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(Chief referee rules))
"We took a knock," an aged participant says, "when our soccer
team lost to the United States last night." "But this morning,
we were back in a good temper." He says this was a wonderful victory
by Naoko Takahashi. Her gold medal triumph this morning in the women's marathon
at the Sydney Olympic Games lifted the spirits of the entire country. It
was Japan's first gold medal in track and field since 1936 and the first
ever to be won by a female athlete. "On the other hand, I was frustrated
by the heavy weight judo final." He means the doubtful judgment on
the final match by the New Zealander chief referee. "Two out of the
three-referee team overlooked the scene where Shinichi Shinohara, Japanese
judo man, had given an effective counterthrow to the French opponent,"
the aged man says, "Shinohara even made a victory sign at the moment."
"The referee rules the game," a middle-aged member says, "it's
good that the Japanese crew didn't mess the game by a violent appeal."
He says people shouldn't become emotional in such a scene and it's a right
occasion that we show Japanese chivalry (Bushido), where we try to keep
silence against unfair rulings. "The Sydney Olympic Games is halfway
through," another participant says, "Japan's gold medal will finally
tally maximum six as we predicted here some weeks ago." "It's
however remarkable," an aged member says, "Ryoko Tamura, woman
judoka, could win the gold medal." He praises Tamura for her victory
while she had been under strong pressure being always spotlighted as the
most potential gold medalist. "Still, we saw many athletes who couldn't
overcome their stage fright," he further says, "and, we must accept,
that is natural as human."
(Sense of duty looking after parents)
"My son, my only child, got married recently," one member says,
"and moved out from my house." He says his own wife predeceased
him a few months ago and, therefore, he lives alone at home today. "Each
and every evening, I feel lonely at home back from the daytime routine,"
he says, "and I get depressed wondering what would be my future."
"Your situation is still better," an aged member says, "imagine
the case that your son would continue to stay with you as so-called 'parasite
single', your worries must be more there." "You should be delighted,"
he says, "you are now sending your descendants to the world."
"Even with my family members living together at home," a middle-aged
participant says, "I often feel sense of isolation." "There
is no more such a family tie as I experienced in my younger days,"
he further says, "my son, a schoolboy, has established more or less
his own world, and my wife is also able to stand on her own feet with her
jobs and hobbies." And he says such a family environment would never
discipline our children with sense of duty looking after their parents in
the future. "Recent introduction of the nursing care insurance tells
them that care of the elderly is no more their duty," another member
says, "but it's getting a social matter."
(Business picks up)
"Business is picking up," says a member who works for a metal
mold manufacturer, "we have an increasing number of orders these days."
He says molding tools for plastic caps were busy because of the demand expansion
of beverage PET bottles during the last summer. "And injection molds
for various plastic components are increasing in relation with the IT (information
technology) sector," he continues, "number of new gadgets are
designed everyday, and they always need corresponding molding tools in a
hurry." "To shorten the processing period of metal mold production,"
another member says, "more digital operations are involved at the worksite
such as data transfer from the orderer's CAD and direct carving by NC machines."
"Yes, by such efforts, even a ten-day delivery time is being achieved
in some manufacturers," the former gentleman says, "our company
is also going to be televised on the subject shortly by NHK TV." He
says the average delivery time was around two months in the past. "We
see a clear productivity improvement achieved here through use of the information
technology," one member says, "and that must be adding up a positive
bottom line for the company."
"It looks Japanese government is planning to issue an IT voucher,"
says an aged member, "to help those who intend to learn how to use
personal computers." Japan is trying hard to increase its IT-related
population as it plans its annual GDP growth in the future mainly through
penetration of the productive Internet usage among its people. "About
300 billion yen will be spent for the campaign," he says, "and
about 30 million people nationwide are expected to benefit from the voucher."
"These 30 million people must be from among the middle-aged and the
elderly," he says, "because the country's cyber literacy is very
poor in these age brackets." "We will be intimidated," says
a middle-aged participant, "we don't like to be forced, we can go on
without such trivial gadgets." "My family recently bought a PC
because our old word processor was broken," one member says, "but
this new PC is still playing a role simply to replace the old word processor,
namely, for my wife, it's still a word processor, and for me, it processes
only my Excel program." "You must broaden your cyber world,"
says an aged member who looks after the website of this club on the Internet,
"you may start from e-mail exchanges." "In Japan, the Internet
is not yet benefiting the subscribers so much," he says, "in other
countries, you can live cheaper plugged with the Internet, for example,
you buy a Harry Potter book 25% cheaper on the Net than you do at the bookstore
downtown or nearby your house." "IT voucher is not good idea,"
one member says, "the government must first push deregulation in the
sector and clear up those barriers preventing newcomers from participating
in the huge market.."
(Flood disaster in Nagoya)
"Last week, an extraordinary high precipitation hit the Nagoya district,"
one member says, "and the Shinkawa had its riverbank broken causing
a violent flood in the western part of Nagoya." Several hundreds of
houses were flooded and damaged to become no more habitable. "I think
their insurance policies couldn't cover the damage," he says, "but
can these sufferers accept it as act of God?" He says the area is a
low-laying land and has experienced floods many times. "As the lesson
of the last flood 10 years ago," another member says, "the local
government has meantime improved the drainage facility of the area, but
it's said that three powerful pumps couldn't work properly due to shortage
of fuel." "I suppose the residents there would eventually bring
judicial proceedings against the local office for its poor maintenance of
the pumping facility," he says, "because if the facility worked
properly, the area would have dried up much faster." "An interesting
remark! In the Nagoya flood, however, it looks cellular phones didn't work
because of the line congestion," says an aged participant, "they
were the communication champion at the time of the Kobe earthquake."
He says mobile phones have become no more a magic box when they were owned
by most of Japanese people. Today, cell phones have already topped the ordinary
household phones while they were used by only 2-3 million people, less than
5% today's, at the time of the Kobe earthquake.
(Stage fright, foremost enemy of athletes)
"The other day, I saw the TV program covering the episode of swimmer
Hideko Maehata, the first gold medal winner," one member says, "at
the Berlin Olympics in 1936, she was very nervous as she had been so much
expected by Japanese people to win the gold medal." He says she was
not praised by people when she won the silver medal at the 1932 Olympics.
"In those days, Japanese people were so demanding," he further
says, "at the time of the so-called Nazi Olympics, nationalism came
into fashion everywhere." "Today, people are not pushing their
Olympics delegates," an aged member says, "not so many people
are crazy about Olympics, and it's no more the only international event
for the athletes." "Still, record shows how Japanese delegates
perform badly at such major stages," another participant says, "all
those spotlighted fail short of people's expectation." And he says,
quite often, those not supposed to perform well win the gold medals. "Some
sport journal predicts 19 gold medals for Japanese team in the forthcoming
Sydney Olympics based on a detailed analysis of international competition,"
one member says, "but I think we'll be able to get about 6." "At
the Atlanta Olympics, we could get only three," he says, "we know
enemies of our athletes are not their counterparts from other countries
but themselves in their mind."
