Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Japanese culture”

You May Have Already Won! (LATC September 2014)


EsteroBondThere is something irresistible in the idea of buried treasure brought to light. We love to hear about the dusty picture in the attic that turns out to be a genuine Rembrandt, the stock certificate in the bottom of the neglected safe deposit box that has been accumulating stock splits and dividends for decades, the costume jewelry purchased at a garage sale that turns out to be genuine diamonds. We all want to star on ”Antiques Roadshow.”

I was excited when I visited my mother’s safety deposit box with her in February, and found buried in the bottom a copy of an elaborately engraved coupon bond issued by the Estero Municipal Improvement District with a face value of $1000, a due date of July 1, 1999, and 4 unredeemed coupons still attached.

With visions of compounding interest dancing in my head like sugarplums, I contacted the City of Foster City, which had issued the bond. After numerous letters and phone calls (the bond redemption had been managed by a bank which had merged with another bank which had sold the business to a third bank which had escheated the bond as unclaimed property to the state of California which had lost the record in their data base) my mother finally got her check for the exact face value of the bond and unredeemed coupons. (No sugarplums!) I figured I earned just below the minimum wage for my effort.

Sadder but wiser, I was skeptical when my brother sent me a link to a website listing unclaimed property by state. “ I read an article in the newspaper about this site, ran Dad’s name and came up with a list of unclaimed money. Check it out!”

Of course, I couldn’t resist. But all the listings were in Texas, and required proof that Dad had invested in the companies listed, plus copies of his and Mom’s social security cards and proof that at one time they legally resided at the address listed on the claim.  Since the total was only $38.18 for all 7 claims, I gave it up – no bonanza here for me. (The site is )Let me know if you strike it rich!)

Hope springs eternal. When clearing out my late mother-in-law’s house I saved several Japanese woodblock prints that she had framed inexpensively and hung in her bedroom. When I got them home I checked the internet. They might be valuable originals! After all, she and her husband had spent some time in Japan in the early 60’s. But again, they might be calendar art. I missed the San Jose filming of “Antiques Roadshow” so the jury is still out.

It’s almost more fun not knowing for sure.



Letter from Tokyo – May 2011

When my colleague Kai and I arrived in Tokyo at the end of May, 2011, I almost forgot to look for  after-effects of the earthquake and tsunami – from the windows of the express train from Narita Airport the rice paddies seemed so normal, poking up 6-inch green shoots in even rows inside their regular little square pools.

The first hint of change was at the little Family Mart shop down the street from my usual hotel in Shinju-ku.  The widened aisles and rearranged shelves could not  hide the lack of goods for sale – only four varieties of yogurt,  none of  Kai’s  favorite ice cream treats.  We wondered if the shop was facing hard times and going out of business;  as we walked back up the street  it hit us  that supply chain problems probably caused the scarcity, since the northeast area supplies much of the dairy and agricultural products for the rest of Japan.

The next morning we met our colleague Vivek for coffee at the nearby Starbucks.  As we watched the passing parade of salarymen exiting the subway and heading down the mall to their offices, Vivek pointed out another  more revolutionary  change.

“Do you notice something different? They’re not wearing ties.”

Once pointed out, the changed was startling – At least 50% of the young men going by had abandoned the formal uniform of dark suit, light shirt, and dark tie.

“It’s a government official request. They call it “Cool Biz”.  It’s to save the energy use for air conditioning since the reactors are out of commission.”

Environmentalists had tried for several summers  to popularize the “Cool Biz” approach to dressing but it never  caught on much, not even to the extent of getting the salarymen to switch to a light-colored suit.  But with the nuclear reactor problems,  going tie-less to help save energy is viewed as  almost a patriotic duty.

We found a third change as we headed for the escalator to get to the pedestrian bridge to our office across the street – it was shut down and arrows directed us to the adjacent stairs.  As part of the energy conservation effort, one in three of Tokyo’s escalators and elevators areshut down, unless there is no alternate access for the handicapped.

In our office we saw that the younger cubicle-bound salarymen had universally adopted the Cool Biz standard.  The managers and customer-facing salespeople showed resistance, however;  perhaps the tie is a badge of rank for them which cannot be easily discarded.

Tomii-san, my Japanese partner, told me that these and other conservation efforts have cut energy use in Tokyo by up to 40%.

For the short term, I thought this showed a heroic effort of unity in the face of disaster.  Then I began to wonder about possible long – term effects.

Will younger Japan go back to the formality of ties when the crisis is over?  Would the experiment with casual dress undermine the Japanese sense of formality and propriety over the long term?

Once  companies have realized the savings of reduced energy use, will they ever re- activate those escalators  and elevators? Will the smoothly automated Japanese way of life erode under the twin pressures of environmentalism and cost savings?

Thirty  years after the California drought of 1977, I still don’t let the water flow as I used to while I brush my teeth.  Will the conservation lessons of the Tsunami stick?

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