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December, 1999

(Cell phone still worries)
With little gadgets always in handgrip, youngsters are X-raying their brains for their uninterrupted, nonproductive conversation. Although the cellular phone industry keeps assuring its safety, researchers still say the electromagnetic waves of a cell phone sent into users' brains might cause some health hazards. "Whether it's effective or not," one lady says, "I use a protective shield sticker patched on the part of the phone's antenna facing my head." "Cell phone is just like tobacco," one gentleman says. "People are rapidly hooked on the gadget without noticing its influence on health," he continues. "Tobacco advertising is almost banned today in major countries. Tomorrow, cell phones may be," he says. "In major cities in Japan, however," one participant says, "we have many transponders around us. And thanks to the short distance to a nearby transponder in the street, our cell phone doesn't have to send microwaves of a strong intensity." Besides its potential health issues, cell phones are inducing a cultural shift among modern people. Users' moral obligation is hardly understandable to old-timers. Some people say, "Cell phones will peak out eventually." Others say, "Oh no! They'll grow further and develop into further advanced alternatives." That's our future lifestyle whether we like it or not.

(Nissan's hustling COO, Carlos Ghosn)
Participants at this Round Table all feel that the three-year revival plan for Nissan Motor proposed by the French COO is too drastic according to the Japanese norm. "However," one says, "Nissan might have no other choice as the company has to get rid of its heavy liability as quickly as possible." The statement of Toyota's chairman Hiroshi Okuda, that companies fire employees simply because of an economic downturn will lose the trust of workers, sounds very well. "But this could be mentioned only by Toyota as the winner in the business sector," one participant says. "The current labor market is frosty for unemployed people," says one middle-aged person who became jobless because of a restructuring campaign a few months ago. "I'll have to take any job as soon as I lose my eligibility to receive the unemployment allowance," he continues. "Then, my earning will be far less than that I received in the former company," he says. One young man adds, "Our company had driven a restructuring program two years ago and slashed its workforce by 20%." "But the result we face today is an extreme overload for those remained in our company," he says. "You're living in a different world," another middle-aged person says sarcastically. "I'm going through my life with no problem although I'm not employed by any big companies," he continues. "Occasionally, I work for some part-time jobs and that's enough for me," he says. Whereto our capitalism goes? We must face this question. To keep our economy world, do we really have to endlessly encourage people to buy something not so much needed for their basic lifestyle?

(Railway stations become barrier-free and multifunctional)
"It's nice if a railway station offers day-care services," says one lady. The latest white paper issued by the Transport Ministry urges nearly 2,000 railway stations nationwide to upgrade their services in line with the needs of an aging society and a rising number of working women. "Hankyu Railway does a good job," one person says. "Some of its stations already serve as community service centers with local government offices and public galleries," he says. Most of Hankyu's stations have already been rebuilt as barrier-free facilities with elevators and escalators. One aged man says, "This is all what I saw and was impressed some 30 years ago when I first visited Europe." "We often see wheelchair travellers around us these days," another man says. "Japan is also improving," he adds. "At the same time, however," one college student says cynically, "we are losing opportunities to extend our assistance to those disabled travellers." "Don't worry, you can pick up chances to help them anytime," other people say. Yes, if our society offers a barrier-free system everywhere, we will have more such travellers in the street who need help occasionally from other people. Under these circumstances, we'll have chances to develop ourselves in terms of morality.

(Births to teen-age girls fall)
A survey in the USA showed a significant reduction in births to American teen-agers for a seventh straight time last year. The trend implies that fewer teens are having sex and they're using more reliable form of birth control. "Still," one gentleman says, "it comes something of a surprise that nearly 10,000 babies are born there in the States every year to very young moms aged 10-14." A lady then says, "A good system works there for such babies." "I believe they're mostly adopted by those families who wish to have children," she says. Some people are concerned about the trend. The fewer people are interested in sex, the faster we'll face problems of an aging society. Is a physiological change taking place on us humankind?