(JR's "Seishun" tickets)
"If you have time enough," a middle-aged participant says, "you
can travel very cheap." What he refers to is one of the JR's discount
tickets called 'Seishun Ticket' which allows you to take any JR lines as
far as you like during 24 hours. One coupon costs you only 2,200 yen. You
must buy a book of five coupons at 11,000 yen which is valid for three months.
However, you cannot use Shinkansen or other express trains, and you have
to always travel with local trains. "For example,," says the participant,
"my son recently traveled to Hakata with this ticket making number
of connections with stopping trains." He says his son needed 12 hours
from Osaka to Hakata which could be made by Shinkansen within three hours
but costing nearly 15,000 yen for one way. "It's nice for any youngster
to experience such a reckless attempt," he further says, "my son
went to Kyushu just to eat the Hakata noodle, to stay overnight with homeless
people at the park near Hakata Station, and to take another 12 hours trip
back." As the nickname of the ticket 'Seishun' means juvenescence,
it originally attempted to attract younger people. But this ticket is also
widely used by the aged people. "You need something to do such as reading
during many hours' ride," one lady says, "or you need to travel
with your mates, otherwise, the trip must be boresome."
(Aged People's Day)
"As usual, having this year's Aged People's Day soon," an aged
member says, "it's been reported that the current number of people
above 100 years old is more than 13,000." He says out of them more
than 10,000 are women. "In Takatsuki," another member says, "only
two are men out of 17 persons exceeding age 100." At today's table,
no participant can proudly point out anybody from its relatives who could
survive more than 100 years. "My grandfather recently died at age one
month short of 100," a middle-aged member says, "a few months
before, he received a congratulatory gift from former Prime Minister Keizo
Obuchi as he was almost due for the celebration age." He says, at the
time, his family members even wondered whether they should return the gift
because their long-lived person could not achieve in a small margin the
longevity to be publicly celebrated. "The number of people above 100
years old is rapidly increasing," says one lady, "but they are
still very much minority." She says only one out of 10,000 Japanese,
or one among 2,000 those aged above 65, could achieve a life more than 100
years. "This is something like hitting a jackpot," an aged participant
says, "but this is not a statistical question, there must be some medical
heritage for the group of such long-lived people." He says the key
factor of longevity will be eventually clarified through study of the human
(Consumer price index)
"A few months ago, I was appointed as the consumer price monitor of
Takatsuki," one gentleman says, "it's the first time that two
male members were appointed for the monitoring team, it was always filled
by female members in the past." He says he visits one day every month
several stores in the city and keeps a note of the foodstuff prices. "This
contributes to calculation of the nationwide consumer price index,"
he says, "I learn prices are still on the decline." He further
says, "To consume means in English to spend money wastefully."
He says the word CPI is used only in the USA. In Europe, RPI (retail price
index) is used to give the same meaning. "Consumers are, in English,
those people who squander money," he says, "this looks making
sense when we observe the lifestyle of Japanese people." "We are
often tempted to buy something unnecessary, something for our lifestyles,
not necessarily something indispensable for our life," another member
says, "maybe, we are spending money wastefully."
(Awaji flower expo)
"Awaji Hana-haku ends in a few days," one lady says, "the
other day, I visited the site together with my husband." She says the
exposition is successful with the unexpectedly large number of turnout during
its six-month period. "I paid 2,900 yen for the admission ticket and
stayed there for nearly five hours," she says, "the site was thick
with people, 65,000 visitors for that single day, and the "incoming
drivers had to wait two hours for parking." "It's one of the exceptional
cases that such an expo could result in a positive bottom line," one
member says, "perhaps, the expo could benefit from popularity of the
newly built Akashi KaikYo Strait Bridge just next to the site." The
expo site which had been flattened out over time by shipping its hilltop
soil to Kobe and Osaka for use in their land reclamation planned to recover
its greenery and organized this event. The cleared site after the expo will
remain as a forest park.
(Alien registration card)
"The other day, I took my homestay guest to the city office,"
a middle-aged participant says, "because he needed to get his alien
registration card for living in Japan." He says the card works as the
ID for non-Japanese residents. "I realized then the office was not
giving good service to visitors over the counter," he further says,
"it seems applicants need to be accompanied by someone who understands
Japanese language because the receptionist doesn't speak English."
"And the visit this time was for my boarder just to book in,"
he continues, "it takes another two weeks for him to finally get the
card." "Maybe, this country is not friendly to the non-national,"
another member says, "but because of such a tight control over the
non-Japanese, I think this country could keep its better security."
When a non-Japanese resident tries to get a phone line, he needs to show
the telecommunications company his alien registration card. He also needs
to do so when he opens a banking account in Japan. "ID cards are very
often used in other countries," says an aged member, "but in Japan,
people have almost no idea about that." "We use instead our driver's
license or the health insurance card to identify ourselves," another
man says, "long time ago, you remember, we used the rice-ration book
for the same purpose." "I couldn't understand why our passports
don't work as the ID," an aged man says, "perhaps, they can only
tell that you are Japanese national, but they don't tell where you are in
Japan." "Eventually, each and every Japanese national will be
given a 10-digit personal number," another person says, "the system
will work to stop some people's attempts to defraud the revenue." "I
don't like such a system," an aged participant says, "I hope it's
not legalized shortly as the idea had been long discussed in the past and
always rejected by the ruling party."
(Nursing care insurance on stream)
"I've just got a bill for this year's national health insurance,"
an aged member says, "and I found that it already included the premium
of the nursing care insurance." He says the newly established nursing
insurance system had postponed in April its collection of the premium until
coming October since the coalition government, just in face of the general
election, wanted to minimize the impact on the country's economy.. "But
this was not for everybody," he further says, "this applied only
to those above 65 years old." He says, besides the elderly, everyone
aged 40-64 has been quietly charged this new insurance premium since the
last April. The amount of monthly premiums is not so much but 1,000-3,500
yen depending on the payer's earning. "Most of people must be not realizing
it," another member says, "their monthly health insurance premiums
were inflated in April and they were receiving a little less cash from the
company." "Now, the elderly starts paying from the next month,"
the aged person says, "and the average premium is bigger than that
for those at work, and is not a small portion in its pension benefit."
"I don't understand why this is not spoken loudly in public,"
another aged participant says, "it is now quiet, but I'm sure this
will influence our economy." He says there will be less buying by the
elderly. Although the group owns major bank savings in the country, he says,
it received no interest for its bank savings. "You remember, the current
recession was triggered in 1997," he continues, "in that year,
the consumption tax was raised by 2% and the health insurance for the elderly
was also inflated." He says, however, the elderly was paid much higher
amount of interest for its bank savings in 1997.
