“Honourable Madame monkey! I am big loving your thing!”

This week, I’ve been learning more about Japan’s language of affection.

The Japanese don’t have words that are direct equivalents to “honey” or “darling” but they have some nice alternatives.

For example, o-saru-san お 猿 さん means literally “Honourable Madam (or Mr) Monkey”. It’s a term of endearment, meaning something like the English phrase “You little monkey!”

Similarly, one may tease someone by saying お馬鹿 さん o-baka-san – literally “honourable idiot.”

The implication is that the other person is a lovable fool.

Intriguingly, the Japanese word for idiot combines the symbols for horse 馬 and deer 鹿 – suggesting that a person with the characteristics of both animals will behave idiotically.

Your special thing

Provided the other person is not a hybrid beast, you might want to tell them that you like them.

好きですsuki desu will cover you for that, or if you really like them, you can add a 大 big character to the like symbol 大好きです daisuki desu, which lifts your declaration up to the level of love.

Higher still is 愛しています aishite imasu, an unequivocal declaration of romantic love.

Who are you?

At this point, I should warn you of a trap.

Foreigners often carelessly use the word あなた anata which is normally translated as “you”.

But my language sensei tells me this word also means “darling” or “dear” and is used by women as a sign of affection towards men, especially when they are speaking to middle-aged or older gentlemen. So this is a word I would like to hear more – but I will hesitate before speaking it!

Pet name

The blog Fluent-U claims that as you establish a romantic relationship with a Japanese person “you’ll probably receive a pet name from your partner.”

For example, a man may call his girlfriend o-hime-san“my princess” or a lucky fellow might be regarded as 白馬の王子様 (はくばのおうじさま – hakuba no ojisama – “a prince on a white horse.”

If you really want to stir the emotions of a Japanese person, you may with to deploy the metaphysical into your declaration of love.

You could declare  that you greatly love their “thing” as in the phrase あなたのことが大好 き anata no koto ga daisuki.

This suggests that your love is centred on their soul rather than their physical being. And that could be useful if they are a wonderful human being but no longer a vision of youthful beauty.

Happy anniversary

Happily, in a country where many people live long lives, marriages often last decades, so here’s a sweet phrase which should you set you up for the long term.

一緒に年を重ねよう。(いっしょに としを かさねよう issho ni toshi-o kasneyo means “Let’s grow old together.”

And if you really want to up the drama, you could ask this profound question:

俺と一緒のお墓に入らないか?(おれといっしょの おはかに はいらないか?) Ore to issho no ohaka ni hairnaika? “Will you share my grave with me?”

No-one’s likely to say yes to that on a first, or even second, date.

But on reflection, I think it’s quite a quite wonderful suggestion.

After all, the ultimate goal in Japanese society is to spend eternity in a communal tomb – a space which banishes loneliness forever.

And to be invited to join a family group in there is surely a sign of deep love, trust and acceptance.

No more skirts or heels for the proud railway women

People who work on Japan’s railways are understandably proud of their jobs.

Passengers admire the courtesy and efficiency of the railway staff and this is reflected in their smart uniforms.

This week, the East Japan Railway Company revealed a new look for its staff uniforms and it includes some interesting changes to the women’s attire.

The Japan Times explained that “skirts have been abolished from the women’s uniforms and replaced by pants.”

New shoes

The paper also says that the new uniforms will allow flat shoes for women, perhaps in response to the recent backlash against high heel shoes in the workplace.

As I mentioned in a blog back in June, some frustrated women submitted a petition to the Japanese government, asking for relief from uncomfortable footwear.

The domestic Japanese media gave the campaign a name: KuToo.

That has a strong echo of the MeToo campaign which highlights harassment in the workplace. KuToo is a play on two Japanese words; kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

But the women who appear in the rather blurred photographs of the 2003 version of the railway company’s uniform look as though they were wearing rather gentle heels, even if their shoes were not entirely flat.

Practical shoes are surely required by people who jump on and off trains and work in all weather conditions.

Typhoon Hagibis

And the extremes of the Japanese weather were very much in the news this week, as typhoon Hagibis unleashed torrents of rain and strong winds.

I was particularly shocked by the picture Kyodo news released of bullet trains belonging to the East Japan Railway Company submerged at their base in Akanuma in Nagano Prefecture, after the the Chikuma River overflowed because of the typhoon.

Inevitably, many train services were suspended but only for a fairly short period of time.

