It’s been quite a week this week due to the fact that I went to the theatre on Tuesday evening to watch ‘Yizkor’, a play about a Jewish couple who got caught up in the Holocaust. It was a powerful and moving performance staged specially for Holocaust Memorial Day which falls on the 27th February, the day when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.
Two years ago I went to Auschwitz. You can read about my experience here and I must say that it was one of the most powerful places that I’ve ever set foot in. I don’t believe in “must-see” sights generally, but Auschwitz is the exception: everyone should be made to go there once in their life.
Yet the Holocaust was not the only genocide in history, nor even the most recent. Travelling the world one regularly comes across places where man’s inhumanity to man is, sadly, all to evident. Places like Visegrad in Bosnia or the Killing Fields of Pol Pot. All are horrific and on the 27th February each year it is only right to stop and remember them.
Last year I visited another, the memorial to the Armenian Genocide of 1915, a genocide still not recognised by many countries including, I say with the deepest shame, my own. Nor too can we only look to the past. Attitudes cause genocides and a month ago a senior British politician described Muslims as a Fifth Column inside our country. Nigel Farage was reacting to the tragic shooting of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, martyrs for free speech if ever there were, but even so, the fact that he felt he could use such words sends a shiver down my spine. That is why we must remember the Holocaust.
And not just remember also. In a few months’ time I shall be visiting somewhere quite different to the other places described. Reports state that in North Korea at this very moment there are possibly around 200,000 people incarcerated in camps not dissimilar to Auschwitz with little or no hope if liberation.
And so please, stop for a moment and spare a thought for them also.
Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the Japanese Musings:
Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo
Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo
As we plough further and further into the Brave New World that is the 21st century, it seems to us that good old capitalism is King of the World. Gone are those nasty Commies, (well except in China, where most them always were anyway, but we won’t mention them since they're our friends these days), and our money-based lifestyle is getting more and more refined. Or so it would seem, but is it? Capitalism in its advanced stage as the analysts tell us means more for the customer, and lo, we see the evidence, though price wars and customer loyalty schemes. Well, sort of right; that is to say we do in the west, but in Japan things are done a wee bit differently....
To be fair I should have guessed when I opened my bank account. Now I don’t know what it is like with your bank, but back home upon opening a bank account one is normally presented with some sort of gift or enticement. British ones that spring to mind are free railcards for students, smiling piggy banks for kids (remember the NatWest Pigs?), CD vouchers, a walkman, etc, etc. Thus as I stepped inside the door of Hokuriku Bank, (that of Moomin fame), one sunny afternoon last July, I was bristling with excitement. I was opening a bank account, so what delight would one the foremost banks in the most technologically advanced nation in the world provide me with? A DVD player? A miniscule MD thingy? Or perhaps even a plastic Moomin moneybox, (since Moomins abound in Hokuriku Bank). We filled in the forms, cards were presented, bankbook too (the first that I’ve had in years), and then they said the magic word “Omiyagi!” (gift). An oblong box. Excitedly, I shook it, unwrapped it, opened it up, and pulled out… a green duster.
The bank lady beamed. “Omiyagi!” she repeated.
“Ta,” was all I could muster.
A duster. Is that the best they can do? Hmm, I have two banks to choose from, one gives away a student railcard, 50 quid cash and CD vouchers, and the other a feather duster. Definitely bank with the second, I don’t think! But the thing is the other bank (the romantically titled Toyama Bank), is (I am told), just as crap, so what’s the point?
Even so, I am sorry but if I was the bank Special Offers Manager or whatever they are called, and my boss said to me, “Ok, Matto, you have approximately 300 yen (2 quid) to spend on omiyagi for the new customers, do your best!” I would certainly not think, ‘Hmm, I know, dusters, that's what will bring ’em in!’
