02 - Dead Zones, Lost in Translation & The Yen
This post was delayed for a few weeks due to covid - more updates on that in a future post.
When you think of Tokyo you think of places packed with people like Shibuya Scramble Square or Akihabara. And it’s true, when they shut down the road in Akihabara to cars it looks like this on the weekend:
But when you get out of the popular areas, even on the weekend it can be surprisingly, eerily, empty. On our way to Akihabara from Kodemmacho we found tall buildings but no one around.
We found a nice park, just to ourselves.
I felt like we’ve been finding these dead zones more as we venture off from the most efficient routes. We take side streets, or walk one or two subway stations over from where we would normally go. Sometimes we find an area with a hospital (always a dead zone), or a residential area without a lot of shops.
It’s nothing ground breaking, but everyday I notice more and more how everyone generally does the same thing. Waiting in the out-the-door-line at the most popular ice cream shop (Salt & Straw), when there is probably a less crowded place down the block. Surfing spots and climbing routes all the same. Clusters of shops and restaurants, clusters of humans. Nothing makes this more apparent than city life and walking through dead zones.
Lost in Translation
1. Later, in Akihabara, we stopped in at a small local bike shop. Coincidentally they had a hard-to-find pannier bike rack that I had been looking for - something to fit over my disc brakes, which require more clearance on the rear axel where the rack usually screws in to threaded posts.
The rack was pretty big and the owner didn’t have a bag. The owner look worried about this, but I said it was fine. After he rang me up he gave me his business card. It’s a little far, I said, but thanks - I’ll stop in again if I’m ever in the area (Akihabara is like an hour away by train from our place.)
When we left the shop M said he gave me the card in case I got stopped by police — because I was carrying the product without a bag, they might assume I stole it. All of this of course had completely gone over my head.
2. I also bought a “grater” but later when I was grating some cheese I found out it had no holes (it was for radish). ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I guess sometimes culture is the hardest thing to translate.
On Global Markets and the Japanese Mindset
The Japanese Yen is at a 24 year low. Great for foreigners living in Japan, but bad for Japanese that want to travel abroad or purchase imported goods (unless you’re running a Japanese business that sells products overseas - then you’re rolling in the riches).
This last insight makes a lot of sense when you think about how Japanese society is structured. The government does their thing, the historical party in power stays in power, tries not to mess up too bad so they don’t get overthrown, but generally just plays the trump card of “well, we’ve been doing it longer so we know how to run the place”, preventing new challengers from gaining a foothold.
For the large Japanese exporters, the money they make overseas goes a lot further back at home, which can be sustained as long as wages are kept low in Japan (which they are).
And so you can see why the Bank of Japan continues to pursue their “yield curve control” strategy — to keep bond yields low (0.25% over a 10 year period) in order to keep these long term borrowing costs down. They issue some verbal warnings that “something should be done”, but nothing is done - just as in the case of the Fukushima nuclear reactor (the regulating agency knew the risks of a meltdown were there, but upgrades were delayed for years).
So again it is the “しょうがない” (= “It can’t be helped”) attitude of bureaucracy that seems to be contagious around here, but no one seems to mind - especially since they don’t speak theirs.
But this post is far from being a roast of the Japanese System, since I appreciate that, all on the same day, I was able to find a doctor who spoke english within walking distance of our apartment, book and attend a covid consultation, and finally pickup my prescriptions on the walk home all for $35 in total. And here the system doesn’t punish me for being self-employed (okay, well, unemployed) and instead of $200/mo. health insurance that covers nothing I get $20/mo. insurance that covers mostly everything.
Video - Last Days of Summer in Tokyo
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