Monday, 19 January 2004

Monday Night

Well here we are on a Monday night and I am struggling of things to write about. Been one of those weeks really. Last time I think I left you hanging in the saga of installing the webcam. We will leave it like that, I think. It wasn't a pleasant experience. Some psychologists like to think that reliving things can be cathartic, burn out the bad memories, confront demons, that sort of thing. I don't think psychologists have to deal with their own computers when they start to act up - or have to go to Akihabara for that matter. Suffice it to say that I started the process at about 9pm Friday, went to bed around 2:30am, went back to computer around 10am and craked it after lunch. Luckily I had father and golf playing brother on hand to send emails like 'your not logged on'. Oh really? The really galling bit was that I sat here for hours swearing, up walks Minako, says 'no, not that one, this one' and et voila. The line between abject devotion to one's spouse and domestic violence is a very fine one...


Well, they've gone. The Japanese are to set foot in a 'war zone' for the first time since WW2. The initial reconnas... scouting party has arrived in Kuwait, where they will spend a couple of weeks acclimatising to the surroundings (it's a desert, it's hot and sandy, how much more do they need to know?) before setting off for their sector. There they will spend a couple more weeks working out the quickest way to run back to the big safe place in Kuwait. Then, the main body of troops/engineers/water carriers will arrive and pretend to be soldiers before, I suspect, running home very quickly. Oh well, but at least they are trying. Further bulletins as events warrant.

The news

It has even been a quiet week in the news. No gaffes from government ministers. No large scale business fraud. It was the ninth anniversary of the Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake on saturday, at 5.47am if you're interested, but that passed with the usual solemnity, although a comment from a Kobe local who survived the quake did puzzle me 'we don't really want all these new people moving here [Kobe has a very high rate of people moving in] because we don't think they will know what to do if another big earthquake hits'. I think that applies to most people in Japan, and most of the inhabitants who survived the first one, for that matter. I mean, during a big quake there doesn't seem to be much you can do except shit yourself in an extravagent fashion and hope to god that nothing falls on you, or you into anything. After that, stay put and wait for the rescuers. Doesn't seem to be that tricky, not that Iwant to try, mind you.

So that only leaves...


Marvellous. Big lads slapping each other, what more could you want? But wait, there is a real crisis going on in Sumo right now. There hasn't been a Japanese grand champion (yokozuna) for a couple of years now, and no Japanese has been promoted to the rank for even longer. There should be 2 yokozuna at any given time, one in the 'east' and one in the 'west' (these are symbolic groups that mean nothing (to most people) but one is considered stronger). Anyway, right now there is only one, a chap named Asashoryu, and he's from Mongolia. The last couple before him were Akebono and Mushashimaru, both originally from Hawaii. You have to go back to Wakanohana and Takanohana to find some Japanese yokozuna, a few years at least, and heaven only knows when the last time there were 2 Japanese yokozuna at the same time, certainly before my time in Japan began. And now, goodness gracious me, there is even a European in the top Makuuchi division, a chap from Geogia named Kokkai, who seems to acquitting himself quite well in the current New Year tournament.

So, as you can imagine there is a lot of soul searching going on right now. The Japanese have their hopes pinned on a chap named Tochiazuma, who, if he gets 13 wins (out of 15 bouts) will get promoted. But such is the strength of Asashoryu, that promotion is all they are really hoping for, just to have a Japanese yokozuna. Winning the tournament would be nice, but its not the top priority. Makes you think.

Of course this is just a symptom of much wider cultural problems going on right now. As with most of the western world, Japan has an ageing population, but as Japanese live so long, and the birth rate is so low (only Italy's is lower, I think) that it is going to become a really serious problem very soon.

(Aside: just remembered a bit of fraud from the government recently, knew there had to be some! When you retire, your state pension is based on the salary on the day you leave your job. Sound like that might be open to corruption? You betcha. Something like 92% of retiring government officials and civil servants in 2003 were given large pay rises on the day of their retirement in order to gain higher pensions. This was sanctioned much higher up the chain and has been going on for a while. But as the economy is not working, journalists have decided to start and have begun asking questions. At last, good on 'em)

Anyway, back to ageing populations. Sometime, sometime soon, Japan isn't going to have enough workers. This means that they will have to let foreigers in to do the jobs that are there, and this is scaring Japanese at the moment, scaring them a lot. The reason is that really the Japanese don't like foreigners very much, they're not Japanese, you see, these foreigners, so they don't understand. So having non-Japanese as the top Sumo wrestlers grates a bit. You do get attempts at internationalisation, but they are a bit of a sham. For instance, a while back a city down in Kyushu announced proudly to the world, well, the rest of Japan, that it was a model of internationalisation by electing a Foreign Mayor to the town. 'Gasp' we gasped. Until the details came out. This foreigner was born in Japan, as were his parents. His grand parents had moved to Japan after the war from Korea. The new mayor had never been to Korea, couldn't speak Korean and had no blood realtives alive in Korea. But according to the Japanese government's policy, he has a Korean passport, must carry an alien registration card at all times, get a re-entry permit when he leaves the country on holiday and is barred from any kind of government/civil service job. Pretty poor, really.

Which leads us quite nicely on to Tama-chan. Tama-chan was an arctic seal that swam up the Tama river last year and amde itself at home for the summer - though goodness knows how as the Tama is the river between Tokyo and Kawasaki (Kawasaki...think Middlesbrough without the good points) and therefore the Tama is similar in make up and consistency to the Ankh in Ankh-Morpok. But it did, and was adopted by the locals as their kind of symbol or mascot. Then some local pompous bigwig decided that it would be nice to present the seal with a certificate of residence. Nice touch, get in some tourists, that sort of thing. But this actually created a furore, so much so that it got on the national news. You see, a certificate of residence is a bit like gold dust. It means you are a citizen of the town and in a way is much more important than having a Japanese passport, it means you belong. I don't have one. Even if I changed my visa to a spouse one, I wouldn't get one. But the bigwig was going to present one to a seal. So the foreign community actually reacted and started a fuss. It began with questions and comments like 'how will it carry it's gaijin card?' and 'will it register at the local ward office?' but then moved onto demonstrations by foreigners who had been refused visa or permits or these certificates. For a while it was a bit of a cause celebre and, as I mentioned, was on the news. The bigwig withdrew the plan, in the end, but the average Japanese in the street was a little disgruntled by it all. They couldn't understand the fuss, and then started blaming it all on the foreigners without ever looking at the reasons why. They're good at that.

So here we are.......ah.....where are we? Japanese don't like foreigners and are in for a big shock when their economy starts to fall apart due to lack of workers. Then they will have to start importing cheap chinese builders and the like, who are going to want rights and things and the Japanese are not going to give them, not without a fight anyway.

That's how important Sumo is.

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