(Does decoded genome benefit everyone?)
In the IF Summer Camp 2000 at "Shiga" the lakeside clubhouse,
our Round Table first reviews the recent scientific achievement in deciphering
3.1 billion subunits of DNA in the human genome. "This is omen of success
for mankind to get rid of some fatal maladies such as Parkinson's disease
and malignant tumors," one middle-aged participant says, "but
at the same time, this is an omen of disorder caused by the reckless overdrive
of scientists to infringe the agency of fate with manipulation of the genetic
engineering." "I was surprised," one lady says, "such
a young venture company, Celera Genomics, could make it in a short period
getting ahead of longer-lasting activities by the publicly funded consortium."
She says Celera must have invested huge amount of money on the project because
it considered that the map of human genome could bring money to the company
in future. "Celera already charges drug companies minimum $5 million
for access to the data," one participant says, "and some Japanese
firms started going hand in hand with Celera." "I think life science
is today's business target everywhere," a young participant says, "pharmaceutical
companies are developing new drugs only for the lifestyle of the affluent
disregarding those majority poor people in the world who are in need of
lifesaving drugs." "Drug companies shouldn't be accused here,"
says one gentleman who works for a pharmaceutical company, "we think
the range of lifesaving drugs is almost complete, and problem is not anymore
with us but it lies with the scheme how these people are supported financially
by the local governments or the international community." "However,"
he further says, "it is possible that, for the time being, drugs derived
from the genome study would only benefit the rich." He says there will
be number of patent applications in this sector and they will cost the drug
manufacturers very much and such a price tag for new DNA drugs will be able
to attract only few rich people under the present capitalistic world where
the rich-poor gap continues to grow. "I'm afraid such genetic information
is abused," a young member says, "I hear some insurance companies
are already studying to take personal genetic information into account on
selling its life insurance policies." He says he will be rejected or
charged a higher premium by insurance companies if his own genome shows
some defects in its profile that must hint at possibility for him to suffer
a fatal disease in the future. "This attitude can't be accused,"
an aged member says, "it's their business to maximize the company's
profit." Some members say "Why is such an inhumane system developing
(English in businesses
It may be true that the business culture in Japan still discourages language
facility as company's posts abroad or in international divisions are often
considered demotion. "An employee who is good at English is sent to
one of the company's overseas offices," an aged participant says, "but
when he is back from the assignment, he is either offered another overseas
office or a minor post at home that is not comparable to those posts filled
by his colleagues who joined the company in the same year and were very
poor at English that time." "I know the interpreters joining an
international business meeting could play only second fiddle and are never
spotlighted," says a middle-aged member who is a senior staff in a
statusy firm, "it's sad to see they are even not served their coffee
though they are the ones who must feel very dry because of the uninterrupted
translation work." "Today, that is no more a scene in businesses,"
says another gentleman, "directors of our company are selected only
out of those who have competence in handling international business issues
and are of course fluent in English." He says such people don't need
anymore the assistance of interpreters. "Number of jobs of simple translation
will not grow," says one lady who is training student interpreters,
"they couldn't be mere job-interpreters, but they must accommodate
themselves to various other jobs such as the master of ceremony and job-companions."
"I'm studying English now," a young lady says, "I like to
see it help my mainline business such as scientific documentation."
"Perhaps, with English skill alone, you'll be not special anymore,"
a middle-aged participant says, "it's getting a basic skill you must
have at workplaces." He says English for businesspersons must be regarded
as the ability that one can drive a car. "At business meetings in European
and Asian countries, we rarely see our talking partners with their English
interpreters," another member says, "and it's always the Japan
side where more than two main speakers are sitting together with their interpreters."
He says we must be internationalized not only on the English skill but also
on the style of business negotiation.
(Mitsubishi Motors' systematic cover-up)
Our Round Table focuses this evening on the position of whistle blowers
who play a role to tip off authorities in charge on some illegal corporate
malpractice. For example, the recent Mitsubishi story has been brought to
light by an internal tipoff. The Transport Ministry will shortly file a
criminal complaint against Mitsubishi for its flouting the mandatory recall
system while it has been receiving a number of embarrassing reports of consumer
complaints. "The Mitsubishi case is unbelievable," says a middle-aged
participant, "its internal auditing mechanism seems not working."
He says such statusy companies are very careful today about not infringing
social justice and trying seriously to perform with positive glasnost because
some of them had suffered bitter public criticism on their occasional illegal
corporate practice spotlighted during the past few years. "Yes, there
were many lessons to such big companies," says one gentleman who works
for a pharmaceutical company, "my workplace is precautious about making
no legal violation." "It looks big companies are trying to make
their business clean," one young member says, "but their dirty
operations are just shifting on to their subcontractors." He says the
corporate malpractice at big companies are being distributed among the medium
and small companies which are less likely to draw public attention. "I
think blunders take place at many workplaces," one school teacher says,
"for example, corporal punishment is illegal at school, but it happens
sometimes, and the school always tries to hide it." Some participants
say there must be many inappropriate performances also at workplaces of
the central and local government offices, and only few of them come to light.
(Are whistle blowers crusaders?)
"Some 30 years ago," an aged member says, "companies were
very cautious about their employees belonging to the leftish labor union."
He says such employees were always looking for some corporate malpractice
at the office because they were strongly instructed by the union leaders
to conduct an internal tipoff. We faced several occasions," he continues,
"where some shocking exposures from within were suddenly on TV as prime
time news articles." "In those days, companies were not accused
so much by people for their corporate blunders," another gentleman
says, "but they were more regarded that they had been poor in managing
their employees, namely, in making their employees company-first people."
"Today, there may be no such organized whistle blowers," another
gentleman says, "some of them must be guys with firm in social justice,
but most whistle blowers may be motivated by animosity against the company
or their colleagues." He says the latter people must feel that they
have done something shameful although, at the same time, feeling heartily
gratified with their effective blows. An aged member then says, "But
for the former group, is it good for the company to have an employee who
couldn't close his eyes on the corporate injustice?" In today's Japan,
he says, most people would pretend to be unconcerned about anything wrong
going on beside them. "By contrast, western people would never close
their eyes if social justice is endangered," one lady says, "but,
if I find out a cockroach in the tomato juice out of my today's shopping
goods, I will not take any action against the supplier or the supermarket."
"It's a messy work for me," she says, "probably, I'll just
throw the product away." "Taking an action needs some energy,"
a young gentleman says, "some years ago, I telephoned a bakery and
complained that one bean-jam bun I bought was contaminated with curry paste."
