Yoko Ogawa (小川洋子) is a Japanese novelist, born in Okayama prefecture (岡山県) in 1962. She won one of the most important prize in 1988 with her debut novel, "Agehachou ga kowareru toki (When the swallowtail breaks)" and since then she became one of the leading novelist in Japan.
The first book I pick was this, "Kanpeki na byoushitsu (the Perfect hospital room)".
The story is about the little brother of the protagonist who is about to die.
The theme is a little dark but some how it was subjective. I mean I know he is dying but the focus isn´t on his death.
One of the characteristic of Yoko Ogawa´s work in general is silence. It´s not plain nor dull, but it wraps you in the silence, as if you are in a crystal cubicle which is totally sterilized. Very clear her writing.
In the private life, she is an usual housewife who love music and a fanatical fan of Hanshin Tigers (One of the Japanese baseball teams).
Some of her book available in English are these.
ISBN : 9780099521341
ISBN : 9780099521358
ISBN : 9780099548997
Yes, breakfast. I love breakfast, probably the most favorite dish in the day. To have a good start, it cannot be unpleasant. So when my friend commented about horrible brekky in Madrid, I immediately thought about Japanese breakfast I ate most of the time at home.
I was reading a blog of a woman who used to live in Spain and now lives in Vienna. She recalls walking down the street in Madrid about 20 years ago. She said she would hear men made sound like “pspsps pspsps” to get the attention of the girls passing. Or even more direct, they would say “hola guapa (hey pretty)!”.
When I first went to Spain about 15 years ago with 3 other girls, wherever we walked many Spanish men said to us “hola (hello)”. I even thought that was Spanish costum that people greet each other even they were strangers. That wasn´t true but now I see that it was a Latin culture which, men never let women just pass by.
Although according to an Australian friend who travelled to Italy and Spain a few years ago, they were a little like dogs in the mating season sometimes… I agree in a way but also I think that it´s their culture which is described as “piropo (compliment)”.
Now back to Japan, I´ve notice this strange phenomenon about boys. Actually this is not something just started, it´s been happenning but only they didn´t have particular names.
I walk around Shibuya (渋谷 in Tokyo) and see many delicate boys and they are well dressed. “Pretty” I must say. I know an European girl who is obsessed about these fine Japanese boys. When she came to Japan, she try to speak to them but seems like she hasn´t had a big success yet. She thinks they are very cute and shy.
Apparently, they are called “soushoku-kei (草食系)”, means herbivorous in Japanese and these boys are increasing day by day.
They are all rather skinny and pale. Especially the boy with a shorts in the photo, I don´t see any hair on his legs and what nice legs he has.
Again, boys going to beauty salon to remove body hair and to fix their eyebrows has been quite normal thing in the last at least 10 years. I have to admit that a few years ago, I bought a hair brush for the first time in 4 years… I don´t know how to do the make-up and have no idea how to fix my bushy eyebrows… Honestly, if I stand right next to these boys, I do look like a kid brought up by wolves in a jungle.
Just talking about the fashion, I don´t know if I like to walk on the street with a boy much more well dressed and much prettier. I do have a proud and I prefer people look at me rather than looking at him all the time.
So these well maintained boys have been existing for a while, then what´s new about “shoushoku-kei“? This word was created by a Japanese columnist, Maki Fukasawa (深沢真紀) in 2006 in an internet magazine, Nikkei Business (日経ビジネス).
1. Love myself type: Slim body in order to fit in suits nicely. Love emailing via mobile. Overwork is big NO, prefers to be alone at home watching films than going for a drink with his boss.
2. Hairstylist type: Concern with even a thread of hair, have a high sense of mixing brand clothes with no-brand ones. Love buying cosmetics, clothes and presents. Often share clothes with the girlfriend.
3. LOHAS type: Into “slow life”, “health” and “environment”. They are often in general shops like MUJI and café, loves sweets. Eco bag and point cards of the shops are the must item when they do the shopping.
One blogger I read is one of those. He talks about having a breakfast set in a sunny café by the window, reading a book on the river bank in the afternoon when his day off, takes photos of “today´s fashion” through the mirror or tells how relaxing walking in the bamboo grove.
Japanese men are machismo is quite well-known, I assume. Then these new Japanese are opposite of traditional Japanese men. They are soft, like gentle things and pretty things.
No, not just that.
According to Maki Fukasawa, soushokukei boys are not interested in sex.
For herbivorous boys, girls are not objects for a relationship but they are friends or sisters, so for them it´s normal to stay in a girl friend´s place when he misses the last train. He even gets in her bed but… it won´t happen anything between them. Just like when we were little, you´d sleep with your cousin in the same bed. But insist, they are not gays, simply they are not interested in sex, with any girls.
