As reported in Junbungaku, the Japanese Literature Publishing Project is getting shut down. They had just held their first translation competition, which now appears to also be their last. Well, I guess there is always Kurodahan Press.

image copyright M. Ignatov via Flickr.

In “The Near Future of Employment in Japan” published in the March 2012 issue of Social Science Japan (Newsletter of University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science; no. 46), professor of Labor Economics, Genda Yuji aims to provide a “blueprint” for an adjustment to Japan’s employment system that can effectively face future crises, taking into account lessons learned from the latest economic downturn. As far as blueprints go, this one is rather pale of shade and sparse of detail, but this may be due to the stage at which this  “Project for the Creation of an Employment System that Enables Lifelong Growth for All People” initiative is currently.

Nevertheless, Prof. Genda makes a number of informative observations. The major is what he calls a “market trend” of “quasi-regular employees” emerging to fill the gaps between the regular employees (I’m assuming he is thinking of 正社員) and  the dispatch/freeter class. Critics have come down too harshly on the post-Lehman expansion of hiring of part-timers/contract workers in place of the higher paid—and more difficult to fire—regular employees (temp. workers were laid off in waves during the “Lehman shock”). This is not an unproblematic trend, Genda concedes, but there are two problems with blanket criticism: first, it does not actually correlate to high unemployment, and second, these critics lump all non-regular employees together, failing to notice the emergence of the “quasi-regular employees.”

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Before:

Ishinomaki, Miyagi

After:

Ishinomaki, Miyagi

Images copyright: (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images) and (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

See more of the click-through before and after pictures at the Big Picture.

image © Gary Kelley

I ran across this image by the talented artist Gary Kelley, and could not help but recall Abe Kobo‘s 1951 short story, “The Magic Chalk” (魔法のチョーク). In this early Abe gem, a starving artist named Argon sells off most of his possessions for food and is left with a piece of chalk. The significance of the ‘starving artist’ figure is debatable, because in 1951 most people in Japan were starving–the artist here is the everyman in this regard. The significance of Argon is far more apparent: it is a noble gas (希ガス) that takes its name from the Greek for “lazy” (hence used commonly as an inert gas), and despite being a “rare gas” in Japanese, I understand it is the most common of the noble gasses. So there you go–Argon the Idle. Nevertheless, this artist possesses a chalk that brings pictures to life. Food, money, a bed, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful–but troublingly modern–woman. In this respect, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Abe seem to be…ahem…drawing on a similar thought. But just as Abe’s story explores the eternal theme of art’s creative power–the power to create a new world, it also highlights a contemporaneous need for a regenerative force to help Japan through the post-war period.

The short story has been translated as is available, yet again, in The Showa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories (Japan’s Modern Writers) (Bks.1 & 2)

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1905385_1898654,00.html

The above is the link to a photoessay from TIME magazine about Japan at the height of its bubble economy in 1989, and the later downfall, sometimes referred to as the Heisei Malaise. To tell the truth it is rather weak, but a worthwhile study in how to tell a story using pictures that don’t necessarily fit the narrative. Case in point picture 10. A tired man in a suit. This one is equally at home in the 1980s as in the 2000s. But note how the caption transforms the viewing and interpretation of the–mostly unremarkable–images. It is the photo-journalistic equivalent of buffalax.

Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚 Tsumetai nettaigyo ) 2010 – Sono Shion 園子温

*/5

I believe it was Isaac Asimov who wrote, “It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.” Getting his commercial feet wet in the 2002 bloodbath Suicide Club (自殺サークル Jisatsu sākuru lit. “Suicide circle”), Sono Shion 園子温 (b. 1961) does not evoke subtlety. Would it surprise anyone, then, that his latest creation, Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚 Tsumetai nettaigyo  lit. “Cold tropical fish”), retains that—Sono—luster? No, and it shouldn’t. But could I be blamed for holding out hope? I hope not.

Caveat lector: I am note opposed to violence, sex, nudity, etc., in film. That said, I am aesthetically remote from splatter flicks in general; gore does not stimulate my cinematic taste buds, neither does graphic absurdity for its own sake. In short, I do not enjoy porn of this order. If you do, feel free to ignore the rest, because you may well enjoy it; if you do not, read on. Read the rest of this entry »

The story here

The above is hardly advertising at its best. But the value of this particular example lies in what it reveals about Japanese workforce’s mastery of the English language, as well as foreign staff–both are missing. Yet a blind infatuation with the exotic, foreign–read English–cool persists. The combination of the above lack of English and grasping attempts to harness its cachet precipitate the very definition of SNAFU, and the above harlequinade provides just a single example from a multitude. Rest assured this is the normal situation in Japan.

Also note that the store in question was in Osaka, the second-largest metropolis in Japan after the Tokyo-Yokohama megasprawl (Gibson fans may include Chiba). A similar display may be forgiven in Boonie-mura, Inakaville (pop. 1 man). Granted this Galerie store appears to be in Shinsaibashi, on Osaka’s southside, which has a bit of an edge. But this is s till a howler.

This is, of course, not a rare instance of inadvertent use of offensive English. The article might have mentioned a certain chain restaurant called First Kitchen, or fa-suto kicchin, which, contracted, went the way of Brad Pitt (Burapi) and the non-Osaka McDonald’s (makudo). Nothing like walking down the street and overhearing:

A: “Hey what you want to do?”

B: “Let’s go fakkin!

Though the kitchen affair is at least an honest mistake. Not that the sale sign is really outrageous; Japanese people by and large have trouble comprehending expletives fully on a conceptual level, so even for that I could lift some of the blame. But this bit of news does tell us about foreign staff in Japanese companies the same thing the iPad told us about female staff at Apple. If there was an English speaker on staff (or German, Swedish, hell, French would do), the Daily Mail would have been a story short. Unless of course that English speaker was chef Ron Silver.

Maybe they could have picked on the Colbert Report (Jan. 11, 2012), when its editors chose to illustrate the discussion of the risk posed to New York, London, and Tokyo by earthbound debris of a Russian satellite with photos of the Empire State Building (New York), Big Ben (London), and Kinkakuji (Kyoto). Oh, that there were only anyone on staff with some knowledge of Japan, or a Wikipedia connection.

Add this one to the kannuki files.

crossroads

Japanese crossroads sign

辻 (つじ) tsuji   “crossroads”

Another wonderful kanji that looks exactly like what it means.

The image at right is the Japanese traffic signal for a crossroads. If we simply append to it the radical for “walk/road” (shinnyū/shinnyō 辶) [found in "way" 道, "advance" 進, etc.], we get: “the roads in 十-shape.”

How great is that?

Dedicated to Narihira:

ありふれた草に置たる白露で

arifureta kusa ni okitaru shiratsuyu de

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You heard it here. Japan relinquishes its hegemony over all things cure to–of all places–Slovenia.

Have you ever seen anything this adorable?

That’s right.

 

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