It’s thanks to the hard work of the railway staff that the problems caused by the storm were not much worse.

JR East says its blue and grey outfits help “instil a feeling of trust and security in our customers, while being a symbol of pride and comfortable for our employees to wear.”

That seems to me an important and positive message to send to passengers and staff of Japan’s famous trains at a time of national crisis.

Communist Kyoto and the Hair Museum of Gion

The Communist Party of Japan challenges the mainstream.

For example, it boycotted a ceremony to commemorate the Emperor, complaining that the government was using him for political purposes.

Sometimes the media focus is on a Communist politician named Keiji Kokuta, 72, who leads the party in the parliament, or Diet, in Tokyo.

He recently challenged the government over its handling over the diplomatic dispute with South Korea. His comments were translated and reported sympathetically in the Korean media.

Mr Kokuta also took up the cause of LGBT people in Japan, following discriminatory remarks about same-sex couples made by a politician close to Shinzo Abe.

Firm opposition

Mr Kokuta has made it clear where the Communist Party stands on the most pressing political issue of the current era.

He says that it firmly opposes any form of revision to Japan’s constitution and wants to keep the current one as it is because – in his words – it “reflects the will of the people.”

There are around 300 thousand members of the Communist party in Japan. Because of the proportional representation system, it has a total of 25 representatives in the Japanese parliament, or Diet, led by Mr Kokuta.

That’s not a large number out of a total of around 700 MPs, but it does give the Communists a voice. Mr Kokuta sits on the influential Foreign Affairs and Defence committee.

He has become skilled at asking awkward questions to the Defence Minister and former Foreign Minister, Kono Taro.

In particular, he challenges signs of Japan’s animosity towards Communist China.

Keynote issue

The issue of constitutional reform is the main focus of the current session of parliament, which began in Tokyo this week.

Mr Kokuta and his fellow Communists will vote against Prime Minister Abe’s plan to change the part of the constitution which relates to defence.

Mr Abe wants a new clause which would enable the Self Defence Force to operate more like a regular army, with the capacity to fight abroad in support of foreign allies, such as the United States.

To change the constitution, Mr Abe requires a two thirds majority in favour of reform in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet, before the issue is put before the public in the form of Japan’s first ever referendum.

And the Japan Times points out that as things stand, the pro-revision camp does not have a two-thirds majority in the upper house.

Other small parties may shift their position in return for political favours from the prime minister but Mr Kokuta’s camp will no doubt stand firm.

Kyoto’s advocate

Mr Kokuta has represented people from Kyoto in the national parliament since the early 1990s.

He’s a popular figure and nurtures friendships in the ancient city. For example, last week he spent the day having his picture taken with elderly people who had been drawing pictures and doing calligraphy.

His website also contains a charming report about the Japan Hair Museum in the Gion district of Kyoto, established by a hairdresser called Tetsuo Ishihara.

Mr Ishihara is one of the few men who has mastered the skill of tying hair pieces for geisha.

I don’t suppose that Mr Kokuta and Mr Ishihara share the same commitment to left wing politics.

But in Japan, friendships between people often develop due to mutual respect, even if their perspectives on politics differ significantly.

Amazon’s banned PowerPoint. What a wonderful rebel idea!

 

The Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint in meetings.

This strikes me as a brilliant move, as there are so many better ways to communicate ideas than using a clunky, outdated tool which most viewers regard as inherently boring.

PowerPoint was launched by Microsoft in 1987, long before the internet became massively popular. At that time, mobile phones – such as the Nokia Cityman 900 – were so expensive and heavy that they were only used by army generals and presidents.

Stangled professors

Yet strangely, Powerpoint retains a stranglehold on millions of people, not because it is good but because it’s familiar.

I have noticed that university teachers seem to think it’s the clever person’s method of explaining complex data. And unfortunately, this sends a signal to their students that it’s the best tool for business, too.

Yet most professors and business people use PowerPoint slides in exactly the same way as their Eighties ancestors, despite all the recent advice on how to freshen up the visuals and make them interesting.

If I were to ask you to recall the highlights of any PowerPoint deck you saw recently, I am pretty sure that your mind will go blank.

And if you used your phone to take a picture of a slide, I doubt you’ve ever looked at it again. Although if you have a brilliant slide you’d like to share, do please message with me it so we can celebrate it together!