He says he received an immediate apology call by the bakery and was given
a pack of biscuit. "I felt I did a good thing," he further says,
"because I knew this was an important lesson to the bakery."
It's no more possible for companies to ask their employees to weigh up between
loyalty to the company and achievement of social justice and to join the
cover-up campaign on corporate malpractice. "Loyalty to his company
must not contradict loyalty to his community and country," says one
middle-aged participant, "today, companies should work in every activity
sector according to the global standards." "And corporate ethics
is the most important concern of the average world enterprise," he
further says, "the business ethics officer (BEO) as the top responsible
management is powered well for preventive actions there to avoid occurrence
of any corporate malpractice." He says the company cannot expect anymore
that it is able to band its employees together for a common goal such as
a company-wide concealment project. Employees are getting split at worksite
for their individual objectives. Under these circumstances, the company
must now accept the existence of whistle blowers and perform correctly with
its behavior in the market and society. "Particularly, those companies
dealing with foodstuffs, drugs and vehicles must be concerned about consumers'
safety as the major premise," one lady says, "because their faulty
products immediately put people's lives at risk." "Governmental
offices and public corporations should also be indoctrinated with the importance
of glasnost and actions up to social justice," one gentleman says,
"for that, we need here many more whistle blowers, the crusaders."
(Holiday season in Europe)
"Businesses are almost closed in Europe now," one middle-aged
member says, "our partner in Belgium is having a four-week shutdown
in its manufacturing plant for employees going on summer vacation."
He says the average European company plans its production schedule on an
11-month timetable. "Even though we've been doing business with such
European partners for many years," he continues, "our Japanese
lifestyle didn't change, most people don't know how to spend their holidays
with pay." "The average consumption rate of annual paid holiday
was around 30% in my days," says an aged member, "and I think
this is still today, or still not more than 50%." "That is hardly
understood by European people," another gentleman says, "and,
I know, in Germany, companies even pay a holiday allowance, something like
15 DM per day, to those going on vacation." He says, in Japan, people
still feel a delicacy about taking a weeklong vacation because his absence
may overload his colleagues at worksite. "Times are changing, however,"
another gentleman says, "employment systems is shifting to an individual
contract, employees are judged on their achievement of individual objectives
and teamwork or the harmony among people is becoming less important."
He says, today, young office ladies consume their paid holidays 100%. They
never feel any peer pressure at work, and they offer peer pressure themselves
to those colleagues who are simply workaholic and won't go on a weeklong
(Awa folk dance)
One aged member who had reserved a one-million-yen costing, four-day family
cruise by Asuka, the luxury liner, is now back at this meeting and reports,
"Our three generation family experienced the cruise and the Awa folk
dance festival in Tokushima." He says, however, his grandchildren seem
to have not enjoyed it so much though their parents and his wife were very
enthusiastic about the program. The cruise featured two overnight trips
between Yokohama and Shikoku (Komatsujima) and two days' optional programs
in Tokushima. "We enjoyed the Awa folk dance very much," he says,
"there were some celebrities in the parade of thousands of dancing
participants." He says he tried to picture Hideki Takahashi, a movie
star, but his camera failed to focus on the guy as the paparazzi photographers
were always wrapping the movie star thickly. "I think I can understand
your grandchildren's feeling," says a middle-aged member, "such
programs don't suit anyone's taste among the young generation." He
says Asuka's best customers today are always the affluent retirees and,
for the time being, Asuka is busy in offering cruise programs pleasing only
the wealthy elderly people. In fact, the aged man has repeatedly cruised
around many spots in the world by Asuka and, therefore, the cost of the
above cruise was much discounted by Asuka's mileage coupons accumulated
by his previous trips.
(Number of self-slayers increases in Japan)
More than 33,000 Japanese people committed suicide last year, the most ever
in one year. "Japan's suicide rate is outstandingly high among industrialized
countries," one gentleman says, "ours must be 50% higher than
American's if we look at our population, 126 million." He says the
unemployment rate is relative to the trend. "The number of suicides
began drastically surging a few years ago," he says, " when the
unemployment rate exceeded 3 percent." He says suicides due to financial
and living difficulties continue to increase and suicides due to traditional
reasons such as health, love affairs and other personal problems are declining.
"The number of life insurance payments for suicides is increasing,"
an aged member says, "some people are trying to repay their loans with
death benefits from life insurance companies." He says, even for a
person who doesn't suffer debts, it is possible that he buys an insurance
policy, keeps paying the monthly premium for two-year term of immunity,
then takes his own life and leaves the death benefit that could be his last
and most valuable bequest to his family. "Mammonism rules everything,"
one middle-aged member says, "something must be wrong in our society
if such an idea prevails."
(Russian air carriers)
"I recently made a ten-day business trip in Russia," a middle-aged
man says, "using the Russian airliners is economical, but at the same
time, I was shocked by the poor maintenance." He says Aerofloat's passenger
cabin was dirty with old frayed seats and the toilet was not clean. "much
worse is the local airliner," he further says, "most of reclining
seats didn't work and flights were very noisy." He says the nationwide
economic distress is affecting every activity in Russia. "Security
must be its utmost concern," he says, "the latest accident of
the nuclear submarine, Kursk, in the Barents Sea, is an example." In
every corner, Russia suffers short of cash for care and maintenance of its
important facilities. And morale has been shattered as people are not paid
properly. "I think, in the end, the western block should solve the
country's problems by offering astronomic financial support," an aged
gentleman says, "because the country's problems couldn't stand alone
within Russia, but they are so fatal to the international community."
He says the western block deserves such supports since it could survive
the long-lasted east-west tension finally at the expense of today's hardship
in eastern countries.
(Cuts in fees to use NTT's network)
In the year's Bon holiday week, our regular Round Table is held with a good
number of participants and first touches the recent Japan-U.S. agreement
on telecommunications services, featuring cuts in the fees for other telecommunications
companies to use NTT's domestic network. Participants agree that this would
be relevant to us the local consumers. "This will for sure increase
people's accesses to the Internet services," one gentleman says, "but
why it happens this way." He says Japanese consumers always benefit
in the end from such strong pressure for a change by the United States.
He says, "Why don't people themselves speak up first?" "There
are many people here who know how cheap the telephone charge is in overseas
countries," another man says, "when I lived in the States some
years ago, it was free-of-charge for local calls, and I think it's still
today." "Japan Telecommunications Workers Union was very powerful
in supporting politicians in the opposition parties who would work in favor
of the worker in the industry," a middle-aged participant says, "NTT's
costly organization had therefore been protected from a drastic streamlining."
"We still see such structural impediments for the local consumers in
other sectors," one aged member says, "and there we couldn't correct
ourselves and need the next hammer blow by America."
