A friend of mine went to Japan last October.
When she came back, she sold all her shares in Japanese businesses.
Lucky her, as it turns out – after their earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in the last five days.
But, of course, that is not why she took all her investments out of all Japan.
She wisely sold her shares last October because, having been there, she had lost all confidence in the country.
She had expected a vibrant, go-getting, futuristic country. But, when she travelled round the Far East, she found Japan was not that country. All her pre-conceptions of Japan she found fulfilled in South Korea.
Japan was a comparatively old-fashioned country with no noticeable efficiency in the workplace or in the infrastructure.
“They say the tower blocks are built to withstand earthquakes,” she told me last year. “But I wouldn’t trust them.”
She was shocked when she got on trains in the rush hour.
“All I saw,” she told me yesterday, “was a sea of ‘salarymen’ and they were all wearing cheap suits.”
“Where were all the secretaries?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But the country is still sexist. It’s like some throwback to an earlier era. And I couldn’t get over the shabby suits.”
She went to Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities and found the same everywhere: oceans of salarymen in cheap suits and people using old-fashioned brick-like mobile phones. No new technology visibly in use on the streets.
“I never saw an iPad the whole time I was in Japan,” she told me yesterday. “And the young people were not dressed smartly, they weren’t trendy and, it seemed to me, they weren’t very lively.”
It was, she said, a country that has lost its way, possibly through complacency.
The older generation seems mystified as to why the younger generation does not want to go abroad to see other cultures. And, apparently, the younger generation is not spending money the way, in all other industrial cultures, young people do.
It gave the impression of a country that did not look to the future and did not even particularly look to the distant past.
It was a country stuck in the closing years of the 20th century.
“I’m not surprised the nuclear reactors don’t seem to have been built particularly well,” my friend said to me yesterday.
What mystified me, though, was…
Why is it that, when Japanese politicians – the Prime Minister downwards – appear at press conferences on TV they are all wearing the same uniform light blue boiler suits? Very well-designed boiler suits, I admit. But they all look like they are going to service Toyota cars.
I like Toyota cars. I have one myself. They are very well serviced. But why are the politicians not wearing snazzy, expensive black business suits?
It’s like they are wearing Chinese Mao suits re-designed for the Japanese by someone in Milan.
So, before writing this blog, I asked another friend – she worked for a Japanese multinational in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese.
“Apparently,” she tells me, “the blue suits they are wearing are search and rescue overalls and are to bring the high and mighty down to the level of those on the ground and give the impression they, too, are part of the relief effort.”
Ye Gods! If David Cameron wore a search and rescue suit at a press conference after some major disaster, he would get crucified in the press for bullshit and spin.