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January - June, 2000
**

June, 2000

(Infant genius gives itself away)
In the advent of the Internet age, even a twelve-year-old female grade-schooler was able to start business selling some unique products in the cyber space. "Some months ago, on her website, she offered a paper scoop for cleaning animal waste," one member says, "and the article then attracted unbelievable number of customers." He says the scoop, being made of recycle paper, is particularly useful for people who must walk their dogs everyday. "In that case, maybe, the little girl could benefit from the modern information technology," another gentleman says, "but a story I read recently is a nine-year-old Japanese boy." He says the boy, born and being brought in the USA, has just been permitted to learn at a university. "In its lifestyle, however, this genius infant looks very much different from the average child, for example, my children," he continues, "the little boy has already a firm vision on his future to become an innovative biochemist and one of his hobbies is classical music." There are always stories about the child phenomenon, but we rarely see the further development with such an infant genius in later years. And those historic giants or nobelists we know are not always with such brilliant records in their childhood. "We know such child TV stars having been very popular and active fade quietly away from the stage and never come back in public," a member says.

(Voter turnout doesn't pick up)
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori honestly wished a low voting rate in his speech last week during his nationwide election campaign. This was taken by media as another verbal blunder since he tried to ignore the basics of democracy. "He is again too careless," one member says, "in giving such a message in public." Mori wanted a low voter turnout because those blocks of votes from his coalition partners would work more effectively for the party's candidates if the unaffiliated voters would be just sleeping at home all the day. "Besides Mori's remark that is of course out of question," one participant says, "on the way to this meeting, I dropped in at the polling station near my house and I saw very few people there coming to vote." He says the rate was above 80% sometime after World War II.. "Of course, people were starving in those days," an aged person says, "and wanted politicians to help them." As the country develops, people are becoming less enthusiastic about politics. Today, in urban areas, the voter turnout is 50-60% in the national election. A middle-aged participant asks, "Is it possible to improve the situation?" There are some countries in the world that also suffer lower voting rates. Several countries have even introduced some countermeasures such as incentive taxes. "I think a voting rate around 55% is not so miserable," the aged member says, "and unless it drops down below 20-30%, we don't have to take any incentive measures for the country's election system."

(Reading softcovers)
"I'm fond of the detective fictions," a middle-aged member says. He now reads Sydney Sheldon's novel, "The Bloodline." He says the author's English is easy for reading. "And this softcover only costs me 1,450 yen," he continues, "with the price, I can enjoy my reading next two weeks, and sometimes it acts as an effective hypnotizer in the bedroom." These days, there are websites where number of writings are available for reading free of charge. "You can download a voluminous novel in short time into your PC," one gentleman says, "but you'll soon suffer stiff neck if you keep reading the book on the desktop screen." There are then some handheld gadgets such as Palm Pilot or Zaurus which we can use like we are reading a small softcover on our palms. "You may use such gadgets on the commuter trains," the gentleman says, "but they might be still not as friendly to you as the printed papers in the bedroom."

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*

(Tempestuous supermodel)
"Women active in the business sector naturally become manlike," one gentleman says, "but, I'm sorry, they're still desired to be womanlike." What he quotes is the story of Naomi Campbell, a 30-year-old British supermodel. Naomi, setting a new standard for beauty, has been described as catlike, sensual, tempestuous and intoxicating. She has most recently been deluged with negative attention. Naomi pled guilty to assaulting her former assistant with a telephone. "Today, 10% of domestic violence is said to be conducted by women, or by wives against husbands," an aged member says. "Some women who've taken over the household income from their husbands are tending to be arrogant at home," one lady says, "and such scenes must show something negative to their children." She says scenes like that might help their children internalize a certain female chauvinism. "On this Father's Day, we must scrutinize what paternity means to us today," a middle-aged participant says, "and how men can keep outstanding against women in the future."

(Written language develops)
"I read a column in the recent newspapers about the development of usage of Chinese characters in the Japanese written word," one aged member says, "for example, the character for 'happiness' was not used so much to read 'Shiawase' in the olden letters some 50 years ago where the characters meaning 'state of affairs' were placed instead." "I think Japanese written language develops rapidly," says one middle-aged person, "if we read Shakespeare, we don't see so much difference from the writings of today." He says our classical literature could not hardly be understood by most of us. "Spoken language also changes quickly," another member says, "and the talker's generation is almost identified by hearing how he or she speaks." "I doubt if women's colloquialism fades away," the middle-aged man says, "it's typically Japanese that could keeps a clear distinction in spoken word between men and women." On the way to this meeting, one gentleman says, he overheard a group of schoolgirls saying "Let's go to Meshi-ya (a mess)." In the past days, Meshi-ya was never used to mean a restaurant by girls and it was clearly what boys were privileged to use boastfully to demonstrate their barbarity.

(Fortune-telling attracts even elderly women)
"In a club meeting last week, one young lady was sitting beside me," says one aged member, "and, for fun, I took her hand saying I would practice your palm." He continues, "I told her you had lucky lines on your palm, you'd have a wonderful life ahead with a nice husband and three lovely children." He confesses he has no professional skills on the palm reading but has only shallow ideas what some lines on the palm mean. "But this funny story doesn't end here," he further says, "overhearing our conversation, three elderly ladies joined us and rushed me to reading their palms." He wonders why women are so enthusiastic about fortune-telling. Particularly, he remarks, it's interesting to know that even those old ladies are careful about their future life which doesn't for sure last long. He says, "Could I tell these ladies you'll have energetic husbands and children who never disgrace their ancestors?"


(Hospitals blunder here and there)
Still many hospital blunders are brought to light after some shocking incidents were successively reported a few years ago. One lady says, "My husband was once hospitalized for an acute bronchitis during the New Year week some years ago." "My husband could not get good care due to short of personnel's," she continues, "and the intravenous drip he received was not made correctly and he had his arm very much swollen later." She says the hospital did not express any apology for the lash-up. A middle-aged member asks, "Why such incidents continue to happen, or are even on the rise?" Members here think it is probable that such medical blunders must have been always there but they were never reported in public. Patients and their families were quiet and had no doubts about what they were told by the doctors. "Now we are in the days of information disclosure," one member says, "people have become eager to know the details of what is happening, and there are often whistle blowers from within."