October, 1999

(Deceased Morita and his English)
Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony Corp., died on October 3 at age 78. His death together with the record of his business life has been widely taken up by most of the world leading media. Our periodical Round Table this evening first touches the question how Morita could become so popular among his western contacts. "Though his English sounded typical old academician's accent being far from the native speaker's fluency," one participant says, "his talks were perfectly understood by his western talking partners." "Morita had gained his confidence in communication with American people after he learned that the continental European spoke in funny English without hesitation," one lady says. "Perhaps, his statement was always logically composed," one gentleman says. "Oh no," some one disagrees, "he was rather passionate than logical." Whether Morita was logical or passionate, it must be sure that he had always meaningful contents in his talks. Incidentally, a workshop at the JALT conference held recently in Maebashi suggests that Japan's English education should include teaching public speaking. "We are unable to hold any debating class," one high school teacher says, "because our school curriculum is made to comply with the entrance examination for Universities." "If the present education teaches students only how to tell strangers where is post office," an elderly participant says, "English will never work among Japanese." This picture gives us a certain sense of complacency on our existing club activity here.

(Issuance of 2,000 yen bank note)
To commemorate the millennium G-8 summit next summer in Okinawa, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and his 'Ji-Ji-Ko' coalition cabinet agreed on the issuance of a 2,000 yen denomination bill. Most participants say, "Do we need any additional bank note?" "Perhaps, our leaders are wishing to follow the western manner of counting using base numbers, one, two and five," one man points out. "We may have less number of sheets of paper in our wallets because of the new bill. In fact, bills of 20-denomination such as $20, DM20, etc. are most circulating in the western countries," another man says. Anyway, it seems that this announcement has not given an impact to Japanese society. It is said that the business expansion in the related industries, ATMs, vending machines, etc., will be limited. One participant says, "We rather need the currency denomination for yen to show a two-digit shorter figure."

(Prosecutor gives up Kabutoyama case)
After 21 years of battles in court, a former nursery school teacher, Etsuko Yamada, has finally become able to clear her name out of the Kabutoyama case as the Osaka High Public Prosecutor's Office decided not to appeal the case further. Some participants say, "As long as the fact remains unclear, we can't honestly express sorrow for her." Others say, "Whether the fact comes out or not, we should understand at this point how she had suffered the faulse charge for a quarter century." Lawyers and some law professors are accusing police of the coercive attitude that had driven Yamada towards a false confession. One lady says, "A court trial generally takes too long." And she quotes the JonBenet Ramsey case which took place on the Christmas day of 1996 in Denver, "I'm surprised that the U.S. judicial system works so quickly. While JonBenet's parents remain under an umbrella of suspicion, the grand jury has just decided not to issue indictments." The traditional face-saving attitude of police and prosecutors in Japan that never releases their initial belief must prolong court battles unnecessarily and might produce another victim soon.

(Work more to make ends meet)
Despite the unprecedented boom in American economy today, it seems that the annual income for the median family makes little growth over what it made in 1989. They say that the major part of game from their productivity improvement is going to the top. In order to make ends meet, middle-income wage earners work these days 6 full-time weeks more in a year than they did 10 years ago. "That's America. Here in Japan, we probably put in less hours of work than we did 10 years ago," several participants say. "Our working manner has changed. Productivity must be improved as we handle our business smartly today," they continue. One says, "10 years ago, even after office hours, we poor guys used to flock together in restaurants and Karaoke bars until midnight." "Today, we are much more efficient at office and have much more time at home," he says. Another participant points out, "Average woman must be working more these days. Challenges by women in the industrial activities have meantime firmly advanced." The latest unemployment rate shows a higher number for men. As so-called SOHO workers - telecommuters or home-office workers - are accepted more and more by companies, participation by women in the working society will be further promoted.

(Nuclear headquarters mistreat CTBT)
Clinton administration could not have the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified at the U.S. Senate last week. This could be working as a wrong message to those countries in the world that have kept criticism on the treaty. By chance, a military coup just took place in Pakistan which had owned nuke a few months ago. Our members are concerned about the situation. All participants however say, "We believe that the partisan politics there happened to bring about such a funny outcome and wise American shall certainly come back on the subject shortly for ratification."

September, 1999

( Kobe Airport takes off in 2005 )
"This must be a project to offer jobs for people in the area that suffers the worst unemployment rate in Japan," says one middle-aged participant at our Monthly Round Table. While airport opponents continued asking to stop the project which had been already approved by Kobe's city council, an oceanographic survey of seabed off Port Island began a few weeks ago. One lady asks, "Why do we need another airport in Kansai?" "From Sannomiya, it takes only 30 minutes to Kansai International Airport by ferry and also some 40 minutes to Itami Airport by bus," she continues. One gentleman insists, "There must have been strong pressure from the marine construction industry which is deadly in need of reclamation business in such a big size." Apparently, Kobe attempts to revive its past image of "Kobe Company Limited" which people once praised for its clever activities to open huge space, one as reclaimed islands offshore and the other as residential areas on the hillside. Despite the unrelenting voice of opponents, Kobe Airport will begin its single-runway operation for domestic airlines in 2005. Let's see how it develops. Let's not hope it becomes another Tajima Airport which started its operation in Toyooka a few years ago and has since been extremely underutilized eating substantial maintenance budget every year.

