“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.