(University loses its customers)
"I joined an orientation meeting for college-bound students at my son's school," a middle-aged person says, "and I know surprisingly that 95% students are wishing to receive the higher education and only 5% students are heading to their workplaces." He says, nevertheless, the overall capacity of universities, junior colleges and academies will soon outnumber those applicants from high schools as our society ages rapidly. Therefore, universities and colleges are hardly planning their long-term business strategies how they keep attracting high-school students. "Maybe, in future, there will be universities who don't make any entrance exam," one member says, "but they wouldn't let their students graduate as easily as today by offering them a very difficult final exam."

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*

(Swordsmanship is no moneymaking)
"This morning, I joined a promotional exam by the Japan Kendo Association," a middle-aged participant says, "but I failed to advance into the next upper grade." He says that his sport activity, Kendo, or swordsmanship, doesn't cost him much. He pays only 1,000 yen a month to his local club for a twice-a-week exercise. If he passes a promotional exam, he pays only 5,000 yen to receive the certificate from the national association that confirms his corresponding Kendo proficiency. Most grand masters of Kendo have their own bread-and-butter professions, and run their training classes voluntarily in the local areas. "My wife does calligraphy," one member says, "and she needs more money as her proficiency is graded higher." The member says that her wife must pay at least 50,000 yen for participation in a calligraphy contest and she pays another 50,000 yen to her own master as thank-you money when her work can get a place in the contest. "It's said this thank-you gift goes up to one million yen," he continues, "when one's work is valued at the nationwide contest, Japanese Fine Arts Exhibition." He further says those grand masters in artistic circles, or in some ritual cults such as tea ceremony and flower arrangement, are professional and must raise funds to keep their individual organizations. Not always, it's true that hobbies are costly. In some sectors, you will get a higher yield against your pay.

(Digital divide in the 21st century)
"It's surprising," a gentleman says, "there are still some people without telephone in the USA that is the world's vanguard in information technology." Only 47 percent of Native Americans on reservations have phones, compared to 94 percent of all households nationwide. The Navajo reservation is the most unconnected of all, as only 22 percent of its households have service. A few weeks ago, President Clinton spotlighted the "digital divide" -- the gap between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. "Computer literacy will become indispensable also in Japan," the gentleman says, "and a survey shows Osaka is very much behind Tokyo in utilization of computers." Those unplugged from the Internet will have to pay more cost for various services in their daily life than those having access to the cyber space do. E-commerce, Internet banking and telecommuting will become routine for our lifestyle. "We are somehow intimidated by such information," another member says, "for example, one of my friends recently bought a PC, tried very hard to become friendly with the gadget and he lost his motivation finally." People are often tempted to buy a PC with vision that it is a great help for their lifestyle, but soon see it being thickly coated with dust in the corner of their room. "As you can drive your modern vehicle without difficulty," the former gentleman says, "your computer will become friendly if you fiddle with the keyboard or the mouse everyday for at least one routine job."

(Jealousy effects age-slowing)
"I become jealous occasionally," says an aged member who just celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday, "and some people say I'm a strange character still with such a passion." He confesses that he gets soon in a bad mood when his particular dancing partner is paired with another boy. "That means you are young and energetic," one lady says, "such an emotion must be conducive to long life." "Everyone has a desire for possessions," another member says, "and, I hear, the elderly expresses especially the feeling just like naughty toddlers." As long as people are active in such circumstances where feelings of jealousy occasionally visit their hearts, they look enough enjoying their time.

(Nostalgia for poor old days)
"Now, I'm reading a novel depicting the active days of Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek," a lady participant says, "and I've been impressed by scenes of the poor old time." She says that such scenes should contrast the existing luxurious lifestyle we enjoy in Japan. "Every family member watches the same TV program simultaneously in its private room," one gentleman says, "this is a picture today showing the family ties in this land." He says people in the old poor days were physically in their family ties as they had to live in a small house. As members are separated at home today, they have become less communicative with each other. "There's a Berlin Wall at home," one member says, "we can't help but time-trip to the poor old days." "You are free to remember the nostalgic old days," another gentleman says, "but there are still many people in the world who suffer poverty." He says the popular drama on TV "Oshin" attracted Japanese viewers very much, but it's been not appreciated so much by the local people in some Asian countries where the depicted scenes are just their present status. "So, you're asking too much," another member says, "you praise the old poor days on one hand and still enjoy your present affluent lifestyle on the other hand."

((ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*

(Social obligation)
"It's burdensome living in the country," one lady says, "last week, I joined my parent-in-law in Nara celebrating the roof-raising of a backhouse." "Then, during this ceremony, we received many congratulatory gifts from the neighbors in the village," she continues, "but this tradition looked troublesome to me because we must show later our thanks to them with suitable gifts in return." Some participants, however, say that people are losing such community ties these days in their residential areas. "We need today such mutual cooperation in our communities," one member says, and it would help us even protect our community from having juvenile delinquencies." If one must live in a village in olden days, he should observe strictly the social obligation in the village. This obligation usually covers ten important family events that should be helped by the neighbors. The ten events called 'Mura-Zukiai-Toh', or the ten community calls, are birth, entering adulthood, wedding, sickness, funeral, house inauguration, farewell, fire, famine and flood. And if one fails to keep such village duties or makes something wrong about the community's well-being, he will be ostracized in the village, being punished to receive no cooperation from his neighbors except for the event of funeral and fire. And this punishment, or ostracism, is called 'Mura-Hachibu', or an 80% breakup but still with 20% friendship.

