Category Archives: Wake up!

Full Range

The Budget Inn Patricia is situated in downtown Vancouver in an area filled with vagrants. Yesterday night on my way home I saw a guy with his back to the sidewalk in the entrance nook of a store that was closed. At first, I thought he was doing something with the door, but I saw that his left arm was straight and his right arm was bent. He seemed to be taking care to do something with his right arm. Shooting up? I wondered.

Approaching the hotel, and getting ready to cross the street, there was a woman on the corner in jeans and a black tank top, looking around as if she were looking for someone. She would turn her head quite suddenly as she scanned. She turned and looked at me as I was crossing the street. Just then, there was a woman she knew who approached from the right, who called out to her, and they talked animatedly. As I neared the kerb, there was a tall skinny guy walking a erratically, but singing a jingle. The second woman seemed to like the jingle, because she laughed out loud. As I stepped on the curb, the man passed in front of me, continuing to sing, but eyeing me out of the corner of his eye with caution. I smiled in a relaxed way, and he responded by continuing on his way, but turning his head more toward me and nodding a little bit.

I’m staying at this hotel because it’s the only one in downtown within the company budget.

Sunday night, on my way back to the hotel, there was a man yelling at a group of people lined up outside a pizzeria. He was mostly incoherent to me, but I understood the words “all of you can fucking go starve.” He was very animated and loud. As I crossed the street, I heard him say something about communism, but all of his anger was directed through me to the group of people behind me. He had deliberately put the street in between him and the people he was yelling at, and was directing all of his energy forwards, so that as I crossed the street and passed him by, it was as if I did not exist for him, as if he did not see me at all. Like I’m a cameraman and they he and his antagonists are acting for me.

When I checked in on Sunday afternoon, my cousin, her son, and my aunt came with me. After check-in, we stood in the shade on a street corner a ways away from the bus stop. We were talking about how funny we thought it was that the young clerk (from Brazil by his accent) and the older clerk kept talking about whether another guest was interested in the young clerk, while the young guy was preparing my check-in paperwork. They had continued to talk about it while my cousin, her son, and my aunt waited in the lobby while I took my luggage to my room. Just then:

“Yo. Can you guys move?” Asked a man who just arrived.

I looked at him. “Why?” I asked. He lowered his head a little, crossed his arms, and pulled his shoulders in ever so slightly. He did not face me full on with his body. I was closest to him. My cousin with the stroller to my left, my aunt to my right. They stepped slightly back.

“Because I work here and I’m about to open this store, okay?” He gestured behind himself with his thumb. “And I can’t open it with you guys blocking the door.”

I looked. Ng Suey San Florist, said the sign. I wondered if Mr. Ng would hire someone like this. Probably not.

“We’re waiting for the bus. It’s hot. We wanted to wait in the shade.” I stepped laterally, putting myself between him and my aunt.

“Well, can you wait at the bus stop? I need to open this store.” The man had a scar on his left forearm that looked like the scars that my friend Arji has from a bar fight that he got into, where the guy he was fighting had fought him with a broken beer bottle. Only with this man, he was wounded in a strange place – the inner, upper surface of his left arm, which indicated that someone had got him with his hand down.

I looked toward the bus stop. The sidewalk was clear. I looked at my cousin and nodded. She started moving toward the bus stop, my Aunt followed, and I brought up the rear.

“That’s why they make bus stops, you know?” He said, wanting to get a last word in. I was amused. No cursing, and no racial slurs. He’s a polite vagrant, I thought. It may have been because I was so calm and polite with him, that he had to stay in character.

There came a shorter skinny guy with long blonde hair. They bumped fists in greeting and talked. Opening shop. Drug dealer? I wondered.

Our bus came, and we were off.

For much less than the Hyatt, and the same price as staying at a duller hotel in the suburbs, I get to stay here. In twenty minutes’ walking radius are where the rich people park their yachts, the young people go out partying, and immediately outside, where homeless and vagrants do their thing, until (one can hope) they get things sorted out. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and do not smell.

