Hello again from Japan, the home of “rinse in shampoo” (which means shampoo that contains cream rinse in it).
One of the most dramatic events in Japanese history was the coming of Commodore Matthew Perry and his “Black Ships,” who visited Japan in 1852 to demand that the country trade with the U.S. or face war. Perry and his ships forced the Tokugawa Shogun to open the country to the rest of the world, and forever burned themselves into the minds of the Japanese at the same time. Seeing how weak it was against foreign powers like the U.S. and Britain, the military government began a program of modernization with Western help, which caused the domains of Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa (now Kagoshima, Yamaguchi and Kochi Prefectures) to rebel. Under the famous slogan sonno joi or “Respect the Emperor and Expel the Foreign Barbarians” (see our line of T-shirts and hoodies with this slogan on them), they defeated the shogun and created a new government around the Meiji Emperor, in effect restoring the power of the Emperor, who had been a figurehead throughout most of Japan’s history. It didn’t take long for the new government to realize that, oopsie, it needed help from foreign powers too, if it wanted to modernize Japan and become a strong nation that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world.
All countries have what the Japanese call kokuminsei, sort of a national personality or set of beliefs and features seemingly shared by all members of that country, which could be thought of as the essence of what is is to be American, Japanese, etc. Whether you’re from Germany, Canada, or South Korea, there’s a lot that connects to you everyone else from the same place. One facet of the kokuminsei of Japanese people is their ability to endure unpleasantness by using the magic words “it can’t be helped” (shikata ga nai, or more commonly, sho ga nai), not unlike the French c’est la vie or the Borg’s “resistence is futile.” On the one hand, shikata ga nai is a mechanism that makes society operate more smoothly, without getting snagged on every little problem or injustice, and Japan’s famous lack of litigious culture is probably directly related to this mind-set. On the other hand, there are many problems with contemporary society that could be handled if they were met head-on.
One of our favorite places in Japan is Karuizawa, a resort town about two hours up the freeway from Tokyo that’s quite popular — so popular, in fact, that you have to sit in a 5-hour traffic jam to get there during the Golden Week holidays. The town features shaded streets that are great for bicycling, lots of nice restaurants and little shops, and my wife’s favorite place, an American- style shopping mall with dozens of outlet stores. Well-heeled Tokyo-ites might purchase a bessou (meaning “second home”) in Karuizawa and spend their weekends up there, but employees of companies can often enjoy these benefits too, as it’s quite common for Japanese companies to maintain facilities that employees are free to use whenever they like. J-List rents a small “resort mansion” (a Japanese-English word meaning a glofied apartment) for our employees with a real hot springs bath, a gym, and plenty of fun mountain activities — it’s a nice place to get away from it all. On our way back from the mountains yesterday, we happened to see one of IBM Japan’s bessou for its employees here. I wonder if IBM does this in the U.S.?
J-List strives to bring you an authentic piece of Japan every day, and we carry many wonderful traditional items, from cotton yukata to bento boxes to cool traditional footwear and more. Something we’ve always wanted to sell are the traditional Japanese wood dolls called kokeshi, which are beautiful hand-painted dolls that are great for collecting and displaying, and now we’ve gotten some of these great traditional items on the site for you!
Incredibly, we’ve got another volley of excellent 2006 calendars for you, including artist Haruyo Morita, Famous Castles of Japan, Negima, lovely actress Misaki Itoh, and many more! We also have the Perfect Diary daily planners, which are excellent daily diaries that make it easy to keep track of everything you need to do over the whole year, while enjoying some beautiful photos as the year slides by.