(Fireflies fly not always)
"There is a spot in Settsukyo famous for fireflies," one middle-aged member says, "and one time several years ago, I enjoyed the scene very much, but that didn't come back the following year." "Fireflies depend very much on cleanliness of the environment," a lady says, "perhaps, the environmental condition is improving in general today." "Up to 10 years ago, the local sewage lines were not completed in Ibaraki and Takatsuki," a gentleman says, "and there were number of septic tanks working for individual houses and many of them were not functioning well, draining often unpurified waste water into nearby creeks." "So, let's see how fireflies perform this year," some members say. "The city office must be giving out such information where we can enjoy fireflies in Takatsuki," an aged participant says.

(Lottery jackpot)
A swimming pool installer from Michigan has been revealed as the winner of the largest jackpot in US lottery history, about 40 billion yen. His topmost concern is now about the security of his family members and their house. "No imagination works with me for such an astronomic amount," a lady says, "but, with the 300-million-yen jackpot by the Japanese lottery, I can dream more realistically what I would spend it for." Sometime ago, the New York Times ironically proposed introduction of a national lottery with $1 billion jackpot and said this might replace the substantial portion of the existing taxes paid by the high-income bracket. The newspaper then said the lottery tickets were bought mostly by the poor who must be unconsciously paying the 'painless' taxes by nibbling its own bread budget. "The major lottery players are not the poor in fact," says one member, "the middle-income mostly buys the tickets according to a survey." "Gamblers are more from the middle-class also in Japan," another member says, "and they are no more good customers of the Mafia who usually tries bucketing on any gambles."

(No care or best care)
"I enjoyed a remark on the TV this morning made by a lady commentator," says an aged member, "she said there were two types of joy on introduction of the nursing insurance." He says the first type of joy felt by an aged person is gratification when he is diagnosed with no health hazard and identified as the one nothing to do with the newly introduced care system. The other joy is satisfaction when the aged person is identified as serious patient and registered warrantable for the topmost care by the nursing insurance. The aged member continues, "Why people feel happy while they are regarded serious enough?" Under the new system, however, even such serious patients themselves must pay 10% cost of the monthly care extended by the local government. That will amount to 40,000 yen a month and is not an easy money for everyone.

(Woman voices it)
"Men never initiate a split-up," one aged member says quoting an essay written by Junichi Watanabe, "but induce their female partners to declare a parting." "Men are cunning," one lady says, "and women are able to send such a message blankly." The aged person further says that men never forget those days with their divorced partners, but women never remember again those scenes where they were so happy with their ex-husbands. "When women are in love, they are blind to other boys," he continues, "but men keep a roving eye on other girls even while they are in love with their partners." "Perhaps, because of such a behavioral difference between men and women, our life is so fruitful," one member adds.

(MOT test expensive on old cars)
"My daughter recently tried to have her old car inspected at a garage," one lady says, "but she was told it would cost about a half million yen altogether because the car needed an extensive repair." "The MOT test by an authorized garage is always expensive," she continues, "but it's not an easy job for ordinary people to follow the formality and documentation by themselves." She says her daughter had decided to purchase a secondhand car scrapping her old car which had served for more than 100,000km. "Light cars are selling well these days in Japan," one member says, "they have a greater gas mileage and don't need a carbarn certificate." "You need the certificate in Takatsuki even for a light car," the lady says, "and light cars are not safer."

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*

May, 2000

(Mori's verbal blunders)
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is still hooked up on his 'divine nation' remark. Our Round Table this evening first reviews what Mori is. "He was too careless making such a public speech," one aged member says, "while I agree with him saying we must learn the philosophy described in the Imperial Rescript on Education." "Moral education may be needed," one lady argues, "but he doesn't have to quote the Imperial Rescript for it." Almost all participants here agree that Mori is such a man who is likely to make slips of the tongue with his attempt to cater eagerly to his supporters or to have a grip on the audience. "He's never articulated his personal political belief," one participant says, "he is simply a talkative entertainer within his own circle." "Media is unfriendly with Mori," another gentleman says, "Why Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara with a similar verbal blunder has been covered warmly by the news media?" "Media is not always consistent," one middle-aged member says, "and it grovels quickly to the public sensing people's taste by intuition." "That means Ishihara is more clear-cut and has a strong personal belief," most participants say. "I don't like Mori," a young lady says, "but it's a chemistry question."

(Silicone breast implant)
Silicone breast implants leaked in two-thirds of women who participated in a study carried out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The gel leaked outside the breast capsule and traveled to other parts of the body. About 1 million U.S. women have silicone-gel implants. In 1992, FDA ordered the silicone-gel manufacturers removed from the general market. They have remained available for certain women, including breast cancer patients who had undergone mastectomy and were seeking reconstructive surgery. "The story alarms us," one lady says, "and such a study always comes out later." These days, women are interested more in the cosmetic surgery and, sometimes, even boys are having a facelift. One gentleman questions, "Why a girl must be beautiful?" "Because you boys want us to be good-looking," the lady side answers, "and we even risk our life for it." A middle-aged member quotes the bon mot of Simone de Beauvoir, "There are no women by birth but society makes them women." Today, our society is making men womanlike and women more aggressive side of the gender. But, whether they are womanlike men or manlike women, still we know that beautiful giftwrap is often used to disappoint people with its poor content.

(Veiled religious corporation)
Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo founder Hogen Fukunaga and several other officials of the religious group were arrested on suspicion of fraud. The suspects pretended to be capable of conducting diagnoses and treatments, although they actually had no such skills. It is also known that Fukunaga told the officials they were permitted to tell lies in soliciting people to join the group. "About four years ago, I had tenacious solicitation by one of my friends for participation in the group's training courses," one gentleman says, "and, by inspecting the bottoms of my feet together with his colleagues, he diagnosed me with a potential sickness." "Of course, I flatly refused to join his group," the man keeps telling, "and I discontinued dealing with him ever since." "Last year, when I tried to reach him," the man says, "his family told me it didn't know his whereabouts." "Why people are so naive," a lady says, "by nature, we are seeking some moral supports from religions." "All religious groups collect money from their followers," one aged member says, "therefore, it will be difficult to judge whether the voluntary donation by the Ho-no-Hana victims could be legally accused." Well-established religious groups are no more raising their funds with donation eagerly imposed on the poor followers but more with benevolence from the rich well-wishers.

