Sunday, March 18, 2007

Poem about Japan - Expert Analysis at Last!

Poem about Japan - Expert Analysis at Last!


Japan is a land of speeches,
Many far too long.
Soon, when the daycare renews its year,
There will be a ceremony,
With speeches, of course.
On earthquake training day
The assembled politicians
Were commanding generals
Exhorting battle troops
Far beyond the point of boredom.
Liberated, at last, for action,
We trained obediently,
But with hearts much lighter than the apocalypse.
The world-ending earthquake that will come
Is a reality that we lullaby to sleep.
Japan is a land where,
On the average day,
Nobody lies dead in the street.
Our concept of reality
Is predicated on that fact.
Life is a serious business, yes,
But open wounds are unknown outside hospital.
With the bland complacency of those
Who have never seen anyone shot dead before their eyes,
We playgame our cataclysm,
Our tectonic downfall.
On exhibition at the local elementary school,
The earthquake experts
Sterilize water,
Green at the intake from the dirty swimming pool
But potable at the finish.
The Japanese armed forces,
Rallying to the historic moment in Iraq,
Sterilized water with military precision
For months.
They were trained for it.
Trained for it for weeks in Hokkaido
Before they went forth to do it warzone real.
Helpless in the face of the Japanese war machine,
The Iraqi civilians put up no resistance,
And meekly submitted to hygiene.
Waging war with an eye to absolute safety,
The samurai of the twenty-first century
Came home victorious,
But without casualties.
Their parades were wholehearted,
But the victors of that year's high school baseball tournament
Outparaded them.
Japan is a country of the vanilla bland,
Tessellating poorly with the carnage grounds
Of a catastrophe planet.
I give you Japan in three words:
Ceremony, stability and hierarchy.
Everything is ranked.
The strict hierarchy
Constitutes the nation.
Of the many formal gardens in Japan,
Three are deemed the best.
My Kiwi brother
Set up in business with his buddy.
The two of them, without dissent,
Opted to be directors,
Equals at the table.
In New Zealand, two is insufficient for a pyramid.
In Japan, my student of business English,
And early-twenties guy,
Committed his financial future similarly,
In business with a friend.
Friends, but one must,
Of necessity,
Be the president.
My student, subordinated to the lesser role,
Found his presidential friend
Expected the deference appropriate to his rank.
Even to him,
A Japanese born in Japan,
Raised in the culture,
This struck a note of oddity.
But he went along with it.

Footnote #1: Having talked about earthquakes with many Japanese students of English, I finally met one, a high-level business executive working in the heart of
Tokyo, who took the long-promised Great Tokyo Earthquake seriously. But it took me a number of years of asking to come up with him.

Personally, if an earthquake rocks through, which it sometimes does, I don't go and dive under the table. I content myself by telling my daughter Cornucopia that, hey, kid, if we thought this was for real, that's what we should be doing, you know.

Footnote #2: Earthquakes, even worst case earthquakes, are generally survivable. The gung ho Israelis I met some years back who never bothered to think about earthquake aftermath because "if there's an earthquake we'll all die" were over-optimistic. If you are in Japan, and there is an earthquake, in all probability you will survive. And then you'd better know what to do when you find yourself alive and still breathing amidst the debris of the resulting mess.

Footnote #3: Officially, Japan has no expeditionary war force, only something called the Japanese self-defense force. This had 239,439 members as of 2005, with the troops in the Ground Self-Defense Force (ie the army) numbering 147,737, rather more than we have in New Zealand.

Japan has a well-developed armaments industry, with branches of companies such as Mitsubishi making useful items such as missiles, and it is often described as "a virtual nuclear state," ie a state which possesses everything requisite for a functioning nuclear bomb except the will to put it together.

The current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, currently in the news because he is in deep denial on the World War Two sex slaves issue, is one of those on the right wing of Japanese politics who seem to have a nostalgic hankering for the days of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, ie the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere established by Hideki Tojo and his buddies back in the World War II era.

Seriously, this guy Abe seems to want blood on the tracks, Japanese forces going off to get themselves killed in American adventures which involve more than merely hunkering down in the safest possible patch of desert and resolutely sterilizing water. This, he apparently thinks, would make Japan a "normal" nation.

This poem is part of an ongoing project, the GENGHIS LOTUS POETRY COLLECTION, already online in partial form at, and tentatively scheduled for publication as a paperback book round about November 2007 (or earlier, if I can get A into gear).


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