Saturday, October 25, 2008


Prime Minister Asō Tarō has gotten himself into a bit of trouble over how he spends his evenings.

Somehow in the first 28 nights of his prime ministership he managed to hit 32 eateries and drinking establishments. He actually went straight home 4 times during that span, was overseas on three days and dined one night with the Emperor and Empress, making the record of his remaining nights all the more remarkable.

That most of the establishments he visited were restaurants and bars in top-flight hotels has struck more than a few folks as living a little too large as the world comes down about everyone's ears.

I thought about the Prime Minister and his night wanderings to the Okura and Imperial Palace Hotels the other night as I stared over the 580 yen limited-time-only mabo dofu/mabo nasu special at Matsuya.

I was not depressed at how I little could afford with my paltry dinner budget. Indeed, I felt quite the opposite: I was deeply embarrassed at how much food I was served for such a small amount of money. A steaming cup of miso, rice, salad and a piquant meat, tofu and eggplant dish...for a pittance.

Looking through the rising steam at the pair of graveyard shift cooks, a man and a woman in cheap but clean yellow uniforms and matching baseball caps, I felt shame at the thought of how little Matsuya must be paying them, when a full meal costs less than 600 yen.

What made it all the harder, of course, were the names on their uniforms. That night it was Min and En. Other nights it is Sui and O. Other still it is Lin and Chō.

What a strange fate cross a broad sea in the name of study and end up working the midnight shifts it the kitchens of cheap chain restaurants.

It is not just the brigades of young Chinese, though they cook our food, wait our tables, and pick out lettuce and vegetables. It is the Brazilians who have come to work in the assembly lines of the auto parts factories and at the makers of electronic devices—and who are being laid off in droves because of the current economic slowdown.

It is the two men I found shoveling out the muck in an artificial stream in Kawasaki, with their names in a Turkic script scribbled upon their helmets.

To come across the deserts, the Gobi and the Taklamakan, to be ditch diggers in the land of the Rising Sun...

Come with me, Francisco. Leave your fancy high-class establishments, your cronies and powerbrokers, your bars where they hand chip ice blocks into spheres for the ultimate "on the rocks" experience. Put the wads of 10,000s away; you won't be needing them.

Come to supermarket still open at 11:00 p.m. where not even the manager is Japanese.

Come to the family restaurant where a Japanese client is surrounded by a team of Indian engineers, all explaining, in perfect Japanese, the product they have developed.

Walk with me though the leaning streets of Shimbashi or Ikebukuro, where you'll be accosted by sibilant Fujianese with tangy offers of comfort.

You seem to have the time, Francisco. Let us walk together; sit at a counter together. Come and see all the people I know. They have come here from far away, labor in silence for a meager reward, lack a vote and are without the protection of law or clan.

They are counting on you to not screw up.

Maybe, just maybe, you could have the country say thank you to them, for their contribution. A simple verbal "thank you for coming here" would be a start.

Just for one day.


Anonymous said...

In March 2006, I believe, FM Aso gave a speech to the friends of CSIS in Washington, DC.

Whoever wrote his speech, had him quote from Robert Frost's famous children's poem, "The Pasture." He seemed to think it was some sort of metaphor for friendship and that the US and Asia should follow Japan over the arc of democracy--I think.

You are right, he and those like him need to follow you, even to the point of working on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, he wants you to follow him into a cow pasture.

The poem:
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long.--You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long.--You come too.

Ojisanjake said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

A fair criticism of Aso but the rest of the post does not make sense. How exactly does Aso's behavior affect immigrant workers? How exactly does it affect their wages?

Treating immigrant workers as nothing but victims is condescending and inaccurate. Most of them have a better understanding of economics than implied this post: Raise the price of the meal too much and the restaurants won't be able to afford as large a wait staff. Rather than blame Aso and chain eateries for their plight point your finger at their home countries.

This is not to say they have ideal conditions here, but it does not help these people to pity them or imagine they came here under false pretense. They're neither ignorant nor stupid.

Anyway, thanks for the blog, it is usually quite interesting.

MTC said...

anonymous -

It is possible I am suggesting that if Asō Tarō has so much free time in the evening, he should perhaps emulate Mito Kōmon rather than Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

Anon I said...

Across the Pacific, another writer responds to the unfairness of the life of an immigrant worker. This time it is in defense of the Asian take-out delivery man in New York City.

Anon II does not seem to understand that how a society treats its weakest members is how a society will be judged. Aso is reported representing his society.

See "Pork Fried Abuse" by Steven Shaw, New York Times, 10/25/08