(New president in Taiwan)
Chen Shui-bian, who was sworn in as Taiwan's president recently, continued to walk a line between asserting his country's separate identity and its historic ties with the Chinese mainland. Chen said during his inaugural speech that as long as China refrained from using military means to take control of Taiwan, he would not push for further independence from Beijing. One middle-aged member questions, "Is Taiwan a country?" "Yes it is," several members answer with one voice, "there are many nations that have established a diplomatic relation with Taiwan." "But it's not a member of United Nations," the former person argues, "and it got kicked out 50 years ago from the world body which said at the time that it wouldn't need two Chinas." Many participants agree that we must accept Taiwan as a de facto country with its measurable industrial and economic activities in the world market. "There are majority of people in Taiwan ethnically independent of the Chinese mainlanders," an aged person says, "and they definitely favor the country's independence." Perhaps, Taiwan doesn't have to make haste to declare its independence. It must wait until the political regime in China becomes softened by cementation of the free market economy and comes out with its second thought on Taiwan's sovereignty.

*-----*-----*

(European tour)
"Women love to do shopping," one gentleman says, "rather than to do the sights." He just took his wife to a round trip in Europe in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of their marriage. "This was the first overseas trip for my wife," he says, "but she looked to be so fascinated and said repeatedly that she would make more such trips." "But not with you next time, she might have said to you," one participant jokes. He says they enjoyed very much the view of the Matterhorn from Gornergrat and shows a picture of the mountain in the blue sky. "We stayed with the hotel in Zermatt," he continues, "where I'd lodged some 20 years ago. It was still there although it was meantime rebuilt to show a totally different structure." He says they had not a single day with rain throughout their tour and proudly states, "When angels travel, the sky is always blue."


(Carp streamers fly rarely)

"These days, we rarely see those private houses putting up carp streamers on the Boys' Festival," one lady says. She says she celebrated her grandson a few weeks ago for the ritual ceremony by presenting him a decorative armor of samurai. But she says the boy's family didn't care about putting up the carp streamers. "I saw carp streamers flying at a castle on the hill by the Rhine," she continues, "when I traveled in Germany some years ago." She says she also heard that there were houses in the USA often ornamented with carp pennants or streamers put up in the front yards. "Their owners must be Japanese," she says, "what fades away here will be stored well there."

(Trip to Malaysia)
"I will live cheaper next four weeks in Malaysia," says an aged member who is professional in writing English and speaks Malay tongue fluently. He says he spends only 100,000 yen including a round-trip ticket that is offered at 38,000 yen by a Kuala Lumpur bound flight of Northwest Airlines. He says he pays a 15,000 yen rent for an apartment with which he stays for one month and not much money is needed to cover his meals. "Easier life is there," he continues, "I'll enjoy various activities."

(Chomeiji in Ohmi-Hachiman)
"Last week, I visited Chomeiji temple in Shiga Prefecture," one aged gentleman says, "and I tried Obinzuru." He explains the 'Obinzuru', or pindola in Sanskrit, that is the image of one of the 16 Rakans, disciples of Gautama Buddha. Worshippers who suffer from diseases in some parts of their body are touching the corresponding parts of the image of Rakan with wish for cure. Some people try grasping at the smoke of incense there and fanning into those body parts to be improved. He further says that, as visitors to the temple were almost aged people, he thought the pindola might be saying, "Sorry fellows, it's too late for you."

(Student nurses)
"I regularly visit the Gunge Welfare Center for the elderly to enjoy dancing," one aged person says, "and the other day, the home was visited by a group of young nurses." He says he expected that the student nurses would entertain his team as dancing partners. But, he says, they were almost occupied by those elderly patients in the home who need care physically. "Of course, the purpose of their visit is to learn how to care the aged," one member says, "and not to learn how to please you healthy guys."

(Eating fish)
"A recent study shows eating fish is good for our health," one member says, "because fish contains polyunsaturated fatty acid that prevents people from suffering depression." "Perhaps, it's the same story that the head of bluefish is said to be nutritious," another man says. "It's good for functioning the brain," he says. "The head portion contains more DHA (docosa hexanenoic acid) that is good for brain development," one lady continues. "I remember an interesting episode," the former man says, "because of poverty, children living in a small island in Tokyo could only eat the head portion of fish, as the tail portion was always sold to the metropolitan markets." He continues, "The outcome was then the average school score of students in the island became higher and unproportionally high number of children could enter the Tokyo University." He says this story is often quoted to explain how DHA is important for our health.

(Merrier with lady participants)
One middle-aged member says, "Today, we have good number of lady participants here." "We cannot deny it's merrier if we have lady participants," he says. "I have this experience," he continues, "During my days in the high-school Kendo club, we all boys had been not so enthusiastic in training." But, he says, when the club had one female member, boys got suddenly energetic in spending their time in training. "I realized at the time how effectively the participation of female members could bring about a productive result," he continues, "and here, I feel, we're in a different atmosphere."

(Stalactite marine palace)
"I just read a book that tells the Ryugujo (marine palace) in the well-known nursery tale exists really," a middle-aged participant says. "It's in the sea near Okinawa," he continues, "and divers discovered the palace was with rooms and stairs carved into a huge stalactite, and it's believed to have been built 20,000 or even 200,000 years ago and sank later into the sea." He says there are evidences that people living in those days must have used stone tools. "Archaeologists never end with such romantic surveys," one member says, "but I doubt if the people are the same early men who left the Yoshinogari remainder."

(Mouse arm)
"I work almost 6 days a week," one lady says, "and I now suffer from a mouse arm, or thecitis, and I'm attending thermotherapy." She says the therapist mentioned that the trouble came from the job stress in her workplace. "You must do some stretching exercise periodically," another lady says, "my backache has become milder after I made it a habit." "It says women are more resistant to stress than men," one member says, "they seem to be physiologically different." He says women can moderate their stress through communication with their friends, but men stressed out will pen themselves up in a private room, and hate communication with others. Then, the stress will be never released, he adds. "So, let's eat fish," everyone agrees.