I don´t get it.
So now Japanese boys are just ornamental? Is there any future for Japanese girls? Or even for Japan?
It´s very nice that Japanese men are becoming more sensible and thoughtful but it doesn´t mean they can be a plant. I´m not saying that I like these macho men or those who are checking out constantly in the streets.
I saw a girl being interviewed while she was shopping with one of her soushokukei friend. She answers “it´s exactly the same as shopping with my girl friends”.
No, no, no! It shouldn´t be. I can´t even go shopping with friends, especially with girls because they takes so long. I prefer go by myself, go straight to a shop and pick something. Shopping for me is a hunting. If a boy even he is my friend did the same, thinking and thinking then goes around millions of shops, I would burst. For me, the process of “how about this and that” is just a pain.
By the way, the word opposite to soushokukei is nikushokukei (肉食系), carnivorous and for Japanese soushokukei boys, these Japanese nikushokukei girls are fear, just like a deer scares wild cats.
Don´t get me wrong, I like skinny, well dressed and sensible boys, if they are slightly geeky even better. However, I will never expect my guy friends to be my female friends. I like men to be men at certain level whatever the appearance is.
What´s wrong with you, Japanese boys? And Japanese girls, you just let them be like that? Be a man, please.
More Japanese costum
This is the fourth series of Don´t Make Japanese Salaryman Work From Home.
Japanese salarymen are so used to work in this way, so it´s normal they feel strange not going to the office. An employee of Panasonic who has worked from home once said “I was paranoid that people might think that I was sitting around at home and doing nothing”.
For them, it´s much better getting on the packed train and working at the small desk even though it´s less productive than feeling paranoia. Now we can see that the biggest obstacle to expanding zaitaku (在宅/ working from home) is the principle of Japanese business; “being all together”.
Why “being all together” is so important?
Because in Japanese business system, there is no standard evaluation system. Which means there is no clear role or norm for each employee.
As it´s mentioned in the previous articule, the main characteristic of Japanese business system based on the family structure is helping each other; “mutual help”. This can be a good system but at the same time, this system clouds each person´s role and evaluation.
Having his or her own role and a standard evaluation system over their norm defines each employee´s responsibility. And this is quite uncomfortable for Japanese people because they feel like being blamed for their irresponsibility before people help them. With this way, it cannot be created harmony (wa/和in Japanese) between the society and there will be no family bond.
This is how uncertain evaluation system has been created in Japan. The thing is that they didn´t need it because as long as people are all together, the system keeps functioning and at the end the work will be done, and that is enough, even enough for Japanese society. Also by doing this, all of them can get satisfaction of the work is done.
On the contrary, this doesn´t work if they work from home individually. Since they don´t have their specific role, they don´t know what to do. Suddenly it becomes quite obvious that they are just killing time at home while they didn´t feel it when they were in the office. In this way it doesn´t make much sense for zaitaku.
Since there is no specific responsibility, it´s hard to evaluate each salaryman´s work. On top of that, the person is not in the office and cannot see him/her. Then naturally it comes up a doubt “is he/she really working?” Of course, no one wants to work from home nor the companies don´t want their employee to be zaitaku. And this is the reality in Japan.
If each one has their role and the evaluation system is clear, it doens´t matter where you work from, and zaitaku will become more common. Moreover the work productivity will increase. There is no reason for getting together for nothing. To make this happen in Japan, it´s necessary to change the concept of family bond in the business system in Japan.
The end (This series was translated version of an article of JB Press on the 31st of May 2011)
I´ve found this quite interesting. I know Japanese people are really concern about others and always care about how others think, see and say about them. But seems like they cannot live without being seen by others. Others have become so important that the presence of them seems to have become the way to evaluate themselves. Curious.
Writing this in my cosy and sunny living room of my little flat with my dog under my feet and think, how lucky I´m not in the office right now.
More about Japanese working situation
It´s obvious that Japanese salarymen are using small houses as an excuse. Nowadays as almost all houses have an internet connection and there is no reason not to introduce zaitaku (在宅/work from home) system.
The companies encourage their employees to do and the productivity is higher, moreover they don´t need to get in those famously packed trains. There are so many good things about working from home, then how come Japanese salarymen are not so keen on it.
This comes from Japanese mentality of “family”. Family should be seen to each other.
According to the Panasonic e-Work promoting team leader, Ms. Nagaki, this is a matter of “mentality”. There is a very strong preconceived idea between Japanese salarymen that “if you stay until late in the office, people will have a good opinion of you and your boss will favor you over others”.
