Seeing as I’m still talking about the past here, I figured I would give you all an update on the real world current happenstances of myself currently.
Really not a whole lot is new, save for the fact that i am now attending intensive Japanese language school 5 days a week. The classes seem to get through content rather fast in the beginning of the week, then slow down towards the end to focus on revision and embedding what you have learned in your grey-matter well enough that it wont fall out as soon as you don’t use it every day. As always with me and language, my main struggle is memorisation of vocabulary. It takes me forever to learn new words, and significantly longer before I can conger them up from the bowls of my memory fast enough to form coherent sentences without boring the listener to death in the process. I’m very much enjoying being back in a learning environment again though. Over the past 18 months or so i felt my brain was getting a bit mushy from lack of use. Pouring coffee, though very enjoyable, isn’t exactly mental gymnastics. Hopefully after a few weeks of school my brain will start playing the memorisation game a bit better again, though to be honest, rote learning was never my strong point.
The class is small, 4 students plus one teacher, which makes it a great environment for learning where any faults in your language ability get picked up and put right very quickly. I seem to have been lucky and everyone in my class is lovely. Only complaint i have is that there isn’t enough homework, and that’s something i wont say too loud as the spare time it affords in the afternoons is lovely and is giving me a surprising amount of time to head out and explore Tokyo. I have taken up running again in the evenings, and most afternoons after school i either have lunch with my fellow students, or head off to one of Tokyo’s parks to explore. I’m slowly learning to be a bit less stingy with my money. I still don’t intend on blowing massive quantities of cash every day, but now I have productive tasks to do that take up a lot of my time, I don’t feel so bad about spending money on experiencing the city I currently inhabit.
Recently I have been taking a bit of video footage around Tokyo. A lot more than i usually do. I’m finding that video is a better way of capturing this often messy city which more often than not looks rather poorly in photographs. Because you have been very good and read about me this far without any pictures to keep you entertained, I will share with you a short clip I captured this week at Rikugien, my favorite Tokyo garden, famed for its maples. I’m hoping to amass enough footage from this trip to make a short video focusing on Tokyo and the aspects that i find unique about it, but we will see if that ever eventuates. Until then, I hope you enjoy the colour green as much as I do!!
Now that we all know what it is that I’m up to, lets get on with the recent history of my shenanigans in Tokyo’s tourist destinations.
So, picking up after my conversation with the nice old men I headed off, still strongly smelling of pine wood smoke, to the Residence of Hachirouemon Mitsui. This is one of the larger and more modern structures on display at the museum, having been built in 1952. The building incorporates several rooms from former buildings in Kyoto which were relocated to Tokyo after the war and kind of Frankensteined together with newly built rooms to construct this rather large residence. Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of the outside as the side facing the path was basically just a flat slab of wall half hidden behind trees waking up from winter. I discovered upon returning home that one may enter the houses gardens through a side entrance and get rather splendid photos this way, at which point I kicked myself. Luckily the view from inside out to the gardens is similarly pleasant. Especially from the second floor.
I know little about this building, as I didn’t see an information plaque as displayed at other houses. I’m sure one existed and I just missed it. From my understanding this house belonged to one of the heads of the Mitsui Zaibatsu (one of the largest corporations in Japan.) The significant wealth is difficult to miss as its scale and furnishings were the grandest of anything on display. It has for example, a three story storage outhouse filled with cultural artifacts (which one may not photograph) as well as this little twinkly thing dangling in the upstairs hallway. (Jokes, it was ludicoursly enormous.
Downstairs is a little bit less grand, and thus more to my taste than upstairs. The downstairs area is largely comprised of the rooms relocated from Kyoto, linked through a series of hallways etc. The traditional tatami room was particularly to my liking, with great views of the garden, lovely soft light and a beautiful colour palate.
Turns out that i lied to you, i DO have some photos of the outside of this house.
After this I headed to the house of Korekiyo Takahashi, a man of whom I first learned of during my studies of contemporary Japanese history in University. As I mentioned while I bored you all with my ramblings on Tokyo Tower not long ago, while there is strong tourist interest in centuries old traditional culture, such as samurai artifacts, shrines and castles, little is explored by tourists in the way of modern history much more relevant to the formation of the Japan we and love today. As a result, while most people interested in the history of this island nation could likely tell you all about the warring states period, the unification under a centralised government etc, very few will have even heard of this man. Despite my having briefly covered the turbulent Japanese political scene of the 1920s and 30s at university, I knew little about Mr Takahashi other than his being one of the many leading moderate politicians assassinated by right wing militants in an effort to remove military authority from the civil government’s hands. Further research however showed him to be a fascinating man, as impressive in personality as he was in his achievements and someone I have quickly grown to admire.
