REPORT FROM TOKYO by Jérôme Bloch
TOKYO: zen yet frenetic!
Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Japanese capital has become an increasingly on-trend destination. The whole world seems to be rushing to visit this hive of 126 million inhabitants with its exoplanetary feel. Report.
" To understand Japan, you need to immerse yourself in its history"
I love Tokyo
To fall in love with Tokyo, all you need to do is visit - but to understand it, you’ll need to come back. After touching down at the airport, travellers immediately discover that courtesy and service are a way of life in Japan. For those who are afraid of getting lost in a maze of Japanese signs, underground stations have a name and number: at station "8", a platform heads towards direction "7" and the platform opposite heads for direction "9". Restaurants display resin models of their dishes and if your English isn’t good, buy a SIM card and a good app! A visit to Tokyo is like a visit to an exoplanet: who wouldn’t be astonished at all the temples, parks and palaces seamlessly integrated in the very heart of a pulsating megalopolis? Every meal is an opportunity to discover new sensations: cold soba pasta dipped in warm broth and noisily inhaled, glazed Teriyaki, soft and silky tofu, sashimi from Tsukiji market, every macha-based sauce, nori, ramen, miso, yakitori and more. Everything is codified here: kendo, ikebana, calligraphy, Noh theatre, tea ceremonies and every kind of social relationship. Time seems to stand still at traditional hotels called ryokans, which offer a trip back in time. But amidst this oasis for tourists, there’s a glimpse of a darker side, with underground train carriages full to bursting and the late-night tales of drunk employees, crushed by their company’s management and obsessed with obeying a litany of unwritten rules. To understand Japan, you need to immerse yourself in its history, its culture and even its geography.
Fear and tremnling
It must be remembered that from the twelfth century until the middle of the nineteenth century, Japan was ruled by Shoguns - military leaders - based on a feudal system. From 1639 to 1853, the archipelago was completely cut-off from foreign influence. It took several attempts by the Americans and, eventually, the use of force to open up Japan’s ports in 1853, which led to the fall of the Shoguns. A period of conquests inspired by colonialist models followed. Wars against China and Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century led to Japan controlling Korea and Taiwan. In 1933, Japan left the League of Nations and invaded China, which led to the Kuomintang massacre, four years later. Occupations of Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia followed, along with the attack on Pearl Harbour and two apocalyptic explosions. Under American administrative supervision until 1951, Japan then experience an economic boom which lasted until the 90s.
Business in Tokyo
The economy is characterised by the presence of conglomerates which hire armies of students a year before the end of their studies and which, until recently, offered them a job "for life". A useful status for conforming to the family model which is still in vogue: women raise children and men work day and night, literally. Today, this model is starting to undergo changes. Firstly, because women no longer want to torpedo their own careers and secondly because some of Japan’s biggest names have been suffering for two decades: Nec, Hitachi, Sharp, Sony and Panasonic have been reduced to creating "bad companies" like "Japan Display" to pool their shaky divisions, following the emergence of aggressive competition from Korea and Japan. With a domestic market of 126 million inhabitants, Japan has great growth potential. The country is reinventing itself in other areas and brands including Uniqlo, Softbank and Rakuten are making a name for themselves all over the world.