Tatsuo Ichikawa, 69, is an English-speaking volunteer tour guide and an expert on all things fishy in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market. He’s not only a serious history buff, but also an osakana meister (fish master), whose mission is to educate the public on the health benefits of eating his favorite food. A former JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) executive, he’s been working in the tourism industry for 51 years. Until his retirement at age 61, he was the managing director and general manager of JTB China Tours, Inc. and the company’s representative in China. His 50-day, 12-km rough-and-tough tour, called “The Complete Drive Through the Silk Road,” won the 1995 Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA) Tour of the Year Award.
To eat something, we must first love it. Nowadays, young Japanese are eating less and less fish and I know why! In 1997, 45.2 percent of Japanese children (up to the age of 19) fished for fun. But in 2007 that figure went down to 26.8 percent. If kids don’t go fishing, they won’t love fish, so they won’t want to eat it either.
Japan has no borders so it’s a fun experience for us to cross one. We once sat in the immigration building at the Turkmenistan/Iran border, which was filled with pilgrims on their way to the tomb of a religious leader and migrant workers in search of a better life. We spent hours talking to the locals. We were exactly where we wanted to be.
War is rarely fought between enemy soldiers. In our village there were no factories, just farms; so the United States didn’t waste any bombs on us. We were pretty safe until the American pilots noticed us kids in the fields. Then they would suddenly fly really low so they could shoot at us with the machine guns from inside the planes. We would scream and run for our lives.
War can be picturesque when viewed from afar. My hometown is 70 km away from Nagasaki, but I remember what the sky looked like on Aug. 9, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped: It was gorgeous red and the sunset was the brightest I have ever seen.
What stores don’t sell to the public is often the best merchandise. In Tsukiji, they won’t waste a gram of fish, so the fishermen even scoop out the leftover parts of tuna. It looks messy, but it is heavenly! The fishermen either eat it themselves or give it to friends. Once in a while, they sell it to regulars like me. I feel privileged.
Customers are not gods at Tsukiji, the fish are. In Namiyoke Shrine inside the market, workers and customers pray for the fish, the eggs — everything that is killed and eaten.
Whaling is more of a race issue than an animal-rights concern. Norway and Iceland are involved in large-scale commercial whaling, yet Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd only focus their attention on Japanese vessels. Why? These groups masquerade as protectors of animals and the world’s resources, but they don’t mind when Caucasians eat whales; they only get mad when we Japanese try to. True, Japanese catch 25 percent more whales than Norway but our population is 25 times bigger than Norway’s. I also think that Australia and the United States should reconsider whether allowing groups such as Sea Shepherd to dock in their ports is a good idea or not. Same for the Discovery Channel, which airs their attacks against Japanese whalers.
Globalization is not compatible with happiness. I worked for the same company for 43 years. I am thankful because I was not especially smart or particularly talented, but my company let me work my way to its number-two position. I always did my best. But in today’s globalized work environment, where only the smartest and strongest survive, my best could never be good enough.
Lazy people create balance in society. I heard that, in general, if a company hires 10 workers, five years later only two of them will develop enough ability to become a company asset. Six will neither add to or take away from the company’s value. The final two will be lazy and should be gotten rid of. If you do kick out the lazy ones, however, two of the other less-impressive workers will become useless instead. It seems that it is human nature to always have some less-hardworking people in a group.
Religion is often used as a tool of colonization. Christian missionaries came to Japan in the 16th century. They preached peace but then broke off the heads of Buddha statues. Naturally, the Japanese were not impressed and, in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi kicked them out of Kyushu. He did the right thing. Thanks to him and others, Japan was not colonized. Besides us, only Thailand has stayed independent.
Soft power is strong! Japanese pop culture is literally all over the world. Deep in the mountains of Pakistan, village kids play with wooden kokeshi dolls and write with Hello Kitty pens.
Fun jobs always pay very little. Tour guides make almost nothing, yet many people want to do it.
Every accident is at least 50 percent our own fault. It’s natural to say sorry if you step on someone’s foot; but in Japan, even if you’re the person being stepped on, you apologize. This way of thinking allowed us to develop peacefully. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), one million people lived together in peace. Around 30 percent of them were samurai who walked around with swords, so they had to be particularly careful not to hurt others.
Japanese have always loved traveling, even hundreds of years ago. Japanese group tours were very well-developed in the Edo Period. We had travel agents who organized hotels for groups of friends going on trips together and guides who explained historical facts. Back then, Edo (present-day Tokyo) was the world’s largest and most developed city with a million inhabitants, of which 75 percent were literate. Today’s Shibuya already existed, just in a different form.
An ordinary life is best. When we were kids, my teacher often reminded us that in the past, many people died of diseases or hunger. When I heard that, I felt so lucky. I still do.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/