Brief notes from the eve of Japan’s consumption tax hike

Lots of people are doing last-minute shopping to get 2 percent savings before the tax hike takes effect tomorrow. I also ordered a few second-hand books online, but my consumption logic is at best questionable: why would I spend more money in hopes on saving on tax?

TV Asahi.

The smart thing the Japanese government has done is to link the tax hike with encouraging businesses to offer consumers points as a ‘rebate’ to get people to stop paying with cash. The evening news programs have provided unending coverage of housewives and househusbands making full use of these payment apps and (theoretically) saving tens of thousands of yen a month (assuming these rebate campaigns continue to be unsustainably generous, of course). The Ata Distance blog makes this interesting observation:

Regardless of whether the CASHLESS rebate is ‘a success’ or not, it will be a tipping point. Already I notice a shift in public perception: if a store is cash only, it definitely looks behind the times in the minds of customers.

By the way, you can intern to be a parent now. That’s what this university student from Chiba did, as he imagines a future family where both parents have to work (共働き世代 vs 専業主婦世代). He literally spent the normal working hours inside this family’s house playing with a baby. What an internship.

TV Asahi.

I wanted to order some green tea from Ippodo’s online shop for a friend’s birthday, but found out that Ippodo’s online shop was closed for “maintenance” for the entire weekend. So you had to dial in to order the old-fashioned way. I know nothing about how websites have to deal with the tax hike, but does this seem a little excessive?

Eslite Spectrum opened in the COREDO Muromachi complex just north of Nihombashi, Tokyo, this week. This is Eslite’s first store outside China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan––and Japan is a country that makes the most sense to open in, since half the stuff they sell is Japanese, or Japanese-inspired. Given that Eslite is, in essence, a real estate empire with seriously good taste in independent literature and craftmanship, here’s hoping this little Taiwanese beachhead in central Tokyo can grow to challenge Tsutaya’s culture curating business. It’s no longer enough to just have backnumbers of Brutus Casa on polished wood bookshelves in Daikanyama.

Fuji TV.

My only pet peeve is that this store was absolutely a missed opportunity to introduce Tenren to Tokyo. It is a bubble tea crime to associate The Alley with Eslite. Also, judging from the comments written in Traditional Chinese on this YouTube video from which I stole the above screencap, apparently it’s not that great to have your grubby bbt hands all over the shiny new books on display.

Finally, witness the pomp and circumstance in Tokyo station when the Emperor and Empress (Consort) of Japan board their royal train for the first time in the Reiwa era. Notice how the metal handles that the (impeccably uniformed) conductors use to help themselves get down to the track level (to unfurl the Japanese flags in the front of the train) are built onto the train body.

CPG Grey once said that people like to visiting Britain’s castles is different from visiting most other castles in Europe, because there’s still a living monarch sprinkling royal pixie dust everywhere. I guess Tokyo station is one of the few places in Japan where you can legitimately feel good old-fashioned imperial power on a weekday morning. Here’s a paparazzi photo of the former Empress of Japan going into a low-key entrance in Tokyo station back in August 2019:

Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of Emperor Akihito himself. Also, it’s kind of stupid to make such a big deal of taking photos of an elderly old couple shuffling out of a car and into a dimly lit corridor inside a train terminal.

Questionable Cool Japan Business Ideas

This is purely an indulgent rant.

1. “Umai Crates”

I was scrolling through Instagram last week and the algorithms served me this ad:

After doing some research, I found out that I could get these “Umai Crates” for an attractive subscription price of US$30 per month. All I needed to do was to give up my credit card details and this business venture will happily ship a box (for free!) of instant noodles that they consider hard to find outside of Japan. They even curate recipe cards so you can make your late-night impulsive styrofoam snack into a gourmet meal that rivals the romantic suggestions that Buzzfeed’s Tasty suggests.

