Friday, 2 May 2014

The end of an era - a microcosm of society

The 30th of April was the closing day for our local bottle shop (saka-ya / off-license). A saka ya here often isn't just a bottle shop. They have milk and eggs, flour, curry paste, potato starch and other general store goods that general stores had before the age of convenience stores.  They also had takkyubin parcel delivery, stamps and Hiro's vice - cigarettes.

They are incredibly nice people. They would check that my kanji was legible sending parcels, checked my understanding on documents if it was urgent and Hiro was at work.  I could ask them advice on Japanese quirks. They had a fold-up seat for oldies  to sit and chat, and they did. They kept an eye on a lot of people, did home deliveries. We called them the Happy Chappies, Mr and Mrs Happy Chappy.  I don't know what their real name is even though I've been going there since I came to Japan, and even since Hiro moved into the neighbourhood 27? years ago.

We send o-chugen / o-seibo  mid year and end of year gifts and Mrs Happy Chappy would tell me to bring the previous dispatch slip to get a 50 yen discount on each parcel being sent - like frequent flier points.  I couldn't find them last time and I told her not to worry; I'd make a note of them for next time.  Hiro popped in the next day and they had a piece of paper with 150 yen taped to it; she'd gone back through their records to find the slips...  I have a picture somewhere, which I'll post if I can find.

It's very sad to have them gone.  They're staying on in the neigbourhood but closing the shop.  In the age of 24 hour convenience stores and Kakayasu cancer (as Hiro and I call the cheap ubiquitous bottle shop chain with no limit home delivery alcohol - one bottle is OK...)   the times had changed.  It was a little more expensive to shop there, but only a matter of several yen, sometimes things were cheaper.  But the convenience store doesn't have seats for oldies and Kakayasu wouldn't check my kanji if I asked.

They had a half price sale in the last few days. Hiro thought we shouldn't buy things; I thought if they're left with things it's a problem. I figured I could get them a nice pot plant of some description.  We have a pile of cheapish cab sav - they didn't cater for the medium - top part of the wine buyers market.  I guess come the winter it'll be ideal for mulling.  When life hands you cheap cab sav, turn it into mulled wine.

It's sad though, and a sign of the society. Yesterday I had a class which involved discussion of a consumer / trade union campaign to improve the wages of workers in Bangladesh.  The students couldn't see how the consumer was connected to the workers producing it.  There's very little sense of consumer power being economic democracy. There is no equivalent word to Walmartization to describe the life sucking effect of Aeon malls in rural areas.   It's not very surprising that there's no awareness of the power of the consumer given that so much of the country doesn't really seem to believe in voters' power to change things through the political system.  I don't think that's much consolation to the Happy Chappies though.


Rurousha said...

Surprise, surprise, look who's arrived. :) I've got a break at work, and I'm catching up.

I love this post: because it describes loss so simply yet so powerfully, because it makes me sad, because it makes me angry.

All we can hope is that the Happy Chappies will have a very happy retirement; and that our local fruit & veggie shop-on-the-corner, which in a way fulfills the same function in my life, will survive for a few more years. They fed the entire neighbourhood after the big quake, when the giant supermarkets had been bled dry, and that sustenance doesn't refer only to food.

Cecilia said...

Oh, I'm honoured to have you pop in when you have such a busy schedule.
I'm still sad...
The local dry cleaners shut for 3 months over NY here because the husband had cancer that was being treated. They're back in action, but it's a matter of time before they shut. They're in their eighties and it couldn't be easy to have a dry cleaners where they do all the pressing by hand.
Very melancholy inducing.

May your vege shop live long and prosper!

allrite said...

That's a lovely farewell for the store and its owners, for a part of the community gone. So often I see shops in Japan with goods so dusty you wonder when they last saw a customer. Last year I encounter one tiny local store in Yokokawa, the sole shopkeeper an elderly lady, selling pear chocolate with a used by date of 2008. She pointed it out apologetically when I tried to purchase it. As a tourist with poor Japanese skills these little shops can be intimidating next to the shiny familiarity of a convenience store. But after reading your post I think they deserve more effort and love, for they shall be missed when they disappear.

Cecilia said...

Hi Allrite,

Thanks for dropping in.
What an amazing co-incidence; I have just arrived back home after a night in Yokokawa! Loved it.

The shops can be intimidating and the people aren't always the community pillars that the local saka-ya was, but often the people in them have much more time to be patient with people whose Japanese isn't so good. It's one of the main reasons I started going there to buy things that I could easily buy in the supermarket. When I first came to Japan it was really nice to have friendly people in the neighborhood.
Next time you're here it's a great way to practice your Japanese!

allrite said...

Did you visit the Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park in Yokokawa? I've been there twice, once by myself, once to take the family. The town seems such a quiet place. I wondered what was still open around the station, surprised that there was anywhere to stay (Both times we were based in Takasaki > headed back to Australia afterwards).

Cecilia said...

We didn't really go anywhere except mountain climbing. It was Golden Week & we booked at the last minute and I'd done zero research... I booked the kokumin shukusa which is near Mt Myogi - about 4 kms from the station.
I guess it translates as citizens accommodation. The kokumin shukusa tend to be located in high nature areas, and in this case it surely was. We went for a hike that turned out to be relatively hard core mountain climbing (at least for me). It's really pretty & I'll definitely go back. The soba noodles at the railway station were surprisingly good. (the tempura in them not quite as good).

I hadn't realized that it was the end of the Shin'etsu line and will certainly check out the Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park! Thanks for the tip.

Cecilia said...

It seems like I can't comment on your blog Allrite, but Gokkuri is mostly a summer drink!