a Japanese-who-lives-in-America. Something different. What was it?

Now middle-aged, she’s still nice-looking and attractive but there’s a certain hardness. Not cute. There’s no trace left of kawaii.

Take that how you will.

 

Cold Sake 7 June, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,incidents — johnraff @ 1:11 pm
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This is probably one for the “kids, don’t try this at home” department.

While beer and I have had a long, and generally happy, relationship and I’ve made other friends like wine, awamori and shochu more recently, the Japanese national drink Sake and I don’t get on, at least not cold. Sake can be quite a nice drink to sip warmed up on a cold winter evening, preferably with some traditional Japanese food – some seafood maybe, which is also good when the seawater’s cold. However, take my word for it, Cold Sake is something to be very cautious with. The alcohol in the warmed-up variety seems to enter your bloodstream quickly so you soon feel the effects and can regulate your intake accordingly. When it’s cold though, it’s easy for a beer-drinker like me to just keep glugging it down till it’s too late to ward off the extreme drunkenness to follow. I’ve only drunk cold sake in any quantity three times or so, and each occasion has been one much to regret…

This particular incident happened a year ago at about this time but for whatever reason my notes stayed somewhere in the computer and never got written up. Maybe it was just too embarrassing…

“taruzake” is sake that’s been kept in a cedar barrel so the aroma of the wood permeates it. The effect is something like Greek “retsina” wine, though not as fiercely resinous, – quite nice in fact. We were given a “sho” (1.8 litres) of it at T’s nephew’s wedding the other week, and arranged to take it round to Yamada san’s so he could help us drink it. Yamada san lives just down the road from our country place, where he deals in timber. Business hasn’t been too good in recent years and he does a bit of forestry work for the local co-operative to boost his income a bit. In fact young people aren’t interested in that kind of work, so with little competition the money’s not that bad, he says. We suggested he try selling his timber via the internet, as there ought to be a market with people who still want to build traditional Japanese houses, but he says he’d rather be outside listening to the wind than typing at a keyboard. Fair enough.

We found him in the little room attached to his timber yard where he usually passes weekend evenings with friends and a beer or two. A wood stove keeps the place nice and warm all year round with timber offcuts and the like. Yes, even in the hot Japanese Summer! He says the cast iron would rust if it wasn’t kept hot all the time, but he certainly had that room a bit warmer than I would have. Ah well, the conversation flowed and the sake was quite nice in fact. After a while I felt like cooling off a bit and went to sit in an old office chair just outside the door. I must have fallen asleep at that point, because most of what followed I had to learn from T afterwards…

Apparently I fell off the chair and caught my elbow on something, so got quite a nasty gash on it. Yamada san poured some “shochu” on so the alcohol would disinfect the wound. It must have worked, because in a week or so it was well on the way to healing up. I had no idea of any of this at the time though – all I remember is suddenly being very DRUNK, much drunker than I wanted to be, and not happy at all.

T got me home somehow, and the next day I learned where the blood on my pillow and sheets had come from. Ah well it could have been worse – the hangover wasn’t as bad as I deserved, and my elbow got no nasty infection – even so, the evening could have been much more enjoyable than it turned out to be.

The other times? Don’t even ask. My other encounters with Cold Sake were worse than this…

 

 

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa – WSJ.com 1 June, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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OK I’ve had a pretty dim view of Ozawa, regarding him as a power-hungry old-school politician who only left the LDP to further his own career and doesn’t care if he destroys the current DPJ government. Well, let’s give him a chance – have a look at this recent interview:

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa – WSJ.com.

Is there hope for Japan? We’ll see…

 

He never meant it. 6 May, 2011

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 1:04 pm
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The Democratic Party (Minshuto) came in to power on a wave of disgust with the LDP, who had been in power almost uninterruptedly since the war and had become associated with all that was wrong with Japanese politics. Even more than with Obama in the US, their support has pretty much unravelled and disillusionment is rife. Now, thanks to Wikileaks, we know that all that talk of moving American bases off Okinawa and giving the long-suffering inhabitants a break was so much hot air. They had secretly let the Americans know that if they said no, the Japanese were prepared to accept it. Read more here, courtesy of the Asahi:

asahi.com(朝日新聞社):THE TRUTH BEHIND JAPAN-U.S. TIES 1: DPJ government never committed to Futenma alternatives – English.

EDIT: that Asahi article has now been taken down for some reason. Here’s one from the American military site Stars and Stripes:

Report: Japan never fully committed to moving Futenma off Okinawa

 

More stories 26 March, 2011

Filed under: incidents,news — johnraff @ 2:55 am
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It’s already two weeks now and the world media’s attention has moved on, to Libya, Bahrain… but stories are still coming out of the earthquake tragedy. Every day the totals of confirmed dead and missing both go up, and it looks as if we’ll be passing 30,000 soon. Whole families have been wiped out, with no-one left to report the loss, so it will take a long time to get the full figures. By comparison, while close to 20,000 people are now being searched for, at this same time after the Kobe earthquake the figure was about 55.

So three stories that were on the radio and TV here, out of the thousands there must be. The saddest one first.

A small town built a brand new evacuation centre about two years ago, at a cost of some 5 million dollars. A two-storey building on an elevated site that would survive a substantial tsunami. Local people were trained to head there in the event of an earthquake, with regular drills, so that when the 3/11 quake hit everyone knew what to do. Before the tsunami arrived they had taken shelter on the second floor. The wave was 10 metres high, swamped the building and all 60 of the mostly elderly people there were killed. Only one younger person survived by clinging to a curtain rail.

At another town, the designated refuge for the children at the elementary and middle schools was an old peoples’ home. The middle school children had been taught to collect the little kids from the elementary school and help them escape, which they did indeed do perfectly. However, someone in the group thought the old peoples’ home didn’t look high enough to escape the wave, which was already only a couple of minutes away, and at the last moment decided to take everyone to an even higher spot. The old peoples’ home was overwhelmed, but the children survived.

Now I’m not trying to draw an “authorities are worthless” sort of moral here. They did the best they could, but people are fallible and no-one expected a tsunami of the size that hit the Tohoku region this time. Well over 10 metres in many places. Can you imagine it? Well, you’ve probably had some help from the videos on You-Tube, but it’s still hard to take in.

The last story is of a 16 year old boy and his grandmother, who were found in the ruins of a house some ten days after the earthquake. They had been in the kitchen on the second floor. The room was bent out of shape, but was still a space in which they could survive, taking things out of the fridge in the next room. However, there was no way out, until the boy was finally able to break a hole in the wall, climb onto what used to be the roof and call for help. The day after the quake he had called his parents with his cellphone and they had come to search for the two of them, but the house had been moved a hundred metres by the tsunami, smashed into fragments and mixed in with the wreckage of the neighbours’ houses so they were unable to find it. Both of them are OK.

 

 
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