Osaka Coffee Shop Conversation

Over a year since the last post. We continue to live up to our title. It’s a good thing no-one relies on Tsurezuregusa for up-to-the-minute commentary.

Amid the debate on television and in the press about how Japan needs to change, I popped into a coffee shop near my house, owner-managed and full of people living locally.

An older gentleman sitting at the counter engaged me in conversation in typical outgoing, Osaka fashion. For about half an hour we discussed his views on how Japan was changing and I think they are worth sharing.

As an ex-teacher you might expect him to have been worried by the large number of young people choosing not to go into permanent employment (freeters as they’re called in Japan), but he actually found this encouraging. He felt that this was a healthy sign of people starting to think for themselves rather than just jumping on the corporate train and riding it till retirement. Certainly it does not entirely exclude them from conventional employment. I remember reading a couple of years ago that one of the large convenience store chains had started a scheme allowing the staff to buy into stores and run them as independent franchises. These staff are often freeters. Many will go on to find other ways of creating wealth in a changing society. The key thing here is to protect them from being stifled by the old social order.

He was also optimistic about the political scene, encouraged by the reduced dominance of the LDP and also by the public activism on restarting nuclear plants. The regular Friday night demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s residence may not seem particularly strong by Western standards, but they are persistent and break the mould of passive acceptance that was the rule for so long in Japan.

Perhaps the rising number of the young freeters and positive-thinking retirees can join with the likes of the anti-nuclear (anti-political-status-quo) groups and release Japan from the cold grip of the current political class. Considering that the politicians and bureaucrats have still not distributed 50% of the aid received after the Tohoku earthquake and that of the 50% distributed only half has gone to Tohoku itself, there is a clear need for change.

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