Archive for December, 2008

“Don’t be proud of yourself,” and “Empty yourself and don’t talk pretentiously.”  …  Musings hachiyorenge

“Be mute and silent, like a cow.”

Author Soseki Natsume (1867-1916) wrote these words in his diary in the spring of 1901, while he was studying in Britain. The words were written as advice for his home country.

Just before and after this statement, he wrote statements of self-admonition, such as “Don’t be proud of yourself,” and “Empty yourself and don’t talk pretentiously.” Proceed with your feet firmly on the ground, without being overconfident and talking big–it was as if Natsume had foreseen how the history of the Showa era (1926-1989) would unfold.

I came across these enjoinders when I opened “Soseki Nikki” (Soseki’s Diary), a book in the Iwanami Bunko pocketbook series of Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, which I had pulled from the bookshelf as I took a rest from working on New Year’s cards featuring the image of the ox–the Chinese Zodiac symbol for next year.

Looking back on this past year, which was rocked by an unprecedented global financial crisis, the phrase “like a cow” sounds like a message meant to remonstrate against the global economy, which has worshiped U.S.-style financial alchemy.

It may be a well-timed arrival, but the coming of the Year of the Ox is somehow bittersweet.

I had a vague memory of having read the same part of the diary in the previous Year of the Ox. I checked an almanac and found that that was the year when Hokkaido Takushoku Bank and Yamaichi Securities Co. collapsed, paying the bill for what they had spent during the economic bubble.

The oxen featured on my New Year’s cards, munching grass on the kotatsu table, seem to me to be grumbling that human beings are not good at learning from the past.

Unfortunately, my New Year’s cards are unlikely to reach their intended recipients on New Year’s Day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings.The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

おごることなく、中身のない大言壮語はせず、地に足をつけて歩むべし・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華







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 Never forget the spirit of the companys management …  Musings hachiyorenge

I once listened to Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., talk about his memories of being trained to make kamaboko, a kind of fish cake.

Right after the end of World War II, Toyoda, then a university student, stayed at a seaside hut in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, for an apprenticeship. It was a serious undertaking.

Demand for trucks drastically decreased after the war ended. The age of passenger cars was not yet on the horizon. To feed its employees, Toyota had to search for other kinds of business than car-making. After much consideration, the company decided to try kamaboko production because food-related businesses were thought to be a sure money earner for employees.

Truck sales later rebounded due to the so-called special procurement boom during the 1950-53 Korean War. Toyota brand’s kamaboko never materialized, but the episode showed it was the most difficult moment in the carmaker’s history.

I was able to write the last sentence with confidence one year ago. However, the worst for Toyota may be yet to come.

Due to slackening auto sales and the yen’s appreciation, Toyota said it projected a 150 billion yen operating loss on a consolidated basis in the business year ending in March 2009. Toyota has never posted an operating loss–not even right after the end of World War II.

Toyota’s struggling performance will have serious ramifications for the nation’s employment situation.

I am well aware that it would be useless to talk about the kamaboko episode now that Toyota has grown into such a huge enterprise.

I sincerely hope the company will never forget the spirit of its management at that time–a management who tried to protect its employees at any cost, even if it meant sending a scion of the founding family in the middle of university studies to take part in an unfamiliar apprenticeship.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

「経営者の志」 従業員を食べさせるには ・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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Ryuo (dragon king) shogi title : be remembered as a fierce battle …  Musings hachiyorenge

There is an anecdote about Yasuharu Oyama, a permanent holder of the shogi master title of Meijin, when he gave a lecture once: As he stepped down from the podium, he estimated the number of people in the audience, and it matched exactly the number recorded by the lecture organizer.

“I could work out the number at a glance because the seats were arranged much like the grid on a shogi board,” Oyama reportedly said later.

Kunio Yonenaga, a permanent holder of the shogi title of Kisei (shogi saint), once famously said: “My elder brothers went to Tokyo University because they weren’t so smart, but I became a [professional] shogi player because I was smart.”

Nothing could be as mysterious as the brains of professional shogi players.

Only a handful of boys celebrated in their hometowns as child prodigies manage to make it as pro shogi players. Permanent shogi titles are as high as the heavens–they cannot be reached without much painstaking effort.

Defending champion Akira Watanabe, 24, defeated challenger Yoshiharu Habu, 38, a permanent holder of the Meijin title, to capture shogi’s supreme title for the fifth straight year and become the first permanent holder of the Ryuo (dragon king) title.

Watanabe scored a come-from-behind victory in the best-of-seven title match after losing the first three games, the first time in the history of shogi title matches.

The seventh game was too close to call until the final stage as the advantage was repeatedly taken and lost by each player. The moves that make up the final game will be remembered as a fierce battle.