(Swimmer Chiba doesn't go to Sydney)
The two-time Olympic qualifier, swimmer Suzu Chiba, had her appeal dismissed
by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). She was claiming she had been
unfairly dropped from the national squad by the swimming federation. "Contribution
she made on the issue is big," one lady says, "because such sport
federations should become more careful about openness on their forthcoming
selection processes." "In the sport sector, sportsmanship is always
quoted," one gentleman says, "and it often implies that one should
accept in a sporting spirit what has damned by judges." He says that
culture then works in favor of the typical hierarchical organizations which
might be privileged to make some important decisions secretly and unfairly.
"So, Suzu did a good job," a lady says, "she's destroyed
the stereotype that athletes never complain but try their best." "Not
only in the sport area," an aged man says, "but in many other
areas, such selection criteria are ambiguous in Japan." He says the
initial process among the ruling parties in nominating Yoshiro Mori as Prime
Minister about four months ago is one example. "Even at your workplaces,
you must be wondering why your own company's executives were picked up,"
he says, "we need more visibility in our society and we need more such
people like Suzu everywhere."
(Discipline over private e-mail at workplaces)
"When the LAN (Local Area Network) was first introduced in our company
some years ago," says a member, "just to become friendly to the
system, we were encouraged to use it even for sending e-mail on a private
matter." He says, in those days, the system at his workplace was frequently
used in fishing for dates, raising members for a mahjong evening or searching
for some personal preferences on the Internet. Now companies are tougher
and cracking down. They are occasionally opening the personal e-mail of
their employees and trying to determine those users who are transmitting
offensive materials or pornographic contents. In the USA, some big companies
such as Dow Chemical and Xerox have already fired a number of employees
in this context. Most participants at this meeting say they use their computers
at the office for sending private e-mail. "Unless we do something very
offensive, we should be allowed sending the private e-mail," a middle-aged
man says, "this hardly bothers our primary work." He says, if
we are disciplined on the time management at workplaces, personal telephone
calls and the frequency of visiting the toilet or the smoking room should
also be regulated. "I thought most American office workers were strictly
appraised on the achievement of their individual business goals," an
aged person says, "it's funny they are now disciplined on their daily
(Good interpreter needs to smile)
During the Okinawa summit last month, a large number of interpreters worked
there to help visitors from those countries concerned. Here, a conference
organizer says we need people with very good English skills for an event
of this magnitude, but what we seek in our interpreters goes beyond that.
We want people who can make our visitors happy by serving them with a pleasant
smile. "I can understand what the organizer means," a middle-aged
participant says, "but interpreters must first be workable with their
correct and effective translation." He says they must act a silent
force behind the scenes, but they don't have to be in the limelight with
the business. "I think personality is important," says one lady
who teaches English at a prep school, "once I almost gave up a student
though he was good at English, his character was not acceptable to me."
"Chemistry is important in the teamwork between speakers and interpreters,"
another lady says, "human communication is made not only by language
but more by other ways of signal exchanges such as eye contacts and gestures."
"Good attitude alone, however, doesn't work at all," an aged member
says, "interpreters shouldn't be anybody's yes-men or the chore boy,
but they must be professional in English." He further says sustained
efforts to enrich their language expertise will also make them attractive
(Whale sanctions threat by Washington)
Washington stepped up pressure on Japan to call off a controversial whale
hunt in the northwest Pacific and threatened to impose sanctions if Tokyo
pressed ahead with the expanded hunt. "I don't understand why some
guys here are so tenacious of whale hunt," a gentleman says, "I
think there are very few consumers who wish to eat whale meat." "I
agree," one lady says, "Japan doesn't have to press ahead with
its research hunt, we must give up the whale struggle." In fact, only
few participants experienced eating whale meat mainly in the school lunch
program many ears ago. "It's out of kitchen today," another lady
says, "and we feel no regret." "Be careful fellows, you shouldn't
forget that whale meat is precious protein for Japanese people," insists
an aged member, "you know we suffer a miserable degree of self-sufficiency."
He says Japanese could survive food shortage during and after World War
II thanks to whale meat. "We must convince other countries with clear-cut
scientific data," he further says, "the number of whales has meantime
drastically increased and they will be distorting the ecological system
of the sea." "I know you like whale meat," a young member
says, "The taste of whale meat must have become part of your mental
makeup, and the taste of McDonald will never release us younger generation
(Standby power nibbles household budget)
A powerful heat wave hovers around California causing big-size forest fires
here and there. Temperatures are above 40 degrees Celsius these days in
the San Jose area. The local electric power suppliers are concerned about
their ability to tackle the growing power use and asking homes and businesses
to reduce their power consumption. "They say blackout or brownout will
be unavoidable if the heat wave stays with them a few more days," a
member says and asks, "in Osaka, we are also having hot days, are we
going to face the same power problem?" A retired electric engineer
answers, "Yes, it's possible and the middle August is critical if the
present hot afternoons continue." He says the power demand by households
and businesses is growing firmly, particularly, because of ever-increasing
equipment and machines related to the information technology. "Quality
of Japan's electricity is excellent," the old engineer further says,
"but it's doubtful whether we can keep the level without building additional
nuclear power stations." "I learned the standby power of our home
appliances would cost us more than 9,000 yen a year, or nearly 10% of the
average annual bill," one lady says, "I think I should unplug
my friends at home, but they are all geared today with a calendar system
which needs troublesome resetting after a power cut." The engineer
says, these days, appliances are more designed as energy-saving products
and the calendar system consumes very little power. "However,"
he says, "a penny saved is a penny gained."
(English newspapers in Japan)
"To our shame, English newspapers run a very small circulation here,"
an aged person says, "only 100,000 copies are subscribed against Japan's
126 million population." He says this illustrates how English is ignored
in the country in actual life. "Four major English paper always carry
those topics one-day behind the vernacular papers," another person
says, "and, except the Japan Times, the articles are mostly translations
from the Japanese version." He says the English papers will never pick
up in Japan and have almost lost their opportunities in the advent of the
Internet. "In my younger days," one gentleman says, "there
were FEN radio services that were for the occupation soldiers." He
says that the FEN was very powerful on the air in those days against other
local Japanese radio stations and many people even enjoyed its programs
and some became able to understand English. If politicians want people to
improve their English ability, he says, they must provide such an environment
where only English works. "As long as English articles are only read
as reference on the papers by those Japanese who are learning English and
subscribing the corresponding vernacular papers, the local English newspapers
will never stand on their own feet," the aged member says. "Talking
of newspapers, it's another sad story that, in Japan, one vernacular paper,
Yomiuri, owns more than 10 million subscribers commanding a majority among
the nation's paper readers," a middle-aged member says, "it's
getting close to those national papers in a totalitarian country."
He further says, "A healthy balance of power couldn't stay in any sector
in this country."