( Weekend English classes for students )
"Perhaps, the Education Ministry could no more be patient of the long-lasting poor result of the average Japanese TOEFL examinee. It must have, therefore, come up with such an idea at last," says one participant. The idea is to open English classes on Saturdays and Sundays in 100 selected areas to give fourth- to sixth-year primary school children an opportunity to learn English. Ability of Japanese people to speak and hear English is lagging behind that of most other Asian people. "In other Asian countries," one gentleman says, "Students who want higher education try to go to universities in overseas." "So, English is their basic need," he says. Students in such countries learn English for practical reason as a necessary communication tool for their future. One lady who teaches small children English at a private institution says, "Most of them quickly lose their interest in learning English. They are just forced to attend such a class by their parents." "No public demand for English exists in Japan," one member admits. "Even though those little kids become able to use English, they have stage nowhere in society to practice it," he says. "One day, every kid went to an abacus (Soroban) class, initially for practical reason, but later, as possible aid to the kid's math study," another member says. Today, these abacus classes have almost gone, because abacus is no more used in business and the mental calculation is no more competitive with electronics calculators or computers. Therefore, the first thing that the government should do is to create social demand for English, and not let the Education Ministry spend budget for children who don't think English being important for their survival in the future.

( The rich-poor gap grows )
A recent report issued by the United Nation indicates that the gap between the rich and the poor is generally growing. The report illustrates the world three wealthiest families (the Gate family, etc.), widening difference in remuneration between a firm's CEO and its average employee, and a business strategy by major pharmaceutical companies to focus more on lifestyle drugs for the affluent than on lifesaving drugs for the hundreds of millions of the world's poor people. "As long as a certain dynamism is generated in society like in today's America, we must accept the existence of some rich families," says one participant. "It's questionable whether Japan should steer for the similar direction," another says. "Those winners in "American dream" usually pay large amount of money back to the society as donation," he continues. "Even if, in future, some superrich families begin to exist, it's hardly imaginable that these Japanese willingly donate portion of their fortunes to the public," one lady says. "Since Japan is heading up from society of 'equally shared harvest' to society of 'equally accessible opportunity',, we must work hard for our own future," one young participant says. Redistribution of the overall wealth earned in the country among the public must be carefully structured so that a safety net could still rescue the loser in society.


July, 1999

"People are too pessimistic," says one participant at our Round Table that holds "Dread of Dotage" as its first subject this evening. According to an Asahi Shinbun's survey, most of respondents are concerned about their lives after retirement. "Don't worry, you younger generations," some elderly participants continue. "Now, of the nation's privately owned financial savings worth 1.2 quadrillion yen, nearly 60 % are in the accounts for the aged." "They have money and houses to leave for their children, one part of which will definitely increase the nation's future revenue as inheritance taxes and the other part must help the lives of younger people," concludes an elderly member. "There are many younger people who are not ambitious," says one young man. The record unemployment rate 4.9% has just been announced. "It's just the United States about a decade ago," one lady points out. "At the time, a large number of job-seekers took steps on their own as self-employment, which has largely contributed to today's prosperity in the country," she says. So fellows, don't be pessimistic, but be ambitious!

Only what lacks in the United States is the royal family. She has every other thing that is not possibly owned by other nations in the world. Thus, the tragedy revisited the Kennedys has been treated by the US media as much in magnitude as the one happened on Princess Diana two years ago. "Anyway, the man, JFK Jr., is a good-looking guy," one lady says. "I can understand why he's become one for American people to adore." "Those singular happenings repeating on the Kennedy dynasty might have been led by its immense family asset," one participant says. "Maybe, such a vast fortune, which can afford to finance livings of all the Kennedy generations to come, was made by their ancestor at the cost of large number of losers many decades ago," he says. Some other still say "It's hardly understandable that for his burial, together with his wife and her sister, at sea, one of the US Naval destroyers was even used." Being a son of JFK, the former US President and accepting therefore himself as celebrity, he must have needed to perform recklessly in his life, sadly demonstrating a certain nobility that is liked by his father's nation.

