Thursday. 21/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

In praise of Nippon know-how

Anyone who’s spent time in Japan will have left with questions. Lots of questions. Why don’t we have bullet trains in Europe or the US? How can Tokyo do hotdogs better than the Big Apple and red-sauce pasta joints more satisfying than the Milanese? Oh, and what is that dancing salaryman doing wearing a fish head? (Meet Kanpachiro, the mascot of Kanoya City, a peculiar place in Kagoshima prefecture that wants to be known equally for bonito and business.)

Yes, Japan is known for quirk but it’s got lessons to teach the world too, from diplomacy to design, art to architecture. It’s a nation forging forward in everything from aviation to tackling the problem of ageing communities. And it’s set to up its visitor numbers after a successful Rugby World Cup this year – and the Olympics next. For these reasons and more besides, we made Japan the centrepiece of the December/January issue of Monocle, which hits newsstands today.

Our admiration for all things Nippon has always fed our journalists’ curiosity (and enthusiasm for sing-until-dawn karaoke sessions). It’s the reason we’ve had an office and shop in Tokyo since 2007 and why we don’t take the task of showcasing the nation’s best businesses, designers, fashion folk and craftspeople too lightly – there are lots to choose from and we’ve met many over the years. Our team of journalists were dispatched from leafy, low-rise Tomigaya in Tokyo to all corners of the island nation to report on best practice in urban regeneration, new media models and music, as well as profiling the nation’s modern national treasures. What they’ve come back with, as well as plenty of material for a new book on Japan that we’ll be publishing in 2020, is a magazine bursting with ideas, inspiration, oddity and, yes, some of those answers you were hankering for.

Politics / Canada

Trudeau’s new tack

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet in Ottawa yesterday, following last month’s general election that secured him a second term in office but stripped him of a majority on Parliament Hill. Among the surprises were several picks that represent a statement of intent as he enters his second term; as the leader of a minority government, managing a diverging political landscape at home will be crucial.In that vein Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s fêted foreign minister who was hailed for her role in the renegotiation of the Nafta treaty, will combine an international portfolio with a domestic brief: she is now the deputy prime minister and remains in charge of Canada-US relations. A priority will be bridging the divide between Ottawa and the key provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Québec – that largely deserted the Liberal party on election day, and where rising protectionist sentiment is taking hold. The next four years will be a test of Trudeau’s political prowess; yesterday’s picks mark his clearest assertion yet of how he intends to meet it.

Society / Japan

Bear necessities

Does your business need a soft-pawed, soft-power leg-up? Take note of the charm offensive that comes so easily to Japan’s Kumamon character, who’s featured on the cover of our December/January issue. He’s a bear whose rosy-cheeked, low-tech, happy-go-grizzly vibes are a lesson in small-scale statecraft. Anyone in Japan can use Kumamon’s image for free as long as they namecheck the Kumamoto prefecture of his birth.

As such, his wild popularity as the unofficial – but surely undisputed – King of the Mascots means that a rural, volcano-strewn corner of Japan packs a punch way above its fighting weight. A case in point: when Kumamoto wanted to publicise the fact that it was donating funds for the reconstruction of Notre Dame cathedral, Kumamon was joined by the prefecture’s governor Ikuo Kabashima – not the other way around.

Culture / UK

Brexit stage left?

Yesterday’s revelation that the UK’s live-music sector reached a record value of £1.1bn (€1.3bn) in 2018 would be good news if only the shadow cast by Brexit – and, more specifically, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit – wasn’t spoiling the fun. Musical acts big and small have been attracting concert-goers, from within and beyond the country’s borders, like never before. Visitors particularly enjoy that very British summer pastime: festival-going. But harder-to-get visas for performers and customs complications for equipment could pose a serious risk to future line-ups. Larger festivals and bigger institutions might be able to cope with rising costs or, if they can’t, might still find booking well-known headliners worthwhile. But it’s the small independent venues and up-and-coming artists who will suffer. The music industry can’t hope to stay healthy just by feeding off the mainstream; all levels of the business must be able to thrive in harmony.

Hospitality / Kuala Lumpur

Community service

Kuala Lumpur’s Chow Kit neighbourhood doesn’t have the finest reputation: it was once a haven for gambling and prostitution. But the Ormond Group is trying to change that with the opening of two hotels: The Chow Kit, designed by New York-based Studio Tack, and micro-hotel MoMo’s will open to the public in December. “We take areas associated with vice and turn them around,” says Gareth Lim, the firm’s CEO. “This neighbourhood is no longer what it used to be: there’s a great community and great food. We want to be the hotel that changes its narrative.” A packed programme involving walking tours, performances and pop-up restaurants will help to connect guests and residents. Hotels the world over are realising that it’s not enough to open a beautiful space; they have a responsibility to the community too.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Vivobarefoot

Galahad Clark is the co-founder of Vivobarefoot, whose lightweight shoes promote natural movement and help feet grow stronger. Galahad launched the company in 2012 with his cousin Asher Clark, both of whom are relatives of the original founders of Clarks, the English heritage shoe brand.

Monocle Films / Florida

Miami: The Monocle Travel Guide

Miami has a lot going for it: a shoreline, year-round warm weather and a diverse population. Our travel guide will help you explore the neighbourhoods to discover its full potential, as we introduce you to the dynamic art scene, the best bars and restaurants and everything in-between. Published by Gestalten, The Monocle Travel Guide to Miami is available now at The Monocle Shop.

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