Despite being born an illegitimate son of a portrait artist and a 15 year old maid before being immediately put up for adoption, through his work in economics Mr Takahashi went on to be one of the driving forces behind Japan’s massively successful modernisation following the Meiji restoration and may have formed the foundation of a set of macro-economic principles we still use today. His achievements include drafting the original set of patenting laws for Japan, many of which remained unchanged to this day and becoming governor of the bank of Japan by the mid 1910s. This is not to make mention of the fact that he was the 20th Prime minister of Japan, nor the fact that his at the time futuristic policy response to the great depression lead to Japan returning to growth within a year of the crash, while the rest of the developed world struggles with colossal unemployment for the better part of a decade.
While much of Japan’s political class followed the doctrine of “Fukoku kyōhei” (Strong country, strong military) in the Post Meiji restoration era in an effort to avoid becoming a western colony, a fate that by this point had gripped almost the entirety of Asia, Takahashi-San strongly promoted the concept of “Rich country, Prosperous people”, arguing that Japan would never have the natural resources at home to sustain a war against the Western Imperial powers. Rather, as early as 1885 he promoted cooperation with western powers and economic measures strengthening the purchasing power of the Japanese populace through competitive trade as the most effective way to further the state, remain autonomous and become a prosperous nation. He pushed for universal suffrage (the right to vote), a greater role for local governments and for members of government to be elected rather than posted. He was also deeply against military expenditure, which he saw as both non productive for Japan’s long term goals and wasteful in economic terms. In parliament he worked to redirect upwards of 50% of its military expenditure into economic development, a goal he never achieved due in part to the structure of Japan’s political structure at the time. He also had the foresight to see issues with the legal structures within Japan’s relatively new democratic process, which made Japan’s military largely autonomous from civil government, and afforded the military powerful rights in the civil process. He and lobbied hard to have the Army and Navy general staffs abolished and civil ministers appointed in their place as to limit this military autonomy. Perhaps if this latter desire had of been realised, and the structural flaws in Japan’s governmental structure rectified, the history of Japan in the 1930s and 40s may have looked considerably different. Never the less, in the post war years japan followed a model of economic expansion remarkably similar to that championed by this man. focusing on cooperative economic expansion with little to no military expenditure along with increasing the population’s prosperity and purchasing power to expand Japan’s international influence. Given Japan’s rapid recovery during the post war years and swift rise to being the worlds second largest economy following these principles, its hard to argue he was entirely wrong in his beliefs.
His response to the great depression in 1930 showed a striking resemblance to Keynesian economics, which would not be “invented” until several years later. By having the central bank of Japan purchase bonds directly from the government (rather than issuing them publicly as is traditional) Takahashi-san funded additional government infrastructure expenditure without removing any existing investment capital from the economy. This greatly enhanced the multiplier effect of fiscal stimulus at it was truly new money entering the economy rather than just redistributed savings. He also unpegged the Yen, and aggressively deflated the currency over the short term in an effort to make Japanese exports more competitive than those produced by western colonies within Asia. This had the double effect of increasing employment back to close to 100%, as well as bringing in new capital from international customers. Though these counter cyclical practices are seen as commonsensical now, these were revolutionary at the time and proved highly effective. After an 8% contraction in 1929-30, the Japanese economy went on to grow more than 5% per year over the next 6 years. These measures were so successful that Korekiyo Takahashi soon felt it necessary to reduce the quantity of stimulus spending, a move that outraged the increasingly radical and violent military of the period who had quickly identified these bonds as a great way to fund their militaristic expansionist ideals.
Unfortunately the thing that Mr Takahashi is perhaps most remembered for, is the fact that on the 26th of Feburary 1936 he was murdered in his home by a group of young military officers in an attempted coup. This event, referred to as the 2/26 incident and involving the assassination of three prominent moderate members of parliament, effectively paralyzed the function of Japan’s civil government through a combination of fear and the veto like powers afforded to the military. This inability or unwillingness to regulate the military, amongst other factors, played a large role in the rapid military build up that resulted in the pacific theater of the second world war.
