Monday was Respect for the Aged Day here in Japan and, without a doubt, many Japanese did pay tribute to their old folks – if they could find them. But it would have been a dull holiday weekend if that was all that was going on.
The big international news was that China continued to play hardball with Japan over a fishing boat captain who was hauled in for violating Japanese (disputed) territorial waters, and for ramming one, possibly two, JSDF boats that were attempting to chase him back to international sea. China negotiates with Japan aggressively, and is now pushing for the release of the fishing boat captain by urging the cancellation of tours to Japan, and allowing protests in the streets.
It is almost a law of nature that whenever a dispute arises between China and Japan that anti-Japan protestors appear on Chinese streets, complete with Japanese flag burning for the news cameras. But this time the protests were surprisingly small, amounting to several hundred, which in a county of 1.3 billion people is not even one one-millionth of the population. This isn’t, though, really about fishing boats, nor is it about a dead panda in Kobe, it’s about drilling for natural gas in the sea near the Senkaku Islands, where the incident occurred.
The bottom-line is that neither country can afford to let this confrontation choke the economic ties that have flourished over the years. Proving that, thousands of Chinese continued to visit Japan and shop themselves blind from Ginza to Gion.
Meanwhile, millions of Japanese did what is now a modern holiday tradition: They got into their cars and drove to the nearest traffic jam. Culturally speaking sitting for hours in traffic makes sense. First, it emphasizes the group ethic – we may be stuck in traffic, but we’re stuck in traffic together. Second, it’s an exercise in stoicism in the face of remitting adversity — after hours of waiting for the traffic to clear, a driver finds an opening and accelerates to 20 km/hr, but just as he and passengers allow themselves a bit of exhilaration, they are thrust into yet another traffic jam. This kind of experience would break an untrained American, but it is commonly tolerated in Japan, and is actually considered a good way to enjoy a weekend.
A sportsman might have thought Hakuho’s sumo win streak would be the story of the weekend and the sportsman would have been wrong. Hakuho has no challengers and makes opponents look like schoolboys who have had the misfortune to wonder onto the dohyo. The only solace for opponents is that the front rows are still sold out and so their flights from the ring are cushioned by spectators. Hakuho passed Chiynofuji’s post-war record of 53 consecutive wins and now is barreling to toward Futabayama’s all-time record of 69. His effort has generated polite, subdued applause. Sumo fans seem resigned that he will break all the records that they so worried Asashoryu would break. Hakuho, however, will do it with better manners – he knows what happens to rikishi who misbehave.
The biggest weekend news for the morning wide shows was the fifth B-1 Gourmet Grand Prix, which drew 435,000 to Atsugi over two days. This outdoor cooking contest featuring second-class, or B-class, cuisine, crowned a dish of chicken guts specifically, gizzard, heart, liver, and kinkan (un-laid eggs) as its champion. Stories featuring the championship ran on all networks. The event, like Uniqlo and its 1,000 yen clothing, and inexpensive standing bars, has captured the cultural moment; when the economic downturn makes it socially acceptable, even cool, to enjoy the cheap stuff.