The Art of Train Announcements

This morning the conductor made an announcement as the Yamanote train pulled into Meguro station: “This train is not a waste basket, kindly fold newspapers and take reading material with you when you leave,” and went on to kindly remind passengers to hold backpacks in the front, put them on the rack or on the floor.

Train announcements used to be an human art that has largely been replaced with recorded machine announcements. It takes great skill to convey important information on the fly in an easy to understand way. There’s pitch, speed, volume and clarity delivered in a focused train of thought, channeled with personality and humor. Surprisingly there are a few JR East conductors on the Yamanote line who go out of their way to practice this lost art, and a rare select few who manage to combine those qualities in magical voice announcements for train manners and other gentle reminders. It’s a treat to hear a lovely low clear live voice announcement calmly cutting through the clutter of noise, calling out the next station and reminding us to be civil to our fellow passengers.

Un-worry

I didn’t learn how to un-worry until I lived in Japan a few years and saw how the Japanese do it. Un-worry is not the same thing as not worrying, the get out of bed late, don’t give a damn about others self centered variety I found too much of in American life. Un-worry is do what you have to do and do your best for yourself and others at any given moment…but don’t worry about the outcome. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.

To that end I always find the Japanese cultural fine art of compartmentalization amazing and extremely useful. No matter what happens there’s enough dry disattachment to switch gears and do…something else, something constructive. It’s the Sho-ga-nai spirit that westerns see as negative that I see as positive gear shift. I secretly think it’s the thing that got Japan from WWII defeat to the world’s 2nd largest (recently 3rd largest) economy. I cannot imagine the American psyche suffering a similar sized defeat from the outside and sifting gears so adroitly, too much hanging on hysteria. Life is tough but it doesn’t have to be tough on you. Sho-ga-nai.

Pets and Pistols

In our era of unending overheated news cycles I take comfort in the cold dispassionate analytic Japanese cultural characteristic. Its helpful not only for keeping a level head but also making interesting connections between seemingly unrelated things.

For example different cultural responses to the COVID crisis: in Japan people went out and bought pets, in America people went out and bought guns. Japanese like making those kinds of comparisons that seem to come out of left field, but for me provide ‘think outside the box’ context sorely missing in public discourse these days. And again when Bloomberg ran a piece titled “Buddhist Monks Are Snapping Up ESG Bonds in Japan,” that wasn’t getting any traction in the Japanese news space.

As a Buddhist priest (monks live monastic lives outside of society, priests do not) it stuck me as odd that a Rinzai Zen temple would advertise investing in ESG bonds as future proofing the temple instead of working to get younger people involved in temple activities. The Bloomberg piece also reads like stealth marketing, if Zen temples and the Vatican are investing in ESG bonds it must be good…right?

I asked a Japanese trader friend about it and he set me straight without blinking an eye, “With this coming out on Bloomberg just when the Dali Lama and Greta Thunberg are hooking up online to discuss environmental issues, it sounds like investment funds and players are gearing up to make a lot of mischief. The only difference is that they used to be better at hiding this kind of nonsense and now they suck.” Bingo…helpful context to divine where things are going. There is also online discussion of a COVID-19 ‘vaccination mafia’, but that’s another subject for another day.

Monk’s Trail Race overcomes a tough run

Poor Minobusan cannot catch a break. The Shugyoso Monk’s Run Trail Race profiled in 2014 was cancelled in 2018 due to major typhoon inflicted damage on the Minobusan~Shichimensan trail. Denied use of the full course, race organizers made do with mini races covering usable parts of the trails. This year’s challenge was greater than ever: the COVID crisis almost cancelled it altogether.

To keep it alive Rev. Yuji Komatsu of Takeibo and the resourceful Shugyoso organizers opted for a 17 km ‘mini course race’ up and down Shichimensan this year, limited to 50 runners each on November 21, 22, 28, 29 with COVID protocols in place to limit crowding. It’s an encouraging sign that all race slots sold out.

The first race on November 21 went very well. The weather was clear and warm. Organizers did a good job taking care of the race and racers. Everybody was relaxed and enjoyed a good time. Final race results ranking the best times of all 4 race days are posted on the Shugyoso FaceBook page (Japanese).

If all goes well the road linking Minobusan and Shichimensan will be completely repaired and once again open for Monks Trail Race event.

The course this year is half of what it usually is, up the Omotesando trail of Shichimensan and down the Kitasando trail

In case you wondered why parasols for men are a thing this summer…

Parasols are a standard Japanese summer item for women but I was scratching my head when I saw men using them this summer. Was it the heat? Was it something else? I searched online and soon found the answer: COVID and face masks.

You see men don’t mind tan lines in the usual places but face mask tan lines are to be avoided at all costs. Japanese guys apparently have it tough these days because Japanese women are incredibly picky. Guys have to have just the right muscled physique but not too much, face hair is okay but body hair is no, and no face mask tan lines.

I don’t know about you but I take comfort in people caring about appearances despite all the chaos that is 2020. A little dose of normal helps the day go down.