I have seen the future (lessons from Japan, part I)


Rajneesh Narula

(Another in my occasional essay series)



Nippon, the Japanese term for their country, roughly translates to 'the origin of the sun', an ancient reference to its relative geographic position to China. Surely a prescient choice of name for a place where Really Important Things Come From?  A few thousand years on, and the Japanese are still the source of many, many Important Things, most of which reach the Lands of the Setting Sun only several years later. Think back on Zen, manga, pokemon, Toyotas, sushi, futons, fast trains, cameras, anime, audio and video equipment, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,  incredibly sharp knives and video games, and you will immediately know what I mean.


Many of the stereotypes that are flung around about Japan are simply not true. It is hard to see a woman in a kimono except as serving staff in the better restaurants. Their diet does not consist entirely of rice, ramen and fish. People are not always on time – the dean of the faculty was a whole five minutes late our lunch appointment.  Nor is there very much ritual disembowelling going on. I even experience a delayed train (gasp), running 7 minutes behind schedule, for which the station master only apologised to stoically polite passengers, without feeling the need to harm himself.


But it is a land bubbling with early adopters, people who will try any new gadget at the drop of a hat. To visit Japan is to visit the future, for it is an oracle of things to come, both good and bad.  As they say in Hong Kong, when Japan sneezes, Asia catches a cold. All the pros and cons of globalisation are here for all to see, decades before anywhere else.  So my visit here is a trailer for what awaits us, and I am privileged to report to you on developing new trends from the frontline in the war for globalisation.


The first insight I received was listening to a performance at the Osaka Jazz Festival by a group called Clover Leaf, whose Japanese vocalist was doing a jazzy rendition of a Sting song. Largely unburdened by talent, she launched into the refrain, with somewhat more enthusiasm and gusto than one would expect with a jazz cover:


I'm an Aryan,

I'm a legal Aryan.

I'm an Englishman living in New York


Or at least, that's how it sounded to my untrained ear. I waited for the next stanza, and lo and behold, these were her chosen words. Now some may put this down to linguistic challenges of singing n a foreign tongue, but to my trained mind, it reflected a complex identity crisis.


It was clear to the casual observer, that she was not, in fact, an Aryan, legal or otherwise. Nor was she in New York, and had she been there she would not easily be judged to be an English person of any gender whatsoever.


I waited, and as if to confirm my diagnosis, for a third consecutive time, she insisted that she was all these things,  with such conviction that I felt certain that, deep in her soul, she was conflicted.


As identity crises go, mine is one of the larger ones, but it seems I have been overestimating my issues. After all, I know what I am not; my problems only go so far as to reconcile myself to what I am. I am, for instance, largely of Aryan ancestry, but I dislike the connotations. I am also certain I am not an Englishman, but I am reasonably confident my gender and orientation are male. I do occasionally feel I am in touch with my feminine side, but I also realise that my hormones limit this possibility. In other words, my crisis is a piddly little one in comparison.


Happy to extrapolate from a sample size of one, I predict that clover-leaf-sized identity crises will become standard issue, with Inuit singing swearing they feel Biafran (whose national flag also featured a rising sun, incidentally), suitably rewritten to an Ira Gershwin tune, Amazon Indian tribes assuring us in Zulu lyrics that their hearts belong to Putin. In fact, everyone in every country will soon be endowed with identity crises more massive than my own, and I shall be considered boringly dull and uninteresting at parties of the future, deprived as I shall be of my only claim to originality.


But on the plus side, we will have no use for the United Nations, and more likely than not, the Security Council will seek a new lease of life as an Opera,  complete with supporting orchestra.


I continue my search for further profound sneak previews of the future, dear reader! Hopefully they will not be as dire and scary as this one. Watch this space….