Fucking brilliant! I feel alive – walking, observing, interacting confidently. Save for putting my cousin and aunt in an uncomfortable situation on Sunday afternoon, all of this is amusing for me. It is a chance to practice being relaxed, aware, and masculine.

Monday morning, as I am getting ready to cross the street away from the hotel, I hear a motorcycle horn honking from my right. He waits until a car passes, then makes a u-turn in the street in front of me. He has the tatoos, a black motorcycle skull cap, and round sunglasses, but he is on an electric motor scooter resembling a Vespa. He is wearing a silly grin. It seems like he saw someone he knew. He accelerates steeply and silently in the direction from where he came. It occurs to me that he is aware and having fun. For me it’s like this place is allowing me to open up my awareness, and detect it when others are. I feel aware and am having fun, too.

How could I possibly want to stay anywhere else?

The Third Arrow

The Japanese government messed up. Low interest rates and high currency were not a problem. Low interest rates are a consequence of high competition for capital. After all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, what’s left is the opportunities that offer lower rates of return. Low rates are a natural occurrence in a developed market. Even negative rates are not that unusual – the Swiss just issued their first negative-rate government bond. The Euro is so volatile that people are willing to pay the Swiss to keep their money safe. The same status had formerly been accorded to the yen as a reserve currency. Higher inflation rates in Asian economies lead people and governments to be willing to pay in the form of negative interest rates to have their money safe.

Reducing the value of the yen by 50% puts money on the balance sheets of exporters and big companies that already have high overseas sales, but hinders companies from making overseas investments. The economy previously grew through exporting, and the Japanese government is trying to promote growth by promoting exports. This is an inefficient way of promoting export, at that, since all production inputs that must be imported end up costing more. Yet, by simply doing nothing, the high yen would have encouraged foreign investment, as foreign assets looked cheap and banks and companies sought a higher rate of return.

Companies in Japan were dependent on domestic consumption, failed to generate enough demand for products overseas, and failed to invest in production capacity overseas. Companies like HGST, Sony, or Toyota that invested in overseas sales and production capacity continued to do well through the period of high yen and low interest rates. Companies like NTT, dependent on a declining domestic market, have not done well. The effect of inflating the currency has been to benefit those companies who were already doing well, while at the same time to discourage foreign investment by making foreign assets more expensive.

Politically, as China is expanding its soft power with its launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Japan is decreasing its ability to lend or invest abroad by devaluing its currency.

With domestic consumption saturated, no amount of domestic investment will create a larger rate of return. Japan has an excess of capital. It is squandering it by devaluing the currency. Stop. The government should not be concerned with trying to grow the domestic economy, which is already saturated. People already throw away expensive items like large screen TVs in order to make room for new ones. How many more TVs can they use? Instead of playing with numbers and destroying capital with QE, the government should be concerned with enabling the profitable employment of capital.

MNCs get higher return on capital by outsourcing production in developing economies and investing in production capacity there. Think Intel, Apple, Toyota. Allowing the yen to remain high would continue to encourage companies to invest overseas.

Domestically, the government could improve the way capital is employed.

  1. It should be made easier to fire people (companies are ever-hesitant to hire people because it’s hard to get rid of them).
  2. Bankruptcy law should be reformed so that entrepreneurs have true limited-liability. Wide experimentation necessarily leads to a few successes and many failures, as Silicon Valley can attest to.
  3. Retirement age should be raised in order to relieve strain on the pension system. It is currently 60.
  4. Labor practices should be reformed so that it is easier to be a parent, including making it easier to take paternity leave and making it easier for women to rejoin the work-force if they take time off to raise children.
  5. There is a shortage of daycare centers. Access to daycare should be improved by allowing the easier conversion of defunct elementary schools to publicly-subsidized daycare centers.
  6. The cost of raising a child should be reduced by making high-school free. Why spend billions in QE when the same billions can be spent to improve education?