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*

(Woman loves both)
"One day in the last holiday studded week, my wife finally urged me to take her out to some pleasure spots," one aged member says, "and we visited Nagaoka-Tenjin near Kyoto." He says the azalea was just in full bloom there and the famous restaurant, Kinsuitei, was drawing a long line of guests who wanted to eat meals featuring bamboo-shoot of the season. Then, some other members say that they remember they sometimes entertained their customers at the restaurant while they were still active in business. "The restaurant was known to be special," one member says, "and we never thought we could enjoy meals there at our own expenses." Today, companies are spending drastically less for expense-account dinners. Such a restaurant as Kinsuitei is making efforts to attract a number of private visitors for menus with a reasonable price tag. "Then, we visited Otokunidera," the aged person continues, "and my wife enjoyed the peony very much there." He says both spots he visited were congested with many people and 70% of them were women. "I doubted why women would love flowers so much," he says, "I would rather prefer beautiful ladies to beautiful flowers." He says he asked his wife which she would like better, a beautiful flower or a handsome boy, and the answer was "I like both."

(Margin calls pull stock market down)
Fluctuation in the stock markets takes place these days both in Tokyo and New York. Particularly, those technology chips that have enjoyed a steep upswing in the NASDAQ market during the past few months are miserably descending. It is said that a bubble burst is even happening on the high technology sector which were apparently overvalued in terms of their present business performance. "A professor once taught me there was a 4-year business cycle between one depression and the next," one member says, "and I think this looks almost correct." One aged member insists a 40-year cycle. Another quotes the Kondratieff cycle. "Such theories hardly predict the exact tomorrow," one member says, "they are always updated in hindsight." "My father always emphasized the danger of margin transaction in my younger days," an aged person says, "so I buy shares only by spot trading." In fact, today, so many individual investors are involved in margin trading in the USA. The plunge with the IT chips has driven them to receive tough margin calls from their broker houses. They are squeezed to sell even healthier shares they keep in their portfolio to pay the bill. This triggers further drop with the healthy stocks. And then mass psychology kicks off a vicious cycle.

(More physical therapists needed)
Japan's social security will be snowballing as its aging society develops predictably. "When I join the aged," a middle-aged member says, "only four younger fellows in the active generation will have to finance my pension fund." "The aged also burdens active workers with ever-increasing monthly premiums for the health and nursing care," he continues. "Today, aged people are overprotected," an aged person says. He further mentions, if aged people have to pay more out of their own wallets for medication, they wouldn't visit clinics so often. "Like in the USA," one member says, "we must strengthen facilities and specialists that look after rehabilitation." This would minimize the portion of those bedridden patients among the aged. The bedridden spends a lot out of the country's social security budget. "My daughter just started her career as physical therapist," a gentleman says, "and she's already supervising several clinics because specialists with such a license are not so many today." He says his daughter is busy in visiting those clinics where her name is registered as the physical therapist, but we must have many more specialists to look after rehabilitation for the aged. Also those middle-aged people who are the potential bedridden must take care of their own health and shouldn't stay away from any preventive treatment in their younger days.

(ESD Takatsuki)

April, 2000

(Kunimi-yama)
"Yesterday, I visited Kinimi-yama," one middle-aged member says, "and this was my mountaineering after many years' absence." There are hundreds of Kunimi-yama around the country. They are usually such hill summits where landlords can take a full view of their territories. "Kunimi-yama, the one I tried belongs to the Ikoma mountain range," he says, "and this is only 300 meters high." "I enjoyed the 40-minute trek in glossy green of young leaves and the wonderful view from the hilltop," he continues. The hill is approached from Tsuda Station of JR Katamachi Line. Tsuda Station is also known to be near the historic spot of Wani, a Korean highbrow who came over in the 5th century and is said to have first introduced the Chinese characters in Japan. "Furthermore, interesting was," he says, "people's behaviour on the mountain footways." "How come they suddenly become friendly," he continues, "exchanging greetings with each other stranger?" He says this friendly atmosphere immediately starts on entering into the greenish footpath which is only 50 meters away from his parking place owned by a supermarket where people are still disregarding each other. "Anyway, I liked the trek and atmosphere," he continues, "and I will try Ikoma-yama next week."

(Industry spills still something)
"I work for a local printer," one lady says, "and I had to work hard yesterday though it was Saturday and kickoff day for the holiday studded week." Her workplace had pressing orders from its important customers. These days, printing houses are often given layout papers already word-processed and edited from their customers. It's easier for them to proceed further with such drafts. However, their customers are always tough. The orderers can't blame printers for any typo in the printed matters which were just processed as arrived. "But to become a good boy to the customers, it's usual that printers voluntarily check all the draft," she says, "and this is really hard work." "It's nice we have work to do," she continues, "but to my eyes, some big companies look to be spending unnecessary expenses." For instance, they are still printing their in-house canteen coupons. Thousands of such tickets are just thrown into a pail by employees every day and are to be wasted. "Even an electronics company still do this," she says, "and the company's business is to sell the IT systems to help others improve productivity."

(People ask stereotypical questions)
"WHERE ARE YOU FROM is one of the most typical questions," one lady says, "and foreigners are fed up with such stereotypical questions by Japanese." Another example is "What's your purpose of visit?" This is a typical routine interrogation by immigration officers. Although most foreigners who come across this question on the street try to perform with a diplomatic reactions, they might have in their mind, "Hey guy, it's none of your business but one thing sure is I'm not here to help you master English." Those Japanese eager in learning English seek opportunities to practice their skill of conversation speaking to foreigners right and left. However, their first trial to grab partnership with foreign strangers is always with questions from their stock phrases which often touch their partners' personal information, such as matters covering marital state, family size, job and academic background. "We must be more creative," one participant says, "and the first address must be something common to the parties, for example, weather, scenery, etc." In practicing English, it's more enjoyable for us to try our own verbalism and uniqueness.

