Hello again from J-List, your friend in Japan!
Well, the Japanese election is behind us, and it was a landslide for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Prime Minister Koizumi, who successfully chased the anti-reform Diet members from his party and got a mandate for change from the voters. It was a very interesting election in that it was a lot more “American” than those of the past — the heads of each Japanese party campaigned directly to the people, presenting their ideas on the main issue at hand, the privatization of the Japanese post office along the lines of Japan’s privatizing of the old national railroad system during the 1980s (which became the current six Japan Railroad companies). Japan is a parliamentary democracy based on the government of the U.K., with a Prime Minister elected by the party that holds the most seats in the Diet. Since the leaders are not chosen directly by the people, as in countries with presidential elections, it creates a different dynamic between the voters and the head honcho. This time around, there was the sense that people were voting for the leader directly, rather than just casting votes for their local representative in the Diet.
Now that the LDP has gotten the go-ahead, they’ll be putting their plan to reform Japan’s massive postal apparatus into action. The problem with Japan Post isn’t how they deliver the mail, of course — they’re extremely polite and hardworking, and J-List wouldn’t be able to function without the efforts of several post offices in our area. (J-List sends so many packages, we once received a special thank-you plaque presented by the director of the postal service.) The biggest problems with the post office are the convenient but unnecessary Kampo life insurance and postal savings accounts, which operate under different rules than private insurance companies and banks in Japan and which effectively keep the private sector on an inferior level compared to these government-backed enterprises. Japan could also afford to shed a few thousand of the 24,000 post offices that dot the country — it’d ridiculous how many I pass when driving around my town. Maybe they can combine some of them and put some real parking lots in?
Japanese humor can be quite interesting, and watching anime can teach you some words and phrases that are fun to know. At the age of 37, I’m passed the oniisan phase and am well on my way to being a true ojisan (two words which mean older brother and uncle, respectively, but in more general context refer to young-ish men in their 20s and men starting their silver years). For whatever reason, middle-aged men in Japan make the stupidest puns, which are called dajare (dah-JAH-rey), but when I make puns my kids use the word dadajare, combining “dada” (Daddy) with dajare, which is rather deep as that’s a dajare right there. Here are some stupid Japanese phrases you can use if you know any Japanese people. One comes from a commercial for Listerine which combined the English words “bye bye” with the word for bacteria (baikin) to make bye bye-kin (bai bai-KEEN) which caught on and was said by everyone for a while. Another involves a phrase you might have heard in anime, sonna bakana, which means “what a stupid…” and is said to express shock, but if you change it to sonna banana (“what a banana!”) it’s mildly amusing. (The word “banana” is pronounced in Japanese with the stress on the first syllable, e.g. BAH-na-na.)