Beijing's reaction to the statement, "nation-to-nation relation", of Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was swift. China warns that the rhetorical shift could jeopardize any future talks between Beijing and Taiwan. "It's difficult to understand why now Lee has tossed such a rhetorical change," some participants say. Taiwan's attempt to strengthen its missile defense will certainly involve Japan whether we like it or not. The Japan-US TMD project will eventually cover a broader strategic region. "China knows Taiwan cannot be treated as easily as Hong Kong," some participants say. "Taiwan must take time until Beijing further changes in its political regime," they continue. The latest issue that China had to ban a popular meditation sect "Falun Gong" as a serious threat to its rule also indicates Beijing's irritation against those no more justifying its glorious regime and the fact that its economy must more and more depend on world markets of capitalism today. "Even inside Taiwan, the independence is not unanimously desired," some one points out. People must act wisely and try to avoid any development that damages the stability of the region.

Most aged participants are surprised at the result of a Tokyo panel's recent survey where about 40% of high school students say that they have had sex. A young participant admits the figure being almost correct. "No surprise. This is a healthy picture," still says one aged guy. "The figure may have been a bit less, but we must have had a similar situation in our younger days," he continues. "Only, we were never surveyed on such a matter in those days," he says. To this, another member adds "Morality covering legal marriage was introduced in the Meiji era and such an age bias had gradually been developed." "Students are biologically eligible for sex. Before the Meiji, people in their adolescence had sex more naturally," he says. The survey does not attempt to criticize those students having sex, but does more to warn them about sexually transmitted diseases recommending use of contraception. "They must be safe as long as they have sex with fixed partners," one says. "As a result, however," one lady says, "the students' sex is said to bring about more than 200,000 abortion cases a year." That number of babies, if they are saved, could easily contribute to retarding our society's aging.

June, 1999 (1)

It's not anymore merely an old man's cliche that younger generation is problem these days. Deans of most universities in Japan say the academic levels of their students have declined. One participant at this meeting, who just started attending university last April, says, "Most classes are tough to average student in the basic education courses." "I must work hard. Otherwise, I'll be put in a lower-rate class as students in the university are told that they'll be divided shortly in groups according to their individual abilities." Aged participants say, "Nothing new! There had been always some university graduates in companies who hardly managed to read and write a Japanese text correctly in their daily activities." Since more number of children go to university mostly without any academic purpose, our society will produce many underrated graduates as job-seekers. "Graduate schools are playing a role for university education," some say. Let's see. Time will solve such a problem if it seriously hits the nation's strength.

A pay toilet is not so common in public spots here. Mt. Fuji starts asking users for a 100 yen tip per visit to its modern toilets at the 5th and 7th stations from this summer. Nobody apparently opposes this idea. "You should have good stock of coins if you're frequent visitors to that place," some participants who love mountain-trekking say. "100 yen is even too cheap to maintain such important facilities," they say. Those experienced overseas trips say, "There are many that kind in foreign countries." "One in Paris' airport is nice, fully automated. You need to pay one franc," one lady says. "Fully automated? Still, I'm sure, you need your own physiological power to drain the stuff out of your body," some one mocks sarcasm. Thus, episodes on toilets are never ending until the moment one lady says, "So much for toilets. Let's quit this subject."

North and South Korean warships exchanged fire recently in the contested Yellow Sea border. So far, it has not developed further and both parties are avoiding confrontation. Since North Korean's international policy, in face of its long-lasting economic problem, is unclear to everyone, those nations involved in dealing with the alienated communist country are very careful. Some people still feel shame at Japan's failure in the capture of those two suspected reconnaissance boats which fled to one of North Korean's military ports last March. At the same time, people doubt why the USA's attitude is so mild towards Pyongyang. It contrasts her aggressiveness in Kosovo. Memory of Korean War in 1950 must be still clicking American's trauma. In the hardship of the war, General Douglas MacArthur even thought an option dropping atomic bombs in North Korea and China. Geopolitical complexity still exists in the region. We shouldn't be hot-tempered even though the picture is satellited that North Korea is building a launching stage for Taepodong II.

"Dream deserves the price of lotteries," most participants say. Consistent and untiring 'harangne' in the New York Times on the state-driven lotteries hardly convinces those people who are most sacrificed by the 'painless taxation' that nibbles their bread budget at home. People here too have no criticism on the newly introduced nationwide lottery with 300 million yen jackpot. Even though its worst odds, one in 5 million tickets, are well understood as a matter of fact, people enjoy dreaming about tenuous luck. At the same time, they feel a certain sense of satisfaction by knowing that almost nobody can have all the luck, while in the real business life, they must see much higher number of winners among themselves. So, lotteries are therapeutic. No one has ever been reported as he went bankrupt because of lotteries.