Japanese companies are based on the concept of “family” and “fellowship” has been always very important. It´s believed that the sense of “being a member of the family” or “companionship” strengthens the sense of belonging and as a result, it will increase the capacity of each employee. And she adds, this concept did work in some period in the past.
To be a member of the family or a fellowship, it´s important to show that you are working, you are taking a part. “Visibility” is the most important for Japanese society.
The columnist says “although it´s undeniable this visibility takes a big part of the society, it´s not always the best way”. One of the disadvantage is “going to the office” has become job for salarymen.
As long as they are in the office, even though they are just sitting at their desk and not doing anything particularly, they are considered to be “working”. The bosses also even thought they don´t control what their staff are doing exactly, as long as their staff are in front of them, they “believe” that they are completing their role as a boss.
This is an extreme example but not too far from the reality. And this is not productive at all. However, the system keeps going by always someone covers others. In this sense, Japanese business works on the premise that someone will do it.
When we are little, we often do silly things or misbehave in the public space and this is normal. In such situation we often hear the parents saying "don´t do that, they will see you" or "they will tell you off". Then I think "who are THEY?". Those "they" are not the old lady sitting next to the kid nor the businessman reading manga in front. "They" means "society" and we all grow up being taught the sense of collectivity and the importance of visibility.
By watching each other, increase the productivity and with the feeling of being watched motivate Japanese salarymen. This makes more sense to me why working from home doesn´t work in Japan.
To be continued.
More about Japanese working situation
This is the second feature of Don´t make Japanese salaryman work from home.
The target of this survey done by tele-work association was major Japanese enterprises, about 5,000 of them.
In theory, bigger enterprises have more facility in terms of maintaining the condition for tele-work including security matter. However, in the reality, nearly 70% of the enterprises were hesitating to introduce this system.
Moreover, about 76.8% of those which hadn’t introduced tele-work system confirmed that they had no intention of introducing it. The survey showed how passive Japanese companies were towards working from home.
The article shows the case in Panasonic, one of the Japanese major electric company, and is one of the enterprises which encourages their employees to work from home. They call it “e-Work” and has been promoting it since 2006 as they opened a new section, e-Work promotion team.
In Panasonic, there are 35,000 office workers and 7,000 of them have been working from home. 7,000 seems to be a quite amount but it’s only 20% of all employees.
And for those 20%, it wasn’t their choice either. They were forced to work from home by e-Work promotion team by imposing a quota for each month. It sounds harsh but after all this effort, yet they could make only 20% of employees work from home.
Then what happened to these people after? Despite of their comment “it was quite effective”, most of them stopped working from home and came back to the office. It was “an experiment”.
This means that although Japanese salarymen admit that working from home is effective and has an advantage, majority of them don’t take that opportunity.
Why is that?
One of the most common reason is their living condition. Having study room is their ideal lifestyle although not many Japanese housing allow them to. They can´t work from home because they don´t have a space.
But they don´t need much space, they can work if there is a Little corner to put their laptop. The dining table is good enough. At work unless you are director, the company gives you only a small desk. So, working at the dining table gives you much more space than the office.
I don´t think not many Japanese people can have a study like this but they prefer not working from home because of the space sounds to me an excuse. There should be another reason for not to do.
Why Japanese salarymen prefer to put themselves in a gray suits, get on a packed train, set themselves at a little desk and work having their bosses around.
In the next article, we´ll get to the bottom of this strange behavior of Japanese salarymen.
To be continued.
More about Japanese working situation
Japan is still suffering from the catastrophe, the government still promotes to save the electricity as much as possible. As one of the solution, the government now encourages Japanese salarymen to work from home. For many of you, this might be a smashing news, even some already grab his bag and a half way out of the office. On the contrary, it´s not so good news for Japanese salarymen (サラリーマン), but why?
This is the first series of four which was a feature of JB Press a little ago.
Japanese salarymen have fear of ¨working from home¨
A man in his 30´s to 40´s is strolling in the neignbourhood during the weekday is really strange, looks quite suspicious. If he bumps into someone he knows, even more complicated. They probably think that he´s been laid off because of the recession (Risutora / リストラ in Japanese).
This behaviour is the main issue which stops Japanese people work from home. ¨I can´t even go out to get lunch because I get worried about how they see me¨ says a man smiling wryly, who works from home twice a week.
It used to be more complicated to work from home for the matter of security as they needed to take documents out of the office.