To be fair, Nissin is great at making you want to eat instant noodles. I subscribe to its YouTube channel, which is just a hodgepodge of slick TV commercials that each have hundreds of thousands of views. It has cup noodle museums in Osaka and Yokohama, where the company breaches the gospel of Ando Momofuku, the Taiwanese-Japanese reincarnation of Jesus Christ who turned deep-fried noodles into chicken ramen magic packs. Its matsutake mushroom cream sauce cup noodles were probably as heavenly as the bread and wine of the Last Supper (and since Nissin doesn’t sell them anymore, they are truly the stuff of New Testament legend).

But why would you want to subscribe to a box of nasty processed shit ‘curated’ by some sucker who probably went to the basement floor of Don Quijote, picked out whatever seemed exotic enough, and literally stuff the empty spaces with random selections from the spice rack? How do you even justify the US$30 cost from that? Printing on laminated color cards is expensive, probably—but is there any research value in knowing that you could add instant katsuobushi or a poached egg into soggy non-fried wheat curls in boiling dihydrogen monoxide? YouTube can probably teach you that better.

And how would you personally get through 8 to 10 servings of cup noodles per month? That’s like eating one every three nights—nights where you sit around a dim kitchen table, where the cats are asleep, scrolling through your credit card statement, wondering why you have to pay off this silly venture capital parasite from Tokyo when your blood-earned cash could be applied somewhere else. Like saving up for your mortgage payments. Or your student loans.

2. “Welcome Japan” Suica cards

An IC card is an invaluable tool to get around all of Japan. Get one of these mean green things at a JR East ticket machine in Tokyo, and you’ll be able to get on almost any train or bus or buy anything at a convenience store or supermarket without fidgeting for change. (I think the Suica card has the most interoperability out of all the systems in Japan but I’m not sure.)

So why do you need a “special edition” just for foreigners that has what undeniably are second-class features? According to the Japan Times:

[The card] can only be used for a period of up to 28 days after which the card holders will receive an error when trying to proceed with e-money payment transactions.

It may not be possible to use automated gates to exit at the destination station if the cards have been used for a journey that straddles different rail service areas.

Money charged onto the cards will not be refunded, and the cards can’t be reissued. But according to the operators, travelers will be able to keep the cards as souvenirs. The campaign is limited to travelers.

So, for the price of foregoing the 500 yen deposit, you get:

  • To lose any and all of the remaining money you’ve loaded onto your card after 28 days, and there is no way to get any of that money back
  • No cute penguin on your card (which forms part of the card’s etymology)
  • An ugly shade of blood red in your wallet that is not the color of the cherry blossom imagery the cards are meant to invoke
  • A lazily designed smattering of cherry blossoms designed to appeal to your nascent NIPPON love
  • In any case, a forgettable piece of junk plastic that you can’t use after 28 days, the time limit of which doesn’t even make sense to me, since a temporary visitor’s visa to Japan generally lasts up to 90 days; and in any case it shows that every trip you make to Japan is supposed to be your first and your last. You’re not supposed to come back after sampling the junk in Asakusa and the airport sushi at Narita!

Thanks, but no thanks.

Tsundoku Digest: September 11, 2019

Here are some very overdue tabs I’ve left hanging in my browser this past month:

Now, Isoko Mochizuki has two bestselling books on Japanese journalism, and a movie made about her career.

Voice acting is a brutal industry in Japan, and female voice actors are further pressured to choose between their careers and resisting power and sexual harassment. Here’s what a voice actor in her 30s has to say about male producers and managers:

「普通にそういうことを言ってくるクライアントさんはたくさんいます。『仕事欲しいんでしょ、夢なんでしょ』とか『何もしないからホテルに行こう』とか」

“‘You want a job; it’s your dream right? I’m not going to do anything to you; let’s go to a hotel.’ Many clients say things like these to me.”

A show on censorship at the 2019 Aichi Trienniale is, ironically, censored, after a sculpture on Japan’s military sexual slavery rattles the nerves of some old, irrelevant Japanese men in politics.