June, 1999 (2)

First, our Club President briefed his recent private trip to Peru where, by chance, Princess Nori had attended a ceremony to commemorate the centennial of the first Japanese emigration to the country. Many Japanese emigrants headed over to Latin American countries around 100 years ago as such lands offered job opportunities to emigrants. Some of them settled in Peru celebrated the anniversary as Japanese-Peruvians. "Besides such an event," our president said, "our tour team suffered bitterly from 'mountain sickness' as we had to visit sight-seeing spots in high altitude, such as Cuzco and some Inca ruins."

The report that the cloned sheep "Dolly" in England has shorter telomeres than that for other 3-year-old sheep, suggesting she is genetically older than her birth date, implies there might be something that human beings cannot get over. Scientists are often spotlighted when they pick up pieces of their work that may give the human race tenuous hope for immortality. However, our universe is built up based on the concept that people are mortal. Value of life for them is supported by their wish to be longer in life. It is still likely that those recipients in organ transplant look for donors not too much older than themselves.

A survey report that 75% schoolgirls experience today solicitation for sex by older men impressed us at this meeting and took a substantial part of our time. It looks that such lewd middle-aged men, namely, 'Ojisan' are more tempted to speak to those girls in school uniform than in regular clothes. As the survey was made in Shinjuku, a Tokyo's amusement area, the number 75% is understandable. "In my school, I guess 50% students may have experienced solicitation by Ojisan," said a young lady. Of course in reality, most girls ignore such approaches, only very few, by getting accustomed to them, will start to give positive reactions and further fewer will take steps towards teen-age prostitution. A rather radical observation that we must also give a thought to those 25% girls who never experience such approaches by men in the days of their youth was not liked by the lady participants at this meeting.

Furthermore, the attitude of news media towards this kind of survey reports was accused by some members. Sensationalism chased by news media often distorts pictures to be informed to public. The manner of reporting with regard to teen-age prostitution influences badly the existing schoolgirls giving them the impression that the matter is really prevailing. These days, for example, "Birth of crested ibis" and "Satchy vs. Mitchy" are given too much space and hours by newspapers and TV stations. Some angry men said, "Why are they so important?" "Are there no other news worth informing?"

In general, the nation's judicial system -- always long-lasting court trial -- was under accuse. Shoko Asahara the guru is still due for years of court trials. Until he gets the final judgment, Japanese courts will take more than 10 years further to examine every alleged felony he must have conducted. Aum Supreme Truth cult has meantime reactivated its group-wide activities. It is causing troubles with local residents here and there. As one of its old key leaders, Fumihiro Joyu, is released from prison in six month, Aum will certainly become powerful. We could have applied, 2 years ago, Antisubversive Activities Law to this terrorists' group. The newly enacted 'wiretapping' bill may be effectively applied to prevent Aum from committing crimes in future.

May, 1999

Our monthly Round Table, this time joined by one Canadian visitor, went on vigorously covering several interesting topics:

The recent school shooting in Colorado was a mystery in searching for correct reasons to have driven the two youngsters to the carnage. So many copycat crimes are thenceforth taking place and are puzzling us further. Those accused in public are guns, violence films, mesmerizing music or the Internet. Perhaps, loneliness being felt by those many children who have their parents always out of home for work would be in the background. Or, there might be a compounded effect caused by these points in the present society. In Japan, we also experienced several school killings in the past two years. The magnitude of Japanese crimes would have been similar to American's if our school students had access to guns instead of knives they took.

An educational program attempts to upgrade the intellectual level of American students. The school voucher plan in Florida assists those students in the lowest-rated school to strengthen their study by attending private institutions with state-paid tuition. It is however hardly understandable that every school in the state is given an official grade ranging from A to F on standardized test scores. As long as every student is allowed to attend any public school in the region and the customary academic clique exists in our society, we could not anyway avoid having good and bad schools at the same time. Our topmost concern here is whether our present society, which no more provides a playroom for the comfortable win-win game but brings about a few winners and a large number of losers, begins to affect the behaviors of our children.

