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Sunday, 28 November 2021

University of 3rd AgeBowing to Tradition, the Unexpected Sides of Japanese Society

Speaker: Jim Holmes

On 18th November 2021, U3A Todmorden's guest speaker was Jim Holmes, a documentary photographer, whose subject was 'Japan – Bowing to Tradition' Two pictures started the presentation. First, Himeji Castle, originally built in the 12th century that has stood since then in a country affected by earthquakes, landslides, and other tectonic shift activity. Next, and more familiar, were some recent buildings in Tokyo – ultra modern, with clean lines and made from materials that reflect light downwards to the streets below, and then the 'Bullet Train', which can move people from one end of the country to the other as fast as travelling by air.

The location, make up, and size of Japan was described with two illustrations – the first being a map of Japan itself, the second to compare Japan with the east coast of the United States. Jim told us that the country has tropical heat in its southern islands, is slightly cooler in the main island of Honchu, where the largest cities are, and has a cold, mountainous area to the north, which has hosted the Winter Olympics.

We saw a picture of a modern, efficient motor car in front of a traditional old wooden house, it is often the case that people such as the skilled engineers and designers of these cars prefer to live in old houses. Not only because of their age and history but, more importantly, that wooden houses can withstand the tremors and movements that frequently occur in Japan.

As an island nation, the sea provides a large proportion of Japan's diet and we heard that the Japanese people eat fish about three or four days each week and that whatever can swim is eaten. A scene in a fish processing factory showed several tuna fish about three feet in length, each of which would sell for around ten thousand pounds. Comparing this with what some of us might have in our sandwich for lunch now and again, our version is what the Japanese would use to feed their cats.

On a similar theme, the agricultural industry of Japan was discussed. Hand tools are still widely used, and the farmers work well into their seventies, eighties and, sometimes, nineties. They usually work in small fields in which most vegetables and other foods are grown. The sons and daughters of the farmworkers have moved to the larger cities to earn higher wages, and for a more comfortable lifestyle.

Surprisingly perhaps, Japanese people, for all their formality and compliance, indulge in an anti-social practice familiar to us – fly tipping. Discarded electrical appliances, fridges and washing machines could be seen, heaped at the edge of a farmer's field. Known by us as 'white goods', the Japanese people call them 'green goods'. There are also large piles of scrapped cars to be found in some areas, including some stacked up against cliff faces.

The following picture was easier on the eye – a vista of what looked like a village in Switzerland or Austria, which had three storey wooden houses with thatched roofs, in the mountains known as 'The Japanese Alps'. We heard that this was much more representative of the real Japan.

Back to the cities, with an image of workers having a lunchtime snooze on park benches. They had 'reserved' their places by fixing their business cards, or Meishies, to the bench earlier in the day, and the reservations were always respected by other people. Another picture was of an urban riverside where courting couples were seated two metres from the next couple. This told another story, of cities crammed with people with not much in the way of personal space.

Towards the end of the talk, the Japanese people's love of ceramics was mentioned.

The most popular, and expensive, ceramics are hand crafted and even more coveted if they are imperfect. Japanese people see the real value in something that is individually made, but with some defect that makes it unique, or 'Perfection to Imperfection' Members' questions, and a vote of thanks, ended this interesting and enjoyable presentation, which had also been provided via 'zoom' to members in their homes. The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting will be on Thursday 16th December 2021 at 1.45 p.m. open to all fully paid-up members at the Central Methodist Hall, Todmorden.

As it is Christmas there will be no speaker but Steven Price Amazing Magician 'The Christmas Magic Show' and of course the famous Christmas Quiz.

Not yet a member? You can attend one talk free by requesting an invitation to this zoom event. We're always delighted to welcome new members. Contact details: website at www.u3atod.org.uk or email at info@u3atod.org.uk.

Many thanks to Colin Sanson for this report


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