Thursday, November 30, 2017

It's now or never - bonenkai season

Japan is somewhat famous for late night "nominication"; an interesting hybrid-word that combines "nomini" the Japanese for "let's go drinking" with the western concept of "communication". Nominication is therefore the conceptual representation of "let's go talk over a beer". Excessive liver damage aside, it's an excellent system that allows the more junior in the ranks to address those somewhat sensitive issues with the boss that normally couldn't be raised in the office. Or vice versa...

But there is one time of year when nominication is taken to an almost formalized, ritualistic extent. And this time it will include the entire company, and everyone will be expected to be there, like it or not (though for temps it's somewhat optional it has to be said, some do, some don't). This is the all encompassing December "bonenkai", the "end of season party", often somewhat mischaracterized as the "office Christmas Party" whereas it's true translation is actually more along the lines of "let's forget the year party".

Seemly somewhat staged counterintuitively to conventional wisdom (wouldn't you rather celebrate the year passed and move on to the new?) it carries one critical difference to the western Xmas bash, in that it is the last time you are allowed to whinge, moan and complain about anything or anyone in the year gone-by. The implicit function is to clear the air, get it out of your system, and then move on. "Speak now or forever hold your peace" as it were. So as bonenkai season enters full swing, remember, now's your chance, and it's officially allowed! But do be a little reserved; when talking to the boss it's always worth remembering the old maxim: "shutting up is sometimes the better part of valor". Have a great party. And bring on the nice and clean new year.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

When Haneda Came Home

In the world of one-upmanship, the expat who can say they arrived in Japan before Narita opened takes some beating. That was in 1978 so any remaining septuagenarians are, we, likely to be in their seventies by now. And if coming from Europe would have either travelled via Anchorage or through Hong Kong as Russian airspace wasn't opened until a good few years after that. But that's a different story. Anyway, Narita was opened to relieve pressure on the (much more convenient) downtown Haneda which subsequently took over domestic duties whilst Narita provided international routes. And so we all hubbed out of Seoul until they realized that de-planing and carrying your bag an hour and a half across Chiba Prefecture wasn't such a bright piece of planning overall.

But back to Haneda. Originally seen as an alternative solution to landing on the beach (no, seriously), Haneda was opened in the early 1930's to the delight of the Empire's extremities around Asia who were now in reach of daily newspapers. The original terminal was still in use until relatively recently serving flights from Taipei to Hawaii as there was a little dispute over sovereignty going on at the time and it wasn't seen as being of particular diplomaté (I may have made that word up) to hub certain airlines via the same landing strips. And so from 1978 until approximately 2010, the only international flight was the tri-lingual Honolulu Special. Which went about twice a week. And then finally we got a real international terminal. But for night flights only. Until 2014. When we got days.

Looking back though, Haneda was first a civil airport and then from 1945 - 1952 expanded under MacArthur as a US Military base before being returned to the original owners. The first expansion had been due to be on a landfill island in Tokyo Bay but was scrapped in favor of an extension to the existing site (the landfill island is now known as Yumenoshima (Dream Island, a name not without a certain sense of irony that shall host the Archery tournaments of the 2020 Olympics; and I believe the last resting site of one of the fishing ships exposed in the Bikini Atol mishap (but that's a whole Lithium 6 vs 7 story)). And so these days, as you come in to land, when your sitting at the back, you still feel the whiplash as your plane makes it's final descent, taking a steep left turn towards the island runways. And that's so that you come in over the bay rather than rattle the city so that we can all sleep peacefully at night. And with that I shall say thank you, and have a nice flight.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Samurai Stories - when to shoot a duck

So the question has been asked, "why didn't the land of the samurai warrior man up and shoot down those North Korean missiles as they flew over the Emperor's sovereign territory?". Well, taking a step back, at least this time Japan saw the missiles coming as opposed to the first time back in 1998 when Kim - "the middle one", lobbed a patriotic singing grenade over the country and the government had to be notified via a small telephone from America (though the same is true of the Russians who also missed it in flight, though apparently, as was later explained, it had been tricky and swerved to avoid their sensors).

But before we arrive at an answer, there is the slight confusion as to whether Japan already is actually currently able to shoot down a ballistic missile aimed in its general direction (Monty Python spoiler alert) or does the country need to purchase yet more kinetic hardware from the shelves of Lockheed Martin Space Systems to resolve the issue once and for all? A ponderance that begs the question "what exactly are those Patriot Missiles doing lying around the Ministry of Defense in downtown Ichigaya if not to defend against in-coming?" But let's save that for another day.

So could the reasons that Japan decided not to press the button really be two fold. Firstly, if something is flying towards you, shooting it down enhances your chances of cranial injury; i.e. if you shoot at a duck, it might just spear you out of a refined sense of irony. Point made; the second main, and much under-reported, reason for not shooting at these ballistic javelins was that as they traversed Japan, they were at a peak trajectory of some 750 miles. That's roughly double the altitude of the International Space Station to put things in perspective. Japan knew these missiles were going going to miss by the proverbial mile. And as legend would have it, those wily samurai also knew both when, and importantly when not, to shoot at a duck.