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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

 〈黙々として牛の如(ごと)くせよ〉。英国留学中の夏目漱石が日記にそう書いたのは、1901年(明治34年)の春である。祖国よ、と

その前後には、〈自ら得意になる勿(なか)れ〉〈内を虚にして大呼(たいこ)する勿れ〉と、戒めの言葉が置かれている。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…。のちの昭和史を予見していたようでもある

牛の絵をあしらった年賀はがきに筆を走らせつつ、手休めに書棚の「漱石日記」(岩波文庫)をひらいた。未曽有の金融危機に揺れた一年を顧みれば「牛の如く」とは、米国流錬金術を信奉してきた世界経済をきつく叱(しか)りつけた言葉にも聞こえる。時宜を得たといえば得た、どこか胸にほろ苦い来年の干支(えと)である

前回の丑年(うしどし)にも日記の同じくだりを一読したおぼろげな記憶がある。そうか、北海道拓殖銀行や山一証券がバブルに踊ったツケを経営破綻(はたん)という形で支払った年だったか…と、年表を手にとって知る

年賀はがきのわが牛たちは、「人間は学習が苦手だね」とつぶやいては、コタツの上で悠々と道草を食っている。どうやら元日には届きそうもない。

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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
 トヨタ自動車名誉会長の豊田章一郎さんから、カマボコづくりの修業をした思い出をうかがったことがある。終戦直後、まだ大学に通うころ、北海道稚内市で海辺の小屋に住み込んだというから本式である◆戦争が終わり、トラックの需要が激減した。乗用車の時代はまだ来ない。従業員を食べさせるには自動車のほかにも事業を広げねばならず、「食いはぐれのないのは飲食関係」という思案の末がカマボコだったという◆のちに朝鮮戦争特需でトラックの業績が盛り返し、トヨタ印のカマボコは幻に終わったが、トヨタの歴史で一番つらいころである◆と、1年前ならば書けた。「一番つらいころ」はもしかするとこれからかも知れない。販売不振と円高で、来年3月期の連結決算は営業利益が1500億円の赤字に転落するという。終戦直後にもなかったことである。雇用にも深刻な影響が及ぼう◆現在の巨大トヨタにカマボコ談議が無益であることは承知している。学業途中の創業家御曹司に不慣れな修業をさせてまで従業員を守り抜こうとした、当時の経営者の志だけは忘れずにいてほしいと、切に願う。

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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
 将棋の大山康晴十五世名人に、講演をした折の逸話が残っている。演壇から降りて係の人に、「お客さんは何百何十何人でしたね」と告げた。主催者の記録と、ぴたり一致していた◆「客席は将棋盤と同じマス目だから、ひと目で分かりました」、そう語ったという。米長邦雄永世棋聖には「兄たちは頭が悪いので東大に行ったが、私は頭が良いので棋士になった」という伝説の語録もあるが、棋士の頭脳ほど神秘的なものはない◆郷里で“神童”と騒がれた少年たちの一部が選ばれてプロになり、ほんの一握りがタイトルを手にする。「永世」の称号となれば、気の遠くなる天の高みである◆将棋界の最高棋戦、竜王戦で渡辺明竜王(24)が挑戦者の羽生善治名人(38)を破り、5連覇を果たして初代「永世竜王」の資格を手にした。3連敗から4連勝は将棋タイトル戦の歴史で初めてという。「すわ逆転か」「いや再逆転か」と最後の最後まで優劣不明だった最終局は、激闘譜として語り継がれるだろう◆神に愛(め)でられし頭脳二つが白刃を交えて綴(つづ)った棋譜を眺めつつ、神に疎んじられしわが頭脳も芯まで痺(しび)れている。

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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
 8年前にノーベル化学賞を受賞した白川英樹さん(72)が中学時代の思い出を語ったことがある。物理の時間、ひとりの生徒が「雲はなぜ落ちてこないのですか」と教師に尋ねた。「雲をつかむような質問だ」と教師は話をそらした◆先生も分からないから一緒に考えてみよう。「そう答えてくれたら、私は化学ではなく物理の道に進んでいたかも知れない」と。学校の教室が好奇心の芽を摘み取る場になることもある◆夜道が教室になることもある。今年のノーベル物理学賞に選ばれた益川敏英さん(68)がストックホルムで受賞記念の講演をした。小学生の昔を回想している◆家具職人や砂糖商をしていた父親は科学や技術にも関心が深く、いつも銭湯に通う道すがら、モーターの回る仕組みや日食、月食の原理を話してくれた。理科の面白さをそうして知ったと、“英語嫌い”の益川さんは日本語で話した。遠い日の父に語りかけた講演でもあったろう◆暗い路地を脳裏に描く。タオルと石鹸(せっけん)の手桶(ておけ)を小脇に、ときに手ぶりを交えて語る父がいる。耳をすまして聴く子がいる。並んで歩く二人の上には、夜空の黒板。

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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
 ホンダの創業者、本田宗一郎さんは読書嫌いだった。「立派なことが書いてある本はどうせ嘘(うそ)だから読まない」と。活字文化振興の面からはあまりお薦めできない説だが、百の能書きよりも一つの実証を大事にした、その人らしい◆亡くなるまで自動車レースの最高峰F1世界選手権に血をたぎらせたのも、いいクルマ、いいエンジンであることを百の宣伝文句ではなく一つの勝利によって実証したかったからだろう◆「挑戦する企業精神の象徴」と自他ともに認めてきたF1から、ホンダが撤退する。金融危機に端を発した景気後退と自動車販売の不振で、年間500億円にのぼる費用の負担が困難になったという◆「企業は実力の範囲内で健全な赤字部門を持たねばならない」とは、旭化成で社長、会長を務めた故・宮崎輝(かがやき)氏の言葉だが、ホンダに限らず、自動車業界に限らず、企業精神を支える「健全な赤字部門」を抱える余力は限界に近づいているのだろう◆「本には過去のことしか書かれていない」と本田語録にある。いかにして生き残るか。企業には、万巻の書物にも答えの見つからない問いがつづく。

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