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Tag Archives: Japan

Ikigai

ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to the intersection of your mission, passion, profession, and vocation (see below). Héctor Garcìa and Francesc Miralles investigated a village in Okinawa which has the highest number of residents over the age of 100.

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Their secrets to longevity and quality of life are useful, but the book as a whole could easily be edited down to an article. The authors travel to Japan and interview several active, healthy centenarians but all that’s shared are a few conversations and a list of quotations along with a description of 10 common qualities of these vibrant centenarians and explanations of how they implement them into their daily lives:

  1. Never retire – always participate in meaningful, helpful activities
  2. Take it slow – no need to rush which makes people stressed.
  3. Don’t eat till you’re full – stop eating when you’re 80% full or fast a day or two a week.
  4. Keep moving through light exercise. You don’t need to do contact sports or run an marathon. Keep it simple.
  5. Surround yourself with friends. Have several relationships so if one ends, you have back up.
  6. Smile
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Follow your ikigai.

The trouble I found with the book was the meandering. I think there were 10 qualities just because ten is a round number. In addition to information about ikigai, there’s a lot of fluff about yoga, tai chi, Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. They also add paragraphs that should have been deleted about their trip from the airport and such banalities. The ideas about flow, tai chi, etc. were from the authors and not from the Japanese elders.

I’d hoped that this would be like The Little Book of Hygge, but it lacked the wit and the tone of the book. I think I’d rather read such a book written by an insider. Someone from Japan would be able to add insights two outsiders couldn’t.

So this is a book to get from the library and skim. then go out and find that passion, make more friends, smile and eat till you’re just 80% full.

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Posted by on January 18, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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Orange

thWhile the story started out intriguing, Ichigo Takano’s Orange soon presents a lot of shilly shally-ing. This manga, or Japanese comic book, is about Naho, a high school student, who receives letters from her future self. The future Naho lives 10 years ahead of the present and somehow wants to advise the present Naho on how to prevent the cute new boy at school from committing suicide. Naho’s got a crush on the new boy, Kakeru, but she’s quite timid about that. Another boy, of course, has a crush on her and can see the chemistry between Naho and Kakeru.

Kakeru moved because his mother committed suicide so now he must live with his grandmother in the countryside. There’s never any mention of his father, which seemed odd. Kakeru feels responsible for his mother’s death. If he had only gone straight home after school that one day . . . The other characters have no special characteristics.

The story starts out intriguing, but Naho’s ever-present hesitation and questioning of the letters from the future make her extremely indecisive. Since the story goes for 384 pages, I expected some resolution. There wasn’t any. It ends with “to be continued.” So who knows whether Naho and her pals’ efforts changed Kakeru’s future. It doesn’t seem worth reading another 300+ pages, many of which will probably be repetitive to find out.

The art is pretty standard Japanese manga style. More creativity in the art would have helped, but I don’t think the publishing companies care.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in book review, fiction, postaweek

 

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Just So Happens

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Fumio Obata illustrated and wrote the gentle, beautiful Just So Happens, a graphic novel set in London and Japan. It’s the story of Yumiko, a young woman from Japan who’s settled in London. She likes her job, her fiancé, and life, but realizes her heritage comes with barriers. She’ll probably always be something of an outsider.

As she’s mulling over her outsider status, she gets a call from her brother. Her father’s died suddenly so she returns to Japan for the funeral. This trip makes her reconsider where she belongs and how her decision to stay in London is more by chance than decision. Throughout the story, Yumiko is haunted by a Noh theater actor, who embodies the Japanese spirit.

The watercolor graphics are stunning and evokes the feel of Japan. Yumiko’s journey feels authentic and heartfelt.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in graphic novel

 

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Poorly Made in China

Peter Midland studied Chinese language and history in college before moving to China. After a few years there he returned to the US to get his MBA at Wharton. While many of his peers went into finance, Midland took the path not taken and headed for Guangzhou to consult for US companies keen to find a manufacturer in China.Poorly Made in China chronicles Midland’s experiences helping US companies navigate these uncertain, often turbulent waters. It’s an engaging must-read for business people and consumers. It’ll make you think differently about China and Chinese goods.

I learned so much from this book that begins with an unforgettable anecdote. Midland is outside with a Chinese client and the industrial stench is unbearable. Reflexively, he exclaims in Chinese, “It stinks.” Calmly, the Chinese man exhales from his cigarette and slowly responds. “I don’t get you foreigners. To me this smells like money.”

Well, right, but the N.Y. Times reported that as many as 700,000 Chinese each year die prematurely due to pollution. So it also smells like death.

I learned new terms like quality fade, quality erosion and quality manipulation, that are all rather self-explanatory, but scary that it’s actually a business tactic in China. Dealings with a shampoo and body wash importer reveal how this works. The first order or so that Midland’s client made were fine. All according to spec. Then, gradually, things changed. The shampoo’s ingredients were modified little by little till eventually, there was a problem because the shampoo would freeze when it got a bit cold.

As time went on the molds for the plastic bottles got thinner and thinner, till when squeezed they broke releasing the shampoo all over. The cardboard for the shipment got cheaper and cheaper till it would break in transit. With the shoddy bottles this could lead to a major mess. Retailers like Walgreen’s and CVS sure wouldn’t tolerate much of these hassles so the importer is sure to lose orders. Yet the factory management couldn’t see that the poor quality might effect their own business.

Once Midland went to tour a factory and everything seemed nice. Clean environment, busy bee workers. A few were rather clumsy like they were very new to the job. When Midland asked a few questions he was whisked out. Then they had him waiting. When he got bored he got up and walked around. Through the window he saw that the factory was completely empty. He’d asked about breaks and this wasn’t a break time. When the woman in charge saw him looking out the window, she freaked. It turned out that this was a big charade and that many new factories have showplace factories for the foreign clients. Some old ones do this too and the foreigners never see the real factory.