Asian issue

I’m sorry to say that in Japan, dull PowerPoint presentations dominate the education system and they also waste millions of hours of people’s precious work time.

People in China tell me that the problem is even worse there.

So I support decision Jeff Bezos’ plan to ban PowerPoint. I doubt anyone at Amazon misses it. They have Alexa now. And the company made a record profit of ten billion dollars last year, largely due to its creative ideas in cloud computing.

Rebel ideas

Amazon’s move is not new but I learned about it by reading a book which has just been published, called Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

“For more than a decade, meetings at the tech giant have started without a PowerPoint presentation or banter but with total silence. For thirty minutes, the team read a six page memo that summarises, in narrative form, the main agenda item,” writes Syed.

He says that Jeff Bezos wants people to use a narrative to explain their ideas, because this helps listeners understand the most important points.

Syed also says that asking people to sit quietly and think about an issue ahead of a discussion encourages them to delve deep mentally, before they hear the opinion of others.

Great presenter

Actually, I didn’t buy Matthew Syed’s book from Amazon. It was given to me as a present by my friend Iris Cai, who joined me at a presentation the author gave at the RSA in London last week.

I was thrilled that Iris asked Matthew Syed to sign a copy of his book for me personally. What a wonderful incentive for me to read it and to work on “the power of diverse thinking” with my Chinese friend!

Stimulating thought

I noticed that Matthew Syed didn’t use any slides or graphs. He didn’t need them. His stories were interesting and each one carried a thought-provoking idea.

But was he actually following his own advice? After all, his talk began with him throwing ideas towards the audience, without inviting us to think the issues through for ourselves.

Of course, I’d have resented it if he’d asked me to sit in silence for thirty minutes before he said anything important.

But I wonder if a really rebellious gesture like that would have been a powerful way to reinforce cognitive diversity in preparation for solving complex problems?

I’d have certainly have remembered it longer than another dull PowerPoint event.

Can Japan trade out of trouble?

I appreciate it when readers of my blog share their thoughts on what I’ve written.

I want to thank Ziv Nakajima Magen, who’s based in Fukuoka, for his feedback and ideas.

Ziv makes an interesting podcast called Japan Real Estate, which I recommend.

We’ve been communicating about Japan’s economy; in particular the comments I reported last week by the chief economist at TS Lombard, Charles Magnus.

Symptoms of a “disease”

I explained that Mr Magnus believes that Japan has a “disease” and he described the symptoms as:

Bloated budget deficits
Falling wages
Zero to negative interest rates
Price deflation
Rising government debt
Hobbled banks
And a “docile” labour force

What is Japanisation?

I asked my readers a question: what do you think Mr Dumas means by “Japanisation”?

Here’s the reply I received from Ziv Nakajima Magen:

“Japanisation is an economic and social policy which is meant to reduce the reliance on imports. However, simply trying to reduce the reliance on imported goods and thereby attempting to reduce trade deficits won’t be enough to solve the country’s financial woes, the causes of which run far deeper.”

The China factor

The value of goods and services which Japan imports is significantly higher than its exports, so it has a significant overall trade deficit.

In July this deficit totalled about 250 billion yen, ten percent more than a year ago.

China accounted for most of it but Japan also booked a trade deficit with the European Union.

America is different

However, the situation with the United States is quite different because Japan runs a large trade surplus with America.

I think that has important implications in two areas.

Double challenge

Firstly, it raises the question of whether “Abenomics” is working.

Reuters reporter Daniel Leussink says an improvement in domestic demand is helping to drive economic growth but warns that this could be upset by a new higher rate of sales tax which will be introduced soon.

The other issue is how Japanese businesses can continue to make money by exporting to the lucrative US market without upsetting President Donald Trump.

He’s repeatedly complained about the trade surplus that Japan has with America and has threatened to slap tariffs of 25% on imported Japanese cars.

This week, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Mr Trump in New York and they’ll try to agree a deal which satisfies both sides.

But avoiding a trade war with America would only be a minor victory for Mr Abe.

Real success would be achieved if he can reignite Japan’s economy by reforming the way its companies and institutions operate.

And that’s why I tend to agree with Ziv that “attempting to reduce trade deficits won’t be enough to solve the country’s financial woes, the causes of which run far deeper.”

My friendly dentist needs proof of my pain

I’m almost friends with my dentist, Richard. Whenever I pay him a call, he greets me with a polite, ironic question: “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

This is an invitation to explain my agony.

