WAZA – quality Japanese goods in South Africa

WAZA – quality Japanese goods in South Africa

Since my first visit to Japan for New Years 2005, it’s been a country that intrigues me. So much so that I even enrolled for Japanese language lessons for a few years in Cape Town, but I was never a good student. Such a complex language requires daily effort to master, which I unfortunately did not have.

Pine tree in Takamatsu

Pine tree in Takamatsu

The interest did not wane, however, and after two more visits in 2008 and 2014 I realised my interest requires another outlet. What was frustrating to me after each visit was the fact that very few of the quality products that permeate Japanese life were available in South Africa. We are used to many things from Japan like Japanese vehicles, pens, electronics and increasingly food, but many of its small-scale manufacturing / craftsmen industries are not represented.

Ritsuren Koen, Takamatsu

Ritsuren Koen, Takamatsu

Japan has a long and complex history and a large part of its society and economy is built on small to medium sized businesses, which often have a very narrowarea of specialisation. This is something I also learnt from reading Yoshio Sugimoto’s An Introduction to Japanese Society – the typical ‘salary man’ of Japan is not the majority group within the economically active part of society.

In 2014 I started working on an idea to establish an import and distribution business in South Africa which would focus on small quantities of high-quality Japanese goods for the house and garden. Products like hand forged secateurs, or durable notebooks and art supplies, or kitchen tools. It’s been a long road (30 months to be exact), but this weekend on 9 July 2016 my business partners and I launched our online store WAZA with a first range of products and focusing specifically on the South African market.

Every new project I work on and every new business I become involved in is a learning experience, so I welcome feedback and suggestions on this new venture, or on our products. And if Japanese tools are your thing too, feel free to contact me through the shop with any order requests!

Banshu Hamono

Banshu Hamono

WAZA055_01

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Iceland dances to a different tune

Iceland dances to a different tune

My wife and I shut our eyes to the ZAR:EURO exchange rate and travelled to Iceland in July 2015 for a first and possibly even last visit to this strange and magical island. For us, as for many others, the allure was a combination of Iceland’s stark volcanic landscape, its remoteness, stories about the pragmatism of its people and of course, the music of such artists as Sigur Rós, Amiina, Björk and more.

Music was part of the reason we timed the trip to coincide with 1-3 July, as it was the third annual edition of ATP Iceland. With a line-up that included Iggy Pop, Public Enemy, Swans and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, it was not to be missed. Included in the line-up was also a great selection of Icelandic bands, with artists like Börn, Grísalappalísa, Valgeir Sigurðsson and Mr Silla showing the musical diversity to be found in a country with just over 300,000 citizens.

Swans at ATP Iceland 2015

Swans at ATP Iceland 2015

Having spoken to many people in the South African music industry about the challenges facing musicians, promoters and live music venues, I admit I don’t yet understand the business model for such a festival. ATP as an organisation is known for its exceptional taste in curating festivals, and this one is held in an old NATO hangar with a capacity for a mere 5,000 people. That is not a lot considering the headliners they put on (like the 69-year old Iggy Pop, who showed his lust for life in a staggering 90 minute set). To fly such quality artists to Iceland, to a festival with limited sideshows which can also generate revenue (e.g. camping, food stalls and fringe entertainment) and only a few headline sponsors, must be an accountant’s nightmare. Yet the sound quality is top notch, the organisation is good, the entertainment worth every cent, but I kept wondering are there enough cents in this? ATP had a bad experience previously with the cancelled Jabberwocky Festival in the UK, yet over on Iceland it seems to work, because ATP Iceland 2016 has already been announced.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

After this and some wonderful days in Reykjavik we rented a Suzuki Jimny and toured Route 1 (1,800km around the island) in 10 slow driving and joyous days. The sights are spectacular, even though our South African idea of summer weather was somewhat different from what we experienced at near zero temperatures in our tent.

Þakgil Camping Ground

Þakgil Camping Ground

Iceland is becoming almost too popular, so it might be worthwhile to go slightly outside the main June to August holiday season. Since camping sites open in May and close in September, based on feedback from other campers, even though those two fringe months are cold, they are just as worth it, with slightly less congestion on the roads. Or, the one Ring Road.