It’s time to learn new tricks. What got Japan here was domestic consumption and domestic investment. Forget about the numbers. What’s important is to keep things interesting for young people. Otherwise, who’s going to have children? I met a college graduate recently who decided to take a job as a hotel concierge. That’s what it’s come to. The system is so locked, there is so little opportunity for experimentation and growth, there are so few positions in society open for people who are coming of age, that college graduates are deciding to take jobs as hotel concierges. The government must make structural reforms to remove obstacles toward the natural redeployment of capital, instead of caffeinating the economy to continue to run in the way of the past.

As for young people with a college education, I would say: leave and get experience elsewhere. A concierge job is fine, if it’s what you want to do, but it was definitely not what the guy I met was hoping for. Why fight in a little world with other college-educated people for a little job that is entirely confined to Shinjuku, doesn’t require a college education, and doesn’t teach you to be anything else? Leave. Is it better to be a concierge in Japan business development manager overseas? You get to choose: comfort or experience? Directly apply to the overseas branch and get some experience at a job that you actually want to do. There are so few people doing this sort of thing that you will actually face no competition.

And after you have gotten foreign language and cultural experience, the long-term demographic trend in Japan will still not have changed. The domestic market will still be shrinking. The excess of Japanese capital will still be looking for higher returns. Companies will be looking for linguistically and culturally competent people to be their face to the outside. You will have new ideas and ways of thinking that you would not have learned if you had stayed behind. It will be hard, but you will have a greater appreciation for what is good and bad about Japan after spending some time on the outside. You will be ready. There will be no competition.



我們組先在狩獵時,獵物也不會等著讓我們補水。在街上打架時,對手也不會讓我們補水。我們祖先一定是在又缺卡路里,又缺水的狀態能做出激烈運動。如Nassim Nicholas Taleb 說的,這種刺激我們不只可以忍住,而可能是不可缼的。要不然,我們的身体會衰弱。有幾會,不如做做看,找一找自己身体的限界。





Seeing Again For the First Time

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began, and know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot

I arrived back in Japan for a few days for work. When I used my IC card to beep through the ticket gate, it worked. Smooth. I swapped out my SIM card, and there I had a working phone and internet.

The simple miracle of these two things working struck me. I was away from Japan for six weeks, and in that time I have: found an apartment, sorted through my things to discard a tenth, been sad about moving away from Japan, made new friends, had a housewarming party that drifted into the next morning, and traveled to four dojos in the city to train – enough experiences that I have changed a little, such that I can see Japan afresh.

On the train platform, I felt a tingle in my skin and a smile creep to my face. I bought a hot tea from the vending machine, stepped onto the train, and thought to myself that this simple action was not possible in Taipei; there is no drinking on the trains in Taipei, under penalty of fine.

At work, during meetings, I saw the familiar turn-taking during discourse, and wondered at how people intentionally leave pauses after making a statement, so that people can think or respond, instead of trying to fill all of the silence.

After work Tuesday, I go to my old dojo, it is filled with the familiar smells of charcoal-scented air freshener in the toilet, and the smell of sweat and deodorant in the changing room. I bowed in, said hello to the teacher, and had a good practice with old friends. I felt after practice that I could go back to my apartment in Ebisu, and it might still be mine. I would sit down with a beer and mess around on the piano, like I used to do sometimes after practice. But of course, I no longer live there.

One other sign of things changing: both my teachers at my old dojo said that my technique has become too eccentric. That it has changed is certain. These six weeks, the teachers at the dojos I have been to in Taiwan have been training the students to perform at an aikido exhibition, leaving me and others who chose not to participate in the exhibition to practice by ourselves. With the lack of instruction, it has been a time of experimentation and discovery, with previous limits removed. I have learned to move with greater ease, stability, and effectiveness, as it suits my body. Maybe I will return to their way of doing techniques, but I will return with new understanding, and free of dogma.