As part of the BBC4 Japan season earlier this year there were a series of documentary’s on the land of the rising sun. I finally got round to watching the last of these the other day, Great Railway Journeys: Tokyo to Kagoshima, and it was probably the least informative of the lot for me but still interesting and better than most of what Discovery Channel come up with on Japan.
The first one I saw many months ago was Fish! A Japanese Obsession nation which was much better than the title may suggest and was a load of fish related scenes which included the fishing restaurant where my girlfriend and I went a few years ago when I caught the most expensive fish by mistake!
The programme involved the presenter investigating the Japanese’ love of fish but also questioning their need to eat so much with particular reference to whale which is forever causing controversy around the world. They don’t have the emotional attachment to it which other countries have but instead seem intent to keep on hunting these huge specimens which may become extinct. In the western world people want to be as far removed from the idea that what they are eating was once alive but not so in Japan where they don’t see any conflict between the suffering of fish and eating it.
Next up, was perhaps my favourite and that was Japan: A Story Of Love And Hate which was about a part time postal worker called Naoki (aged 56) who had it all during the bubble era but then lost it all in the early 1990’s.
Now thrice-divorced and dating a girl nearly half his age he has long been an outsider in a country where the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. It was a pretty grim tale at times and showed them living in their shoebox room with no windows where he was the house-husband with only a part time job while his girlfriend had three jobs to support them both. It also focused on meeting the other half’s family which he didn’t want to do initially before finally coming round to the idea of it in order to save the relationship.
The other programme was on a topic I had never even heard of. In Search Of Wabi-Sabi With Marcel Theroux was rated far more highly by my mate Richard who went wabi sabi mad using the video in many of his lessons over a couple of weeks including a class which I had to observe as part of my TESOL course.
Wabi-sabi is very difficult, if not impossible, to define but is basically the unique Japanese way of thinking or “aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience” with regard to asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of natural processes. Still none the wiser?! No, neither am I really but the documentary was very enjoyable and offered something different which I certainly haven’t heard talked about at all.