After I tell him which part of my mouth feels the most tender, he confirms this self-diagnosis by making a hard, sharp tap on the affected area using a big metal tool.

Hopefully, after hearing a loud cry of pain, he’ll sink a syringe into my gums and start the painful process of finding a cure.

The “disease” of Japanisation

Some experts say that Japan is suffering from chronic economic pain which it is unwilling, or unable to treat.

This week, I heard a long list of the symptoms of “Japanisation” delivered by a renowned British economist, Charles Dumas.

He was pretty blunt. Skipping any small talk about Japan’s many charms, he launched directly into the diagnosis.

Mr Dumas said that Japan’s problems include

Bloated budget deficits
Falling wages
Zero to negative interest rates
Price deflation
Rising government debt
Hobbled banks
And a “docile” labour force

Mr Dumas, who is Chief Economist at TS Lombard, said that similar symptoms affect other countries, too. And indeed as CNN reported last week, the European Central Bank has pushed interest rates further into negative territory in order to support the region’s flagging economy.

Clever words

My dentist and Mr Dumas both have a fondness for jargon, which they have picked up during their long studies of medicine and economics.

I am afraid I struggled to fully comprehend the phrase “Japanisation proves that demand management is no remedy for persistent structural weakness – continued budget deficits are unlikely to yield growth.”

(If you can explain that with clarity, please drop me a line.)

There was however one slide I could could clearly understand. It stated that poor Japan has a “disease” which can’t be cured easily.

The populist response

Charles Dumas noted that in other countries, economic malaise has led to a rise in populism.

This has created political movements led by iconoclasts, who challenge the status quo. As Mr Dumas explains in his book Populism and Economics, such leaders offer to help people take back control from established, privileged elites.

He claims that populism is both necessary and scary, because it’s a force for change and reform.

Populists rarely garner much political support in Japan.

Some maverick politicians – including Communists – tap into people’s resentments over the economy, but you’d have to go back to the Seventies to find significant numbers of people who advocated radical change.

Future forecasts

The cover of his book says that Mr Dumas is “one of the world’s leading macroeconomic forecasters.”

Yet he himself told his audience that economics is a “dismal science.”

And he admits that his pessimistic perspective has led him to be labelled Nostra-Dumas, after the 16th Century seer Nostradamus, who predicted that terrible woes would befall future generations.

I am afraid that rather gloomy pun was his only moment of humour.

Actually, I wasn’t surprised that Mr Dumas didn’t forecast any significant economic improvement for Japan. Very few people do, and even Prime Minister Abe’s attempts at optimism have worn rather thin.

Nevertheless, Japan remains a relatively rich and peaceful country, despite its economic aches and pains. Its next leader will no doubt follow a pretty similar approach to Mr Abe. The Japanese won’t vote for a revolution led by a populist rebel any time soon.

Guacamole, tulips and Japan’s lost decade

This week’s blog is based on some insights I’ve gleaned from listening to the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Shiller.

He said to me that “Since you’re a journalist, I think I have to point out that people who go into journalism do have idealistic purposes. It’s not a field you would go in if you think like a billionaire.”

He’s right, of course, because although there are some reasonably well paid journalists, most of us are much poorer than the famous people we write about, including Nobel prize winners.

Tulip mania

I asked Professor Shiller about the influence of the media. I put it to him that in countries like China, the economic coverage is always upbeat but in the UK, the media sees its primary role as raising concerns.

“The media has a complicated relationship with economics,” he replied. “There was no evidence of speculative bubbles before there were newspapers.”

He reminded me that the price of tulips soared up way beyond their real value when prices were hyped by the media way back in the early 1600s, just at a time when newspapers and magazines were starting to become popular.

Lessons from Japan

Professor Shiller’s new book is called Narrative Economics and as well as speaking at the LSE he also did an interview with the BBC in which he gave an interesting example about the way people respond to rate cuts by central banks.

“When the Federal Reserve in the United States cut its base interest rate to between zero and a quarter of one percent, it launched a narrative which reminded people of Japan’s experience. After the Bank of Japan cut rates to zero, the Japanese economy went through a lost decade.  Using the “Z word” starts a scary narrative which might harm people’s confidence, so central bankers know they have to be careful what they say.”

“I am proposing that the narrative we use causes changes to the economy and you can run controlled experiments to show this,” said Professor Schiller, who is head of economics at Yale University in the United States.

