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Calm and Serenity with an Undercurrent

January 22, 2021

After the political chaos of the United States in the past several weeks, calm and serenity is very appealing. Generally, my vision of calm is a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine particularly in the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan. Sadly, pandemic lockdowns are likely precluding much of the visits but one thing you can always count on in Kyoto is Ms. Naomi Hasegawa’s Ichiwa toasted mochi shop near an old Shinto shrine. The New York Times recently published an article entitled This Japanese Shop is 1,020 Years Old. It Knows a Bit About Surviving Crises. This image is taken from the east gate of the Imamiya shrine with the Ichiwa shop on the right. 
The family started the shop in the year 1000 to provide refreshments to weary travelers from across Japan to pray at the shrine for pandemic relief. For much of their history, the women of the Hasegawa family made the mochi sweet snack from rice boiled in water from a small spring in the shop’s cellar, pounded into a paste and then gently shaped into balls that they toast on wooden skewers over a small cast-iron hibachi. The rice’s caramelized skin is brushed with sweet miso paste and served hot to the shrine’s visitors. Mochi and roasted green tea as a beverage are the only choices available.  
Ms. Hasegawa said, “A business cannot just chase profits but has to have a higher purpose in the community which was a religious calling to serve the shrine’s pilgrims.” Thankfully, for over a thousand years the Hasegawa women have kept that principal in their forefront. Another Kyoto long-standing enterprise, Tanaka Iga, has been making Buddhist religious goods in Kyoto since 885. Masaichi Tanaka, shown below, who is the 70th generation president of the enterprise jokingly refers to it as the “Mercedes-Benz” of butsudan-household shrines that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  
Kenji Matsuoka, a professor at Ryukoku University in Tokyo, says these long-established companies have different operating principles other than maximizing profits, increasing their size, market share and growth rate. “Their No.1 priority is carrying on,” he added. “Each generation is like a runner in a relay race. What’s important is passing the baton.” Japan is home to more than 33,000 businesses with at least 100 years of history - over 40% of the world’s total, according to a study by the Tokyo-based Research Institute of Centennial Management. Over 3,100 businesses have been running for at least two centuries with 140 for two centuries and 19 since the first millennium.  
Another record period of service was broken when Japanese Prime Minister Abe stepped down as the longest continuous serving Prime Minister in the history of Japan matching the record set by his uncle, Eisaku Sato. After having six victories in as many national elections, he retired due to an illness that was exacerbated by the stress of managing the pandemic issues. Judging from his face shown below, mentally he was not ready for this event.  
Prime Minister Abe was replaced by his longtime supporter, Yosihide Suga, shown below on the left who immediately jumped into a confrontation with his antagonist, Tokyo Governor Yuruko Koike in the image on the right. Nikkei Asia recently covered the dispute in Suga vs. Koike: Bitter Political Rivalry Hampers Japan’s Covid-19 Response. The strong lady governor failed to take her request for a severe Covid-19 lockdown directly to the new Prime Minister despite the fact that his office is across the street from her and she was aware that he would not be favorably disposed to the demand. The differences between the two politicians date back four years ago when Suga backed Koike’s opponent in the governor contest.  
There is an open political and social issue in Japan and that is the single-surname rule which is legacy of a traditional patriarchal family system. It goes without saying where the individuals above stand on that issue. Open Democracy recently published an article entitled Allow Married Women in Japan to Keep Their Surnames. Article 750 of the Civil Code stipulates that Japanese couples who marry are obliged to choose either the husband or wife’s surname. The issue has not gone away despite pressure from women’s groups including repeated requests to change the regulations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for the past twenty years. As couples are usually married in Shinto shrines following their registration in the local prefecture office, similar scenes to that shown below could well have occurred at the shrine next to Ms. Hasegawa’s referenced mochi restaurant. Do you think the bride is fretting over taking the husband’s surname?   
As the father of three strong-willed daughters, I was happy for them to make their own choice when they married. When it came time to name my father in his large family of boys (a major plus on a Georgia farm), they chose to name him “ET” as they must have been running low on names. At the age of 21 he gave himself the name Edward but left the “T” as it was. As a junior, it became my humorous cross to bear for which I was thankful. The thing to remember is that individual names are one of the most important personal freedoms we have.  
Therefore, we may envy the structure and seamless continuity of life in Japan, but we often ignore the more subtle issues that lurk below an arcane legal structure that ignores the rights of women. There is a famous Dylan song, “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Grey-aging Japanese male politicians need to be on the lookout for the likes of Tokyo Governor Koike. Forceful and capable women are coming to the forefront.

Antique Asian Furniture
 We have some beautiful antique Asian furniture pieces that we have acquired over the years. These outstanding pieces can be collected from us or shipping can be arranged within the continental U.S.  
(not eligible for free shipping)
Late 19th Century Chinese Wedding/Opium Canopy Bed
Late 17th Century Antique Thai Taksin Wooden Bed
Antique Marble Table with Lazy Susan Top from Thailand
Antique Thai Bistro Chairs with Original Cane Seating
$150 each (8 available)

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