However nowadays, most of work can be done with the computer unless you work in the factory. I mean, more work cannot be done without computer. This means that as long as there is the internet connection, we can work anywere. As the security system is improving, with an appropriate measure, it doens´t matter if you work in the office or in your house.
Despite of this technological advantage, working from home doesn’t seem to spread between Japanese salarymen.
Working from home is also known as “tele-work” and there is even “Japan tele-work association” has been established in Japan. And according to a survey of this association in 2009, more than 68.3% of Japanese companies didn’t apply tele-work system. Only 18.6% of the companies had introduced “mobile work”, means they allow the workers to work from outside only when they are seeing clients or during the business trip. The companies promoted working from home was just 4.8%.
I would be the first one hopping out the office to home and there, I probably with my computer working all day in my pyjama Tshirt and my hair sticking up. How wonderful it would be working in a beach like this and still get paid.
The next articule will tell us the actual situation of working from home among bigger Japanese enterprises.
To be continued.
More about Japanese working situation
That day, I was watching BBC Live News on line just to check what was going on around the world. While people were so happy and excited about this young price´s wedding, what caught me was something different. It was William´s head.
Wow, you poor thing, William…
¨Poor thing¨ I thought. But why? He´s just losing his hair in his late 20´s and from the look at it, he´ll have a nice and shiny head top by the time he becomes 30. Then you might say, ¨so? what´s the big deal?¨
Then a Japanese girl over the coffee, has confessed me that she wasn´t sure if she could like a guy she´d recently met as her boyfriend. Because the boy in his mid 20´s, already shows the sign of boldness, well he has a bold patch.
The way people talk about boldness sounds like almost a phobia and actually I see many ads in everywhere.
I´m sure anyone who has come to Japan must have seen salary-man with this type of hairstyle.
It´s quite gross. I mean this looks quite a loser to me. Once I myself was a student and used to be in the train with many ojisan (おじさん/ middle-age men). I wondered ¨how long do they spend to stick this much hair on the head?¨ As they put some sort of wax or oil in order not to move the hair, they all smelt greasy smell which we call oyaji-shuu (オヤジ臭/ smell of middle-age men). And this type of hair, grow one side and stretch to the other side of the head is called ¨barcode hair¨ as in barcode of the products we buy.
It seems like they believe that their bald head is well covered. It´s obvious to me but belief is incredible. Oh, I´ve read in somewhere that the barcode reader can read barcode hair like the one with the red T-shirt above. That´d be really funny, ¨peep! 280 yen¨.
Our PE teacher in the primary school had thin hair and as we were kids and cruel, we called him ¨hage (禿げ)¨ means bald in Japanese. 10 years after we had a school reunion and as usual, we started talking about the teachers back then. There, one said, ¨hey do you guys know that Mr.A has had hair implant?¨ We were all curious and decided to go to the school festival in that year.
Yes, he did have abundant fringe which used to be some fluff. We all saw him and had a little chat although some did have a strange smirk on their faces.
He is just a school teacher and was so conscious about his hair. So imagine if they are handsome actors or cool dancers.
He is a leader of one of the famous Japanese Hip-Hop group, Da Pump, Issa.
He must be only 25 or 26 and his hair is in a danger. He often shows up in the TV with hats to cover his hage. Yeah, he´s got hair like chick.
Then he´s shaved. It looks much better.
Like him, there are many Japanese men worried about being bald. They are trying to deny, to hide and to increase their hair secretly.
According to Kleopatra, bald men are sexually strong. It´s said that her powerful lover, Julius Caesar was bald but he was well known as a womanizer. In fact, his another name was ¨bald lady killer¨ in Latin.
I´ve never heard of this but this maybe true. They are bald because they have more male hormone. Hmm, Kleopatra was right, she had proved it.
Whatever Kleopatra said good about bald men, yet it´s not so cool to be a bald man in Japan.
If you are sumo wrestler, how strong you are, you have to retire if you lose hair and no longer possible to tie a topnot, like this wrestler. That´s the rule. Being a bald man in Japan doesn´t give you a special bonus in your life, unfortunately.
He is Naoto Takenaka, an actor (photo right). He is hage and he´s accepted his baldness. It looks so much nicer like this than this (photo below).
It´s understandable that it´s sad to lose hair but it doesn´t mean they can traumatize the rest of us.
When we think about hage, it reminds us barcode hair and its smell. And that block us to think that it´s OK to be bald.
So please, guys, just shave it off!
And girls, having a hage boyfriend isn´t embarrassing!
Oh, those who just thought that Japanese men are sissy, this is not just Japanese men but is universal. Here are the photos of hage gaijin (禿げ外人/bald westerners).