(Cruising by Asuka)
"I'm going to spend more than 1 million yen for a four-day cruising
with my five family members," says an aged participant, "this
is my fourth cruise on the luxury liner, Asuka." He says the floating
hotel offers many amusing programs during the cruise with full-house passengers
on board. "Still, I think it's too expensive for such a simple cruising
along the Pacific coast of Japan," a middle-aged member says, "with
a 170,000-yen budget, I can plan a gorgeous one-week tour in Europe."
"Passengers include many cruise-addicted people," the aged man
says, "they are all fascinated by the charm of voyage." He says,
for them, cruising would never make way for other ways of traveling and
the joy deserves the budget. "Well, clocks work differently for the
affluent," the middle-aged man says, "and I think it's good many
Japanese elderly people are today able to enjoy their time that way."
"The other day, I forgot to register my application in time for the
coming National Bar Examination," says a member who is now a judicial
scrivener and trying to upgrade his credential, "and then my daughter
said to me, don't worry dad, you've just saved the examination fee because
I'm sure you couldn't win the game." He says the overall number of
lawyers is by contrast smaller in Japan than in the USA. "We need more
attorneys, more prosecutors and more judges," he says, "to cope
with ever-increasing domestic and international lawsuits." Particularly,
he says, in the global markets, Japan needs to look after its businesses
more swiftly in line with the international development in the legal concept.
"One of my friends tries the bar exam every year," one lady says,
"but she fails each time." She says the examination must be too
tough for the average applicant. "Lawyers shouldn't be made only by
the initial one-time examination but more by on-the-job experiences, she
"On the way to this meeting, I saw many young women in their yukata
(kimono-like cotton robe) on the street," one lady says, "it's
Takatsuki Festival today." It seems, at several spots within the city,
some community events such as night stalls and Bon Festival Dances are going
to be held in today's evening. "Takatsuki Festival doesn't have a long
history," one member says, "it started around 20 years ago particularly
sponsored by the local shopkeepers." He says they even created a new
dancing music, Takatsuki Ondo. Participants at this meeting however show
not much interest in the festival. It is more for children, elderly people
and those directly or indirectly involved in organizing such events. Besides
such relatively new community events, one female participant says, "I
saw the summer festival of Ibaraki Shrine in middle July." She says
the shrine was congested with many people and its festival floats paraded
in the street got a lot of attention. "I make it a habit to take a
10,000-pedometer walk downtown," says an aged member, "Ibaraki
Shrine stands in my regular course." He says he could see how the festival
was being prepared at the shrine and observe how a festival float was assembled.
A group of men mustering from among the shrine's parishioners was hard to
build up such a float as the shrine would not parade floats every year and
there were fewer old boys who have the exact know-how of assembling process.
(Terminally ill patients)
"My younger brother suffered lung cancer," one aged participant
says, "and died after a two-year medical treatment." He says his
brother had a radiation therapy but didn't accept any chemotherapy as it
would cause heavy side effects. "Terminal care is important for the
quality of life of patients," another gentleman says, "not so
many stories are told these days about the hospices for the dying."
"I know one nearby, Yodogawa Hospital in Awaji," one man says,
"about 10 years ago, one of my friends died there." He says he
was impressed by the facility and the manner of care given to its inpatients.
"I would take this option," he says, "or I would stay at
home given only a dose of painkillers." "My mother is 75 years
old," one lady says, "and she often talks about her forthcoming
death though she's still healthy." The lady says her mother of course
wants a sudden death as the average elderly person does. "My mother
wants to die peacefully without struggling any violent care by medical doctors,"
she continues, "mom wants to stay painless until she ends her life."
(Posthumous subjects go on)
Then, one gentleman who is steering our chat to postmortem topics asks,
"Can people inhume their bodies?"" "Yes, legally, the
interment is possible," a middle-aged member says, "but you need
a much bigger space for the graveyard." He says the undertakers' business
is growing and many newcomers are on the market. "Still, there will
be no such a scene where the bereaved family tries to bargain the price
of its funeral ceremony with several blackcoat parlors," an aged member
says, "in reality, we must follow mostly the suggestion of the hospital
where the family's loved member has spent the last-minute life." "No
one knows, time passes and most stereotypes are getting nonsense,"
a middle-aged person says, "the style of funerals will be diverse in
future." He says there are many cases today where people leave a definite
instruction in their last words how their funerals must be conducted. "Even,
you can indicate at how high temperature you should be cremated," he
says. He quotes the recent blunder at a crematory in Osaka. The cremated
body was dumped mistakenly by the cremator in the mass of residual ashes
on the site before the bereaved family members were called for picking up
some bones of their deceased relative. "How miserable the family was,"
(Heat island phenomena develop)
"Big cities like Tokyo today suffer so-called heat island phenomena,"
says one lady, "and one example is a very much localized torrential
downpour." Over time in urban areas, she says, we have lost rivers
and greenery zones. Most old days' rivers in cities now flow as underdrains
and play no role to help reduce temperatures in the areas. "A rooftop
garden has then become spotlighted in Tokyo," she continues, "while
cities like Stuttgart are considering construction of the web of canals."
"We must act now,"one gentleman says, "otherwise, we'll be
in a vicious circle." He says, if it gets hotter, we will use more
air conditioners and exhaust violently the greenhouse gas in urban areas.
"And the Kyoto protocol will never be met," he says. Contractors
constructing large new buildings or renovating existing buildings in Tokyo
are today required to cover 20 percent of the rooftops of those buildings
with trees, plants and other greenery. "It will cost us more,"
a lady says, "but we have no other choice at the moment." Participants
say, we cannot give up our present comfortable lifestyles although we often
time-trip and feel like having something better in the past.
"Investigators are trying to make sense of the Concorde wreckage,"
one participant says, "and it looks debris of the punctured tire had
hit the left-hand fuel tank." Last week, an Air France Concorde has
crashed soon after taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport in PARIS killing
113 people. Most of the 100 passengers killed were German holidaymakers
on their way to New York for a 15 day luxury cruise through the Caribbean
en route to Ecuador. "Today, 13 Concorde aircraft's are in service,"
the participant says, "they carry some jet-set businessmen, but mostly
luxury tour groups who would pay the first-class tickets for experiencing
a supersonic aviation." "I'm not a speed maniac," a middle-aged
member says, "I've never driven my car at more than 90km per hour."
"I like speeding," a lady says, "I easily make more than
100km per hour during driving." Everyone agrees a high speed charms
most people, and they are therefore crazy about thrilling on roller coasters.
