I have no idea who the top Japanese YouTuber is right now but Heraiza is the ‘it girl’, the zeitgeist of our Japanese COVID state of emergency moment. Not only is this 17 year old high schooler way smarter and wicked funnier than the tired recycled Japanese ‘tarento’ on YouTube, she’s also hyper aware of the fleetingly silly perilous nature of the floating world she inhabits. Like she says, ”it’s just YouTube…YOUTUBE!”
There are things you can only do at 17, like saying what you want with attitude and still get a free pass, things you can’t do at 20, let alone 18. Enjoy the fun while it lasts. As Heraiza san says with her trademark sign off: Te-koto!
Suit Train posted a wonderful video with his patented narration style. For a college guy he’s already way more professional, and much better than many TV announcers, and has that rare talent of talking with a instantly prepared script in his head.
This particular video covers a section of the Tokaido line between Shizuoka and Yaizu, very close to where I lived from 1987 to 1997, and a section of history I was completely unaware of. The original Shinkansen plan from 1940 bored the famous Nihonzaka tunnel between Shizuoka and Yaizu, through the steep Ōkuzure seacoast. The Tokaido line was then realigned through the unused Shinkansen Nihonzaka tunnel and abandoned the older dangerous Meiji era Sekibe Tunnel route which skirted along the shoreline.
When the Shinkansen plan was revived and built, the Tokaido line was realigned again through a newer tunnel in 1962 which it uses today. Suit Train follows the 1943 alignment, the 1962 alignment and ends with a spectacular hike to the Sekibe tunnel ruins. In all the time that I lived there I wanted to see it but never knew there was a trail. Lost opportunity. Suit Train’s video is the next best thing.
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.
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.
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.