Alex Barreia on the rising recognition of the other half of Japanese literature:

“The number of new voices that have been made available to Anglophone readers over the last few years has been encouraging,” says David Karashima, a professor at Waseda University who has translated Akutagawa-winning fiction.

Karashima says there are still not as many women published in Japan as men, but this may be changing, in part because there are more women on selection committees for literary prizes. He added that translated Japanese fiction is itself going through a “mini-boom.”

Two architects live in Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower for a year. The location seems convenient but horrible: next to a busy expressway, and outside ugly Shimbashi station. The apartments themselves look like a real life counterpart of the awful apartment Owen Milgrim lives in Maniac (directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga).

What names have parents bestowed upon athletes who participated in this year’s Koshien high school baseball tournament? Interesting picks include 佐々木夢叶 (Yumeto Sasaki), the kanji for ‘Yumeto’ corresponding to ‘realize your dreams (夢を叶う)’, who hails from Akita; and 小林未来雄 (Raio Kobayashi), the kanji for ‘Raio’ meaning ‘future hero’, who hails from Niigata.

Turns out, according to the article, changing your kira kira name is a little complicated. If you want the change the furigana (pronunciation) of your name, you have to submit forms at the local government offices, but if you want to change your name completely, you’ll have to start a case in the family courts, and explain why you want to edit out these embarrassing kanji from your identity.

The number of criminal prosecutions against non-Japanese speakers in Japanese criminal courts is increasing, but the quality and quantity of court interpreters are falling.

I’m not sure if Shinzo Abe is personally ready for gay marriage; it doesn’t really seem to be part of his rejuvenation agenda for the country. But the country is moving with or without him. Delighted to hear that Taiga Ishikawa, author of one of the first LGBTQ+ mainstream books, Where is my boyfriend(ボクの彼氏はどこにいる?), is now a Diet member.

On why the author’s late father became an extremist right wing keyboard warrior in his twilight years. What kind of Japan did he long for?

父の中には、間違いなく大きな喪失感があったと思うのだ。父が喪失したように感じていたのは彼が子どもの頃に過ごしていた、若き日に見ていた「古き良きニッポン」だ。

My father undeniably felt a huge sense of loss. What my father lost was the “Good Old Japan” that he spent in his childhood and saw in his days of youth.

シンプルで、みんながちょっとずつ助け合わなくてはやっていけないぐらいにみんなちょっと貧しくて、たまに食べる外食のラーメンがとても贅沢で、仕事のあとに会社の仲間たちと飲む瓶ビールがとても冷えていて、頑張れば頑張っただけきちんとお給料に反映されていた、そんなニッポンを父は愛し、常に懐かしんでいた。

It was a Japan where everyone had to do their bit to help each other, and led modest lives. Where going out to eat ramen was a luxury. Where having a pint with your buddies after work was the way to cool down. Where if you kept your head down and worked, you would get paid. This was the Japan my father loved, and longed for.

Finally, one of my former Japanese language professors’ tweets about an old McDonald’s logo she saw while on a family road trip went viral.

Never forget the Heisei period

If you’re a fan of Japanese Twitter, one account to follow right now is @HEISEI_love_bot, an account that reposts silly things from the Internet during the Heisei era submitted by Twitter users.

They’re kind like memes, except they’re not memes because these are all objects that apparently existed IRL.

Here are some of my favorites so far, with some context.

This is a present a person received from their parents when they turned 20. (Twenty is (was) the age of majority in Japan.) It’s a letter asking the recipient for 20,000 yen to cover rent, board, and utilities if they want to continue living in the house, and that interest will accrue on any loans made from parents.

The letter ends with, “Please enjoy the rest of your life”.

