Japan’s northernmost end

Wakkanai dome

Wakkanai dome

Though it was almost half a year ago, I visited Wakkanai, the northernmost end of Hokkaido. Since it was the beginning of January this year, it was extremely cold outside with plenty of snow and the streets were very slippery.

Field of Hokkaido

Field of Hokkaido

Wakkanai Station

Wakkanai Station

The northern end of Japan's railway

Wakkanai is deeply related to Russia, since this city is just 40 kilometers away from the southern end of Sakhalin. When Sakhalin was part of Japan in the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Wakkanai played an important role in  connecting to ports of Sakhalin by ferry.

Wakkanai Station

Wakkanai Station

Street of Wakkanai

Sign at Wakkanai

Russian food at Wakkanai

Russian grocery store at Wakkanai

Defense is also important since it is very close to the border and there is such a risk to let illegal immigrants in and to let foreign ships invade this town.

Coast Guard ship

Wakkanai is one of Japan's cities symbolizing tragedy of the WWII. When the USSR began invasion to the southern half of the Sakhalin Island after Japan's surrender in August 1945, nine young women were working at a telephone exchange in the island. They were encouraged to escape from the island to flee to Hokkaido as it was going to be a dangerous place very soon. They refused to do it and chose to stay there because they wanted to do their job until the last time. At the time when Soviet Union's soldiers came to where they worked, they took their lives as they didn't want to be captured and molested by the soldiers. The memorial monument for them is build on the hill of Wakkanai city. I was eager to see this monument, but I couldn't do it since the hill was closed due to the heavy winter snow.

Wakkanai Park

With one more day I could've visited the Cape Soya and see the Sakhalin Island over the Soya Channel. This would be a good reason for me to visit Wakkanai again this summer.

Crab meal

Cape Noshappu

Wakkanai ramen

Wakkanai Airport

The end of globalisation

When I started my career in the late 1990s, my employer encouraged us to have a global mind to cope with Japan’s recession so-called “the lost decade”. By 2000, the words “global” and “globalisation” were used as the keywords — and sometimes buzzwords — for surviving the upcoming new millennium, followed by the dot-com bubble. My coworkers and I were pressured to raise TOEIC scores, to learn SWOT analysis, MECE, and other terms of logical thinking, to abandon obsolete Japanese work style and get accustomed to global — in many cases American — way of thinking. 

In 2006, those ideas were changed. Seeing the Livedoor scandals and accompanying downfall of dot-com millionaires, Japanese people found out that the American way did not work. Instead, they began taking a second look at their own country and reviewing the good things of it. The company I worked for focused on the products for domestic customers rather than overseas ones, with “the Japan quality” as its corporate philosophy.

Starting 2010s, people’s inward-oriented views were changing into global again. Japanese enterprises were going out overseas, not only to the United States at that time but to the Third World such as India, China, Russia, Brazil and Southeast Asian and African countries. I had more and more opportunities to get involved in the services offered to such customers going to those countries in order to meet their needs and demands.

The first half of 2010s was the years of transportation. Low cost carriers helped people fly abroad at low air fares. Everywhere you can see people travelling to and from all over the world on a regular basis.

Yet you see that people’s favour of the global-oriented mind or the local-oriented one swings from side to side every five or six years. That being the case, such a globalised world will come to an end shortly. The event that happened this week in the United Kingdom showed that the most symbolically. The referendum determined the UK to leave the European Union it had joined in 1973. Other European countries like France, Italy and Spain begin the preparation of such referendum whether they should leave or remain the EU by some people tired of enormous numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and accompanying terrorist attacks occurring inside Europe. 

Likewise, in the United States, Donald Trump, saying that a wall should be built on the border to shut out Mexicans and Muslims, has the enthusiastic support by the conservative and relatively poor American population. Even Hillary Clinton, one of the rival candidates of Trump, says that she is against the US to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In Japan, some nationalistic extremists carrying patriotic flags with them are making a hate speech on the street, saying that the people from neighbouring countries should get out of Japan and go back to their own country.

