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Saturday, Jan. 11, 2003


The 'risutora' blues: Music that won't go away

I have been "restored."

Sounds good, huh? Perhaps you envision a trimmer tummy, steam-pressed wrinkles and a re-cultivated forest of hair, not the thinning wasteland I have now.

Or perhaps you prefer a more spiritual interpretation and believe I hereby possess -- in no particular order -- renewed faith in Santa Claus, the Chicago Cubs, Bill Clinton, bell-bottom slacks, Enron securities and more.

Yet I am leading up to none of the above.

"So what do you mean?" says my wife.

What do I mean? I look her in the eye. "I mean I've been fired, that's what I mean!"

For "restored" in present-day Japan-speak is close enough to "risutora," the Japanese abridgment of "risutorakucha," or "restructure," a financial term that the common working man has taken as a euphemism for being sacrificed to the cost-saving strategy of struggling companies.

"Oh," says my wife, "you mean you've been let go."

Ah, another euphemism! This one perhaps aimed at my waistline.

"He was just too heavy," sniffled our CEO. "I tried to pull him up, but I lacked the arm strength. So I had no choice but to . . .' "

Of course, he himself is still doing fine with his eight-figure Japanese salary. As for me, I feel like a man just decapitated by his barber. It was a haircut to die for.

"Are you joking or what?"

But of course, I'm joking. What else do restructured people have but humor?

The truth is that a small office where I put in a few hours each week as the resident English nerd was sold by its parent company to a new parent not fond of foster children. Most of the orphans were thus swept out, and I felt the broom too.

For me, this meant the loss of some part-time income; for the 20 or so full-time workers it meant never-ending euphemisms.

Funny, but sometimes we would gaze with pity on the blue-tarpaulined boxes of the homeless in a park not far away. Little did my colleagues realize they were perusing potential housing.

Or at other times I would peer across the street into another window to see tiny workers in some unknown company scurrying busily about their business.

And I would think that in that faraway window was an entire world of fragile relationships, nitpicking bureaucracy and information highway caution signs just as real as our own.

With the difference now being that the other company has not yet clicked the bucket. But perhaps it's only a matter of time.

"You're exaggerating," says my wife. "Like usual."

Am I? This country has been mired in recession now for 10 years -- a full decade. They say that night is darkest before the dawn, but instead Japan keeps learning that dark can always get darker.

While the snarl of economic problems is no doubt complex, one would think it's high time someone else tried their hand at the unraveling.

"The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has had more than enough chances to screw things up. Japan needs new leadership."

"No, no," counters my wife. "New leaders would just restart the screw up process from scratch. Meanwhile, the current leaders are right on the cutting edge. And think of their experience!"

Given a choice between screwups new and old, I yearn for fresh blood. I'm tired of blaming the same old faces. I want to swear at someone different. How can they possibly do any worse?

"I'll tell you how. The banks could have a meltdown. The government could run out of yen. The unemployment figure could surpass the divorce rate. We could have a fall that would make 1929 look like a toe stub."

As I gnaw on that, she adds: "Instead we should count our blessings. Tough situations help up appreciate the good times better."

Perhaps, but I think I would now prefer some good times to help me better disparage the bad.

Personally I feel Japan's unofficial motto of "It could be worse" needs to be replaced with "It should be better."

"So your suggestion is that instead of firing the folks at the bottom, it's the ones at the top who should get the ax."

Sort of. But I prefer to wax more euphemistically. As in: If things don't turn around, those in charge should be given a key to the executive bread line.

"Maybe then," I tell her, "the whole nation would truly be 'restored.' "

She grouses about how unloading people wholesale will not solve anything.

"Why didn't I think of that? Better yet, why didn't my ex-boss think of that?"

"You're just upset," she says. "And you want instant results. That's the Western way. But we Japanese are more harmonious. We will work out of this mess, step by step, together."

"Or sink together."

"That's right. But I think all the country needs is some confidence."

"Oh I have confidence. We are sinking like lead. I'm sure of it."

She doesn't hear me. Her face is bright, her hands clasped. "All we need is hope!"

"But of course. Not only does hope pay the bills, it tastes great over rice."

"And what you need" -- her face is now in a pout -- "is to shut up . . . and find another job."

English nerds, however, are a dime a dozen, even balding, sarcastic ones. Fortunately, I have other income.

Other euphemisms too.

"Instead of job hunting," I tell her, "I plan to lie around and ponder the meaning of life."

"Oh . . . you mean you'll do some writing?"

There you go. Too bad we can't eat clever endings.

(Final word: My old company called to hire me back. Thus I am now unrestored. All Japan should be so lucky.)

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com

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