Shifting gears for a moment.
I went to Harajuku, Takeshita Street to have a look at the rebellious youngsters of Tokyo. Crowded and noisy, it was a fun place to kill a couple of hours when we ended our meetings early on Friday afternoon.
There's laws in many areas of Tokyo against smoking on the street. Many would believe this a victory for the anti smoking lobby and I suppose to some extent it is.
You CAN however smoke in enclosed areas in bars, restaurants and even McDonalds!
As a result of the strengthening Yen, my "Big Mac meal economic index" puts Japan on the pricey end of the scale:
650 Yen = circa $6US
Korea was quite a bit cheaper:
3500 Won = $2.60Seoul is experiencing a mini tourism boon as Japanese shoppers flock to the Korean capital to take advantage of the weakness of the Won. Apparently there are deals to be had on cosmetics and designer labels.
Japan by contrast is expensive.
The taxi meter starts at $7.
A beer typically costs between $8-12.
Continental breakfast at the Hilton is $27
A coffee is $ 9.
Costs translate into long commutes for most people. As a result many have perfected the art of the subway catnap. I've seen weary salary men sleeping on their feet, hanging on the strap eyes half closed with a slight weaving shifting of weight from arm to foot to foot. Its quite impressive to watch.
As I mentioned on my last post I visited the Yasukuni Shrine in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo. It's a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Kami (spirits) of soldiers who have died in wars waged in the Emperor's name. Its "Registry of Divinities" lists over 2 million interred on the site, a little over 1000 of which were convicted of war crimes in World war II.
Fourteen of the 1000 are particularly nasty fellows responsible for some of the Japanese army's worst excesses.
The museum attached to the complex has been accused of propagating a revisionist view of history and has drawn howls of protest from South Korea and China.
Visits to the Shrine by cabinet ministers and the former Japanese prime minister infuriates many.
At first glance. to me it felt like any of the countless temples I've visited over the years.
What was jarring was the pamphlet handed out at the entrance.
The March installment of the "Messages of the Month" (a series of last letters from members of the Imperial army), reads as follows:
We hope that many worshippers will come to know the elevated thoughts of the noble souls who gave up their lives for the country that they loved. The last messages that they composed are displayed on the Jinja display.
In Body and Soul I feel As Clear as the Cloudless Sky
Father and Mother,
As I said in my earlier letter I have nothing to regret. I received Mother's letter through Hojo. Everything is going well for me. I am really a lucky person.
Father, please enjoy increasingly good health and live a long life.
Your twenty-seven years of upbringing will now truly be given concrete expression by Yoshio. As I leave our homeland there is only joy in my heart for being able to take part in the decisive battle.
The tide of the war will indeed determine the rise or fall of our Empire.
I leave for the front. I will attack and attack and seize the position.....
In body and soul I truly feel as clear as the cloudless sky.
If you receive word that I have died in battle, greatly rejoice for me.
Well then, I leave for the front. I hope you keep yourselves well.
Father and Mother
Yoshio Teramura Mikoto
Captain, Japanese Army
Killed in Action on March 27, 1945 in the Clark Mountains, Luzon, Philippines
Born in Seribashi-machi, Hikone-shi Shiga Prefecture
It felt like a glorification of militarism rather than remembrance.At the entrance people who had taken part in a fortune telling ritual, can if they were unlucky, leave behind the " bad fortunes" by tying them to lines just outside the main gates.
To me the letter belonged in the same place.
I guess I'm more used to places like this serving as a reminder of the evils of war rather than a celebration of militarism.
The Japanese people I know don't exhibit anything like the sentiments of the Shrine.
The people I saw worshipping appeared well over 60.
My colleague with me that day, registered shock at the slogan on the t shirt on the guy below, the gist of which had something to do with the inherent divinity of the Japanese race. The politcs in play are complicated and the complexities of Japan's place in a 21st century Asia is full of sensitivities beyond my ability to explain.
My point here is not to condem, but to document something I didn't expect to come across. Many western countries have similar issues and I think its important to reflect on that before casting the first stone. As well as the blooming of the Cherry trees, spring heralds the graduation of many college students who celebrate by gathering in parks dressed in traditional gear.
As I said on the last post, I was about a week early for the cherry blossom's full glory, but there were still plenty of early displays to give me a sense of what it must be like.The Japanese name for cherry trees is Sakura. It's a much beloved symbol of the new year (using the fiscal calender) and many offices spend at least one afternoon sitting under the trees in a nearby park eating and drinking together. One of the first duties of a new joiner to an office is to go out early in the morning to secure a prime spot for colleagues to gather later.
Competition for the best places is fierce. That's it for today.
I'm in Beijing and will be here until Thursday.
I hope all reading this are happy and healthy.