(Thunder hits airplane?)
"It was scary," one gentleman says, "when I flew up to Tokyo last week, there were flashes of lightning very close to our airplane." He says that the flight attendants were calm and placid, and his flight was stable. "I doubt if an airplane is safe against thunderbolts, " he continues, "maybe, its fuselage functions as Faraday cage, but this is not grounded." "The fuselage is made from a metallic framing and panels of fiber reinforced plastics painted most probably with an antistatic coat," another gentleman says, "and thunderbolts may be dissipated over the large surface of fuselage." The behavior of thunder is however unpredictable. There are cases where cars, trains and even airplanes were hit by thunderbolts. God bless you! You are just hitting a jackpot.

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*


On this Saturday, the very first day of the holiday studded week, joined by an intellectual Swiss gentleman, our Round Table was filled with good number of turnout and featured mostly those topics covering matters in Switzerland.

(Switzerland heads towards full employment)
Swiss government says the country's unemployment rate fell to 2.3% in March being the lowest since 1992. The country is on the way to full employment. "This is an enviable record," one aged participant says, "if we compare it with our latest number, 4.9%." "I thought European countries were always suffering high unemployment," another gentleman says. "Yes, there are areas which show high jobless rates, such as the eastern part of Germany, France and Italy," the Swiss visitor says, "however, Switzerland has never been that worse." "Since the great depression in 1929," he continues, "we have never had demonstrations on the street by the job seekers." Some participants doubt if the average jobless rate in Japan really represents an economic slump nationwide. "This country looks still prosperous," one middle-aged member says, "people surrounding me are optimistic even without jobs." "I don't know how such statistics could be made," the Swiss guest says, "but our country's workforce includes substantial number of workers with foreign passports." "And this big group is probably playing a role as the stabilizer or the safety valve of the Swiss labor market." The similar idea might explain why the Tokyo district always show lower unemployment in Japan. The region sometimes absorb workforces from the countryside, or of illegal aliens, and release them some other times according to its economic fluctuation.

(Campaign aims to make Swiss men healthier)
A Swiss foundation just launched a campaign aiming to heighten public awareness about male health and to make men more conscious about their style of living. On an average, women in Switzerland outlive men by 7 years. The gap between the sexes can only in part be explained by biological factors. Behaviour is a key factor, with men more willing to take risks to overcome physical and psychological barriers. "The sexual gap of life expectancy differs between countries," one participant says, "and it ranges from around five years, for Denmark, England and Sweden, to nearly 8 years, for France, Finland and Portugal." Some participants insist however that such information would be no help for analyzing any country-specific backgrounds. "It's not clear whether the penetration of woman liberation in society narrows the sexual gap," one gentleman says, "but increasing number of women working away from home will become more involved in traffic accidents and must also suffer some mental stress in their workplaces." In Switzerland, the number of female CEO is still small and the business society is almost dominated by men. We will be interested to know the result of the above campaign how successfully it could drive Swiss men faint-hearted and let them have a thick hide from risk taking in future.

(Anti-Semitism in Switzerland)
Some months ago, the New York Times wrote that anti-Semitism had spread in Switzerland in reaction to the recent scrutiny of the country's wartime actions. A yearlong study found that inhibitions against the open expression of racist views had been swept away during the controversy over Switzerland's responsibility to compensate Holocaust victims for assets lost during World War II. Some participants cannot understand why the Jewish minority in European countries must be discriminated. "Historically," one gentleman says, "the church had kept telling people the story of Judah and that the Jewish was his descendant.." "Just recently," another participant says, "Pope regretfully admitted the traditional ambiguous attitude taken by the catholic towards the Nazi's atrocity where the Holocaust had been an attempt to eliminate the Jewish people." "Besides dispute on the issue of compensation," the Swiss guest says, "it can't be denied there's been always special idea among the Swiss against the Jewish minority." "But this is same in general everywhere in Europe," he continues, "and some business activities by Jews have often been remarked." Some members comment that the Jewish hookup is overwhelming the world business sector and it will further lead the world to free-market competition while other people are simply whispering.

(Constitution fails to cover animal rights)
An attempt to broaden Germany's constitution to include animal rights was narrowly defeated in parliament when the opposition Christian Democrats voted the measure down. Advocates criticize the CDU's decision by saying that the party appears to value the interests of the pharmaceutical industry which experiments on animals. ""This is decision in Germany," the Swiss visitor says, "but we had the same issue in Switzerland some months ago, and it was also voted down." One participant says, "I can't understand why animal rights should become an issue over there." Another gentleman says, "Isn't it that any constitution is written to protect human rights?" "Fortunately, I'm not involved in animal experiments," says one member who works for a pharmaceutical company, "but I hate to see those laboratory animals being cruelly treated." "These days," the Swiss man adds, "pharmaceutical industry is trying to minimize the use of experimental animals." Of course, we still need to sacrifice animals for developing new drugs and for taking animal protein for our own survival. "Even pork pigs are treated carefully and gently today in Europe until they are finally processed.", the Swiss gentleman continues, "but, I still doubt, animals are not properly treated in Japan." The day will be not in long future when judges in many countries must weigh up between animal rights and human rights.

*-----*-----*

Having a visitor from Switzerland at this meeting, our chats focus naturally on some Swiss topics. First, from the participants' common curiosity, neutrality of the country comes on the table. The federal constitution of Switzerland states clearly that it should stay away as neuter from any international conflicts among third parties. Historically, Swiss people were rather belligerent and repeated fights here and there up to 200 years ago. Then, they decided to avoid involvement in any wars. Switzerland, however, owns its army, even a navy on its lakes and rivers, based on universal conscription. Swiss men up to thirtysomething must be always ready to be summoned under arms whenever an emergency takes place for the country. Based on its concept of neutrality, Switzerland has not been a member of the United Nations and is neither a member of European Union. Nevertheless, the country contributes largely to the UN's activities and plays also a considerable role for the EU's economy. From time to time, the issue of its neutrality has been brought to scrutiny of Swiss voters. But, each time, people have narrowly chosen keeping the status quo. The elder particularly feels at home with uniqueness of the country - Swiss chauvinism - while the business sector and younger generations wish to join the international community on the equal partnership.

