Monday, September 13, 2010

I, Gaijin: From Brooklyn to Tokyo and Osaka and Back Again

After weeks of hocking Gotham City Insider for news about his recent trip to Japan, as guest guitarist for another band of western, hardcore, metal brigands, he wrote back with the scoop on what it’s like to spend a long weekend traveling to and from the Land of  the Rising Sun. 

Since GCI, whose “the world needs a stronger blog” claims notwithstanding, appears to be on an intermittent, temporary hiatus, Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn is delighted to be able to share his notes on waning economies, an anthropological assessment of good manners in different cultures, fizzling innovation and, last but not least, hot dog buns... -- Brooklyn Beat

I, Gaijin 

 Been meaning to write you back about Japan… Honestly, I did not enjoy it at all. Out of all the places I’ve been, I liked Tokyo the least. I mean, I wasn’t kicking and screaming about a long weekend in Japan or anything but it definitely sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. All told, we did about 14,000 miles of traveling in 4 days… NY > Tokyo > Osaka > Tokyo > NY. The first flight from NY to Tokyo was non-stop, which in economy class, was traumatic. The Australia/NZ flights we did a few years ago were longer but for whatever reason, this was more brutal. After about 10 hours in, you almost start praying for a pulmonary embolism. Anyhow, Tokyo was just overwhelming. Immediately after we land, we sit in 2+ hours of dead stop traffic just to get to Tokyo itself.


Many a man transplanted to the Land of the Rising Sun returns with tales of culture shock and utter bewilderment – and, indeed, to me, a boy from the West, Japanese culture remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside a hot dog bun (more on that later.) There were just so many goddamn people – and it was just so insanely crowded – storefronts in alleyways, storefronts inside storefronts inside alleyways inside storefronts – people just living on top of each other – after about 20 minutes, I felt like moving to Montana and writing a few thousand pages on Industrial Society and Its Future. While I enjoy the “adult” Japanese culture – the refined Muji minimalism and all that – I’ve come to realize that I absolutely abhor the cartoonish, bastardized emulated depiction of the West. People dressed in Halloween costumes; people who look like living, breathing anime / kawaii / geinōkai magna characters. It’s all fashion and little to no substance. At times, I felt as if I were walking through an actual video game. It’s really bizarre and almost sickening – like eating too many circus peanuts. I dunno – something about it all just really rubbed me the wrong way. Xenophobia, perhaps? Ha ha.

The shows were good, the food was weird and the hotels were small. Typically what you’d expect. I think I may just be “over” my days of shotgun traveling and this break from my regular, focused routine really bothered me for some reason. Osaka was a bit better. We stayed on this main strip which resembled a Japanese St. Mark’s Place – but again, a parodic version of St. Mark’s Place. They really enjoy hot dog buns over there. You can have just about anything you’d like served up in a hot dog bun – from ice cream to lo mein – and you can get most of it at your local 7-11. We ate a few of these hot dishwater noodle & tempura houses which were OK. The rest of the time we ate a place called “Freshness Burger” because they had a pretty amazing veggie burger. Everyone carries an umbrella for the sun. It was unbearably hot.

I was in an elevator with two Japanese men and a young lady. Elevator gets to the lobby, Japanese men immediately exit; I pause and gesture for the woman to exit before me. She looked at me, completely puzzled, as if this had never happened before in her entire life – as if it were some sort of trick. I couldn’t believe it! She finally exited before me, but under extreme duress. Another incident – also on an elevator, I suppose this is where the class wars take place – the doors open up and it’s one of the hotel maids – she has like four sacks of dirty linen – I size up the situation and realize it’s going to be a good five days before she’s able to drag all her bags out of the elevator and I can get on, so I helped her… Two minutes later, as the elevator doors closed, she was still bowing to me for helping her unload the bags. I mean, c’mon: ENOUGH! How awkward it is being a gentleman or just helpful or polite when you’re treated like you’ve just saved a baby from a burning building afterwards – it’s too much.

Part of the whole scene was somewhat depressing also – now that China has usurped Japan as the #1 economy after the U.S. – Japan didn’t have that feel of “innovation” anymore. I saw signs advertising the new iPhone 4 but most people are still using these gigantic flip phones. I know they say Japan still enjoys health, wealth and comfort and that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris – but I didn’t see any of it. I saw an empty Hermès store across the street from a bustling 99 cent store. The economy in Japan has been stagnant for more than a decade, and knowing this, it was truly evident. We went into a Best Buy-esque electronics store and saw none of the futuristic Jetsons innovation you would have expected to see years ago in Japan. Gone are the days of the stereotypical rich, Japanese businessman.

If a country can’t reduce its debt to GDP ratio, it means they can only refinance but can never repay its debts and honestly, with all I’ve read on – and now somewhat seen in – Japan, I don’t see how they can avoid a government default or inflated Yen death spiral within the next decade or maybe even less??? Ayeeeeeeeeeeeee. I read some World Bank stat which said over the past decade Japan's economy expanded 5% while China's grew by 261%... It’s crazy and there appears to be no real consensus about what to do…
--Gotham City Insider

2 comments:

  1. Japan's debt is ownd by Japanese ppl
    50% of U.S'debt is owand by foreign countries.
    So, Us must avoid default against them
    on the other hand, there is few about japanese debt. Japan's debt can increase until ppl's financial asset

    ReplyDelete
  2. Japanese government debt as a percentage of GDP was 52% in 1989, prior to their real estate and stock market crash. Today it stands at 200% of GDP. Current budget projections show the debt reaching 250% of GDP by 2015. Japanese consumers and corporations have been reducing their debt for the last 16 years. The net result has essentially been a 20 year recession...

    The "nothing bad has happened so far" crowd continues to spout fallacies about the Japanese owning the debt to themselves and their high savings rates as the reason that Japanese debt can continue to grow. About 95% of Japan's debt is held domestically, which sovereign-debt agencies have said supports the country's creditworthiness even as borrowings have reached 200% of gross domestic product. In a sign that base is waning, Japan's public pension fund, holder of 12% of outstanding debt, sold more government bonds than it bought for the first time in nine years. The National Savings rate has declined from 18% in 1980 to 2% today. The days when the Japanese could issue long term bonds yielding 1% and have it all bought by Japanese citizens is over. In 2010, the Japanese government will issue an additional ¥53 trillion in government debt. At the same time tax revenues will drop from ¥46 trillion to ¥37 trillion...

    ReplyDelete

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