Trump the genius

“I focus on popular narratives which come to mind when people are making economic decisions. And I think that Donald Trump is a genius at one thing, which is judging narratives and packaging them. He manages to be in our faces all the time. He’s learned how to make audiences excited, in the same way that fighters inspire audiences to be excited about a fake wresting match.”

Guacamole

During his speech, at the London School of Economics, Professor Shiller told a story to illustrate how our minds focus on visual images rather than abstract ideas.

Professor Shiller said that students at a law school were offered two accounts of a crime and then asked to decide if the accused was guilty.

The first group of students were simply told some facts but the second group heard a story.
It contained this phase:

“The accused lunged at the victim, and in the process knocked over a bowl of guacamole, which fell onto a white shag pile carpet.”

Professor Shiller said those who heard the guacamole story were more likely to convict the accused than the group who just heard the facts.

Professor Shiller concluded: “Economists like to think we are the queen of the social sciences because we don’t have to deal with fuzzy stuff, only the data” but he went to explain how the stories we tell affect people’s emotions and have a big economic impact, which can be measured.”

Pink Floyd’s swipe against Japan

I once worked with a woman who sang vocals on a number one hit single by the legendary British rock band, Pink Floyd.

When I met her, she was a hard-working radio producer at the BBC.

But when she was a schoolgirl in 1979, she was picked to be in the video of the song Another Brick In the Wall and gleefully expressed her anger at an oppressive regime.

“We don’t need no education, We don’t need no mind control,” she sang, as part of a choir of children from Islington Green School, in London.

“Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!”

Hit and miss

Another Brick In the Wall remains Pink Floyd’s most recognisable song. It has catchy lyrics set to a disco beat, with searing electric guitar. It’s sold millions of copies worldwide.

But four years later in 1983, Pink Floyd put out another single called Not Now John which was a commercial failure.

The track contained a lot swearing, although there was a censored version for the radio. The other problem was the complexity of the song’s subject. It deals with the resentment felt by blue collar factory workers against foreign rivals in the manufacturing sector.

When Rachel Mann reviewed it for the website Quietus she concluded that Not Now John was written in the voice of an arrogant man and although she thinks it’s a fun song, in her view it is “musically crass and obvious.”

The wily Japanese

The song’s narrator complains that he must compete with “the wily Japanese.” This has led to complaints that Pink Floyd were derogatory to Japan.

Collins Dictionary says that “if you describe someone, or their behaviour, as wily, you mean that they are clever at achieving what they want, especially by tricking people.”

In the video for the song, backing vocals are provided by a trio of geisha girls, played by Caucasian women. The film features an Oriental boy wearing a T-shirt with Japan’s Rising Sun flag, who falls to his death.

I believe that Not Now John reflects the political mood of its time. In the early 1980s, Japan was far from popular in the UK and Europe, partly because of its rising economic power.

Rivalry and protectionism

In his 1983 book The Japanese Mind: The Goliath Explained, Robert C Christopher mentions how European governments tried to exclude Japanese products from their markets and he complained about “the cultural and ethnic arrogance” that Europeans displayed towards Japan.

“Broadly speaking,” wrote Mr Christopher “Western Europeans did not like the Japanese, had no desire to understand them and would devoutly wish they would just go away.”

Partner not rival

I am pleased to say that things have improved.

These days the Japanese are held in respect by many people in Europe, although they do still tend to be stereotyped.

On the whole, Japan is regarded as an economic partner, rather than a rival.

Rock on

My colleague says she enjoyed singing “We don’t need no education” for Pink Floyd.

However, I know that in reality she appreciated her time at school and when she left, she devoted her career to explaining international affairs.

I still like listening to Pink Floyd and am jealous that she sang with them yet I know that a rock song is not the best way to delve deep into economic theory.

Even the great Pink Floyd struggled to have a hit with a reflection upon the political implications of an imbalance of trade.

Is it offensive to open the kimono?

What would be your reaction if an employer asked you to “open the kimono”?

That astonishing phrase is baffling young graduates and might well put them off working for a company, according to the Times newspaper.

The article highlights the confusing jargon which appears in job advertisements and explains that “to open the kimono” means to reveal a project’s inner workings.

It appeared as a headline in the Financial Times recently, above an article about investment entitled “Opening the kimono on dark pools”.

“Dark pools” – it turns out – are a rather opaque form of financial investment.