But, to return to Hokuriku Bank, Ōsawano Branch. After the disappointment of the duster debacle I chanced to peruse around the establishment whilst endless forms were being processed. Upon the counter sat, in an exciting pyramid shape, several Moomin bags. Far better than dusters I may tell you. I decided there and then that I must have a Moomin Bag. Now, sorry to the majority of you readers here, but I must digress at this point and discuss Moomins, since it seems those Tubby Trolls have not hit many countries yet. Moomins come from Moomin Valley, which is in Finland. They are trolls, though unlike any other trolls they are a). not hairy and b). like the daylight. The principal Moomins are Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Moomintroll and Snork Maiden who I suspect (from her name) may be adopted. They have a TV show and I would like to tell you a little about what they do, except that as a kid I never quite got what was going on. Why I watched I don’t know, but I did, and garnered sod all from the experience.
But that was fifteen years ago, and I’ve matured a lot since then. At five my reading material consisted of Miffy Bunny (still popular in Japan) and the Mr Men. Now, I am proud to say that it is more Tolstoy and Shakespeare. So, bearing this in mind, since I was now a guy who banked with the Moomin Bank, I decided that I should learn a little more about those Finnish Friends, so I toddled off to the bookshop and purchased ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’ by Tove Jansson, the first of the Moomin Chronicles.
And after 170-odd pages I found that I had not furthered my knowledge on the Moomins at all, except that I was right as a kid, and they don’t make any sense. The stories all started with the Moomins going somewhere, meeting some weird creatures and then nothing whatsoever happening. After an uneventful day with strange animals and what not they would then go home, got to bed and thus the whole process started again. The most exciting part of the whole book was when Moomintroll floated off on a cloud (he didn't actually go anywhere on the cloud, just up and down). Hmm, right, if I were the Finnish Authorities, I would keep a discreet eye on Ms. Jansson's house since I suspect she enjoys illegal substances a wee bit too much.
But one digresses! Back to the bank and the Moomin bag. “Do they give Moomin bags away?” I asked my boss.
“No” replied he.
“What about for the kids’ accounts, do they get Moomin bags?”
He spoke to the bank lady. “No” was the reply.
“Oh, well can I buy a Moomin bag then?”
More conversation. “No.”
“Do they give them away?”
“Maybe you enter a competition?”
“But I want a Moomin Bag!”
So that was that. The Moomin Bags it turns out are for “display purposes only” and under no circumstances could I have one. So the matter was left at that.
But it’s not just Moomin Bank where the idea of customer loyalty has not fully caught on. The local hardware/warehouse type store J-Mart runs a card system. Every time you spend 500 yen (about 3.50 sterling), you get a stamp. After about fifty stamps, you get the amazing prize of 500 yen off your next purchase. Wow! Hardly a Tesco Clubcard is it? "Mmm, let’s go to J-Mart since if I spend my whole month’s wages there, why I get 3.50 off, stunning offer or what?!"
Until recently there was no loyalty scheme at petrol stations. But lo! Two months ago appeared the mighty Mydo Cardo! And what a cardo that is! Spend a mere 6,000 yen and you get a yen knocked off every litre of petrol! At selected times. So translate into English, spend 50 quid and get 40p off. Good one!
Of course, if you were in Eastern Europe of China or somewhere people would undoubtedly come out with the excuse that “Oh well, they’re new to capitalism, they don’t fully understand it yet.” But wait up, were not in Kazakhstan here are we, no, more like the second biggest economy in the world, a centre of business and technology.
A centre of business and technology which doesn’t take credit card.
So that’s it, I’ve simply got to live without my Visa and my clubcard points. Last night I was sat musing in my aparto about this when my heater suddenly packed in. After ten minutes of deciphering the writing I worked out that the filter wasn’t working. I took out the filter and saw in choked with dust! What to do?! How could I save myself from the cold! Then the answer came to me, I knew how to clean the filter. I bounded into the kitchen and picked up my green duster, compliments of Hokuriku Bank…
P.S. 2 weeks after my visit to Moomin Bank a friend of mine appeared in the bar with a Moomin Bag. “Where did you get that?” I asked.
“Oh, my boss knows the guy at the bank, they gave it to me!”