Shrine and Temple

New Year is THE big thing in Japan. In the last days of the year, it is time for a deep cleaning in the house, declutter, make everything clean and beautiful to initiate a clean new cycle of life.

in the last 3 days, a lot of time is allocated to prepare special end of the year dishes, Osechi, that you eat cold on december 31. You may order them in advance in gourmet food shops and hotel restaurants at crazy prices.

from January 1 to 3rd, all Japanese must go and pray at the shrine or temple for a healthy and prosperous year – https://youtu.be/1k9Oz4rb0JI

dont expect big ceremonies, full restaurants and party time on december 31 in Japan, most places are closed, it is very quiet!!

 

Kobe

Kobe? Here is a provincial city that feels like a town in the Kansai region. Again, I did not find much to visit there apart from the Kitano area where a lot of European style houses are built along the hill and the garden at the top, you may use the cable car or hike there.

However, I really like the city for the hills and the seaside, the many ramen and small shops and restaurants under the bridges and train rails, The city center has a European flair, arcades, small boutique, cafes with terraces, a walk on the seaside, the place is quieter than Osaka or Tokyo, so this is really a pleasure to spend an afternoon in Kobe

When Japan opened to the world, Dutch and Portuguese were the first to arrive in Nagasaki and then in Kobe because this was the port closer to Kyoto, the imperial city. Nowadays, some houses remain and Kobe is famous for the cakes and the bread because of this past times

Of course, the great earthquake in 1995 means most of the city is modern and rebuild, but sometimes, a good surprise and a nice building pops up.

Osaka – Light and Life

Osaka is such a contrast compared to Tokyo, very lively, this is the 3rd city of Japan, after Yokohama, and it is a great location 40mn from Kyoto by local train (20mn with the shinkansen), 50mn to Nara, 30mn to Kobe (15mn with shinkansen). People laugh, shout, scream, talk loudly in the streets and bars, there is a special atmosphere here.

Enjoy the capital of streetfood, and shopping, the numerous malls, and the modern buildings, Temma, Dotombori, Namba, Umeda, so much to enjoy, not much to visit but guaranteed great time. After that, I am privileged enough to get the sweets in my room with a view

 

Korea in Tokyo

Next to Shinjuku and the famous Kabukicho area, is Shin Okubo district, this is little Korea

Wandering there is fun, so different from the everyday Tokyo, narrow and colorful streets, lively, plenty of cosmetics shops, K-pop displayed all over. I really enjoy spending saturdays there, have lunch at a Korean cafe, and watch the world passing by.

Kyoto overtourism

In Europe, Venice, Barcelona or Amsterdam are complaining that they are dying from over tourism, although I have experienced this myself, I must that nothing compares to Kyoto where last year, I gave up one morning at 10am and left the city disgusted, frustrated and sad.

Local people cannot have a life there anymore, the city is crowded with groups from 8am til dawn, people push to walk, you cannot stop anywhere, you cannot have perspective on any monument you want to visit for example, such a shame… what can we do to address this?

help needed before this is destroyed by tourism

March 11 – remembering

As we have just yesterday remembered the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a lot of press reviews came out with either stories or facts around the current status.

Many places are still yet to be cleaned up 8 years later and some villages are not yet reopen with 52.000 persons out of their homes since.

When I arrived, I read “Japan – the art of bending adversity” where a number of chapters cover the event and I learnt a lot not only on the history but on the Japanese way of thinking and behaving around the natural disasters through the history. let me highly recommend it

Fishermen could not operate for many years and some trials are now happening. I honestly worry about the water sent to the ocean from the nuclear plant, what is the impact? anyone has a view?

Lately, we are also facing a devastating situation where many people have been evacuated in 2011, their homes have not been restored yet, entire towns are still uncleaned but these same people are now asked to move back and make space in Tokyo to prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Just last week, the government announced there will be a new organisation for rebuilding northeastern Japan areas.

 

Karoshi

This week, on 2 occasions, I was confronted with a discussion around work life balance and overtime. On both occasions, the person explained that this over work mentality came from the Showa Period where everyone was supposed to work hard to rebuild the country and support economic growth

Showa terminated in 1989, 30 years ago, so 2 generations ago, but some people still live this way. Thankfully, the government, conscious of the health impact of such behavior, has been adding bank holidays along the way to make sure people would stay at home a decent amount. However, in my company, we still have colleagues who took less than 5 holidays last year.

On my second discussion, about a company I know well, the person explained to me that almost all employees overwork and when leaving at 19h00, they are called for a meeting with their manager who explains to them for over 1 hour that they should work more.

There was this particular example of a lady who had just got married and was working 1 hour extra every day. She was called several times and blamed for not working enough. Eventually, she got divorced, burnt out, quit and moved away to a secondary city. She is still mentally affected and is gradually recovering.

In this company, there are multiple employees on long term sickleave with serious condition. some of them will never be able to go back to work

In Japan, there is a word for death by overwork – karoshi. in the last 2 years, companies like Panasonic or NHK have been called out for their work environment. I also heard stories of union visiting major Japanese corporations and forbidding over time with immediate effect, guess what. the productivity rose in the 1st 3 months, sickleave decreased, the company became attractive to employees and new graduates and they saved money on utilities bills for their office buildings but turning off lights and energy at 19h00!

The government even created a “Blacklist” of companies who are still encouraging long working hours etc and new graduates have a list of companies that they should NOT consider when joining the workforce.

It is not all that easy. I recall that in a company where I have many friends, they told me that some branches make sure they do not report overtime and forbid the co-workers to report. they also declare days off and holidays when they actually come to work. this in order to look good and avoid meetings and discussions! In Japan, because of lifetime employment, many people are trapped in the system. The concept of paying holidays does not exist so that the people who change company do not get their untaken holidays paid when they leave, now that turnover exists and grows, that the new generation does not see switching employment as a challenge, this will also need to be fixed.

Last year, a friends’daughter explained to me that she could not grow abroad for a year after her studies even she badly wanted to because her only option to enter the workforce was to go via the new graduates cycle otherwise she would be perceived as a rebel when she would come back, it would then be difficult to find a job, she would most probably end temping or at a lower salary with much less opportunity for growth. Put yourself in those shoes with your western mentality!! unbelievable. It took a while to make her see the other side of the coin, what if she would gain experience that companies would buy, what if she would not come back and grow a career elsewhere, what if many other young graduates do like her, with the lack of resources in Japan, what if she would come back and received offers to choose from in 5 years time.

This thing of the past will take a while to change BUT I see the new generation very differently, they definitely dont accept this. As long as their directors are not Showa type, they dare to challenge, they dare to balancing their life.

Step by step – a cultural shift will happen, we are nearly at the end of Heisei, gone are the Showa days, I am hoping the new period we will soon enter will reflect and encourage this.