And as I look back on the moves from that final match fought so fiercely by these two divinely blessed brains, even my godforsaken brain becomes numb to its core.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

「永世竜王」激闘譜として語り継がれるだろう ・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“oshikura manju” a little bit of insight and compassion …  Musings hachiyorenge

Among the seasonal terms that are no longer used in haiku poems is the phrase “etto shikin,” meaning “a fund to survive the winter.” The expression refers to a winter bonus. I was not able to find an example using the seasonal word in Nihon Dai-Saijiki (Japanese Glossary of Seasonal Words for Haiku), which is a fairly thick book published by Kodansha Ltd.

“I thought the expression ‘nenmatsu shoyo’ [year-end bonus] was trite enough,” haiku poet Itsuki Natsui wrote in “Zetsumetsu Sunzen Kigo Jiten” (Dictionary of Seasonal Words on the Verge of Extinction) published by Tokyodo Publishing Co. Ltd. But “etto shikin” is incomparable to “nenmatsu shoyo” in terms of being hackneyed, she wrote.

Day after day, we hear of people becoming jobless and losing their home after their contracts as dispatch workers were terminated, some even before their full term. No year end has provided the acute sense of reality, in which the two words–etto shikin–resonate in our heart so vividly as this year’s.

One salaried worker’s humorous senryu poem goes:


Let me work

At a public job placement center

It has a thriving business.


Now, many people probably listen to a recitation of this poem with a frozen face, whereas it would have been laughed off a few years ago.

According to media reports, some municipal governments are hiring nonregular employees laid off by local enterprises, if only as temporary employees. I hope to see the spirit of allowing more people–even if only one or two are possible–to squeeze themselves in at the table by making other people sit closer on the part of companies.

Listed next to “etto shikin” in Natsui’s dictionary is “oshikura manju,” a game usually played in winter by people forming a circle with their backs pressed together. We have no alternative but to warm up freezing people inside oshikura manju formed by companies, local governments and central government institutions with a little bit of insight and compassion.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

押しくら饅頭 少しずつ知恵と思いやりを ・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華
 いまは用いられることのない季語に「越冬資金」がある。冬のボーナスをいう。大冊の「日本大歳時記」(講談社)にも例句は見あたらない◆俳人の夏井いつきさんは「絶滅寸前季語辞典」(東京堂出版)のなかで、「『年末賞与』というだけでも古くさい表現だと思っていたが…」、その比ではないと書いている◆派遣契約を打ち切られ、住む家もなくす人々が日々生まれている今年ほど、「越冬」の二文字が生々しい現実として胸に響く年の瀬はない。何年か前ならば笑い飛ばせたサラリーマン川柳〈職安で 働かせろよ この盛況〉を、いまは頬(ほお)をこわばらせて聴く人も多かろう◆自治体のなかには、地元の企業に解雇された非正規社員を臨時職員として採用するところもあると聞く。皆が膝(ひざ)送りで席を詰め、たとえ一人でも二人でも多くが座れる場所を――という心は企業の側にも欲しいものである◆夏井さんの辞典で「越冬資金」の隣には「押しくら饅頭(まんじゅう)」があった。企業と、地元の自治体と、国の機関とが少しずつ知恵と思いやりを持ち寄り、押しくら饅頭のなかから凍える人々を温めていくしかない。

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A time span of one year , I tried to count on my fingers  …  Musings hachiyorenge

I wrote down two poems after reading in September The Yomiuri Shimbun’s weekly column of verses sent in by readers.

One of them, by Fusako Iwamoto in Machida, western Tokyo, reads: “Thinking it too precious/I cannot put a newspaper carrying the news of Kosuke Kitajima/In a kennel.”

The newspaper issue she refers to is probably the one that reported on Kitajima’s sweep of the men’s 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events in the Beijing Olympics for the second time in a row.

Kitajima was named the winner of the Grand Prix of the 58th Japan Sports Awards at a meeting of the selection committee held Monday. The committee selected athletes and teams that gave the most spectacular performances this year.

The other poem, by Junko Yamada in Asahi, Chiba Prefecture, reads: “Ah! Ueno–not the one in the enka [popular ballad]/Yukiko [Ueno] pitched the Japan team to victory in the softball event [of the Beijing Olympics].”

Even the people of generations who do not know the enka “Ah! Ueno Station” would not be able to talk about the 413 pitches Ueno threw in three victories over two days without an interjection of “ah!” The team, which was nominated for the Grand Prix, won the special prize.

Looking back, 2008 was a year marked by newspaper articles reporting on merciless and pitiful incidents, ranging from an indiscriminate killing in Tokyo’s Akihabara in June to firms’ abrupt discontinuation of their contracts with dispatched employees this month. Such newspapers are too valuable to put in a kennel.

