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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010
WORDS TO LIVE BY
Fruit vendor Takahiko Takahashi
Come rain or shine, Takahiko Takahashi, 69, is outdoors joking with customers and packing delicious peaches, mikan (mandarins), nashi (Japanese pears), apples and melons into their shopping baskets. Though he's a Tokyo fruit vendor, he knows and loves his vegetables, too. He even grows his own spinach, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) and cabbages on a plot of land in the city's Edogawa Ward. Always full of energy and in perfect health, Takahashi is a poster boy for the power of fruit and veggies.
Fruits are like babies; they need protection and constant care. Japanese farmers put a lot of effort into growing wonderful products. They individually wrap each fruit — such as biwa (Japanese loquat), apples and bunches of grapes — into paper to protect them from bugs and the cold. They even change the paper as the fruits mature.
Unless parents put dynamite under their kids' butts, they never move or move out. Our son and our daughter are still single and living with us. Sure, we love them, but he's 37, she's 39 and they have no intention of marrying or ever getting a place of their own. Why should they? We've never pressured them to be independent. Now it's too late. They're the perfect parasite singles and only my wife and I are to blame. We spoiled them. Parents should be tougher on their kids or they'll end up like ours, no doubt.
In Japan, a small difference is a big deal, even if you are a cucumber. For example, if a cucumber is not perfectly straight, it's considered grade B and sells for only ¥30, not like a grade A that has a ¥90 price tag. A more curvy cucumber will be graded C, and that fetches only ¥5. Grade D is pretty much free. Cucumbers are judged harshly, even though they all are delicious and good for your health.
Jokes sell more products than low prices. Customers love buying from me as I am always kidding around with them, but my way of doing business is dying out in Japan. Only fishmongers keep this funny style of selling. No wonder the Japanese eat so much fish!
There's no need for a couple to share everything. I hate dealing with money so my wife takes care of our finances. I just do the manual work; she's got the brains. I think her life is tougher as she has to deal with a dummy like me.
If you wish for something, it can come true. At 20, I decided what I wanted: a nice wife, a good job, a house, a few kids, land to grow our food and maybe even a few apartments to rent out. It all came true.
Make everything into money, not garbage! As the sun goes down, so do our prices. We keep lowering them so that by the time we close for the day we have sold out. But the cake shops in the depachika (department store basement shops) never give discounts; instead they throw out the leftovers at the end of the day. That is mottainai! (wasteful)
Picking out the best apple from the fruit stand is like picking a good person out of a crowd: You must talk to them. And if you get an answer, listen well. The ones that have a nice hollow sound are the sweetest.
Grow veggies, no matter where you live! I'll never stop being a farmer for as long as I have a plot of land. But even if you don't have a farm, you can grow komatsuna and spinach on your veranda. They are easy to grow. So are tomatoes.
Men don't change, or at least not for the better, yet women never stop trying to improve them. My wife constantly scolds me for being a slob — ever since we got married 42 years ago, every morning and night. Is it working? No, I think I'm actually getting worse with each day I get older. I even have to put a towel on the tatami floor under my seat, kind of like a dog would have, because I drop pieces of food. I don't do it on purpose, it's just me. Sorry, I can't fix it. Yet my wife gets a little upset at every meal. She is always cleaning our house until it sparkles and I'm thankful to her for that, but I can't change my nature. Men are animals.
Don't judge a job by the clothes you have to wear to do it. Being a salaryman looks good because of the nice suits and the clean look, but actually there's nothing good about that life. Salarymen work all the time and to make matters worse, they pay the most income tax in Japan. Companies take out taxes from their monthly salary and they can't even get any of the money back at the end of the year. Business owners have more freedom to pay less tax. Farmers have it easy because we are supported by the government. Not only do we not have to pay high taxes but we can also get government assistance. Still, nobody wants to be a farmer, and that's because we have to get our hands dirty. I'd rather have dirty nails and lots of money than clean nails and less cash.
If you don't work hard, you'll get a bad reputation in your neighborhood. I'm always on the move and I keep on working because it is healthy, but I'm also like that because otherwise people in the neighborhood would call me a useless guy.
I have a great life, thanks to my wife. She takes care of our home, our finances — everything. I never worry about money. I always make more than we need, but then we never need much. I think that's because she's great with money.
When I imagine the future, I feel both happy and miserable. I'm sure our children will take good care of us in our old age. It's a bittersweet reality that they probably will be with us but we won't have any cute grandkids.
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/