Every chapter is engaging and revealing. You’ll laugh, cry and think twice about buying so much from China. Interestingly, Midland points out how China is not learning to value quality as Japan and Korea did when they were at this stage of development. Something to ponder.

After working for a US community college in Guangzhou, I could see so many parallels. Chilling parallels.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in contemporary, non-fiction

 

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A Rabbit’s Eyes

Kenjiro Haitami’s A Rabbit’s Eyes is something of a modern Japanese Dickens story as Haitami focuses on some charming children from the wrong side of town and sympathetically reveals how worthwhile they are. I’m told that Haitami’s famous for writing about children. This novel focuses on the children who live by the town disposal (waste) plant.

At first, like the new teacher Ms. Kotani we feel a bit repulsed by the boy who collects flies and the whole area he lives in where ash from the incinerators fall from the sky like snow, except its all year round.

As Ms. Kotani decides to persevere, we come to know the children of the disposal plant, how bright and charming they are. Her colleague, the off-beat, unorthodox Mr. Adachi challenges Ms. Kotani to rethink her attitude and his presence and success with the students helps her to stay in the game.

Because she doesn’t let setbacks deter her, Ms. Kotani succeeds where others failed. She overcomes her sheltered upbringing to reach out to Tetsuzo, a silent boy who collects flies of all species and a girl who is developmentally delayed, who races out of class and wets her pants a lot. Ms. Kotani manages to get the student to help with Minako and they all become more compassionate as a result.

The first two thirds of the book had charm and while Haitami’s style doesn’t rival Dickens for imagination and I think his descriptions could be richer, more creative, he does manage to draw attention to a forgotten group. The last third of the book got bogged down in a bland blow by blow of a strike and protest of the moving of the disposal plant. While a writer can take on this topic, it’s hard to make it engaging to read. Still it’s a quick read that shows a different side of Japan.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in contemporary, fiction

 

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The Honorable Picnic

Donald Richie led me to this delightful comic novel by Thomas Raucat that ends with a surprise, a surprise that’s shocking. It’s the story of an outing for a not so dignified foreign guest who’s attempt at seduction of a Japanese beauty goes awry as his Japanese associates, hotel manager, train station manager and a geisha all offer him hospitality and try to read his mind. Each chapter has a different narrator whose perceptions and misperceptions delight or baffle readers depending on how well you know Japanese culture.

It’s a funny glimpse into the insights of people who try to understand each other and never will.

The Japanese have become more international in their worldview, but as a Japanophile who lived in Nara for 3 years, I believe this was an accurate snapshot of Japan around the 1920s.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in fiction

 

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Confucius Lives Next Door

To get more insight into the Confucian-influenced psyche, I read T. R. Reid’s Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West. A reporter for The Washington Post Reid and his family lived in Japan for many years. His work took him throughout the region and he wanted to figure out just how Confucian philosophy influences Asians.

In some respects the title is quite literal. Reid learned heaps from his next door neighbor Matsuda san, who handled complaining about loud rock music emanating from Reid’s son’s room so differently from the American way. Rather than calling and yelling, Matsuda san knocked on Reid’s door, came in for tea, chatted about all sorts of inconsequential matters and then cleared his throat to introduce the meiwaku or trouble you’re causing those around you. We really don’t have a specific word for that, do we? Reid explains how other meiwaku’s have been handled in business and politics. He provides readers with facts they may not know about Confucius and how he strove to make communication more direct and social relations more balanced.

It is fascinating to read about how children in Japan are educated and how societies from Singapore to China in various ways infuse more moral good citizen messages throughout the environment. He acknowledges that the average American would find this rather hokey, but that many of us do wish for more consideration from those around us.

I did think he presented some statistics and facts on literacy and school achievement that were questionable. He’d never met an illiterate Japanese person, but I have. He reports that if one or two children in a class don’t meet the grade level standard, it’s an emergency in the faculty room, but from my time teaching in rural Japan, I’ll tell you that a lot of teachers don’t worry about failure since the society has a spot for underachievers. My students were from low status families. So I’d read parts with a grain of salt, but I do recommend reading it.

The book is very Japan-centered and I did expect more about at least Korea and China, which are covered, but so briefly. Each country takes on Confucius thought differently. I wished that could be examined. Also, it was written in the late 1990’s and seems a bit dated.

The book reveals a lot about Japanese business practice and social policy and makes it clear that many countries look at the US and think, “Okay, you are number one, economically and militarily, but you sure pay a high price for that in social costs. Your streets aren’t all that safe. Your prisons are overflowing. People fear losing their jobs. Your schools don’t teach students well.” (Yes, I think the Japanese literacy rate is under the 98% they report, but I bet it is higher than ours.)

When I finished, I felt eager to read the real thing. Looking forward to famed lines like:

Isn’t it a pleasure when you can make practical use of the things you have studied? Isn’t it a pleasure to have an old friend visit from afar? Isn’t it the sure sign of a gentleman, that he does not take offense when others fail to recognize his ability?

One thing Reid does that I liked is that he added an atogaki, a traditional afterword in Japanese books in which the author points out the weaknesses in his or her own thesis to make sure the cracks in the wall are acknowledged. The idea is that the author thinks s/he had built a good wall, but wants the readers to see the cracks too. Then everyone can see the problems and contribute to an improved thesis down the road. Quite a communal approach, huh?

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in contemporary, non-fiction

 

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