Sayonara, Tokyo! Let’s relocate the capital of Japan


It’s time to move the capital of Japan, according to an entrepreneur who is now an advisor to the Prime Minister.

Masaaki Taira is not advocating a physical relocation. Instead, he wants a technological revolution.

“Japan has a history of moving its capital city in response to infectious diseases,” he said. “After the coronavirus, it should move its capital into the digital world.”

Upgrade and reboot

Mr Taira criticised the inefficiency of the civil service. He believes Japan’s administration is “at least a decade” behind other countries in terms of technology.

Dismantling the old systems won’t be easy. Many government departments insist on the use of name stamps known as hanko and people still use fax machines.

Vulnerable Tokyo

What about the radical idea of physically moving the capital of Japan to another location? The last time that was considered seriously was soon after the bubble economy burst.

The Far Eastern Economic Review said in 1992 that relocating the government would reduce congestion in Tokyo and save institutions a fortune in rent.

The other main reason was to protect the nation if Tokyo was devastated by an earthquake. If disaster strikes the capital, the country’s economy could grind to a halt and there would be a knock-on effect around the world.

Meet the TV chef who hates sushi and wasabi Kit Kats

My Japanese language tutor Mineko Arai is a great baker. I love her strawberry cheesecake.

I think she could be a contestant on The Great British Bake Off, the most successful cookery show in the UK.

One of the judges, Paul Hollywood has a new show on Channel Four (you can see the trailer here) in which he meets chefs, farmers and bakers in Japan, including in remote prefectures, such as Gifu and Iwate.

Paul Hollywood doesn’t like the taste of sushi, sashimi, tofu or wasabi KitKats. Nor does he enjoy using chopsticks. On his show, he repeatedly says that Japan is a bizarre, strange and weird country.

He acknowledges that the Japanese makes some nice bread – but he doesn’t realise that great bread and cakes are on sale everywhere!

As a presenter, Paul Hollywood is not to everyone’s taste.

“Can’t watch anymore of this,” wrote one person on Twitter. “Insulting to Japan, near racist ‘jokes’ and treating the audience like idiots. Poor quality research, appalling presenting.”

Another added: “Just wasted the last hour watching Paul Hollywood‘s cringey, xenophobic visit to Japan.”

That criticism is a bit strong. However,  I would encourage Paul to spend more time appreciating the delicate flavours of sushi and warm tofu. I do agree though that wasabi KitKats are bizarre, strange and weird.

 

Men should do the shopping but women can write the shopping list, says Osaka’s mayor

The mayor of Osaka has said that men are better suited to grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic, because women take too long and contribute to overcrowding at supermarkets.

According to CNN, Ichiro Matsui told reporters: “Women take a longer time grocery shopping because they browse through different products and weigh out which option is best but men quickly grab what they’re told to buy so they won’t linger at the supermarket – that avoids close contact with others.”

These remarks sparked plenty of debate on social media in Japan, with some people questioning whether Mr Matsui has actually done much grocery shopping himself.

Shopping list

I think it was probably a comment made without much thought. But it has led me to wonder how people who are in couples expect their partners to behave. Do men usually follow instructions from their wives when they go to the shops?

Puzzled, I turned to an old book of mine called The Japanese Mind, written by an American named Robert C Christopher, published in 1983. At that time, Japan’s economy was booming and there was a great deal of curiosity about how Japanese people handled financial issues, large and small.

Mr Christopher wrote: “In most Japanese households, it is basically the wife who makes all the major decisions such as where the family lives, what car to buy and what schools the children will attend.”

He claimed that “in the great majority of Japanese families, the husband turns over his entire salary to his wife who then doles out to him a daily allowance – usually a rather modest one – for cigarettes, drinks and sundries.”

Mr Christopher concluded that the typical Japanese household is “a disguised matriarchy and a rather thinly disguised one at that.”

Husband hunting

When the book came out in 1983, the principle way of finding a potential wife or husband was through matchmaking parties and these still exist. Nowadays there are also some sophisticated dating services run by professional matchmakers online.

