The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Get On Yer Bike

Norman Tebbit‘s (in)famous words to the unemployed of Britain in the eighties. Funny that it was that decade that gave kudos to all that we we now find abhorrent in the oft-unearned and “rub in your face” conspicuous wealth of bankers and multi-national elites. As the wheels of capitalism turn through a time of belt-tightening and forced austerity, that everyone except those that still see poverty as a character failure, seems to understand; I am, as always, pleasantly surprised to find Japan doing it just a little differently.

Today I went to the the finacial capital of Tokyo, the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Places that despite being the engines of a troubled, to be fair, but still formidable economy seem to have none of the aggressive pride in excess that the Meccas of money in New York or London deem necessary to motivate themselves. I think I’d never see a banker in London ride to work on a on a bike for example.

Of course Doric columns are an affectation, lending European gravitas to such businesses and in Japan are wonderfully pretentious. Indeed the veneration of the market with western classical ideas and architecture is just a little pathetic when you consider that Japan was the trail-breaking tiger of the Asian dominance of the economy we’d all better get used to in this next century. But then history has always sat at odd angles on this land that does not quite know where it belongs. What is inescapable however is the fact that there are reasons Japan has been able to hang-on and tough-out what has been a difficult twenty years of stagnation and ineptitude. Not least among these is the fact that a Japanese stock broker or banker  does not consider it beneath him to ride a bike to work. Can’t quite explain how important this self-effacement is to the potential of running a country and massive, globally significant economy. There are more and more worrying problems in Japan that cut this one advantage off at the knees to be sure but I just wish the high-earning people in the UK, who are selfishly worrying about their bonuses would take a leaf from the Japanese and be a tad more humble in their hubris .

True in the eighties Japan went mad with celebrations of easy money, and the lost decade, since the bubble burst, has stretched to twice that time as people refuse to deal with the fall-out from that. Yet while ordinary people in my country make impossible choices about their limited finances (food or house  or education)  I just wish the rich would get on their bikes a bit and work-out how to make the obscene amounts of wonger they believe essential to placating the more gentle skills of wealth creation we are meant to reward them for, would find a way to generate wealth for all of us not just themselves.





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