I’ve read Alex Kerr’s “Lost Japan” cover to cover today (Jeeva’s recommendation), and his cynical take on the concreting over of Japan’s cultural heritage has inevitably colored my response, especially to the artifical environs of Shirakawa-go, an assembly line of reconstituted thatched dwellings for the satiation of snapping salarymen, who wander around in a daze of incomprehension before returning to their fluorescent cubicles.
Some comments on Mr Kerr’s diatribe about the Pachinko-isation of Japan. Yes the damned (intentional misspelling) rivers do run in pitiful concrete channels, the cities are assemblies of anonymous cubby-hole architecture populated by faceless business folk, and Hitachi tastelessly sponsors signage at every zen garden and buddhist temple, but the homogenisation of pop culture isn't unique to Japan. Every city in the world is acquiring it's own barcode, an imprint of skyscrapers benignly indifferent from any other metropolis. As a vision of our future, Japan is Roddenberry-esque. Star Trek features little evidence of national cultural history and is notably devoid of religion. Japan's bullet train cleanliness, speed and effiency is adept at producing Yeoman Johnson's - the expendable "special guest star" who beams down with Kirk, Bones and Spock only to get crushed beneath a polystyrene
rock in Act 2 - but where is the spirit to boldly go where no-one has gone before? The Ronin of Japan have long since disappeared, entrepreneurialism is suffocated beneath the Ways (capital W) of doing things and the invitation only clubs like the one which dictates the media and hid the bubble burst until it was too late. Japan leads the world in broadband technology yet it's electricity lines are above ground in as unsightly a mess as the favela slums of Rio. It's people are the most disciplined workers in the world, yet they fritter away 20% of their disposable income watching ball bearings tumble down Pachinko machines, making the absurd sensory deprivation devices the #1 industry in Japan. There's much to be learned from Japan; as much about how not to do it as how to do it.
Anyway, we've traversed 1/3rd of Japan by bus-train-shinkansen and shinkansen, taking in a wholely unwholesome meal of spongy white bread, plastic cheese, pringles and snickers, and flopped in a Hiroshima flop house.
When ever the Furlongs commit an amusing error, tumble or faux pas, I seize upon it for comic coloration of this journal, often exaggerating for
comic effect (I say this to deflect prospective future libel action). Thus, in a spirit of fairness and in the knowledge that it will only reduce my standing among my loyal readership (hello Grandma), I offer up the following tragic tale of the misfortunes of Osmotherly the Elder.
My pack, when fully burdened, weighs close to 20kg. The luggage rack in a shinkansen is 5'8" up, requiring a hefty feat to lump luggage onto the shelf. Likewise, removal is a delicate operation. In the consumption of our plastic junk lunch, a plastic knife from the Rushstick Travellin' Picnic Set (TM) was deemed necessary, forcing me to retrieve my weighty backpack from its elevated parking space. I could attempt to blame Cav for what ensued, on the basis that he sat in the ideal cantilevering location, but he did move out the way so the fault is mine. Ill balanced and ill advisedly then, I grasped one end of my high slung pack and swung it round preparing to take the full weight off the shelf. Both pack and your narrator were perched precariously. Cav silently gasped. The fleeting thought occured to me "this is probably not a good idea" but I pressed on. Tipping the full mass off the luggage rack, I predictably tipped off balance. The pack was fumbled. Time stopped. Unfortunately a Japanese lady seated in front of us bore the brunt of the descending luggage, and the pack was righted only after a brief but horrific bounce and balance on the innocent victim's bonce. Now, I wouldn't pretend to have grasped the full gamut of Japanese ceremonial-level manners, but I'm fairly sure this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. Indeed, the frowns from around carriage #6 seemed to affirm this hyptothesis. Fortunately, the lady seemed less bruised than my ego, albeit not much amused by the assualt, and via a swiftly deployed "sumi-massay" (excuse me) I retreated low into my seat and prayed for a hole to open in the floor of the train and swallow me up. The lady got off at the next stop. Either that or she moved to an adjacent carriage to spare my blushes. Or avoid further physical abuse.
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