I tried to count on my fingers newspaper issues reporting on the Olympics and Japanese Nobel Prize winners, which are too priceless to place in a kennel.

A time span of one year is akin to a journey on a night train. The darker the night, the more unforgettable the colors of lights seen one after another in mountains through train windows.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

一年という時間、指折り数えてみる。五輪のあれこれ、ノーベル賞・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華
 今年9月の本紙「読売歌壇」で読み、書き留めた歌が二つある。<もったいなくて北島康介の載る新聞犬小屋の中には敷きえざりし 町田市 岩本房子>◆北京五輪での平泳ぎ2種目、2連覇を報じた、その日の新聞だろう。今年のスポーツ界で最も活躍した選手、チームを表彰する日本スポーツ賞の選考委員会がきのう開かれ、北島選手がグランプリ(大賞)に選ばれた◆もう一首。<あぁ上野演歌ではない由岐子さんソフトボールの力投で金 旭市 山田純子>。その歌「ああ上野駅」を知らない世代も、あの413球は「あぁ」の感動詞を抜きにしては語れまい。ソフトボール女子日本代表チームは限りなく大賞に近い特別賞に選ばれている◆顧みれば、秋葉原の無差別殺人から年の瀬の派遣打ち切りまで、むごくて、あるいは気の毒で犬小屋に敷けない新聞ばかりが記憶に残る年である。五輪のあれこれ、ノーベル賞…もったいなくて敷けない新聞がいくつあったかと、指折り数えてみる◆一年という時間は夜汽車の旅に似ている。闇が深いほど、山あいにひとつ、またひとつと流れた灯の色が忘れがたい。

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“let’s think about it together.” …  Musings hachiyorenge

Hideki Shirakawa, 72, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry eight years ago, once talked about his memories from his middle school days.

During a physics class, one classmate of Shirakawa’s asked the teacher, “Why don’t clouds fall down?” The teacher sidestepped the question by saying, “That question itself sounds like you’re clutching at clouds.”

The teacher could have said, “I don’t know the answer, so let’s think about it together.”

“If the teacher had said that, I might have pursued the study of physics, not chemistry,” Shirakawa said.

The school classroom also is a place where blossoming curiosity can end up nipped in the bud.

A street at night can also be a classroom. Toshihide Masukawa, 68, who was chosen as one of the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, gave a commemorative lecture ahead of the award ceremony in Stockholm, during which he recalled his days as a primary school student.

Masukawa’s father, who was a furniture craftsman and sugar trader, had a deep interest in science and technology. When walking together down the street to a local public bathhouse, his father used to always talk about scientific topics, such as how a motor rotates and why solar and lunar eclipses occur.

In this way, Masukawa learned how interesting science was through his father. Masukawa, a self-professed “hater” of the English language, delivered his lecture in Japanese, and in a way he was probably also addressing his father of those bygone days.

I try to imagine a dark street in which the father is talking with an occasional gesture, while holding under his arm a washbowl with a bar of soap and a towel in it. The son is listening to his father intently. High above the father and son walking side by side, I can picture the blackboard of the night sky.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

先生も分からないから一緒に考えてみよう・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“a symbol of the challenging spirit of enterprise” For the time being…  Musings hachiyorenge

Soichiro Honda (1906-1991), founder of Honda Motor Co., shunned book-reading. “I don’t read even splendid books, because they just contain lies,” he once said.

His thinking toward books cannot be seen as positive from the viewpoint of promoting the culture of the printed word. But it seems to fit in with a person who valued the power of demonstration over a hundred words.

Until his death, he devoted himself to Formula One races, the world’s premier car competitions, presumably because he wanted to demonstrate that Honda cars and engines were the best in the world by means of winning one F1 race rather than using a hundred words to advertise the fact.

Honda has decided to pull out from F1, a sport that it, and consequently others, have come to view as a symbol of the challenging spirit of enterprise. Honda said the reason for its withdrawal is the difficulty of meeting F1’s annual cost of 50 billion yen amid the recession triggered by a global financial crisis and the subsequent slowdown in car sales the world over.

“Companies must sustain a money-losing division within the range of their ability,” said Kagayaki Miyazaki, the late president and chairman of Asahi Kasei Corp. Apart from Honda and the auto industry, other companies also are likely running out of the power to sustain a loss-making division.

One of Honda’s slogans was: “Only things of the past are written in books.”

For the time being, firms must continue to ask themselves how they will be able to survive–an answer that cannot be found in any number of books.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

「挑戦する企業精神の象徴」いかにして生き残るか・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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