Saturday, 24 November 2012

Filtered views - JAPAN 2012 ELECTION DIARY: DAY 9

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.

In seven years, my mother in law was never once able to order a cup of coffee in the United Kingdom.

But not through lack of trying. Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Costa Coffee, McDonald's, you name it, she tried and failed to order coffee from the lot. Something about the way she pronounced "coffee" more like the Japanese "kohee" would inevitably result in a tepid cup of Earl Grey being plonked in front of her. At first this would bother her, but after a few years, she came to expect the unexpected and even took a delight in what strange beverage would appear before her, bewildered that "kohee" could be interpreted by the barristas as tea, chai, hot chocolate or Coca Cola.

There's a certain view that Japan is different from everywhere else. Piles of books have been written about what makes Japan uniquely unique, either a shining beacon to the world of what's right with urban living, robots and Buddhism; or more recently, as a cautionary tale of what's wrong with everything under the sun.

I have no intention to add to either pile. It's getting late on a Saturday night and I can't dazzle my way to any original insights or rehash an argument that would convince you, even if you happened to be sober, that underneath the sushi conveyor belts and cosplay codpieces, Japan isn't much different from any other place. In fact, go on and pour yourself a drink or two, I'll be better company if you've had a few.

That's not to say there aren't differences. But the longer I stay in Japan the harder it is for me to see the otherness of what has become home. Increasingly, I have to ask others to see any strangeness unique to the country and not just the universal strangeness that is life.

Back in my first tour of duty in Japan in '97, the otherness veneer was wearing thin and I began to suspect Japan was just the UK in a kimono. I asked a Japanese student who had lived in London what the difference between the countries was.

"That's easy. In Japan we have all the little things right, but the big things wrong."

He said if you left your phone on the table of a Ueno coffee shop, it would still be there when you return from the toilet, that the baths will be piping hot, but that the chance of a woman becoming Prime Minster would be as remote as whale being removed from the national diet.  

"In the UK, you have all the little things wrong, but the big things right."

He's right. The UK suffers from a chronic lack of water pressure, train doors that don't open unless you roll the window down and open from the outside, and if you could actually find a plumber to install a power-shower, he'd be unlikely to show up within a day or two of his promised arrival. I could go on, but this is not the Daily Mail letters page, thank Buddha. And yet despite it all, Brits manage to change their governments from right to left and back to right again, fairly frequently and with relative ease.

Not so in Japan. News broke today that a chap took five people hostage at knifepoint in an Aichi Prefecture bank to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Noda. Which was really a waste of effort as, er, he has already jacked it in. You know, that's why there's an election and everything? Perhaps the fella should read the papers more. Police nabbed him when he fell asleep in a chair at 3am on Friday (perhaps he had been reading the papers...? ed.) about an hour after I'd finished writing yesterday's diary entry. Must admit, I'm relieved to discover there is a soul passionate about the Japanese election who knows even less about it than Our Man.

Well, I might as well do a round-up on other news that has filtered through to the bunker here. Hashimoto, the Outlier from Osaka, the junior partner to Ishihara has admitted the obvious -- their party can't hope to win a majority of the 480 seats in the Lower House since they won't be able to field more than 150 or so candidates. But he and The Ishihara are clearly scaring the mainstream. 

Noda and Abe appear to have agreed to do a one-on-one debate on the internet. I thought this would be a mistake for Abe, who is technically the favourite but might not be if people actually heard him mangle the language, and a gift to underdog Noda who could have a reasonable chance to be understood at Starbucks, but I realised I was missing a trick here.

An internet interview sounded all very down with the kids and all, but actually it's politics as usual: by going the internet route, they are avoiding having to debate with Ishihara which if the programme appeared on TV, they'd have to include all the candidates by law. Being only fair and all. So, now Our Man has to keep an eye on YouTube as well as read the paper. 

He's given up doing the big things right, but hopefully Our Man can get the little things right.

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Go to DAY 10


Anonymous said...

Love it.

Tokyo Outsider said...

Excellent stuff. Interesting point about the TV debate law, too.

Gavin said...

Pretty interesting about the internet debate.

Also, now I think about it, the UK vs Japan comparison isn't far off the truth as far as approximate generalisations go.