Tuesday. 13/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Curtain call

Over the past couple of days, Ryuichi Sakamoto (pictured), one of Japan’s greatest contemporary musicians, has made a pre-recorded solo piano “concert” available to stream in what might be one of his last public appearances. Sakamoto, who is being treated for stage-4 cancer, has had a remarkable career that spans 1970s synth pop and film scores, and he occupies a unique space in Japan’s cultural landscape.

He scored movies such as The Last Emperor (for which he won an Oscar), Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (in which he appeared alongside David Bowie) and The Revenant. But music hasn’t been his only interest: he once went to the Arctic to record the sound of melting ice and, since the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, has been a staunch anti-nuclear campaigner.

Of his unconventional (and perhaps final) show, he said, “I don’t have the stamina to complete a live concert, so this might be the last time I perform in this way.” In public broadcaster NHK’s biggest studio, Sakamoto recorded 13 songs one by one; the performances were then edited together to make an hour-long concert. A camera crew was on hand to document the process and a longer film will be released at some point in the future.

Sakamoto will release a new album, 12, on his birthday in January. “I hope to be able to make music until my last moment, like Bach and Debussy, whom I love,” he recently wrote. Sitting at the piano, he looked as stylish as ever, if thinner. Many are hoping that this won’t be his final performance; yet the concert was an apt way to begin the end of an unconventional career that has inspired listeners across Japan and beyond. As one fan said of the performance, “I will burn it into my ears and heart.”

Fiona Wilson is Monocle’s Tokyo bureau chief.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Africa

Making overtures

The White House’s efforts to woo African governments will intensify today when about 50 national leaders descend on Washington for the US-Africa Leaders Summit. Economic issues will be a top priority for the US as it competes with its geopolitical rivals for influence. Washington has long been wary of Beijing’s advances in Africa through its Belt and Road infrastructure projects, as well as Russia’s charm offensives: the latter’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has recently made trips to Egypt, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joe Biden (pictured) is expected to throw his backing behind granting the African Union a permanent seat in the G20. “The US is keen to demonstrate that it is listening and not hectoring, especially on contentious geopolitical issues,” Christopher Vandome, senior Africa research fellow at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “The US wants to progress its relations into wider political and economic areas, partly driven by commercial interests and the need to secure the supply chain of crucial minerals.”

Image: Getty Images

Art / Iran

Stepping up to the task

Artists including Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker and Marina Abramovic have signed an open letter in solidarity with the protests that have erupted in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini. According to the letter, they hope to persuade the international community to “boycott governmental institutions of the Islamic state of Iran and their covert affiliates, and prevent them from having any presence in the international arenas of arts, culture and education”.

The letter is well-intentioned but Arash Azizi, author of The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the US and Iran’s Global Ambitions, says that the artists must go further. “There are tonnes of ways in which [high-profile figures] can help the revolution,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “They need to be highlighting these problems daily and consistently, not just writing a letter once in a while.” In other words, the artists must do more than simply pay lip service to the issues.

Image: Dagsmejan

Business / Switzerland

Bedding in

Swiss pyjama start-up Dagsmejan probably shouldn’t have succeeded. In 2016, Catarina Dahlin and Andreas Lenzhofer (pictured) founded the company in middle age – an unusual time to do so – to disrupt a dusty, arguably unnecessary corner of the textile sector that receives far less investor action than technology or pharmaceuticals. Making it a direct-to-consumer company, an uncommon model in Switzerland, only lengthened the odds of Dagsmejan’s success. And yet the company has raised CHF4m (€4m) by promoting its eucalyptus-and-merino-wool pyjamas as doing for nightwear what the multibillion-euro Swiss success story On did for trainers.

Dagsmejan even managed to snare seven of On’s original investors, showing that there is no harm in borrowing tried-and-tested methods, personnel and even language. “Most investors are interested in fintech, biotech, med tech or food tech,” co-founder Catarina Dahlin told Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “Maybe we should have written ‘tech’ on the pyjamas.” Dagsmejan now refers to its products as “sleeptech” – and its founders sleep soundly too.

Image: Finavia

Aviation / Finland

Lap it up

While Finland’s travel industry is feeling the lack of Russian and Chinese tourists, operators in the northern region of Lapland are gearing up for the busiest winter on record. Tourism from the east might have fallen but European visitors are flocking to the region in such numbers that Air France launched a new route from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Kittilä airport last weekend. Meanwhile, the airport in Rovaniemi, home of Santa Claus, reports that there are now more inbound flights scheduled than ever before.

Lapland is also benefiting from Finnair’s new strategy of targeting the US: the number of American visitors flying to Lapland via Helsinki has increased. Though snowfall often causes problems in many European airports, Finland’s expertise in dealing with it and making sure that planes are able to land means difficult weather rarely closes Lapland’s airports. Despite the cold, tourists can expect a warm welcome this winter.

To read how one of Lapland’s airports is keeping its doors open this winter, check out the December-January issue of Monocle, which is now on sale.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Qatar World Cup: a sportswashing own goal?

This year’s Fifa World Cup in Qatar has a strong claim to be the most controversial football competition ever. Amid relentless criticism over the nation’s human-rights record, has Qatar’s soft-power push backfired? Andrew Mueller speaks to Craig Foster, Shaka Hislop, Laura McAllister, Paul Brannagan and Danyel Reiche.

Monocle Films / France

Escape to la campagne: Normandy

Pierre-Edouard Robine traded city life to rediscover his farming roots in 2016. Since then, he has built a sparkling wine business and forages for Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, alongside tending to his small herd of cattle. We travelled to his farm in La Courbe, Normandy, to lend a hand with tending the land and hear about the benefits of rural living.

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