You always get Heartwarming Stories after something like this, but anyway this is what I heard on the radio today. A boy of 8 or 9 or so was queueing up in a supermarket in Tokyo, maybe, carrying bags of potato crisps, sweets and snacks. He finally got to the cash register, muttered “やっぱり、やめる” (“I’ve changed my mind”) and took everything back to the shelves. Then he took the ¥1000 note he had out of his pocket and put it in the collection box. The adults around looked sort of embarrassed.
Our Mayor: Part Three 4 March, 2011
The story goes on… Kawamura won his election, by a landslide. He got re-elected as mayor of Nagoya, got his candidate elected as governor of Aichi Prefecture (where Nagoya is) and got his proposition to recall the city council passed – all with big majorities!
Now, I’m sort of in two minds about this. Of course I’m delighted those over-paid councillors will get thrown out, kicking and screaming till the end no doubt, though some of them seem to be coming round to the idea of having their salaries halved to 8 million yen a year ($100,000), now that it’s that or no job at all. That’s still a pretty good income I’d say – certainly more than I’ve got any chance of ever seeing…
On the other hand, Kawamura’s main platform seems to be “less tax” and he’s planning to cut Nagoya city tax by 10%. That appeals to most people for sure – who wants to pay more tax? Well… when they ask Scandinavians, for example, how they feel about their incredibly high tax rates, most of them seem to think it’s OK, because they get back pretty good government services in return. There’s the rub – what city services is K. going to cut to pay for this 10%? At the end of the day it’s a redistribution of income back to the rich, who have more tax to cut, from the poor who would benefit from the city services to be axed.
So is he a democrat, fighting city hall for the common folk, or a disguised conservative demagogue? It gets murkier too: at the national level the ruling DPJ is in trouble. Their popularity is collapsing, partly because of, again, taxes. There’s no escaping (in my opinion) that the rising proportion of elderly people in the population, along with the huge national debt, mean an increase in tax is coming, like it or not, along with a fall in standard of living in all the “developed” countries. My personal complaint is that the government want to raise this money by increasing consumption tax, which hits the poor hardest, rather than income tax. This comes just after reducing corporation tax by 5%, along with backing out of all kinds of promises made in their pre-election manifesto: child allowance, free motorways… People are getting fed up, and “wrecker” Ozawa, who’s caught up in another money-politics scandal, sees an opportunity to divert attention from his wrongdoing and set himself up as a kind of champion of the poor.
A lot of the DPJ diet members owe their seats to Ozawa, and when the current Kan cabinet excommunicated him last month for his sins there were rumblings and stirrings in the ranks. It now looks as if a split in the party is not out of the question. This is where Kawamura steps in. He’s an old Ozawa associate, and he’s been seen in meetings with the old fox lately, about who knows what, but Kawamura’s “Less Tax Party” which is about to fight in the Nagoya city council elections might get into some sort of coalition with a breakaway Ozawa wing of the DPJ, destroying the government so many people hoped would put an end to the old style money politics of the LDP.
One up for The Wrecker, and of course the equally unpopular LDP must be delighted.
Our Mayor – continued 17 December, 2010
Maybe you remember this guy? The mayor of Nagoya I wrote about last March. His attempt to force the city councillors to cut their numbers and pay by half has been simmering on since then, but recently it got more exciting. The collection of signatures for a petition went ahead in November and, after a slow start, they eventually got some 400 + thousand within the couple of weeks allowed. It was tight, but they made a big push in the last week and ended up with more than the 360,000 (1/5 of the electorate) needed to call a popular vote on dissolving the council. BUT – the Nagoya electoral commission ruled about 110,000 signatures invalid, taking the total below what was needed. Oddly enough, most of the members of that commission are ex-councillors…
It didn’t end there though. There was a chorus of complaints, and people who checked their names on the petition found they had been invalidated for some pretty poor reasons: a single mistake in the address or phone number, smudge on the paper, illegible signature… Kawamura’s supporters put in complaints on sme 35,000 of them, maybe the ones they thought had the strongest case of getting through, and after more checks – all of this costing a fortune in taxpayers’ money – eventually got another 12,000 valid signatures, enough to get over the quota!
