Journal

 

Thursday
May282015

The Kindy Bus

I took my son, Yu-kun to kindergarten this morning and managed to arrive at the very same time as one of the school busses.

The kids all clamored out of the bus and were herded by two teacher to the main gate of the school where they put their hands together, bowed deeply, and shouted in unison: "Hotoke-sama, ohayō-gozaimasu! Enchō-sensei, hayō-gozaimasu!" (Good morning, Buddha! Good morning, Mr. Principal!)

It was my first time to see this, and I must say it was adorable.

Yu-kun also takes the school bus from time to time depending on the weather and my wife's energy level. (He rode it yesterday but ended up vomiting all over himself and had to be sent back home.)

The “pink bus”[1] usually doesn’t come rolling into our neighborhood until a few minutes after nine in the morning.

When the bus comes to a full stop, one of the teacher hops out, grabs the kids and throws them in like sacks of recyclables. Once on board, the kid is then free to sit wherever he or she likes. Yu-kun sometimes sits in the very front next to the driver, sometimes in the middle near a girl he likes, and sometimes in the very back like yesterday (which may be the reason why he threw up).

The kids are usually dressed in a variety of uniforms. Some wear the whole get-up with the silly Good Ship Lollypop hats and all, while others wear their colored class caps. Some are in their play clothes, a few in smocks, and fewer still wear their school blazers. Anything goes really and that’s fine by us.

A year and a half ago, my wife and I were considering four different kindergartens. Two were Christian, one Buddhist, and a fourth was run by what appeared to be remnants of the Japanese Imperial Army’s South Pacific Division.

It was this fourth kindergarten that initially appealed to us. The kids were said to be drilled daily and given lots of chances to exercise and play sports outside, something that offered us the possibility that our son would come home every afternoon dead tired.

Well, in the end, that school didn’t want us. (So, to the hell with them!) We went for the free-for-all Buddhist kindy, instead.

I think we made the right choice.

The other morning, I happened to see the bus for the Fascist kindergarten. Although it pulls up at the very same place where Yu-kun usually catches his own bus, the similarity stopped there. For one, all the kids were wearing the same outfit with the same hats, the same thermoses hanging from their left side. When they got in the bus, they did so in an orderly fashion, the first child going all the way to the back, the second child following after and sitting in the next seat. The bus was filled from the back to the front and I wouldn’t be surprised if the children filed out of the bus in the same orderly manner. Once seated, the kids sat quietly. It was at the same time both impressive and horrifying.

 


[1] I still have no idea why it is called the “pink bus” because nothing on it is pink. Every time Yu-kun says, “Oh, the pink bus!” I scan it from bumper to bumper to try and figure out how on earth he can tell it’s the pink bus and not the “yellow bus” which is actually yellow.

Wednesday
May272015

Boz

Spoiler Alert: Boz don' look like this anymore.

  Boz Scaggs will be in town again this June. Every time one of these stars from yesteryear comes to tour Japan, my first thought is: Is he short of cash?

 

Fart of mine~♪
Can't keep this gas from passing
Stop flatulating!

Who's done the cutting?
Fart of mine~♪
Oh what's the use in trying?
No one can stop you now (Toot!)


   Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Monday
May252015

Hikawa Maru

   The other day when I was writing about the value of ¥100 in 1946, I remembered visiting the Hikawa Maru which is permanently berthed at Yamashita Park in Yokohama. One of the things that struck me was the cost of a transpacific voyage at the time of the ship’s completion:

   “Leaving Kōbe,” a sign on the ship reads, “Hikawa Maru picked up passengers and cargoes at a number of other Japanese ports, and entered the Port of Yokohama. From Yokohama, the ship began the 13-day transpacific trip directly to Seattle. At the time of Hikawa Maru’s completion, the one-way first-class fare from Yokohama to Seattle was about ¥500. In 1930, a new recruit joining NYK Line directly from college would have earned ¥70 a month, and could have buil[t] a house for ¥1,000. Thus, we can see that luxurious first-class travel by sea was special, available to only a handful of privileged individuals.”