"With your democracy," our Swiss guest says, "you just elect your deputies and let them do business all the rest." "In voting at the polling stations in Switzerland," he continues, "we must tackle the long list of questions on the ballot sheet." The Swiss political system, direct democracy, forces people to say yes or no on every business ranging from the federal issues to matters related to the local community. Swiss people go to the polling stations at least four times a year and participate in decision making on many subjects. Most Swiss people are certainly more interested in the local matters than the federal issues which often need much more time for them to study.

Some participants at the meeting talk about their visits in Switzerland. On my last business trip," one man says, "I missed the chance to do the sights of the Jungfrau because of my business negotiation with a Swiss licensee didn't end in time." "I've visited the mountain three times on my business trips," another gentleman says, "but I'm making a private tour with my wife now just to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our marriage." "Jungfrau is a Japanese mountain," the Swiss guest says, "and there are full of printed information in Japanese and announcements spoken in Japanese."

Our conversation covers the energy issue. About 60% of electricity consumption in Switzerland is supplied by hydroelectric power. The other 40% comes mostly from nuclear power. "In Japan," says one aged participant who is a retiree from a utility company, "more than 40% is by nuclear and the hydroelectric generators produce only less than 10% of the overall demand." One lady questions, "Isn't there a strong opposition against the nuclear power station in Switzerland?" "Certainly, there are abolitionists everywhere in Europe," the Swiss gentleman says, "and some governments even declare that they will quit nuclear power as soon as they use up the existing facilities up to their designed 30-year's operational life." "But," he continues, "do we have any alternative technology to replace nuclear?" "Nuclear fusion is still regarded as the most ideal energy," one man says. "Research took already 30 years on it," another person says, "and no positive result is so far on the table." "You may say the wind generator will do the business," the Swiss visitor says, "however, to cover the demand of a moderate town or some small industry, you needs hundreds of windmills up on the hilltops, and they surely disfigure beauty of the nature." "Still, we are worried about nuclear energy," a lady says, "those accidents at Chernobyl and Tokaimura threaten us very much." "Tokaimura case has damaged very much the fame of Japanese industries," the Swiss man says, "and such a poor workmanship was never imaginable in the past from the quality-minded Japanese people.

(ESD Takatsuki)

*-----*-----*"

March, 2000

("Global literacy" indispensable tool for politicians)

Our Round Table this evening picks up "global literacy" as its twilight debating subject. Some time ago, a prominent Singaporean politician pointed to Japanese politicians' inability to communicate with the outside world as a serious problem for the country. Today, "global literacy" needed for international communication is attained through the mastery of information-technology tools and English as an international lingua franca. One participant says, "Japanese politicians don't have to use English themselves because the country's taxpayers offer them exclusive interpreters." "Also they don't have to fiddle with the keyboard or the mouse because the taxpayers kindly offer them exclusive PC operators," he continues, "and, of course, they don't have to drive a car as well because the taxpayers offer them ready-witted chauffeurs." "What they lack is not only the global literacy," another participant says. "Most of our politicians lack creativity and originality in their brains," he continues. "Even with workable communication tools, they have almost nothing to voice," other members say. Many Japanese like the out-of-date cliche "silence is gold," and still prefer silence to eloquence - a talkee-talkee, empty kettle. However, it is these guys who must cross swords with hardheaded negotiation partners in the world on more and more delicate issues in the future. We could no longer say that the more we use English in Japan, the harder we can protect our culture and traditions. So young fellows, you should practice through this club activity how to structure your own original ideas in order to give a comprehensible and persuasive message!

(Obuchi worries laxity in bureaucracy)
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi called for reform of the bureaucracy in the wake of recent scandals involving police and other government officials. All participants at our Round Table are particularly concerned about the unacceptable style of operation by the National Public Safety Commission. "The supreme organization exists to secure neutrality of police from the government," one gentleman says. "But most NPSC members are just sitting in name there being remunerated too well," he further says. "In fact, they are chosen by police among those big name old-timers in the public who are regarded friendly to police," another man says. One lady says, "They perhaps understand that they are just given such an honorary post for their reputation." "Those career-track bureaucrats involved in the Niigata police case form a special privileged class," one person says. "And gerontocracy still prevails within the society," he continues. The crusade Obuchi dreams will never get headway unless he pulls himself out of his own habit to always appoint another group of reputed old-timers to figure out a solution for reform. "Gerontocracy is not always an evil," one man says., "because it offers a certain sense of security in our workplaces." This is a feeling almost everyone likes to have. However, Japanese industries have already become aware that the traditional comfortable atmosphere in company organizations destroys themselves. The lovely win-win game must be over now also in bureaucracy.

(Children with guns)
The New York Times mentions: Americans should be outraged that any 6-year-old could get a gun and fire it to kill another 6-year-old in their first-grade classroom. The recent shooting at an elementary school in Michigan is the latest episode. "Unbelievable," every one here says. "The 6-year-old murderer is another victim of the case," one lady says. She asks, "Why a proper legal protection for children cannot be made in the USA?" One gentleman says, "If our children can get similarly access to a gun, we will certainly have more juvenile crimes in Japan with use of guns." "We are even trying our best to prevent our children from getting access to a knife," another gentleman says. The gun lobby in the USA, the National Rifle Association, are putting pressure on lawmakers to block enactment of the gun control law originally proposed by President Clinton. The current president, unlike almost all former presidents, could keep his independence of the NRA's political support and could, therefore, draft a drastic version after learning a series of school shootings. Standoff between NRA and White House still continues even after the Michigan shooting. One NRA executive hysterically commented a few days ago that President Clinton would like to have gun violence incidents from time to time for his political agenda and he had therefore refused the NRA's compromise version. "Concept of self-protection lies with Americans' historical backbone," one member says, "and they will never give up guns." "At the same time, the gun manufacturers are looking into a new business avenue with some modern designs having a safety lock or a system to identify owner's fingerprint", one gentleman says.