"I intended to make an European tour during the Bon holiday week,"
a middle-aged member says, "but I had to give it up." He says
a ticket for the round trip now sells at about 150,000 yen, and he knows
an off-season ticket for the same round trip was sold at 70,000 yen several
weeks ago. "The big price gap cooled my motivation on European trips,"
he continues, "I changed my mind and decided to make a one-week cruise
in Hokkaido." He says, in the domestic pricing, he sees no such big
gaps between the on-season and off-season. "Unless you have a very
strong reason to make it," he says, "you wouldn't do it being
fooled that way." Still, many holidaymakers will fly overseas during
the forthcoming Bon holiday. participants ask, "Is their time besides
the holiday so precious?"
"Please don't worry, we have a talented proofreader who understands
English medical terminology," a lady quotes the words her boss tossed
the other day to a medical doctor who dropped in at her printing house with
orders for phototypographic jobs. "My boss means me myself," she
says, "I felt at the time, however, my boss shouldn't be proud of me
as I'd been not paid enough for that ability." In fact, she is good
at English and shows a particular interest in the medical terminology. "It's
nice you know your boss depends on you," one gentleman says, "you
are indispensable there whether you're paid well or not." She says
jobs the doctor gave her company are research papers covering the latest
medical convention on the acupuncture therapy. She says she has learned
many new technical terms in the oriental medicine through working on such
(Poor pediatric service)
"These days, hospitals and clinics are deteriorating their workforce
in the pediatric service," says one lady, "and mothers are always
in trouble finding a proper medical facility for their children." She
says the health care industry is now very much profit-oriented. And medical
experts know that there will be fewer children in future society and the
pediatric service alone doesn't pay, and they are reducing their efforts
in the area. "I know some hospitals in our area which closed the kid-simple,"
one member says, "no medical students are ambitious of becoming pediatricians
today." He says, "Children cure quickly in general without spending
costly medication, and still they take much time of doctors." So, children
are now covered by general physicians and have to wait some hours at the
reception among other patients.
(Who are you?)
"He was not joking but serious," says an aged participant. What
he quotes is the recent amusing story about the leader of a country. Instantly
taught how to greet in English in his meeting with President Clinton, the
government leader started saying, "WHO are you?" Being puzzled,
his talking partner replied, "I'm Hillary's husband." Then, immediately,
the poor leader said, "Me too!" Further puzzled by the powerful
voice, Bill had to say, "Oh, you too?" "Well, in that situation,
I'll try Monica again," Bill might have murmured in his heart. "This
is not the game of anagrammatism," the aged man says, "he didn't
try to anagrammatize HOW into WHO." The poor guy simply followed the
instruction of his faithful adviser, say, he must first say, "How are
you?" Then, he will hear his partner say, "I'm fine and you?"
And immediately, he must answer, "Me too." The leader couldn't
pronounce HOW correctly in the beginning and the funny sequence developed
there. "Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse," the aged man
quotes an old proverb.
(Swimming across the Yodo)
"I was about to be drowned in the Yodo," an aged participant says,
"it was of course long time ago." He says Hirakata area, the middle
course of the Yodo, had a higher water level occasionally in those days
as there were no upriver dams in operation. At the time, he says, he misread
the swift current in swimming across the 50-meter-wide river and he was
drifted several hundred meters downstream being very much upset and barely
arriving the opposite bank. "Then, I came back long distance on foot,"
he continues, "only in swimming trunks." Today, the Yodo in the
area doesn't have such volume of water and not a powerful current unless
it gets a heavy rainfall in its upriver district. "My younger daughter
was also nearly drowned in Lake Biwa when she was a toddling child,"
one lady says, "she got traumatized by the incident and became unwilling
to learn swimming at elementary school." She says she tried then very
hard to join her daughter in practicing swimming exercise at a private swimming
school. "Now, my daughter likes swimming," the lady says, "and
swimming is therapeutic and good for our health."
("Harry Potter" booms)
"It may be not true," says one member, "that aliteracy is
prevailing among school children." He says the printed word still attracts
good number of children in the USA and UK. He means J. K. Rowling's "Harry
Potter" book series that is booming among juvenile readers. The readers
rushed counters at bookstores everywhere on July 8 and, for booksellers,
the latest Harry Potter book is living up to its hype. "It's certainly
an orchestrated campaign project by the publishing partners that is resulting
in this million seller," he continues, "but we still see there
are not so many aliterate children as they'd been always observed."
"My son bought recently a Harry Potter translation, perhaps, Volume
II," a middle-aged participant says, "so it's booming also in
Japan." He says children enjoy reading comic books, but they will also
become friendly with the printed word if its content is interesting. "There's
no worry about aliteracy," says an aged member, "in our days at
school, only few were bookish classmates." He says, over time, the
proportion between well-read children and gamesome fellows in a classroom
has not seemingly changed.
(Renewal of driver's license)
"This morning, I visited police in Kadoma for renewal of my driver's
license," a middle-aged member says, "more than one thousand people
were waiting already though I was there half an hour before the office should
be open." He says police recommend visitors not to choose Sunday because
too many applicants are usually there to make their renewal business. "I
spent the whole morning for the renewal procedures such as registration,
eyesight test and the lecture on traffic rules," he says. "It's
surprising that such public offices are open on Sunday," one member
says. "Of course, they charge each applicant about 3,000 yen for renewal
of the license," the middle-aged member says, "so, they have reason
to work on Sunday." He says the refresher course covered this time
problems with the use of cell phones while driving a car. "Some countries
already started punishing telephoning drivers," says another member,
"because such drivers are said to cause traffic accidents as frequently
as drunken drivers." The middle-aged participant says we will be given
a five-year-valid license if our driving performance in the past few years
is regarded as acceptable in terms of the traffic regulation. Otherwise,
we get a three-year-valid license.
"Several weeks ago, I went on a hike to Mt. Daimonji in Kyoto,"
says a middle-aged participant. He says Daimonji is not a big hill, only
600-meter high, but it is famous for the Great Bonfire Event on August 16
every summer. "There were not many hikers besides me at the time,"
he continues, "and I lost my way up to the summit." He says, fortunately,
he could soon come back on the right track and he topped finally after a
two-hour trek. "The view from the summit was then very much rewarding,"
he says, "I could view clearly both the Kitayama area and the Kyoto
city." He says there was a wide-open space near the summit where the
Great Bonfire was to be made in the forthcoming summer. He took his cold
lunch there and went down the hill back to the Ginkaku-ji starting point.
"It was a nice excursion indeed," he concludes.
(Beijing or Peking?)
"The Chinese capital, Peking, is written today as Beijing by the media,"
says an aged member who just came back from a trip in Shanghai, "and
this started in 1979 on the request of the Chinese mainlanders who said
Beijing must sound more correctly the pronunciation of their capital city."