   The Hikawa Maru had 35 First Class cabins, with a capacity of 76 people. The price, as indicated above, was about five hundred yen, or US$250. There were also 23 “Tourist Class” cabins, accommodating 69 passengers--tickets for the one-way voyage were $125 (about ¥250)--and 25 Third Class cabins that had a capacity of 138. Third Class tickets sold for $55~75 (¥110~140).

 

 

Monday
May112015

Cobwebs, Again

Japan, you are one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Surely, you can come up with a better way of wiring your nation than this.

Thursday
May072015

Vacation pay, then and now

When looking into the value of a hundred yen at the end of the Pacific War, I came across a number of interesting comments and anecdotes. One person claimed—and I have yet to fact check this—that a junior high school graduate’s starting salary in 1945 was about 100 yen. An employee in those days would be expected to work ten hours a day, and would be given only two days off a month. Paid vacation did not exist seventy years ago. By 1946, starting salaries rose to four or five hundred yen due to the effects of the post-war inflation and shortages. 100 yen in 1946, could be said to be equivalent to about fifty thousand yen today. 

A week ago, I was talking with a woman who worked for a company that runs a number of fashionable hotels and restaurants throughout Japan and in Manhattan. She was on holiday at the time, explaining that she was entitled to take a total of twenty-two days paid vacation every year. Many companies in Japan give lip service to paid-holidays, but few actually let them take so many days off. The woman had taken off eleven days in order to travel to Kansai. She said she was going take another eleven days off in the summer and travel to America.

When I first came to Japan, most people, including me, worked six days a week. The Prime Minister at the time, Kiichi Miyazawa, declared that he wanted to make Japan the world’s leading country regarding lifestyle and leisure. It made me laugh at the time. Even if companies offered their employees paid vacations, none of them could take time off. If you wanted to use the benefit, you normally had to resign from your job first. Masao Miyamoto wrote of this in his highly-recommended Straightjacket Society.

Things, I'm happy to say, really have improved for many workers in Japan over the past two decades. There have, no question about it, been a lot of losers, too—part-timers, contract workers, and the like—but that’ll have to wait until another post.

Thursday
Apr302015

A 100-Yen Distraction

One reason I am such a slow reader is that I get easily distracted by questions which come up while I am reading. The other day, for instance, I read the following passage in Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun:

 

“When I had finished disposing of the wood, I asked Mother for some money, which I wrapped in little packets of 100 yen each. On the outside I wrote the words ‘With apologies.’”

Dazai, Osamu, The Setting Sun, translated by Donald Keene, New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1956, p.34.

 

The story takes place in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Kazuko, the narrator of the story, and her mother have recently moved from Tokyo to a Chinese-style villa in Izu.

 

“After my father died, it was Uncle Wada—Mother’s younger brother and now her only surviving blood relation—who had taken care of our household expenses. But with the end of the war everything changed, and Uncle Wada informed Mother that we couldn’t go on as we were, that we had no choice but to sell the house and dismiss all the servants, and that the best thing for us would be to buy a nice little place somewhere in the country . . .” 

Dazai, Osamu, The Setting Sun, p.17.

 

The changes, Uncle Wada speaks of, are the societal upheaval brought about by the end of the war and the new constitution, which became law on 3 November 1946 (Emperor Meiji’s birthday) and went into effect six months later on 3 May 1947 (Constitution Memorial Day). Article 14 of the Constitution states:

 

“All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. Peers (華族, kazoku) and peerage (貴族, kizoku) shall not be recognized. No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.”

 

Kazuko and her mother are members of the soon-to-be abolished Japanese aristocracy, known as the Kazoku (華族, lit. “exalted lineage”). The Kazoku, or hereditary peerage of the Empire of Japan, was created after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 by merging the Kuge (公家, royal family), which had lost much of its status with the rise of the Shogunate in the 12th century, with the former Daimyō (大名, feudal lords) of the Edo Period (1603-1868). (More here.)