This is a list of inexplicable social trends that exist in Japan. They are:

  1. The forced assertion that “labor is virtue”
  2. The extremist opinion that “entertainment is evil”
  3. The unspoken agreement to “read the air” (to be socially aware of yourself at all times)
  4. The fact that people see reformed delinquents as more admirable than normal, hardworking students
  5. The forced assertion to be ‘ladylike’ or ‘manly’
  6. The unsubstantiated saying that “even if you hate your job, you should stay for three years”
  7. Work managers who look down on people who take paid leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave
  8. The excessive seniority-wage system
  9. The rule that you have to handwrite your CV
  10. The unnecessary recommendation that “men should learn how to drive stick because it’s lame to get a licence for automatic transmission”
  11. Corporate cultures that do not allow people to show up to work late, but allow people to work overtime
  12. Adults who say that your own personality is important, but then dismiss people who try to appeal to their personalities
  13. Men who think not sleeping and being busy all the time is manly and cool
  14. Women who scream “kawaii” even at things that are evidently not cute
  15. The misunderstanding that it’s okay to steal the plastic umbrellas in the convenience store umbrella stands
  16. The collective thinking that “if everyone does it, then it’s okay for me to do it as well”
  17. The thinking that people who are being bullied, rather than the people who bully, are the problem
  18. How people see you as an otaku if you sing vocaloid songs at karaoke
  19. A Japan that deems women who look like gyaru to be ‘bitches’ but if the woman has black hair and looks studious / hardworking she’s a proper woman
  20. Adults who are only able judge people by their numbers, like people’s test scores or sales figures

In Japan, every bottle of the familiar Ito-en green tea comes with a haiku. (Ito-en has even published a book. This haiku says that Ayakata (a competing green tea product by Coca-Cola Japan) and Sokenbicha (also another tea product by Coca-Cola Japan) tastes like river water. So Ito-en really wants to fight with Coca-Cola.

Notice what the melon farmers care about when a bunch of melons is arrested. The full translation of the newspaper article is this:

The Asahi City Police in Chiba Prefecture announced on the 20th that they had arrested 6 Vietnamese men suspected of stealing 112 melons from a field.

Among those arrested were Tran Kuan Kai [an approximation based on the katakana available], 29, apparently unemployed, of Yotsukaidō City. Kai denied the charges. The other 5 admitted to the theft, saying that they “stole the melons because [they] wanted to eat them.”

According to the police, the 6 suspects are accused of stealing 112 of the famous Iioka Melons that Asahi City is famous for from a field. The melons are worth approximately 67,000 yen in total.

A spokesperson for the Iioka Melon Division of JA Chiba Midori said, “The melons aren’t ripe enough yet for eating.”

The 6 people had to have carried around 18 to 19 melons each. That’s quite a feat.

This person slipped on some bayberries on the ground while running towards the bus stop from his house, causing him to look like a victim of some grievous bodily harm.

This is a screenshot of a doctor’s appointment where a boy seems to have injured his shoulder. The conversation goes something like this:

Doctor: what sports do you do?
Boy: I do Beyblade.

I have tried countless times to find the original clip (and judging from the YouTube search suggestions, so have many others) but I don’t actually know if this dialogue actually exists. It’s kind of too funny to be real.

Finally, a list of differences between when you’re 18 and 81 (the list sounds more poetic in English than Japanese):

  • 18 year olds engage in reckless driving; 81 year olds drive backwards
  • 18 year olds have brittle hearts; 81 year olds have brittle bones
  • 18 year olds worry about their grades; 81 year olds worry about their blood sugar levels
  • 18 year olds are fighting examination hell; 81 year olds fought with America
  • 18 year olds drown in love; 81 year olds drown in bathtubs
  • 18 year olds still know nothing about the world; 81 year olds already remember nothing about the world
  • 18 year olds think about competing in the Tokyo Olympics; 81 year olds think about staying alive until the Tokyo Olympics
  • 18 year olds travel to find out more about themselves; 81 year olds do not know that they left home, and everyone is finding where they went
  • 18 year olds think of Matsumoto Jun when they think “Arashi“, 81 year olds think of Kanjurou Arashi (a film actor in the 1930s) when they think “Arashi”