So now there will be a popular vote here in Nagoya on whether to dissolve the council, and hold another election. It looks as if the vote will succeed, and there’s a good chance that the new council will have enought sympathetic members to pass Kawamura’s motions to cut their pay by half. They’ll still get 8 million yen (~$95,000) which is enough to get by, I’d have thought…
Questions 26 October, 2010
It’s quite natural to be curious about visitors from other countries – when I was in India many years ago people would often strike up a conversation and ask where I was from, what my religion was… Generally enjoyable, and if their English was up to it I’d be able to get in some questions of my own. The inquisitorial approach reached a peak one day on a local train in South India when some high school (or university?) students were in the same compartment, curious about me but couldn’t figure out how to ask what they wanted to know. Discussions followed, and eventually I was given a piece of paper with… a form to fill in! Name… Occupation… Address… I suppose they’d seen foreigners being made to fill in forms everywhere and thought that was the proper procedure.
So when I got to Japan and a young salary man came up on a train and asked if he could talk for a while I was really disappointed when after the standard “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” had been answered it was “Thank you very much.” and off he went! No actual conversation at all, just some questions he had learnt somewhere. I don’t know if he even understood my answers. I soon came to recognize this as a pretty normal encounter. These days many peoples’ English ability – and, I like to think, my Japanese – is quite up to a real exchange of ideas, but that kind of formalized interaction is still the norm I suppose.
A young student came into Raffles the other day, and because the place was pretty quiet at the time we got chatting. Turned out he’d spent 3 months in Manchester and because his English was pretty good we switched languages. Then comes “May I ask you a question?”. Expected “Can you use chopsticks?” or something but got “What is the purpose of your life?”.
A story 23 October, 2010
An old friend K was in Raffles the other day, and told us this story about a friend of hers. It dates back to 1976 (about the time I got here) but it’s true, and so ridiculous I thought I’d pass it on.
OK, K’s friend – let’s call her Jill – got back to her apartment somewhat late after a few drinks with friends; it’s a Japanese-style wooden apartment with rickety doors and primitive locks, as was the norm then. Gets into her futon, and…, and…, there’s this guy in it!! Of course she freaks out and starts screaming, like “What the f@$k’s going on!! Who are you?!! What are you doing in my futon?! Get the f&#k out of here!!” and presumably other stuff on similar lines…
So, the guy’s answer: “Speak more slowly please”.
The Wrecker 4 September, 2010
Ichirō Ozawa got that nickname “こわしや” a long time ago, and I still remember him saying there was no way he could work with the Japanese Socialist Party, whom he was supposed to be in a coalition with, back in 1993, when a guy called Hosokawa (now a potter) led a historic non-LDP government for about half a year. The Socialists were shortly after visited by a beezebub from the LDP who whispered in leader Murayama’s ear asking how he’d like to be Prime Minister. The subsequent LDP-Socialist coalition got back power from the first successful attempt to break the LDP’s monopoly on power since the war, and the now completely discredited Socialist party dwindled away to their current irrelevance. Since leaving the LDP years ago Ozawa has been involved in the formation, and breakup, of numerous parties – hence his nickname.
He’s actually a rather conservative polititian with a somewhat nationalistic attitude to foreign policy – this is what caused the fallout with the Socialists. Even today he’s well to the right in the generally progressive Democratic Party of Japan, and a lot of people resent the power he weilds. Add to this that he’s under a cloud over some suspicious land dealings that he claims to be innocent in. Few people believe him and he is not popular at all in the country in general, compared with Prime Minister Kan who seems to have more popular support, if anything, than his DPJ party.
So what’s Ozawa up to, standing against Kan in the upcoming DPJ leadership election? If he won, the DPJ would almost certainly fall further in the opinion polls and quite possibly lose to the LDP in the next election. Unfortunately he still has a lot of support in the party behind the scenes, among the more conservative members. While poor at speaking in public he’s a brilliant “old school” politician who thrives in meetings and grass-roots work, and a lot of new DPJ Diet members, the “Ozawa children” owe their seats to him and will probably vote for him.
