Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Question of Age

The Lawyer and I went for a long walk on Saturday in the muggy heat enveloping Kazusa Ichinomiya, on the Sotobō line. Despite the promotional literature, the walk itself was not attractive, even at this time of year when the farmers along the route are harvesting the nashi for which the town of Ichinomiya is famous (a few households were also harvesting rice, which seemed somewhat premature considering how cloudy the summer has been). Tired out by the oppressive heat, a missed turn and the general lack of interesting scenery, we gratefully sought the shade of the trees surrounding the Tamasaki Shrine, the miya for which Ichinomiya is named.

When we arrived at the top of the hillock where the shrine stands, however, we were dismayed to find the main hall gutted, with only the roof left standing upon the main pillars. With everything blackened, it looked as though the building had been lost to fire (it was later that we realized that the blackening was from the application of black lacquer to the building, not the touch of flames).

It was a sorry scene.

The Lawyer then made the discovery.

"Hey, look who is doing the repair work!"

And there, on the side left side barrier, was a banner with the corporate motto and the name of the company in charge of the project.

"From the Asuka to The Future...Kongō Gumi"

Yes, far from the home base in the Kansai, was everyone's favorite immigrant success story --the company founded by one of three Korean woodworkers who accepted the A.D. 578 invitation of Shōtoku Taishi to set up shop in the rough wilderness of the Yamato kingdom, which hung on to complete of the Shitennōji in Osaka in 593, then won the contract for the Horyūji. Though Kongō Gumi is no longer an independent corporation, having accepted absorption into Takamatsu Construction Group, its employees are still at work 1400 years after the founding in the company's special niche of temple construction and reconstruction.

That's a very long time to be alive and kicking.

The immense age of the Kongō Gumi and the depth of experience ingrained into its workforce got me to thinking about the incoming cohort in the House of Representatives. If current projections hold, a wave of Democratic Party of Japan newcomers is set to sweep in and fill the seats, both single member district and proportional. Many of these newbies will find themselves conscrispted into filling appointed positions at the ministries, positions for which they may have not been prepared.

A post-August 30 DPJ government will not just be lacking in parliamentary and bureaucracy-management experience, though; it will be young -- comprised of members of an age group that has been largely absent from power positions in the government for these past few decades. Many a stereotypical sixtyish or older overstuffed Liberal Democratic Party placeholder is about to be replaced by decidedly more svelte, fortyish or younger, often female, DPJ professional, with significant experience outside of politics or government service. A DPJ victory will thus bring a revolution in terms of the kinds of persons serving in the House of Representatives, no matter what the policy platform of the party might be.

Which is a somewhat amusing development at a time when the country as a whole is getting older, fast. The most representative branch of government is on course to grow younger, possibly by more than 5 years on average, belying the assertion that everything in this fair land is hell-bent for decay, stasis and dissolution.

One can still find vim and vigor in this old, old land, it seems.

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