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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Takashi Yamada


Takashi Yamada, 59, is an official at Shikoku's Kagawa Products Association, a public entity with offices in Takamatsu City's beautiful Ritsurin Park. Yamada promotes the prefecture's arts and products, including its famed bonsai, udon, olives and the artwork of more than 100 local artisans. An enthusiastic baseball fan, he loves the Hanshin Tigers, Ichiro Suzuki and straight talkers who can throw him a curveball.

Takashi Yamada
Takashi Yamada JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

Dirt might give you a cleaner bill of health. Takamatsu Yomeiri Ningyo are little dolls made of dirt that women would give to friends or neighbors' children in commemoration of their weddings. Babies and toddlers would lick these toys and the mineral-rich soil would calm them down and build up their immune system. Now parents are crazy about cleanliness and don't even allow kids to get dirty, yet Japan is filled with people suffering from allergic hypersensitivity and other diseases. Cleaner is not necessarily better, and it might just make us weaker.

We can feel naked in clothes, too. When I met my wife for the first time, I felt that way. Finally I was free to be the real me, honest and relaxed, which was very liberating.

Challenged people need bigger challenges. When I was 3 years old, I got caries, a disease that damaged my bones, twisted my spine and seemed to alter my destiny for the worse. I didn't let it. I am 143 cm now, yet I never feel small. I always behaved as if I had no handicap and did sports, just like other kids. Since 6th grade in elementary school, I have not missed a day of school or work.

Love is action. It is so easy to say "I love you," but it is much harder to do what the other person needs.

I am promoting over 100 artists, so that they don't end up like my parents did. My parents were potters who made beautiful large clay pots called Horoku ware. These are the best for cooking in, because the heat penetrates deep inside the ingredients so they get soft without ever charring. Of course, these pots are not cheap, but they last forever. Unfortunately, my parents couldn't sell enough of them and finally decided to stop production.

Japan has the toughest competition in any product. In the past, almost every family made its special miso, tofu, soy sauce and pickles, and each family was proud of its own flavor. That is why even today we have many tiny shops specializing in just a few items. The quality is very high, the prices often low and the customers know what tastes good. I think that if you can make it in Japan, you can make it anywhere.

A company's value depends on how much it contributes to society. Unfortunately, nowadays the goal of most corporations is just to make a profit. Their focus should be on making products and services that bring happiness into people's lives.

With slight alterations, a product can survive. Geta (Japanese clogs) are a good example because originally they was made from soft wood which broke into shreds on asphalt roads. Once cushioning was added, they evolved into comfortable slippers and have sold in huge numbers.

Use your money to build the community you want. Most people like the cute little mom-and-pop shops in their neighborhood, yet few buy anything there. But when, one day, the couple decides to close it down, we know it is the end of an era and we feel sorry for losing a landmark. Don't wait till they disappear; support them by buying from them. Once we get older, we will miss them even more because we will want to find our necessities close to home.

A little love can go a long way. I was 12 years old and saw nothing but hopelessness, darkness and loneliness in my present and future. My teacher noticed how sad I was and told me that she cared and wanted me to live and be happy. Her love triggered my transformation into a strong man. I still see her and last year told her again how she brought a breath of fresh air into my life.

A man must be brave. She was a good 10-cm taller than me, so healthy and pretty, and the first woman I met who had no disabilities. She was like air that lifted me up. I was hooked. I bravely sent her a love letter. It was short, like me, and full of meaning. I had total confidence that I would marry her. On our second date she agreed to be my wife. She knew what I felt even when I had no words to express it. She trusted me. That is love. We have a beautiful marriage and two gorgeous children.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/


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