I think that now is the turning point of the era and there will be no more “globalised World” from now on. People of each country will pay attention only inside their own country. A dispute or, in some cases, an armed clash may begin between some countries. Such an era will last five or six years, at least Trump or Clinton’s presidential term. What we can do right now might be to look on such the World and to have as many options as possible to be able to cope with the future fluctuation of circumstances.

Taco Bell in Japan

Today I went to Taco Bell at Shibuya, which had opened last Tuesday as Japan’s first Taco Bell store and hundreds of people had waited in queue for more than two hours in front of the store on the first day only. Today there was a long queue, too. A staff member standing in the end of the queue said that I had to wait up to two hours to be served from there. It was a bit tough for me to wait such a long time, but it couldn’t be helped to do it to enjoy the American taste I’d ever had at New York where I had travelled for a business trip.

A long queue in front of Taco Bell Japan

Continue reading “Taco Bell in Japan”

Setsubun

Today falls on setsubun. On this day we grill sardines, which means to drive out devils by their smoke. We eat an eho-maki roll as well. It has been our custom since old days, biting into a big sushi roll looking at the annual lucky direction without speaking any words until finish. Besides, we eat parched soy beans. We eat one more beans than our age counting in the old Japanese way according to our hometown’s rule.
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Tribute to stewardesses

To be honest, I love stewardesses, or female flight attendants working on the aeroplane. As is often the case with Asian airlines, Japan’s airlines such as Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have many attractive-looking stewardesses because of the history they once hired such women as flight attendants.
Nevertheless, I love them not only because they look good. It goes without saying that they aren’t so much “the waitresses on the plane” as “the security staff” who maintain the security of the aircraft cabin. To satisfy passengers in normal or emergency conditions, they need to have hard training and pass tests to be qualified as flight attendants. Even after they manage to become stewardesses, they should have and pass periodic tests to avoid being disqualified. Their attractive smiles, dignified attitudes and graceful behaviour on the plane, backed up with their pride in strict training, mesmerise us very much. They are really noble and saintly women, differing from similarly good-looking women like newscasters of telly stations or campaign girls in pits of motor racing circuits.
Their brave and cool-headed actions often save many passengers. When the ANA 857 aeroplane was hijacked at Hakodate Airport in Hokkaido, Japan on 21 June 1995 by a desperate banker, a flight attendant was captured by him, being got a full nelson with a knife pointed at her, and taken in hostage in the cabin for tens of hours with the passengers and the other crew. After the criminal had been captured by police and all the passengers released, she attended a press conference and had an interview with the press corps, talking calmly in front of TV cameras what had been going on in the cabin at that time. She behaved as a real professional. A standard young girl would’ve been too shocked and mentally damaged to appear in public and talk in front of press staff if she had experienced such tough circumstances. The crew members were so calm, disciplined and strong-minded that the criminal didn’t get so much furious, resulting in killing or injuring no personnel until arrested.
When it comes to strong-minded actions in a dangerous situation, policewomen and military servicewomen may have such professionalism as well. They don’t enchant me, however, for police officers are the personnel who controls us, regulates us and exercises the power over us, and the soldiers, sailors and airwomen don’t appear in our daily lives so they aren’t familiar to me.
For me, stewardesses offering us their best service on board are the best women. It’s the happiest time for me that, on the taxiing aeroplane preparing for takeoff, I catch the eyes of a stewardess sitting in the jump seat facing me and when our eyes meet we smile each other.
As a passenger, I always respect them. When getting aboard I don’t forget to say hello to greeting crew at the entrance door. When I lift up my heavy luggage to stow it into the overhead stowage I do it by myself instead of making her do it. I order a food or drink in a polite attitude and when she serves me and clears the table, I always say thank you to her with a smile. Of course I say thank you and goodbye to them to show my most gratitude when I’m getting off the aircraft at destination.
Needless to say, annoying the cabin crew is absolutely unacceptable. Deplorably, there are such idiots that smoke in the lavatory, use a mobile phone in the cabin, yell at her for trivial matters, or even use violence or pervert actions on her. Such vulgar passengers should get off the plane, as they don’t reach the level of class to be qualified to use it.
An aircraft cabin is a salon for sophisticated ladies and gentlemen. The noble hostesses will smile at only such cultivated persons that can enjoy travel in a prudent manner.