Some scientific dreams will come true. The fetal cells in the brain of a transplant recipient in the USA took hold and established new networks to produce "dopamine". A damaged brain can now be repaired through biological engineering. As abortion is understood anyway necessary, some participants at this meeting say, it is nothing wrong that aborted fetuses are "recycled" in the brains of those patients who suffer from incurable cerebral diseases. Our concern here again is on somewhat humanitarian frustration in the matter; only the rich always benefits from such scientific achievements, but the poor just cooperates with them for money.

An innovative idea helps one's business. A Tokyo cab is enjoying good business because its interior is overflowing with objects bearing the illustration of "Hello Kitty." This appeals to women and children. This must be a good idea if the use of such a character is not infringing the respective copyright ownership or properly settled among parties concerned. There are taxies these days that offer cheaper fares or special services. However, some participants say, in general, it is not so easy to particularly hail such a cab in the street or win against other passengers while waiting in a line at station. Still, some others are more aggressive in looking for the right cab. Some even try to bargain for cheaper fares with the drivers.

This year's Golden Week seems to have drawn unusual turnout because of good weather and, perhaps, some recovery in the nation's economy. Still in Japan, however, enjoying leisure means spending money on the lemming-like movements nationwide. It is recommended for us to plan a quiet vacation just to recharge our batteries, or to have more interactive community contacts on such occasions. Some say, most Japanese companies are still not happy about their employees to take a longer vacation. Labor unions, mostly in-house organizations, are of no help in improving the situation. On top of that, the present business environment forces those employees, who survived the storm of "restructuring", to work much harder being given the additional burden that has been left behind by those colleagues already departed.

March, 1999

Our periodical Round Table this evening first picked up the subject of successive blunders taking place at major hospitals nationwide. Almost unanimously understood was the country's medical care where nurses were put under a tough working conditions that tended to induce some erroneous operations in "mass-processing" their patients. To avoid recurrence of such accidents, more careful working attitude by hospitals on their day-to-day business must be promoted.

Many people these days suffer from so called "sick building syndrome". Some participants at this meeting have also experienced such negative physiological reactions, sore eyes and rashes when they moved in renewed rooms or had their carpets back from dry-cleaning shops. In our environment, our bodies are exposed to various chemicals. It was pointed out that people seemed to have become more allergic to foreign substances, such as cedar pollen, cleaning agent, glue, paint and other chemicals. Perhaps, we should look again at those classical materials, paper, earth, bamboo and wood, for construction of our houses.

15 doctor-aided dying programs have run in Oregon last year as application of the world only legally sanctioned assisted-suicide scheme. We gave some thought to "quality of life" of those terminally ill people making efforts tenuously for life. If we think of ourselves becoming in such a status, we will be also inclined to ask for that passport from our doctors. At the same time, however, we can understand what some critics of the idea contend; such concept that there exist people who are not needed. This concept might often develop to the extent of ethnic cleansing or chauvinism.

Our roundtable finally touched the merit-based system for civil servants being cooked by an advisory panel to Prime Minister Obuchi. Discussion was particularly made on teachers of public schools; whether a teacher should be appraised on his/her performance as ordinary employees in private companies. Some participants at the meeting felt that since priority and seriousness of teacher's accountabilities were diverse depending on schools and regions, they were hardly compared or rated across the board among themselves. Others still insisted that the degree of individual achievement could be analyzed, if teachers, trying to be objective-minded, would plan properly what to achieve in the next school term. Many participants suggested introduction of a periodical proficiency exam for school teachers.

January, 1999

First, in order to mourn those more than 6,500 victims in the devastating Kobe earthquake, that took place just four years ago, and to pledge efforts to minimize potential impact from such a natural disaster in the future, we participants recalled individual experiences on that calamity. And we realized that those memories and lessons were rapidly fading away in our society.

Then, we touched the subject of "Manga Cafes" as a recent social phenomenon, though no participant in the room had ever experienced them. Some pointed out, "Number of company employees have difficulty in communication with their bosses and colleagues at their workplaces." "Then, the Manga Cafe could be a suitable hideaway for them." It is however interesting to observe that these people would still prefer cafes to their own private rooms. They must be feeling a certain sense of security sitting among other people in such a place.

We also covered "Gambling". A cynical proposal by the New York Times for a national lottery with billion-dollar jackpot tries to convince one wise way to cut taxes. By its nature, gambling functions to collect money from the poor and redistribute it among those who are now paying higher taxes. The meeting touched the forthcoming soccer lottery in Japan. The Ministry of Education will shortly join the governmental gambling club, where the Transport Ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry., and the Ministry of Home Affairs are actively inviting gamblers.

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Date: March 25, 2000