Thursday, May 15, 2014

Protest reaches Japan: Fair pay sought for fast food workers

Fair pay sought for fast food workers

What constitutes a fair wage?  According to these protesters, it's 1500 yen.  I'm going to defer to their opinion.  Someone has to do these jobs.  It's easy enough to say, "Get a higher paying job," but corn knows people are going to eat at McDonald's, especially here in Japan where there's a Makku every twenty meters or so (just kidding-- it's more like 80 meters).  And if getting a higher paying job were as easy as some think it is, then we'd all be CEOs getting multi-million dollar bonuses.  To me, it seems quite reasonable that the folk who provide the service in fast food restaurants where a mob of people dine almost all day and all night should be paid enough to eat the food they dish, at the very least.  I know fast food wages and the minimum wage in general have been hot topics in the US, and now it looks as though at least one of those may be here in Japan.  Of course, I don't know yet how widespread this is, so I'm hedging with weasel words here.

People tend to see Japan as a homogenous whole, including quite a few Japanese people I've talked to during my time here.  But people do get pissed about a lot of the same things that piss off citizens of my home country, and when pissed, they get out and make some noise and disturb the group harmony.  Shake up the general complacency that comes so easily here.  War, nuclear weapons, fair wages, taxes.  Once, I was in Shibuya when a parade against war came by.  They sized me up as the American I so obviously am, but did they give me the stink eye?  No, I got a lot of smiles, greetings and peace signs.  I flashed the peace sign back, too.  My country may bomb the shit out of the world on the slightest provocation, but I'm for peace.  There are also protests against US military bases on occasion.  Japan has its right wingers, too, who protest their pet causes, none of which I'll dignify by even mentioning.

All that aside, I'm pretty sure I've eaten at this specific McDonald's.  If it's the one located where I'm thinking of.  Man, there are so many McDonald's in Tokyo it's hard to tell!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Japan should stabilize population at 100 mil by 2060: panel

Japan should stabilize population at 100 mil by 2060: panel

Sounds like a good idea, but what we really need are ways to implement it.  I'm afraid fixing the declining population problem will require massive societal changes here that most people aren't prepared to make.  That in itself is not a uniquely Japanese problem-- people in any country get used to doing things their way, which they're convinced is the "right" way and all others simply variations in differing degrees of wrongness-- but after living here for about a decade, I've run repeatedly into the idea that Japanese ways are unique and must be preserved even if they fly in the face of world approbation (whaling) or changing realities (no matter how long you stay at work and avoid taking a day off even when sick almost to death, Japan's economy isn't exactly booming).  So relatively miniscule immigration rates and declining birthrates and the ever-growing population of seniors will continue to be a huge headache for the big people in charge here until 2060 and by then, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Well, Japan's been very, very good to me.  I don't like everything that goes on here, but I've had it pretty sweet and Japan has been a provider of many beneficial experiences and financial opportunities for yours truly.  So while I don't really have any deep insights to offer or criticisms to make that couldn't be shot down by someone more knowledgeable and well-read on this stuff than I am, I hate to see Japan shrinking away.  And while there are a lot of things in Japan you might find elsewhere-- certain fashions, kinds of music and tons of brilliant artists in comics and the fine arts-- those who create them here do so in ways I find superior to their international imitators.  I don't want to see Japan disappear.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Encountering Tokyo: Tokyo Skytree’s disappointing attendance so far: 6.19 million visitors

Tokyo Skytree’s disappointing attendance so far: 6.19 million visitors

I don't have any particular interest in Tokyo Skytree.  From the start it just seemed like a colossal money-burn to me.  Tokyo Tower has a cheesy charm and a history.  Skytree only has newness and size.

But I'm sharing this story because I definitely agree with writer Casey Baseel's opening sentence.  Tokyo is huge beyond comprehension.  Seeing it on Google Maps or having someone quote you the metro-area population-- a bit more than 9 million, putting it at number 16 on a list of the world's most populous-- makes you think of a vast megalopolis right out of a William Gibson novel, spread from horizon to horizon and over-stimulating enough to expand your mind past the breaking point.  When you're inside it, though, you don't have this feeling at all.  You take it street by street and you could be practically anywhere.  The scale becomes more modest.  Tokyo is very approachable and comprehensible.

Then you see it from the air, or Tokyo Skytree and you're boggled again.  A desert of concrete, steel, glass and plastic.  Cubes and pyramids piled on top of each other fading away for as far as you can see.  It swallows you when you glide in on the shinkansen, but once you're inside the city body and you've become a cell, you only have to deal with the next cell, or the specific organ in which you find yourself.  Where is the heart?  Is it Shibuya, Shinjuku or Tokyo proper?  That's for you to decide.

Anyway, don't be intimidated by Tokyo.  After all, there are 15 larger cities.  And the ward you visit will only be as large as a modest-sized one that doesn't even make the list.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

There's a lot happening in Japan this Golden Week, and most of it isn't good

Lots of bad news here in Japan.  India has overtaken the country to become the world's third largest economy, knife murders, police suicides, the norovirus again, a possible bear attack, one hundred cars vandalized by a paint-happy miscreant, a near crash as an Airbus descended to under 75 meters on landing approach.  Someone murdered an elderly woman right here in our city.  This makes it the perfect time to blow off steam this Golden Week.

Hamamatsu provides an excellent opportunity with its yearly kite festival.  For three nights, the downtown area will reverberate with the clangor of festively-attired drunks blowing bugles and beating drums.  They'll also pull beautiful, illuminated yattai in a luminous display.  I especially enjoy seeing the festival participants who flop down on the sidewalk during the after parties, their bodies spent, their minds liberated from the shitty cares of daily life.  The hangovers are probably worth it.  If they're especially lucky, their companies will be closed the rest of the week, allowing them to recover.  If not, well, that's life here.

Out of all the stupid crap that's happened this week, my wife and I particularly enjoyed the JTB scandal.  An employee there forgot to order buses for a school outing, and instead of owning up to his mistake and taking his lumps for that, he chose to impersonate a student by sending an email threatening suicide if the school didn't cancel its excursion.  This is the result of thinking things only half through.  Sure, coming up with a crazy scheme seems like a good idea at first, but if you push past the initial inspiration, you see how it would never work and instead of getting into a fair amount of trouble for screwing up, you find yourself in major trouble for screwing up and then concocting a nutty hoax.  But if this person were the kind who could think things through to the end, he probably would have also been the kind who remembers to order buses for a school outing.

As for me, I'm going to spend my Golden Week doing creative things and enjoying the blessings of a tranquil life.  I hope.