Smoking is still comparatively common in Japan, but it’s probably fair to say that the days of it being a smokers’ paradise are pretty much over. That said, the gradual transition is clearly still a complicated one.
During the daytime it’s hard to know whether this little bar is a going concern or not; its different signs and decidedly rundown appearance making it seem arguably more defunct than actually functioning. But come 9 o’clock, the lights flicker on, the five or so seats are set ready, and the karaoke machine is ceremoniously fired up.
And fired up is what the owner is as well. His father started the business half a century ago, and as the exterior suggests, its initial focus has changed somewhat, with chicken on a stick making way for chitchat and a singsong. But 10 years ago the current master-san took over, ending a full career as a businessman to start a new one behind the bar. One he was clearly made for too, as despite being 70, he shows no signs of slowing down — or indeed even sitting down.
Much is often made of Japan’s advances in robot technology. Plus of course the work such automatons may eventually do. But way out in west Tokyo, far more basic non-humans are already hard at work.
The upcoming August 15th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, as well as National Foundation Day in February, are dates when one expects to see large gatherings of nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine. Despite its infamous nature, however, at other times of the year, Yasukuni is generally very welcoming, with little in the way of noticeable controversy except for its rather revisionist museum.
So what the relevance of yesterday was I don’t know, but a sizeable group of right-wing extremists were there for a ceremony of some sort or another. To be absolutely fair, they were quiet, respectful in regards other visitors, and they also paid their respects in an equally thoughtful manner. But of course kitted out in their uniforms, and as a decent-sized group, they made for a striking sight. Plus perhaps more significantly — considering the hawkish nature of the current Prime Minister — they provoked thoughts of Japan’s past, present, and possibly more importantly, its future.