Monday, December 15, 2008

Grindstone Day 15

Time: 1.12 pm
Chapter: 8
Pots of tea: 1
Flavour: lemon
Lunch: spaghetti bolognaise leftovers
Snack: rice crackers and chocolate

Hurray! I have met my deadline today and submitted 'Part 1' of my draft to my lovely mentor, Siobhan Harvey. Now for a quick break and then on with Chapter 9 and Part 2 (you see, if I write it here on my blog then I have to do it! Clever eh?)

It's actually rather nice writing to a deadline. There's something extra pushing my mind towards the story, keeping me on track and less likely to stray to interesting Youtube videos or the paper.

Anyway, over the weekend we did two daytrips to nearby cities, one to Takamatsu where we enjoyed exploring in Ritsurin Park, one of a legion of beautiful public gardens in Japan. This one is an Edo period artificially-landscaped garden, originally built for a powerful lord and his descendants and later claimed for the public when feudal lands were confiscated during the Meiji restoration.

Walking around here, it's possible to get a feel for how these lords spent their time and how bored they must have been through the long hot summers when they and their entourage were required by the Emperor to stay in one place (so they could be controlled). There are numerous small mounds or rocks, each apparently sculpted to a period 'style' (they just look like random piles to me, but the fact that there was a particular school of rock-styling, in addition to competing schools for other things like tea ceremony, proves my point.) There is also a small waterfall on the grounds, but it seems the landscaper designer was no engineer - the only way the water could be made to fall was by servants carting it up to the top of the cliff in buckets, then hiding and pouring the water down whenever a lord walked by. Another example of a completely pointless garden construction is a 'duck-hunting hide' : a wall with peepholes looks down into a moat where ducks are attracted by scattered crumbs. The brave and skilled lord looks through the peephole, finely judges his moment then at his signal servants jump into the moat and capture the ducks with nets.

Not that the Japanese have a monopoly on historic folly in gardens or pointless jobs for the less fortunate, by any means, but there seem to be a lot of people doing them here.

Example one: Petrol station attendants. From early morning to late at night, most petrol station forecourts have two or three people in bright overalls, who spring to attention when a car slides in, then bustle around, polishing windows, putting in petrol, helping the car get out again into the traffic, etc. I guess it could be seen as a charming return to the old days when a service station did mean a 'service' station, but would you want your granny or grandpa to spend all day on their feet breathing in petrol fumes?

Example two: Shop wrappers. Presentation and "hygiene" is all-important here, therefore even the smallest home bakery will have people sitting around a table or a plastic wrap machine, obsessively sealing individual buns or biscuits in layers of plastic. It's a self-renewing practice, as shoppers won't buy anything they don't perceive to be "clean", thus everyone has to do it.

A general observation is that many of these high-labour, low-stimulus jobs are filled by people who look like they should be retired. Japan has the world's most top-heavy population pyramid, and I guess that social welfare doesn't fully provide for them here. Is this the way the rest of the world will go?

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