Relief from `castanet season' is finally here


Relief from `castanet season' is finally here


The "castanet season" is here again. As if brought on by summery weather, the stairs and down-escalators at train stations now resound with that rhythmical clickety-click-clack racket made by women, not with their hands but with their feet. That's right, I am talking about those very audible footsteps, not the hand-held musical instrument of that name.



The noise is generated by women's decorative hot-weather slides known as mules. As this type of footwear does not support the feet snugly in place, the pounding of the heels on the ground results in that distinctive click-clack that varies in pitch and decibel according to the wearer's posture, gait, body weight and the height and shape of the mules' heels.


I guess women wear them because they are comfortable, but how they stand that clatter is beyond me. And don't they ever have the decency to wonder if people around them might appreciate not having to hear them?

When I complained like a true curmudgeon to a colleague, I was told that these mule-shod women are nicknamed "castanet girls" or "can-can women."


Perhaps because this footwear fashion is effectively a national phenomenon now, a product that mutes those noises has become a huge market success. It is a two-sided adhesive patch that keeps one's heel firmly "glued" to the shoe sole. Call it a devise that keeps the castanet locked, if you will.


In the case of the Shizuoka-based maker who started marketing it two years ago, the product is the brainchild of a 27-year-old female employee who wanted to be able to run in her mules. She developed a prototype, which substantially muted the noise. The company has already applied for a patent.

Another maker joined the market this spring, and our deliverance from this form of noise pollution may not be far off.


With such thoughts milling in my mind, I was observing my fellow passengers on the train the other day. I had the impression the population had shrunk of such once-ubiquitous pests as men yapping loudly into their mobile phones and youngsters with Walkman headsets leaking annoying noises.

Relieved and pleased, I got ready to leave the train. But blocking the door was a man, standing stock-still like an immobile stone statue of Jizo. He was silent for sure, but a royal pain nonetheless.


-The Asahi Shimbun, June 6(IHT/Asahi: June 7,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)


Is not wearing a tie part of the Kyoto Protocol?


Is not wearing a tie part of the Kyoto Protocol?


In the early summer of 1871, Tomomi Iwakura and other top officials of the Meiji government-then in its fourth year-engaged in heated debate over the nation's official dress code. Purists insisted on maintaining traditional kimono, arguing it was silly to ape the West even on how to dress. But those in favor of adopting Western attire countered that the change in attire was indispensable if Japan was to join the international community.

Their argument prevailed.



I sometimes fantasize what would have happened if the pro-kimono camp had won. Even if it did, I don't imagine we would have remained so stuck in tradition as to be still wearing full court kimono or half-length Japanese coats in our daily business.

However, I feel pretty certain there would be far fewer men wearing neckties at the height of the sweltering summer.


In the more than 130 years since that early summer of 1871, Diet members and bureaucrats have made it a rule to wear a tie to work-with the exception of the years during World War II. But on June 1, Cabinet ministers and civil servants ended this tradition to ``help ease global warming.''


According to Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, who came up with the idea, ``Japanese men are overpackaged. They have been testing their limits of endurance to heat by wearing a tie in summer.'' There should be different opinions from men who do not have any choice to wear ties.


Throughout this, the necktie industry has been surprisingly quiet.

Takeshi Kobori, the 70-year-old head of a Tokyo association of necktie makers, said: ``Of course we are not happy. But our industry hasn't got the luxury to complain to politicians because we are too busy just struggling for survival.''

That was in stark contrast to the oil embargo days of the early 1970s, when the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry told the nation's men to stop wearing ties. Kobori said his association then complained to the ministry at once.

But times have since changed.

Not only are Japanese men wearing ties less frequently, but cheap imports from China have driven established tie makers, some of which have been around since before the war, into bankruptcy.


The Environment Ministry even was to hold a summer fashion show June 5 using the nation's business leaders as models.

I have nothing against Koike's zeal to let the public sector lead the private sector in men's fashion. However, when it is so obvious that it is really the government telling men in Japan to shed their neckties, I am sure there are some who want to do just the opposite of what the government tells them-and wear one.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 29(IHT/Asahi: June 6,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)


Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad


Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad

The Asahi Shimbun

Never before have I noticed so many people wearing masks as this year.

On one sunny, gusty day-the worst kind for pollen-allergy sufferers-I counted roughly one out of every four people on a commuter train wearing a mask.



Pollen allergy is not unique to Japan. But outside Asia, there are not many cities where you see so many mask-protected people in early spring.

"You hardly ever see anyone walking around like that here," said a Japanese man who works in Washington, D.C. Most pharmacies in the United States do not sell masks.

When he advised his allergic American colleague to try a mask, the colleague was horrified that it would make him look like a carrier of some serious contagious disease.


Another Japanese man, residing in Germany, noted: "In this country, people don't go to work if they are in a condition that requires wearing a mask. They just take the day off if they can't stop coughing or sneezing."

He added that he has never seen many people in masks in London or Paris.


This makes Japan's "mask season" a news item in the Western world. A U.S. newspaper reporter described a horde of masked Japanese marching the streets and commented he thought he had run into a group of surgeons heading for the operating theater.

An Australian newspaper reported some years ago that such a sight could be taken for a mass anti-government rally by voters. The exaggerated tone seems to underscore the rarity of this phenomenon in Western culture.


According to Hakujuji Co., a major sanitary goods maker established in 1896, masks became popular in Japan during the Spanish influenza epidemic from 1918 to 1919. Before that, masks were worn only by factory workers as a protection against dust inhalation.

The traditional mask is rectangular in shape and covers the nose and mouth, but the mainstream design today is oval-shaped for wider coverage from the nose to the chin.


In Europe and America today, television and newspapers provide "pollen forecasts." But even though experts recommend wearing a mask to alleviate pollen-allergy symptoms, the custom has obviously not caught on yet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28(IHT/Asahi: April 4,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)