Friday. 8/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jun Toyofuku

All the wrong signals

The principle of solidarity is being tested across the world during this pandemic. In Japan, foreigners who are living and running companies in the country have largely been forgotten. In April, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced that it would provide aid amounting to ¥500,000 (€4,350) per business – or up to ¥1m (€8,700) for more than two outlets under one registered company – if owners agreed to close their shops or reduce their opening hours between 16 April and 6 May. This well-intentioned measure was aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus and easing the burden on the country as it endures a state of emergency.

However, the announcement was made only in Japanese and authorities didn’t inform non-Japanese business owners. The website explaining who is eligible and how to apply is, again, available only in Japanese. So is the extensive 24-page guidebook on how to get the government to pay the wages of employees who are unable to work. When I inquired with the government as to why this critical information wasn’t available in other languages, the person on the other end of the phone was caught by surprise – it seemed it hadn’t even crossed their mind. Another person I spoke to even incorrectly suggested that the aid wasn’t available to business owners without permanent residency in the country.

Impressions matter: in recent years Japan has been promoting itself as a destination that’s open to foreign businesses and start-ups. The number of foreign workers here reached 1.65 million in 2019, the highest level on record and a 13.6 per cent increase year on year. But it seems as though government authorities haven’t caught up with this new reality. For the trend to continue, they will need to be more inclusive.

Diplomacy / Balkans

It’s not me, it’s EU

There’s a delicate diplomatic courtship going on in the Balkans – and neither the EU nor China want to be left out in the cold. This week, the EU celebrated the official start of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia during an EU-Balkans summit (held by video conference). But China has made its own advances by sending medical supplies and supporting infrastructure projects. The EU seems rather frazzled, releasing a summit statement that pointedly seeks more public acknowledgement of the €3.3billion in economic assistance it has offered to mitigate the pandemic – “far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region”. That sounds rather like the words of a spurned lover. Or, as Monocle’s Guy de Launey put it, speaking on The Globalist, there’s “a sense of hurt from the European Union that it’s really losing the soft-power war.” Try bringing flowers next time?

Defence / USA

Mystery jet

Had enough of what’s happening on Earth? Then let’s turn our attention to space and the US’s secretive X-37B space plane that’s gearing up this month for its sixth mission, when it will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. We don’t know much about what the craft has been doing on its missions over the past eight years but earlier this week the US Air Force did reveal some information about what the unmanned plane (pictured) will be doing next – and it all sounds very sci-fi.

One of its tasks will concern the experiment in how to convert the sun’s power into a microwave energy that can then be beamed back to Earth. If the pandemic gets really bad in the US, Trump might be turning to his beloved “space force” for solace.

Society / Belgium

The chips are up

Lockdown restrictions are easing in Belgium, where all shops are due to reopen on Monday and some schools doing likewise on 18 May. However, it’s not until 8 June that food and drink establishments – including Belgium’s 5,000 frites stands – can open for table service. This potentially means that about 750,000 tonnes of stored spuds will go untasted. In recent weeks, the head of the nation’s potato-processing association, Belgapom, has pleaded with citizens to eat frites “at least twice a week” to help to empty bursting store rooms. Although it’s good for Belgians to rally around the industry, there’s something about filling supermarket freezer bags with the delicacy, or even rushing home with takeaways, that doesn’t quite cut it. Here’s to next month, when pommes frites can once again be served on open-air tables in town squares – with generous lashings of mayonnaise, of course.

Design / Australia

Team building

John Wardle is an architect’s architect, according to the Australian Institute of Architects national prize jury, which earlier this week awarded the Melbourne-based designer its Gold Medal, the professional body’s top honour. The jury cited his celebration of “both individual craft and the broader production processes of making”, and acknowledged his close work with other disciplines – he’s a craftsperson’s architect too. It’s an approach that is evident in his collaboration with artist Natasha Johns-Messenger to create the “Somewhere Other” installation for the 2018 Venice Biennale, the recently completed Phoenix Gallery and his restoration of Captain Kelly’s Cottage (pictured) which we visited in issue 108 in 2017. His selection for this award recognises a need for architecture to bring people together – not just in a building’s communal spaces but in the design process too. It’s a gentler, more inclusive and considered outlook, one we might all do well to embrace in our own work.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Fashion forward

We check in with Reformation and Canada Goose to uncover just a few of the stories of how the fashion industry stepped up to support healthcare workers during the pandemic. We also hear from the co-founder of Vollebak on creating clothing fit for the harshest conditions and head to Paris to get advice on tackling uncertainty from the founder of De Bonne Facture.

Monocle Films / Japan

The bold business owner: Takeshi Yamanaka

In 1928 Maruni Wood Industry was born out of a fascination with the masterful carpentry in ancient shrines. Today its furniture is found in the Californian headquarters of Apple as well as airport lounges, galleries and restaurants around the world. We meet the company’s president to talk about the challenges of managing a family-run business.

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