Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why unemployment in Tokyo is not high
Every day three or four people on foot visit the mailboxes in our neighborhood to leave brochures exalting the local pizzeria and announcing sales of rain gear and cooking pots. 

Our road is being resurfaced and to make sure this is done without incident, a man in a yellow helmet and white gloves waves a flag to warn approaching motorists that work is being done and another man in a yellow helmet is stationed at the end of the construction work to toss off a quick bow to thank motorists for their kind consideration and to wish them on their way. Three more yellow helmets are stationed at the site to relieve these men at intervals, to answer questions about when the work will be completed, and to sweep up debris.

Leaving a local department store with our parking ticket certified as our having spent at least 2,000 yen so parking is free, we locate our car in its immaculate parking space and drive to the exit. There is a machine at the exit to accept our ticket then to raise the barrier but the store decided that this was too offhand. Accordingly, they stationed a uniformed guard at the machine to take our stamped parking ticket from us and insert it into the machine, then thank us with a brisk bow when the barrier rises.

At the exit itself there was another uniformed guard who, after determining whether we would be turning right or left graciously checked the traffic for us in that direction, then waved us on.

Also notable in this regard is the practice of many businesses of not letting anyone go when they have reached the age when they are not as useful as they once were, but simply finding them a job--any job--they can do without strain. For instance, computer displays have to be kept polished and someone has to straighten up the newspapers and magazines on the low table between the couches. No one actually appoints these people to these jobs; they just slip into them. 

Some will argue that this approach to the problem of too few jobs degrades honest employment by putting people in jobs they must see are not really useful and so which have little meaning. But recall there was a time not so long ago in department stores when as the doors of elevators closed it was the sole job of a crisply uniformed lady was to toss off a graceful bow. Those jobs are now almost all gone. Surely this progress of a kind.

 - Amelia LaGordo