Thursday. 14/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Netflix

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Start them young

If you’ve been perusing Netflix recently, you might have noticed the addition of the awkwardly named “Old Enough” (“Hajimete no Otsukai”), a Japanese programme that follows children as young as two or three being sent out by parents on their first errand. This show, which has been running for years, seems to baffle most non-Japanese viewers but here in Japan, where children are taught to be independent from an early age, it makes perfect sense.

Over 10 nail-biting minutes, viewers see whether young Hiroki (2 years and 9 months) will manage the 2km round trip to the supermarket and remember all the things he’s supposed to buy; or if easily distracted Yuta will ever make that jug of fresh mandarin juice and deliver it to his mother and grandfather, who are busy picking said fruits in the family orchard. Almost incidentally, the show offers a glimpse of everyday Japanese life. Naoki and Seina are sent to buy dango rice dumplings and a good-luck charm from a Shinto shrine, while Yuka is sent shopping for tempura and udon noodles in Akashi fish market. The commentary is gently hilarious: “Ooh, check out her laid-back housewife style.”

The children learn the cost of groceries, how to interact with other people and how to navigate their hometowns. I felt for Yuka’s mother, who was tearful as she sent her shy daughter on her way. I know how much I struggled to let my kids walk to and from their Japanese school on their own – and I admit, there were times when I spied on them from behind lampposts. It made me smile to see a “dangerous behaviour” note on the screen. Seen from here, though, these tiny tots are learning self-reliance, a life skill that will stand them in good stead for bigger tasks ahead.

Image: Shutterstock

Aid / Ukraine

Broken chain

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and three other international institutions yesterday issued a call for countries to co-ordinate efforts on ensuring food security in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, which has been a key exporter of wheat. But food security starts in Ukraine itself: the WFP has been busy supplying aid on the ground and officials are in the country this week to meet partners. Their work faces significant barriers, with humanitarian workers unable to access encircled cities such as Mariupol. “We need security guarantees from all parties,” the WFP’s deputy chief of staff, Jakob Kern, tells The Monocle Minute from the Ukrainian capital. “We cannot risk the lives of the dedicated women and men delivering humanitarian assistance.” As Russia prepares to intensify its offensive in the east, Kern says that more funds are needed to continue delivering assistance to the 11 million people who are already displaced. This brutal reality flies in the face of Vladimir Putin’s claims that his “noble” mission is “helping and saving people” in Ukraine.

Hear more from Kern about the WFP’s activities on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Israel

Passing the buck

Israeli spyware developer NSO Group has this week appealed to the US Supreme Court to grant it sovereign immunity in a lawsuit filed by Whatsapp, arguing that it should be recognised as a foreign government agent. NSO’s Pegasus software allows clients, vetted by Israel’s Ministry of Defence, to hack smartphones for private information. Though NSO insists that the software was designed exclusively to combat crime and terrorism, the US Department of Commerce blacklisted the firm last year, accusing it of being a tool of “transnational repression”.

Among those who have acquired it are repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia; last year, a senior UK high court judge found that Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed (pictured, on left), had illegally used it to surveil his ex-wife. Last July, lawyers representing the firm insisted that NSO was “not a backdoor for Israeli intelligence and it does not take direction from any government leader”. How this squares with its new claim to be an agent of Israel remains to be demonstrated. If the Supreme Court accepts the appeal, it would mean that the buck for NSO’s transgressions stops with Israel.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Global

Slow to act

New figures published this week confirm that inflation in the West is at its highest level in decades: 8.5 per cent in the US, 7.5 per cent in the Eurozone and 7 per cent in the UK. But with price rises mostly stemming from the fallout of the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, the question is what, if anything, can policymakers do about it? The European Central Bank (ECB), headquartered in Frankfurt (pictured), is struggling more than most, having kept interest rates at record lows since 2011. It holds its monthly policy meeting today. “We’ve had crisis after crisis: since the great financial crisis we have had a euro crisis, a pandemic and now a war,” Carsten Brzeski, head of macro research for Dutch bank ING, tells The Monocle Minute. “The mistake that the ECB has made is that it was always too slow to end its crisis-fighting measures.” The next few months could finally force the ECB to raise rates, whether it wants to or not.

Fashion / Portugal

Clear advantage

With consumers increasingly concerned about the conditions under which clothing is manufactured, fashion label Isto is turning the extra scrutiny into an asset. It recently launched “factourism”, a new concept that gives its customers an all-access pass to the company’s factory in northern Portugal (pictured) to learn about how its organic wardrobe staples are made. The project builds on Isto’s long-term commitment to transparency: it has also recently shared its annual costs and profits, and showcased its offices and warehouses on social media, giving customers a better understanding of its pricing models and the people behind the brand.

Factourism also highlights the current momentum around “Made in Portugal”: the country is becoming a hub for material innovation and responsible manufacturing, attracting not only homegrown firms but international players, from Pangaia and Ralph Lauren to Paul Smith. Will they hop on the factourism bandwagon? It certainly couldn’t hurt their reputations.

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum

Monocle 24 / Monocle on Design

‘Fashioning Masculinities’

We take a look at Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, a new exhibition at London’s V&A Museum that examines menswear and the concept of masculinity through the ages.

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to finding a spring jacket

Bruce Pask, the menswear director at Bergdorf Goodman, is fêted for his unfussy personal style, so much so that the New York department store has given him his own space – B. – in one corner of its shop floor. As the mercury rises we asked Pask to give us the lowdown on picking a quintessential menswear staple: the spring jacket.

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