Monday, September 26, 2016

Life in Tokyo

I sometimes am asked the question "how can you live in Japan?". After all, I'm a foreigner nearly half a planet away from my home village in the north of England living in a country where I can read less than half the words in a newspaper and when a subject changes in a conversation I can follow almost nothing for the first few minutes. It's a valid question. But one originating from days gone by, no longer valid in today's world.

I'm sitting, writing a blog post that will be read around the world, my Japanese wife sitting next to me posting on Facebook and my seventeen year-old son is downstairs, where he's adopted the ground floor of our house, playing beautiful guitar. The world is not the frightening place it used to be. There are constants and connections. Leaving home no longer has the implications it carried even twenty something years ago when I first saw Mozilla scrolling up my screen.

I think about my son and it amusingly strikes me that he is exactly the same as I was at seventeen. Except he speaks two languages, reads and writes four alphabets, his artwork is displayed around the capital, his physics is outstanding (actually, mine wasn't too shabby either), has friends around the world and is about to embark on a university life in a country he's known from vacations. And he plays beautiful guitar. Apart from that, we're exactly the same. Wherever you're from, these days, Japan simply isn't that far from home.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The point of Daikanyama

Nestled between Ebisu and the southern fringes of Shibuya on the western centre of Tokyo is a little district, similar in feeling to Greenwich Village or Wimbledon in London. If you've ever had the enjoyment of watching "Lost in Translation" and you don't know Tokyo (and even if you do) there's a line that doesn't ring true when the newbies to Japan say "let's go to that little sushi place in Daikanyama". Two days on the ground and you'd never knew it existed.

Though the dancing lesson reference is hilarious. One station for the stopper trains to Yokohama and three main intersections, perched on top of a bluff between the Shibuya and Meguro rivers, it's the area the people who know, know. Created with concrete to protect from the shocks of earthquakes following 1923's levelling of the city, it has slowly morphed into the fashion district of Tokyo. You can walk the streets, but you're not going home without buying something.

And so what is the point of Daikanyama? Home to Tora-san (you can research that one yourself if you don't already know), a gift given away as a Philippines embassy, location of awesome photographers and place where The Last Samurai would visit his brother. It's a residential oasis in the centre of Tokyo, one of the three global cities on the face of the planet. And if you visit, you're going to find somewhere for a coffee. And then you can sit and watch the world go by. Welcome to Japan.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The secret of Silver Week

Silver Week, as the name suggests, is something akin to Golden Week in Japan when a number of national holidays fall closely together and people take the opportunity to forget the daily grind and relax if only for a short few days. The difference from Golden week though is that it contains two floating dates, one locked as the third Monday in September under the Happy Monday Law, and the second either the 23rd or 24th of the month according to the orbit of the earth and the auspices of the Autumnal Equinox. 

The result is that every few years "Respect for the Aged" falls on the 21st and the equinox falls on the 23rd triggering a second law to come into play that allows for a single gap day between two national holidays to become a day away in its own right. And so two days off can suddenly become three, as if by magic. Which partly seems to be the case as the date of the equinox is only announced by the government in the February of the year prior to the event itself. And in a world where we can predict the next Transit of Venus to be 10 & 11 of December 2117, some 101 years from now, this seems a little peculiar.

Perhaps I'm being a touch paranoid but it would be interesting to see in which year elections were held or the economy needed a little boost and compare to the years when Silver Week was at it's finest. But I digress. The interesting origins of the Autumnal Equinox were actually laid with the new constitution in 1948. State and Church were separated as the Founding Fathers had envisioned and so national holidays become non-denominational. And this one had previously been a Shinto celebration of one's ancestors. So the Vernal Equinox became a payer for a good harvest and Autumn thanks in turn. Though how this separated Church from State somewhat remains a little bit of a mystery...


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The answers to your questions

Japan can be confusing. Fascinating but confusing. And there is an Olympics at the end of the Super Mario tunnel. So the question has been raised, for quite some time now, as to exactly how will the country accommodate an international influx which is largely unlikely to speak very much of the local language and who understand even less of the landscape around them. In truth, this isn't an Olympics question though; twenty million tourists poured through Japan's doors in the last twelve months. The issue is not four years in the future, it's very much front and centre here today.

And so how do you find your way through a country and culture that is so fundamentally different from so many others. People here don't, on the whole, speak a lot of English. Nor are they too concerned about it either. Japan has done pretty well for itself without the assistance of the Bard. Though there are chinks in the armour; ask a taxi driver a question and he may well whip out his cheat sheet and ask you to point to the question your asking. Or as mine recently did, he may well tell you the cheat sheet is in the boot. Rome was not built in a day.

But with the advent of Pokemon Go! the world is a rapidly changing place. Augmented Reality allows the user to hold up their phone and read road signs in the language of their choosing. The boat may have been missed in traditional terms as to integrating an in-bound diaspora but teaching children to speak English is only one arrow in the quiver of fascinated interest. There are some very clever people out there who can answer the simplest of questions "what shall I do tonight?" and not a human voice is raised in answer. Our world is changing and the answer is at your fingertips. Literally.