Although the number of families in the Kazoku peaked at 1016 families in 1944, the Constitution of Japan effectively did away with the use of noble titles outside the immediate Imperial Family. Nevertheless, many descendants of the former Kazoku occupy positions of influence in society today. One such person who comes to mind is Morihiro Hosokawa, the 79th Prime Minister of Japan (August 1993 to April 1994). Hosokawa was the eldest grandson of Moritatsu, 3rd Marquess Hosokawa, and the 14th Head of the Hosokawa clan. His maternal grandfather was the pre-war Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe. I have heard that Hosokawa never had to touch money, relying instead upon an assistant to handle such matters. I have heard the same about Tarō Asō from his own kabanmochi (鞄持ち, lit. “bag holder”), or assistant.

 

So that answered one of my questions. The second question concerned the value of 100 yen at the end of the war.

 

I found some interesting data on this. According to the bank of Japan, 100 yen in the following years is worth (in 2005 yen):

 

 

1931       ¥888,903

1932       ¥801,084

1933      ¥699,895

1934       ¥686171

1935       ¥668,913

1936       ¥641,795

1937       ¥528,537

1938       ¥501,055

1939       ¥453,547

1940       ¥405,180

1941       ¥378,214

1942       ¥347,751

1943       ¥324,976

1944       ¥286,718

1945       ¥189,809

 

After the end of the war, Japan experienced runaway inflation which would last for over four years. Wholesale prices doubled by the end of 1945 and continued to rise. In the first year of the occupation, prices rose by 539 percent. 1.4 kilograms of rice, which had cost 2.7 yen in June of 1946, would end up costing 62.3 yen by early 1950.

In his National Book Award-winning Embracing Defeat, John W. Dower provides the following example of what life immediately after the war was like:

 

“Okano Akiko, a middle-class Osaka housewife writing for a women’s magazine in 1950, offered an intimate picture of what ‘enduring the unendurable’ had been like for her family. Her husband, a teacher at a military-affiliated school, became unemployed after the surrender but soon found a low-level job as a clerk at a salary of 300 yen a month. At that time, about a quart and a half of rice cost 80 yen, so to make ends meet, they began selling off their belongs.

“In the confusion of early 1946—when a ‘new yen’ was introduced in a futile attempt to curb inflation—the company employing Okano’s husband went out of business, leaving him with a mere 900 yen in severance pay . . . The price of rationed riced tripled in 1946, but, out of principle as well as poverty, the family tried to use the black market as little as possible.

“Eventually, her husband found a job as schoolteacher at a salary of 360 yen per month. They had little choice but to continue to sell their possessions, purchasing black-market goods about eight times monthly, at a cost of roughly 400 yen per month . . . Her husband lost his job again when the school ran into financial difficulties, this time receiving only 50 yen as severance pay. He, too, began to suffer noticeably from malnutrition, his entire body beginning to swell up . . .

“In 1948, the food situation improved somewhat, although potatoes remained the mainstay of the family diet. Both wife an husband fell seriously ill that year and went deeply into debt. In 1949, another child was born, and meat and fish finally became plentiful again, although it was still a struggle to make ends meet, as rent and food prices continued to climb. As 1950 began, her husband found a teaching position at a college. For the first time since the war ended, they could live on his income; and so, Okano wrote, she was finally able to think about the quality of family life, not mere survival.”

Dower, John W., Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999, pp. 101-102.

 

In 1945, the value of 100 yen, according to the Bank of Japan, was equivalent to \19,200 in 2012. One must keep in mind, however, this is the value of the yen based on the prices companies used when conducting business among themselves. Some, looking into wages paid or prices in the market in the postwar years put the value of 100 yen in 1945 at anywhere from four thousand to fifty thousand yen.

Whether one hundred yen in those days was four thousand yen, twenty-thousand yen or even fifty thousand today was all rather academic to Kazuko and her mother, we will learn in the third chapter, because they recieve a letter from their Uncle Wada that informs them that:

 

“. . . our money is all gone, and what with the blocking of savings and the capital levy, [Uncle Wada] won’t be able to send us as much as he has before. It will be extremely difficult for him to manage our living expenses, especially when Naoji arrives [from the South Pacific] and there are three of us to take care of.”

 

Now back to reading Dazai's The Setting Sun.