Black beach at Vik

Black beach at Vik

Beached glacier ice

Beached glacier ice

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Prenegotiation in South Africa (1985 – 1993)

I love inadvertent digitisation – when something you previously only had in hard copy is suddenly available on the internet. Last year, my masters supervisor, Prof Pierre du Toit, emailed me and asked if he could nominate my MA thesis for upload to Stellenbosch University’s SUNscholar, as they are slowly updating the repository with pre-2009 theses and dissertations. The title was Prenegotiation in South Africa (1985-1993) : a phaseological analysis of the transitional negotiations (I still don’t know if ‘phaseological’ is a word).

I said yes, not only because it took me three years to write and I lost my digital copy in a late 20th century computer crash, but also because the topic of South Africa’s transitional negotiations remains relevant today, 20 years after the formation of our democracy. The thesis is now available as a downloadable PDF here.

South Africa between 1985 and 1993 was a case study in how an interplay of multiple factors – from the pressures of the global political economy, to domestic unrest and civil disobedience, to the sheer will of individual personalities – could realign a whole society towards a new future. South Africa in 2014 is in the middle of a multifaceted debate over the real gains and losses of its diverse population groups and how systemic and persistent inequalities should be addressed during a period of slow economic growth.

We tend to forget how significant and unexpected our (relatively) peaceful transition was, or what lessons we learned at the time. It might be opportune to revisit the transition and do a fresh analysis of the success factors then, to gauge their relevance for a new national compact for the next 20 years.

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From Dusk ’til Dawn in Namibia

From Dusk ’til Dawn in Namibia

Namibia is a country which takes hold of your heart and doesn’t let go. If you’ve been there once, there is a good chance you want to go back again and again.

I have been lucky to work in Namibia as an associate consultant with many local teams since 1999 and last week I was back to facilitate strategy sessions in Windhoek for the Meat Board of Namibia and Standard Bank Namibia. It was hard work from morning, through some nights, to morning, but fruitful and productive.

The one session was held at River Crossing Lodge – close to the city, yet it feels completely remote when you are there. I’ve only facilitated here twice and not yet experienced the accommodation, but it is well run, the service is attentive, the food is good and the setting is spectacular.

Namibia at dusk; Hosea Kutako airport; Namibia at dawn

Namibia at dusk (view towards Windhoek from River Crossing Lodge); Hosea Kutako airport; Namibia at dawn

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Impressions of Kinshasa

Impressions of Kinshasa

On 1-3 April 2014 two related but separate conferences were held at the Grand Hôtel in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC):

  • “Convening the Africa LEDS Partnership” was held on April 1st as a natural progression of the LEDS Global Partnership and LEDS regional partnerships in Asia and Latin America.
  • “Pathways to Green Growth in Africa” hosted by the Green Growth Knowledge Platform took place on April 2nd and 3rd and aimed to facilitate knowledge exchange and foster synergies across the region on green growth approaches and practices.

I represented the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) at these events to explore further networking opportunities for SARUA’s planned research clusters and capacity development networks with other regional and global organisations and partners – you can read my previous blog post on the Capacity Development Programme for Climate Change here.

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The rise of an entrepreneurial niche? Japan’s unique bakeries

The rise of an entrepreneurial niche? Japan’s unique bakeries

I recently travelled to Japan for holiday – a country which, depending who you speak to, can conjure up anything from images of sushi to technology to anime to nuclear catastrophes to controversial whaling practices. It was my third visit and I was once again reminded of how difficult it is to “get to know” another country, culture or its people, while only being exposed very briefly to the (tourist) tip of their lives. Understanding is a complex activity and in a country with as many stimulations, but also unspoken rules that govern everyday behaviour, it is even more so.

The one theme I found intriguing was what seems to be a strongly emerging entrepreneurial culture among young people, specifically in services, food and hospitality.

Japan’s bakery culture is the stuff of salivating tales and recollections of the ubiquitous panya, literally bread shops. What I found very interesting in buying daily goods from these small independent bakeries was the youth demographic. A large percentage of the small bakeries we bought from in Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Takamatsu, were run by 20-something Japanese. What I want to know is whether they are owner/managers, or employees only?

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