A shinkansen to space (and other news found beneath the sofa) – The Japan Times

Posted: January 24, 2022 at 10:10 am

Happy New Year! While salutations of akemashite omedet gozaimasu (Happy New Year) filled the air in most parts of the country at the start of the month, my home was filled with exclamations of a different sort.

So thats where the lost karuta game card went, I heard my wife shout. Try to keep your dried ramen snacks in your mouth in the future, not under the sofa! that was her again, as was, Ooh, its been dead quite a while, I think. That last one came upon the discovery of a cockroach husk found under the refrigerator.

The Japanese have a lovely custom called sji, or big cleaning, during the New Year holidays. Thats when we clean the dark corners, hard-to-reach spots and most bothersome places in our homes. I say its a lovely custom, but I graciously let my wife take the lead on doing most of it. She is the Japanese one in our relationship, after all, and I would never dream of cultural appropriation. In Scotland, a certain amount of dirt and mess is believed not only to build character but antibodies, too.

However, I do my part to keep our son busy so that the yearly ritual can take place without any obstacles. And, caught with the cleaning bug, I thought Id tidy up a years worth of news tidbits from Japan in order to retain some essential stories and wisdom for 2022. May this small service in some way compensate for errant strands of dried ramen found in inappropriate spots around my home.

What if control of outer space were left to the Japanese? Well, maybe not all of it, but wouldnt it be nice if Japan played a bigger role in extraterrestrial affairs?

This thought came to me when rereading an article from around the beginning of last year stating that Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University were partnering to try to construct wooden satellites, which would burn up upon re-entry to Earth, and thus cut down on space junk.

Western culture portrays space as the final frontier, or at least Star Trek does. For me, this narrative evokes an image of brave pioneers chopping down obstacles and pacifying native inhabitants in order to clear a path for colonization. Space entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk tend to give the same impression.

Other highly militarized nations such as Russia and China seem to enjoy blowing things up in space, and testing weapons there. So I think a little more wabi-sabi could be brought to the inky blackness. That is, an appreciation for and accommodation with the beauty of natures complexities and imperfections, rather than an attempt to bring things under complete human mastery.

Before his fifth birthday last year, my son went through an intense Astro Boy phase. The now decades-old anime depicts the struggles of a robot boys acceptance into human society. Surely, this Cant we all just get along? message is a better way to step into the future or the galaxy than visions of Klingon wars or chest-bursting Alien nightmares? (That film, by the way, is set in 2122, 100 years from now. Kids born today may actually live to see it come to fruition!)

If Japan did rule space, those warp-speed portals would run like clockwork relatively speaking. If the Sol System to Alpha Centauri Express were just a minute out, the unfortunate pilot would be scrubbing Portaloos on Pluto for a week.

I think we need a word that is equivalent to punctual but negative. We Scots like to think of ourselves as cannily frugal. Some others, such as Englands Samuel Johnson, have characterized this as tight-fistedness. You may be praised as meticulous, but take it too far and you will be criticized as fussy. But where is the word or expression for someone who is too fussily concerned about punctuality?

In November, it was revealed that a JR West train driver was suing his employers after he was docked 56 for driving his empty shinkansen to the depot a minute later than scheduled. I like an on-time train as much as the next person, but surely this is a clear case of punctual-retentiveness? Or hyper-punctuality Japonica disorder?

Fuhin the panda is given some traditional new year decorations to bring in 2022. The result, predictably, is very cute. | KYODO

In an alternative career teaching English, I have a student in her 60s who refers to herself as bs-seito, which you could translate as student running wild. She refers to herself in this way to apologize whenever she gives an awkward answer to my innocuous conversation-starter questions. She doesnt have a television or smartphone, and tends to profess a dislike of any cultural staple I put forward as an easy topic that couldnt fail to elicit a positive response: I dont like the Beatles. They have such small faces, or, I cant pick a favorite temple in Kyoto, I hate the place.

Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara was once dubbed bs-rjin, or old man running wild, for going off on far-right tangents in the media.

Last year showed that albeit to a lesser degree than Ishiharas extremism, and in a less endearing way than my students quirkiness a certain generation of Japanese politicians is still prone to running wild while on mic. There are so many examples I could pick out, but the gold medal has to go to former Prime Minister Yoshiro Moris sexist gaffe ahead of the Olympics. The then-83-year-old, and then-President of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee said, If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.

Moving forward, I dont think we should just forget this kind of comment, or shrug it off with an excuse like, 83-year-old men will be 83-year-old men. Due to an ageing population and declining birth rate, younger Japanese are really going to have to push hard to exert greater influence. Well never get rid of fax machines at this rate!

But if I ever had to win the votes and affection of Japans disadvantaged youth, or any depressed underclass for that matter, 2021 taught me how to do it.

When Ueno Zoos panda Shin Shin gave birth to twins in June, shares in hospitality venues nearby were reported to have jumped in value in anticipation of a glut of visitors to the zoo. Hospitality venues no doubt deserve a boost, given the coronavirus-related difficulties they have had to put up with in recent times. But what is it with pandas?

Japan even has an expression that encapsulates the emotional, or dare I say irrational, appeal that pandas provoke: hitoyose panda. This literally refers to a panda that can draw in crowds of people, but it has been applied to celebrity politicians who may not know much about politics, but will nevertheless draw in voters. Were not expecting you to actually do much, this expression suggests, just sit there and look cute, and youll nevertheless attract a certain kind of voter.

Just sitting there and munching bamboo might be a winner if youre Shin Shin, but your spouse isnt likely to find it cute if you sit around munching dried ramen snacks while they clean. At least, thats what the sji has taught me.

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A shinkansen to space (and other news found beneath the sofa) - The Japan Times

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