Monday, January 10, 2011

(1) In lieu of a manifesto: What does “Nihon Arekore” mean? And why do I care?

Nihon arekore (日本あれこれ) means “this and that about Japan”, “tidbits about Japan”; literally, the meaning of the words “are” and “kore” is “that” and “this” respectively ("Nihon" being, of course, Japan). As for why you would care I’m not really sure, but I suspect that since you are here you either hopped from one Japan-related link to another or you visited my profile in my other blog, If it was the former, you are probably interested in Japan and if it was the latter, you know that I am. Either way, this blog is related to Japan and to the way I understand it.

Who am I, you might ask. From my profile you have already seen that my name is Grigoris Miliaresis, that I am Greek and that I have been writing professionally for the better part of the last quarter of a century. For many years, my field was the Internet (resulting in many people knowing me mainly as an “Internetologist”, so to speak) and for the last ten years or so, I have been translating various books, mostly related to the Far East and especially to the martial arts. I have been practicing the martial arts since 1986, a year which roughly coincides with the beginning of my writing career; yes, it is purely coincidental and any suggestion otherwise should be attributed to a rather wild imagination.

Anyway, one of the subjects that always intrigued me, without ever knowing the reason, was Japan; I usually say that I got involved with the martial arts because I was interested in Japan and not the other, more common, way around. Frankly speaking, no matter how hard I have tried, I could never pinpoint the particular origin of this interest but it exists and with time it becomes stronger; I guess that the increase of my interest in Japan is directly proportional to my frustration towards Greece and how it progresses (or should I say, “regresses”?) the last 30 years that I can speak for.

Something that made me think, especially since I started travelling to Japan (that is, since everything I had been reading became grounded in reality) was how unknown Japan still is to most of my compatriots and, to some extent, to many Westerners. Although Japan is among the major players in the international scene –mostly, but not exclusively, where finance, industry and technological development are concerned- for the majority of Greeks and for many Westerners it remains terra incognita (at best) or stereotypically defined (at worst). And this, I detest.

I usually have a difficulty explaining that such a misunderstanding bothers me, not only because personally I find Japan to be particularly interesting and extremely drawing but also because, especially in this day and age, no one can afford ignoring even the basic workings of any of the major players of the world’s power games. In other words, what chance does one have to improve the situation in their own country if they ignore the rule setters of the game?

Greeks usually have a hard time understanding that Greece is indeed on the same game board with Japan; especially the last decade virtually everybody in this country seems to believe that Greece’s fortunes are only defined by the EU (and, consequently, by the US). Obviously, there is some merit to such a view, but I hope that with time even the most short-sighted among us will come to realize that influence is not necessarily related to geographical proximity or “traditional” power relationships; China’s recent (or, not so recent) invasion in the world markets is, I believe, quite telling of how everything influences everything. And, yes, Japan going through a rough patch might seem to diminish its powers to influence things –but not much.

Returning to my personal fixations, I don’t aspire for this blog to become neither a soundboard for Japan’s official positions nor defender of its politics (present or past) nor a propaganda soapbox for its National Tourist Organization. What I will try to do, is describe some things I see there (I say “see” because for the last years I spend a considerable amount of my time in Tokyo) and, to the extent that I can, explain them. Obviously, there is (and there will be) some positive bias in the way I understand things but such a bias exists anyway in everyone and in everything; what I can promise, however, is that I will try to keep this bias from shadowing reality. If all else fails, I have more than fifteen years of experience of newspaper and magazine work to keep me honest!

The above will suffice for now. I am sure that with time, more things about me will surface through my writing but I need to say upfront and as honestly as I can that the driving force behind this blog is not my vanity but my interest for this special country. My hope is that, even if you drifted here by chance, maybe some part of this interest will rub off on you; if it does not, well, this is the Internet and there are millions of other web sites to visit!

I am sure that everyone will have noticed by now a discrepancy between the blog’s title and its URL; I am talking, of course, about the use of the word “Japan” in the URL and the world “Nihon” in the title. It is not a mistake: I used the word “Japan” in the title for search engine optimization reasons only. If you try entering the two words in Google it will become immediately evident that there is a world of difference in the results, in terms both of quantity and quality…