Category Archives: Japan: thoughts on


You hear a lot about the falling birthrate in Japan (“birthrate in crisis! Selfish women refusing to have babies!”) even though I don’t see the evidence here in my village. Well maybe: there’s definitely 10 pensioners to every 1 ankle biter. ..

Still, as Knickers pointed out to me the other day, the fact that Japanese women aren’t having kids, or more than one kid, is maybe a pretty logical response to the fact that they aren’t usually given the option of ANY pain relief during childbirth. Oh, and episiotomy is still done as a matter of course.

On Shopping Centres

Here in Japan they are very big on shopping arcades and indoor malls, the architecture of which is intriguing. Each mall blends into another, sometimes in a seemingly endless maze of built up levels, conspiring to disorientate the shopper until you could not say how high you are from the (‘real’) ground level, or in which direction you have walked. kusatsu0003.JPG

This is due to the internal walkways which, in actual fact, span roads and buildings outside, yet inside segue almost seamlessly from shop to shop (the seperate ‘shops’ are all open plan inside anyway). You only know you have reached the basement when you are in a fake street scene complete with restaurant facades (they are, actually, restaurants) and ditto, the top floor often contains nothing but arcade games and such. However, sometimes this layout is reversed and the restaurants are on the top floor. To attempt to defy this hypnotic consumer perplexing I often try to exit using authentic stairways/ exit doors leading to the street, where I cross on an actual road before re-entering, and I have often been amused by how quickly the warm decor, heat and light become withheld at these rebel junctions. The subversive consumer is punished by a sense of foreboding as she seeks to traverse against the grain: the poorly lit, tradesmens’ stairwells and grimly unfinished exposed concrete provoke a feeling of dangerous transgression and one can almost hear the faintly echoing tannoys murmuring “turn back! Turn back!”

Some of these places have a strange poetry but it is also telling how disturbing it feels to be confronted with what a poet once called the “whistling areas of incompleteness”.kusatsu0002.JPG In Japan, space is at such a premium that one almost never stumbles across such areas in the shopping mall (except when acting in a suspiciously non-consumer manner) and so, when one does (for example, when they are refitting an area of a floor) it is interesting how the general herd of shoppers avoid that area, avert their eyes from it. Capitalism abhors a vacuum…