Being a Hostess

“Ow!" That was the sound of me slamming my knee against a futuristic Japanese toilet. Hard. Changing into a cocktail dress in a women's bathroom stall of the Shibuya Seibu department store is no easy task, especially when it's already 7pm and you're due in Ginza in 30 minutes. I winced but kept dressing -…

Japan’s Pink Kink

  The Japanese sex industry, often referred to as the “Pink Trade”, looks inexplicably kinky and oddly ritualized. But as strange as it seems, it is also pervasive and very lucrative. A recently published book, Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs by photojournalist Joan Sinclair (Harry N. Abrams, 192 pages, 155 full-color photographs) offers a…

Have Sushi Will Travel

Nobuyuki Matsuhisa was a 23-year-old sushi chef in Shinjuku when a Japanese Peruvian pepper farmer came for dinner. The encounter changed his life and helped to alter the patterns of global cuisine. “He talked about Peru, he talked about the fish, he was a big success in Peru because in the Amazon they grow black…

No Setting Sun

It has long been an article of faith among economists and government planners that a declining population means an eventual decline in the prestige, power and influence of a nation. From Singapore to most of Eastern Europe to Russia, worried government planners have for decades been involved in attempts to turn around their shrinking birth…

A Great $4 Breakfast in Japan

Japan’s Yoshinoya chain is famous for its ardently loyal customers, usually described as hungry salarymen on a budget. In fact, you can see almost any kind of Japanese at the counters beneath the famous orange sign: students, housewives—and gaijin too. So loyal are its customers that the chain suffered a major crisis in 2004, when…

Quiet on the Set! Action!

Last week a good friend from my days in Tokyo died at an early age from an unexpected heart attack. For someone working on the fringes of the financial community, he had an unusual measure of integrity and humour. He was a collector of languages and held an infectious enthusiasm for everything, whether it was…