(Psychiatric drugs for young children)
With an increasing number of children attending day care, American parents may feel pressured to have their children conform in their behavior. An easy way-out for them is to ask doctors for prescription of a psychiatric drug. The number of 2-4-year-olds on tranquilizers and anti-depressants soared in the USA. Some doctors worry that such powerful drugs could be dangerous for children's developing brains. "For young children, it's perhaps necessary to get occasionally into a temper," one lady says. "This must be an important and necessary burst indicating a healthy physiological development in the baby's brain," she continues. "These drugs are widely used by adults in the USA," says one gentleman who works for a pharmaceutical company. "It looks that psychiatric patients are not so much discriminated in the USA," one man says., "they are treated in the public similarly to patients of other diseases." If we treat more openly and fairly our patients with psychiatric problems, they will have a higher probability to cure and don't have to keep hiding away from eyes of the public. "We are changing," one member says, "the disease is more regarded as one among others." "In the past,, we even tried to hide our elderly relatives suffering dementia," another gentleman says, "but today, having such patients in our family is no stigma any more."

*-----*-----*

January, 2000

(Keep public places porn-free)
Lawyer Sanae Tanaka is one of the leading advocates insisting that people have their right to live in a porn-free environment. Participants at our Round Table this evening are first discussing whether those danglers and wall banners in trains advertising some crummy magazines containing obscene headlines are harmful as the lawyer claims. "We enjoy reading such headlines," some gentlemen say. "They're important way-outs for passengers' eyes in an overcrowded train," these participants say. "Hankyu Line doesn't show such obscene advertisements," one member says. "Transportation companies can still implement a voluntary control over the quality of advertisements to their taste," he continues. One lady says, "I'm rather offended by such boys in trains sitting next to me and opening naughtily a pornographic magazine." "Perhaps, we see too much obscene items in public places here," one gentleman says. "When I visited Copenhagen for the first time some 30 years ago, I was impressed how the city looked clean not giving any glimpse of such a porn-full amusement spot as informed in advance," he says. If the lawyer's campaign works well, we may live in a much cleaner environment in 10 years which is largely supported by people's heightened moral sense, not by a tightened regulation that always contradicts "freedom of speech."

(Beating children to be outlawed)
In the UK, the boundaries of acceptable corporal punishment on children are debated by lawmakers towards a redefined legislation. The UK government says most parents know the difference between smacking and beating, but there is a need to clarify the law. Among our participants, besides the aged members, not so many have tough memories of corporal punishment by their parents. "Beating never corrects a boy, but often traumatizes him," says one lady who teaches children in school. Some participants experienced corporal punishment in their school days, and they don't think it worked positively. A high school teacher says, "Today, corporal punishment is totally banned in school." "Teachers never win any lawsuit in this connection," he continues. It would be not so easy for teachers to give students fair and reasonable chastisement, but at home, parents might have to smack their children occasionally to bring up with strict discipline. "While you were very young," one aged man says, "you may have been often smacked by your parents to learn what was wrong with your behavior." "But after you became able to understand what your parents were speaking, you must have had no more corporal punishment," he says. In the past, the local community played an effective role in bringing up children. They were always kept under care on their conducts by grown-ups in the area. It's sad that we now have to tell some parents what acceptable punishment is.

(YAHOO shares top 100 million yen)
YAHOO Japan, with its 150 employees and only 4 billion yen as its annual sales, took its share prices above 100 million yen two weeks ago. The value of YAHOO being 2.8 trillion yen with its expensive shares now tops those of most statusy companies in Japan such as Japan Steel. The dramatic increase of YAHOO shares took place only in the past two years starting from 2 million yen in December 1997. Similar stories have been also told on some technology chips in the New York Exchange. The most recent one drawing investors' attention as the next gamble in Silicon Valley is Transmeta Corp. who just unveiled a radical new microprocessor design that competes with Intel chips for low power consumption. "Technology bubble in the stock market is scary," one gentleman says. "People are just speculating this way on very young technology chips," another participant says. He asks "Is this a healthy society?" "People's speculation is on the right track," one man says. "We'll have a dramatic change in our society in the advent of information technology, and the major players there will prove definitely a great success down the road," he continues. Nevertheless, such astronomical share prices prevailing these days must be telling us something wrong is going on.

(Dust mites may cause asthma)
Not surprisingly, quite a few participants here suffer from asthma. The latest US report indicates that dust mites living in carpets and bedding may lead to or worsen asthma symptoms. In Japan just like in the USA, the number of asthma patients is always on the rise. One lady says, "Our houses are built windtight these days and provide a comfortable environment for dust mites, fungi, molds, pet dander and cockroaches." One aged member says, "Today, we have several drugs that are very effective with no side-effects." "In my childhood, however," he continues, "we had no active remedies, and had to wait painfully for the passage of time." Some members agree that today's children are overprotected from those challenging substances in their environment. They couldn't become immune to foreign substances in their early days. "At the same time, we must extend our topmost concern about chemical pollutants that must be influencing our physiological systems," some other members say.

(The Diet, this or that)
With its Lower House being boycotted by the opposition parties, the Diet has started deliberations on the fiscal 2000 budget. As the general election in the Lower House is overhanging, politicians have proposed too generous public spending in the budget such as plans of building full-gauge Shinkansen in remote areas just in order to please their local electorates. "A full-gauge Shinkansen is too expensive and will never pay in operation between non-major cities," every participant here says. Another topic in the Diet is Seiko Hashimoto, a former Olympian speed skater and now a 35-year-old lawmaker, becoming the first Upper House member to give birth. "It's a good demonstration for women as a whole that she takes pregnancy leave in such an authoritative workplace," says one lady. "It would be more striking and workable for feminism, if she were becoming a single mother," she adds.

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Updated on: December 15, 2000