November 25, 2009
Sen. Charles Grassley suggested in an Iowa City radio interview on Monday that AIG executives should take a Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility by resigning or killing themselves. "Obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," the Iowa Republican said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide." Grassley spokesman Casey Mills said the senator wasn't calling for AIG executives to kill themselves, but said those who accept tax dollars and spend them on travel and bonuses do so irresponsibly.When I first heard about this, my jaw clenched but I let it pass. Seppuku was a historical reality for centuries, after all, and it's depicted in lots of Japanese pop culture, including movies and books. It's been documented as a reflection of one of Japan's driving cultural values, shame.
Erin, Jared and I ate at a Benihana restaurant recently, and then learned just a couple of days later that Rocky Aoki, the founder of the Benihana chain, had died. I wrote about my experience growing up eating at Benihana for special family occasions, and how in recent years, the restaurant only has one connection to being a Japanese eatery: its food. The staff at the one we go to, for instance, used to have one Japanese woman chef, which was a rarity in the entire company, but she's been gone a couple of years now. The waitstaff and cooks are all non-Japanese, and as far as I can tell, the chefs are all Latino. They love to tell jokes about how they serve "Teri-juana" sauce (get it? Tijuana, teriyaki?). They no longer are sent to Japan to train with master chefs like they used to decades ago. But they are all trained well as entertainers, and come up with some amazing tricks with their knives, throwing food around and catching the morsels. The food's still good, which is why we go from time to time... probably once a year, if that. (YouTube has a lot of videos of dinners at Benihana, including the one above, of a birthday celebration. Most evenings at the restaurants are interrupted by the clatter of multiple birthday celebrations.) The diners likewise are no longer Japanase or JA families. The diners are almost all white; a couple of weeks ago, we were the only Asians in the room.