Moreover, rumour has it he wouldn’t care too much if his election as leader led to the breakup of the DPJ, because he’d be able to go on to form a coalition with fed-up LDP members with political views more to his taste.
The Wrecker strikes again.
Longevity 7 August, 2010
Japan has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, ranked up with those yoghurt-eating Bulgarians and clean-living Scandinavians (socialism is good for your health). It can’t be the laid-back lifestyle, except maybe in Okinawa which does indeed come at the top in Japan, so a lot of people put it down to the healthy Japanese diet, which is low in animal fat, high in fish, fibre, grains, vegetables… all that stuff that’s supposed to be good for you. The main thing wrong with traditional Japanese food is that it’s a bit salty, causing a lot of stomach cancer, especially in the north where a lot of pickles get them through the cold winter. Or, rather, got them through. Now there’s a Macdonalds on every street corner (ugh! I’ll tell you how much I hate that stuff some other time), young Japanese are raised on all kinds of prepackaged junk and no-one expects the next generation to live to 100 like the current lot.
Even so, you don’t yet see the kind of obesity problem here that’s hit the US and northern Europe in the last 20 years or so, and there are now some 40,000 centenarians here. Of course, carrying on an active lifestyle into old age has its limits and a lot of these old folk tend to live quietly, not going out so much… One such in Tokyo last week reached 110 I think it was, and some people from the local ward office went round to offer their congratulations, and a small present. Apart from his old age pension, this old guy had also got a little something on turning 100 but at that time his family said he didn’t want to talk to anyone, so the officials had just left it with them. This time however they were let in to Granddad’s room and there he was, but obviously not in a talkative mood.
He’d been dead for thirty years.
Farmlog 13th June 2010 10 July, 2010
A grey day this time – the weather people announced that “it appears that” we have “entered” the Rainy Season. They used to make official announcements of the beginning of Japan’s monsoon, and when it had “opened” again, till one year it just went on raining all Summer and they were forced to take it back and say there had been no “opening” after all. Since then all you get is “it looks as if…” or “it might be said that…”.
A grey heron in a rice field by the road to match the clouds, but no police at their speed trap – they prefer nice weather. The drizzle started at 2:45, more or less as predicted. To be fair, the weather people usually get it something like right these days. Coming up to the house we ran into Shinobu, Yamada san’s cousin. Almost ran into him, that is – he fell off a mountain just in front of our car; a few seconds later and it might not have been funny.
That evening we drank that “taruzake” at Yamada san’s place, but that’s another story…
Min temp 11°C, max 29°C
Another of those beautiful soft Spring days, and the police were out enjoying it in their usual spot on the road out of town. There’s a section of straight dual-carriageway that just invites you to put your foot down a bit and there’s usually some poor soul who’s just been caught in a speed trap.
This week it was warm enough, with a bit of a fire, to eat outside under the stars. This is a real treat and almost enough in itself to justify the effort of driving out. That evening there was a strange “chirping” noise – some kind of bird I suppose, though loud enough to echo through our little valley.
Monday was a work day – late with the chillies, but I managed to plant out the first batch: “Malay” chillies from seeds I bought in Malaysia – big red ones with a medium hotness, good for salads and stir-fries. That afternoon Yamada san dropped in on his way back from a bit of forestry work – the first time we’d seen him for a while. He lives in the next valley, was a friend of the previous occupants of our house and one of the first people we got to know round these parts. His cousin plays bass guitar and we had a band going for a couple of years, till the drummer moved away. Anyway, remembering the “taruzake” we’d been given at T’s nephews wedding we agreed to take it over to Yamada san’s place the next week, as there was too much for the two of us to drink alone and it wouldn’t keep that long. (read on…)
It’s been nice and dry lately, but the Rainy Season will be here soon enough…
Min temp 7°C, max 26°C