Intimidating and erotic

Alan Connor, who is an expert on crosswords, attempted to explain the origin of the term “open the kimono” to his readers in the Guardian.

He wrote that: “The phrase goes back to the 1980s, when certain American businessmen found Japan both intimidating and rousingly exotic.”

He feels that the term is “simultaneously childish, predatory and not un-racist.”

The racist and sexist overtones of the phrase were noted by Rob Stock, writing for the New Zealand website Stuff.co.nz

He claims that open the kimono is an example of “dated, gendered language” and dismisses it as “50-something, white male business-speak.”

Feminine symbol

In Japan, where gender norms are different to those in New Zealand, both men and women wear kimonos. The word itself has a rather prosaic literal meaning; “a thing to wear”.

Nevertheless, in Japan, traditional kimonos are extremely expensive and are passed down through generations, like treasure.

And internationally, the kimono is regarded as a potent symbol of femininity.

California store

In the United States, it’s possible to buy adaptations of the costumes at a shop called Open The Kimono in Venice, California.

Most people who reviewed the store on Yelp seemed to like it.  One lady said that: “Every kimono is handmade and the owner finds luscious combinations of designs.”

Another customer said: “Open the Kimono is such a lovely shop! The owner, who is also the designer, is very friendly and dedicated to her craft.”

I am afraid that there was a note of dissent recorded on Yelp, too.

Sue from Brooklyn complained: “Racist white owners capitalizing off of Asian appropriation as per usual. If you want to look like a basic ass white girl flaunting overpriced clothing, this is your store.”

I may be wrong but I suspect that Sue has not visited the store as it’s nearly three thousand miles from Brooklyn to Venice. My guess is that she is unhappy with the name of the shop.

As the Times noted in its article, businesses which use annoying phrases or meaningless jargon do risk a bad reaction.

And indeed the shop has changed its name since the Yelp page appeared. It’s now called Ibby Hartley and it still sells kimonos but leaves it to the customers’ discretion whether they should be open or closed.

Rocket man returns

Kim Jong-Un has warned that the missiles fired by North Korea are designed to cause “inescapable distress to a fat target.”

There have been six weapons tests recently, causing great concern in Japan, where people receive warnings instantly, via their mobile phones.

The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker observed that the weapons are becoming more dangerous.

“North Korea has test fired three new weapons and these missiles are fast, fly low and at least one of them can manoeuvre mid-air, which would pose a real challenge to missile defence systems,” she said.

“North Korean rockets pose a real challenge to missile defence systems” -BBC

The cost of conflict

The latest incident came just after Japan commemorated the anniversary of the end of the Second World War – an event which is primarily used to consider the human cost of conflict.

In the past, some people have used the day to push a nationalist agenda but this year, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was careful to keep it low key.

He did not pay a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the war dead are commemorated, but sent a ritual offering instead. Prime Ministerial visits to the shrine are usually condemned by the governments of South Korea and China because they stir memories of occupation and conflict.

Yasukuni in perspective

An American called Jason Morgan from Reitaku University gave his perspective on the Yasukuni shrine for Japan Forward. He said that “people here come to pray for peace and for the souls of the men and women and even of the animals who died in the 15 years of hard fighting across East Asia, Southeast Asia, Alaska and the Pacific.”

He went on to say that: “People born in Japan, in China, in Taiwan, on the Korean Peninsula and in countries beyond the reach of the Japanese Empire – all who lost their lives in the wars that Japan has fought over the past 150 years – are remembered here, their souls ingathered and given rest.”

Anger and division

This year the contemplative mood was shattered by the North Korean missiles.

Even though it was the Japanese islands which were placed at risk, the missile firings also expressed North Korea’s anger at South Korea.

The South conducts military exercises alongside the United States and the North views these as a rehearsal for invasion. It says it is “senseless” to resume peace talks while the drills continue.

Reunification pledge

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in delivered a speech last week in which he declared that the peninsula could be reunified by 2045, a century after Japan’s defeat.

Although the North also says it seeks reunification, it balks at any suggestion it would become subservient to the South or its ally, the United States.

A North Korean spokesman said: “We have nothing more to talk about with the South Korean authorities, nor do we have any plans to sit with them again.”

June Park, an economist at George Mason University Korea, told the Financial Times that there “no guarantees’ the two Koreas would be united within 26 years.

“We are at a critical crossroads of geopolitical shifts, but Moon is no prophet,” she said.