These appeal to women. A Tokyo-based marriage agency called Sunmarie says most of its clients are women with university degrees. According to the Nikkei, inquiries about its services and memberships were up about 20% in April 2020 compared to the same month a year ago.

“Many potential customers say the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to think about their future, or to think twice about ties with their families,” a Sunmarie representative told the Nikkei.

Attitudes are changing, apparently. “People in their 30s and 40s do not seem uncomfortable meeting online. More people have additional free time as they work remotely and I hope they use this situation as an opportunity to think about their futures,” Sunmarie’s spokesperson said.

Dating tips

The company offers advice on how to handle a virtual date. Men should wear a shirt and tie, it says, even if they are at home. It also says clients should keep laundry or other personal items out of the camera’s view.

The advice to women is to put on a bit more makeup than usual, paying special attention to their eyebrows. And on most occasions, a professional matchmaker is on hand during to guide the opening conversation.

I am sure there are some subjects that are best avoided on a first date: such as who will eventually control the family budget, or who writes the shopping list.

If the relationship leads eventually to marriage, there will be plenty of times to argue over those contentious issues at a later stage. By that point, the supportive matchmaker will have taken her fee and exited the conversation – leaving the couple to settle their differences between them.

The precious freedom of working from home

If you’re working from home, is your employer paying for your computer, internet server and electricity?

I know from experience that the costs of these vital tools can mount up. In general, Japanese organisations are more generous in paying for them than firms in other parts of the world.

For example a software developer called Six Apart, based in central Tokyo, offers staff an allowance of 15,000 yen ($140 USD) a month for teleworking. According to Nikkei, the funds come partly from the money the company is saving on office rent and travel expenses during the current coronavirus lockdown.

Expenses paid

It is common for Japanese firms to compensate their staff for a long commute into work by meeting the cost of their annual rail cards. This is a significant perk, although I still feel sorry for people crammed on the rush hour trains in Tokyo.

Another firm mentioned by Nikkei called Mercari gives its employees an allowance of 60,000 yen ($565 USD) over six months to cover the cost of utilities and online communications.

I hadn’t heard of Mercari before I read the article, but it turns out to be an online marketplace, similar to ebay. It’s currently selling some rather cute face masks.

New challenge

As the state of emergency continues in Japan, around 28% of full-time employees are working from home. Many of them will be unfamiliar with the experience.

Typically, most working environments in Japan are crowded. Junior staff live in constant fear of a manager who sits just a few feet away.

My favourite writer on Japan – Leo Lewis of the Financial Times – describes these managers in fearful terms. “The classic overbearing tyrant head is a mid-fifties nano tyrant who populates companies across the country, delegates everything, appears to do nothing of value and whose survival is explicable only via automatic hierarchical respect.”

Striving for efficiency

So, when workers are freed from the chains of this mythical tyrant, do they relish their freedom and become more efficient?

Not according to research done by Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

An online survey of 3,192 remote workers, which was taken nationwide in mid-April, found that although 40% of respondents working remotely said they had more free time, 34% said their productivity has declined.

Many workers said they find it difficult to concentrate at home and I understand this dilemma. I have been working from home for about five years since I left the BBC. There is no editor to scold me if I turn up late for a meeting, waste time online or even go back to bed for an afternoon siesta.

Fortunately, I’m getting better at supervising myself and I aim to follow a detailed work timetable. I also ask my wife and family to check my work diary, so that I’m accountable to someone else.

Tempting nap

I am satisfied if I achieve certain goals, such as writing my weekly blog. But I don’t worry much about how much time I’ve spent in my home office, provided I know the work’s progressed in line with the schedule.

However, many organisations in Japan appear to place more emphasis on the number of hours spent in the office rather than on results and this is often cited as one of the reasons for Japan’s rather low productivity.

The good news, from my experience, is that if we’re asked to work from home, most of us can adapt. And from time to time, a little nap after lunch is excusable, I believe – provided there’s been some tangible progress on the main work goals.