Unsurprisingly for someone so influential (and with a knack for finance) Korekiyo Takahashi’s house was in no way small. It is a large structure and particularly tastefully designed on the outside. Its complicated F shape breaks up the lines of the walls, and the inclusion of a second floor significantly smaller than the first breaks the roof up into many smaller sections. This leads to a building that is very pleasant to look at, despite its large size. This is in contrast to the Mitsui building above which from the outside was rather ugly, with large expanses of flat white wall. Much of the southern face of this house is made of large glass panes inserted into sliding doors, something that came at considerable expense in 1902 I’m sure. I’m not usually a fan of glass in older buildings, but because of the house’s close proximity to the garden, this glass reflects the surrounding trees which makes it look all the more special.
Despite its size and obvious expense however, this building was not particularly lavish inside, being quite plain and cleanly decorated in a rather traditional style. With the exception of the carpeting in the western style room, the obviously expensive glass sliding doors, and the high quality of the fit and finish in this building, inside it appeared to be quite understated with little in the way of furnishings. Downstairs is primarily made up of 4 large tatami rooms that can be connected or segregated by sliding screens, as well as a bathroom, storage room and several hallways to connect these together. Now, a small history room outlining the life of the owner sits in what i believe was the western style room. Unfortunately no English translation was available. Upstairs, lies the bedroom and more commonly used living quarters. Photography here was not permitted upstairs due to the unfortunate history of those rooms. To the south of the building lies a large garden which combined with those glass windows affords a lovely view, particularly upstairs where you look out into the canopy of mature maple trees.
Following the 2/26 incident, the grounds this building originally stood at were transformed into a public park commemorating Korekiyo Takahashi’s achievements. This building was apparently moved to the cemetery where Mr Takahashi was buried and used as a rest house for visitors before being relocated to this museum several decades later. The garden outside is a recreation of the original garden from location this house originally stood.
After looking around this house, I found I was rapidly running out of time to see the rest of the items on display. So I tottled off quickly and basically just rushed around the rest of the buildings having a quick look, but not really researching or stopping to find interesting interior shots. As such I don’t know a whole lot about the rest of these buildings other than whats on the signs I took photos of.
The next place I stopped by (briefly) was the farm house of the Tenmyo Family, who apparently were the administrators for a large farmland area in what is now tokyo, the building was constructed originally in the early 1600s, and was grand enough in design and style that i thought it was significantly more modern, perhaps from the 1800s.
The remainder of the park is set up as a traditional shopping street, with a wide variety of shops relocated to the museum having been set side by side on either side of a central road to form a street scape. Like I said, I don’t know a whole lot about these buildings as I didn’t have time to explore them as much as I should like, so to make up for my lack of knowledge I will just put up the signs displayed with each building I lack information for.
Unlike many of the other buildings on display, these buildings were all fully furnished and full of stuff. This was great at it made the stores look and feel lived in, I would love to return some time and spend more time in this area.
Murakami Seikado Cosmetics.
Built in 1928, this building is a good example of what i was talking about last week, with Japan becoming increasingly modern, affluent and westernised in the 1920s with a strong growth in consumerist culture before the political climate changed. Inside this building one could see the processes the company used to produce and refine its various products, most of which were made in fairly small batches in house.
Maruni Shoten Kitchenware shop.
Kawano Shoten Umbrella Store.
Inside this store was a diarama explaining the process of making traditional Japanese umbrellas, typically constructed out of a heavy waxed paper and wooden slats. All the umbrellas on display were beautiful and the construction process was very intricate and long winded, requiring each slat to be shaped by hand using only rudimentary wood working tools. A far cry from the cheap and nasty 100 yen plastic umbrellas of today, these each of these umbrellas must have cost a considerable amount given the amount of man power they took to make. That said, I would imagine that because of their craftsmanship and cost, they would have been much better maintained and longer lived than their contemporary replacements.
The Bar Kagiya.
Kodera Japanese soy works.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get a photo of the information plaque on this building before a member of staff asked me very politely to please go home. However to the best of my knowledge and googling prowess, I believe this to be a soy refinery which produced soy sauce, as well as miso products and apparently liqueurs as well.
After my expulsion from the museum I made my way home, and had a rather uneventful night studying in my apartment.
Hope you are all doing well wherever you are, and hopefully this time next week I will have something else interesting to report, I honestly cant remember what comes next so your guess is as good as mine!