"Handling of the proper names is sometimes not clear-cut in Japan,"
another member says, "the broadcasting media, for example, have started
to pronounce Korean personal and geographic names in their local pronunciations
such as Kim Dae-Jung, Seoul and Pusan." He says, on the other hand,
they still read such names to their Chinese characters for China and Taiwan
in the way of traditional Japanese pronunciation, such as Mo Taku Toh (Mao
Zedong), Pekin (Beijing) and Taihoku (Taibei). "For personal and geographic
names, simple reading of their Chinese characters in Japanese way is misleading,"
he says, "and it's sad such readings never work locally in the particular
(Telephone bothers me)
"I often pretend to be out," an aged member says, "when I
receive a call from solicitors, they take my precious time for talks about
financial investment and house repair." He says, for such a call, he
immediately answers that his housemaster is out. "You can use the answer
phone," another member says, "without picking up the receiver,
you can realize who's calling." "Then, you don't have to deceive
your talking partners," he continues, "you just lift the phone
as soon as you hear someone you know is on the line." Some participants
say they don't like the answering machine. "It quickly takes our initial
10 yen away for unachievable communication," they say. "But it's
further nonsense for people to hang up there without leaving any message,"
one gentleman says, "and your 10-yen coin is simply wasted."
(Fasten dogs to leashes)
A series of serious attacks by fighter dogs was recently reported in Germany.
The report says 50,000 people are attacked by dogs in the country every
year. Germany is swiftly moving towards legislation to tighten the safety
responsibility of dog owners. "In Japan,we see not so many people who
have fighter dogs or such big dogs these days," one member says, "and
it looks small dogs are being fashioned." "In our condo community,
it's agreed that we don't have any pet animal at home," a middle-aged
participant says, "but this agreement is almost ignored." He says
pet animals are tainting public places such as elevators, passageways and
patios by discharging their urine here and there, and the owners are not
always careful about cleaning up such spots. Having pet animals is said
to be therapeutic for the elderly, but it's doubtful whether the owners
can benefit from it without getting other people into troubles. "Solution
may be a pet robot such as Sony's AIBO dog," an aged member says, "the
interactive lovely gadgets will develop remarkably, and will replace living
pets down the road."
(Japanese music at Carnegie Hall)
"I accompanied a musicians' group recently on its trip to Carnegie
Hall in New York," a participants says, "and the group including
7 young female players of Japanese traditional instruments such as koto,
samisen and bamboo flute did good job there." He says the 25-dollar
admission tickets were sold out. and the performance was appreciated very
much by the audiences in full house at the little Carnegie. "To my
surprise, 70% of the turnout was non-Japanese American," he continues,
"and I know, even in Japan, there are only few people who understand
the local traditional music." He says the group is not a professional
orchestra, but it had already traveled to Germany, England and Australia
to hold its concerts.
(Announcement's effect by reports on election campaign)
"Ruling parties are concerned about those midterm polls conducted by
the major media during the period of election campaign," says a middle-aged
participant who works for a newspaper office, "and they will try shortly
to legalize banning such polls for elections in future." The journalist
explains that, in the latest elections for the House of Representatives,
the reports on the midterm polls were so indicative of a landslide victory
for the coalition team. With such newspaper reports, several coalition leaders
were seemingly not happy because they feared a strong counter-reaction by
the voters who wouldn't always like one-sided battles. And the result was
not a big victory for the team as they predicted. "It's disputable
whether there is really an announcement's effect," one gentleman says,
"and the media should be playing still an important role during the
campaign period to excite electorates to become prepared for voting. The
journalist says that, under the small electoral system, people can have
the win-or-lose game more in their hands, and they will be certainly influenced
by the media's reports.
"I'm skeptical about the voter's privacy," one lady says, "How's
credibility of those officers sitting )in the election administration at
polling stations?" "There are also some election monitors usually
selected from the local community," a gentleman says, "and they
possibly come to know who has appeared for voting and who hasn't."
He says, of course, everyone concerned here is bound by strict duty of confidentiality,
and if any voter who comes across a doubt may appeal to the board of elections.
"Today, I think, this is no more an issue," another gentleman
says, "in the past days, however, we could see all kinds of cheating
on elections." He then tells about his experience of vote-buying many
years ago. He filled the ballot paper with the candidate's name of question,
but he did it in the paper on his left-hand palm with distinct and powerful
writing. Then, at the exit of the polling station, he showed the campaign
supporters his left-hand palm where somewhat depressed trace of writing
was still visible, and received 1,000 yen from them.
(Malaysia, good country!)
"I didn't stay with Shangri-la," an aged member says, "my
next-door hotel in Kuala Lumpur." "But still I enjoyed very much
the three-week trip in Malaysia," continues the man who speaks Malay
tongue fluently. He says he went motoring around the country with a novelist
whom by chance he had become acquainted with. "Roads are nice and comfortable,"
he further says, "people are kind, streets are clean and you can buy
a big house for about 5 million yen." He recommends Japanese pensioners
to consider about living in Malaysia where consumer prices are reasonable
and the political situation is stable.
(Karaoke for the elderly)
"Throughout my long life in the past, I've never tried singing a karaoke
song," an aged participant says, "but recently I was taken to
a karaoke house by some lady colleagues in our dancing club." He says
he has then become hooked on singing karaoke. "Although my female teammates
like to sing popular Japanese ballads," he continues, "I like
singing English songs such as My Way and Over the Rainbow." He says
he has in his memory all words to those English songs in his karaoke repertoire
and he can sing or recite them by rote. "Some of my colleagues are
proud they can sing 300 songs," he says, "but they can't do it
without the text of lyrics." He insists one must try singing without
reading words on the screen, and this is good for health too. A middle-aged
member says, "My son recently bought a music CD, Mai Kuraki, and played
it for me, but I couldn't even follow what was sung." He says he could
not tell whether words on the music were Japanese. He says, "I like
Japanese ballads, Enka at best."
(Technology illiteracy, school teachers)
"I read the article in the New York Times about teachers' inability
to put computers to good use in classrooms," an aged participant says,
"60% of American teachers in elementary and secondary schools feel
they need an extensive training." He says he was surprised that this
is the situation even in the USA, the world front-runner of information
technology. One lady asks, "How about Japan?" She says it is possible
in Japan that teachers up to 95% are incapable of using such technology
tools. "Now, English and computer are regarded as the global literacy,"
a participant says, "and, for school teachers in the 21st century,
these are definitely indispensable." He says there are 28 million Internet
subscribers in Japan, but majority of them must be using the tools only
for nonproductive purposes such as video games and chats while, in the USA
and Europe, people begin to use the Internet more for their day-to-day lives,
say, banking, shopping, booking hotels, authority communication, etc.
"Scientists have finished drafts of the human genome with 3.1 billion
DNA subunits," a middle-aged member says, "but this must be a
double-edged sword for mankind." He says, thanks to the genome information,
people can be diagnosed with potential diseases. Then, preventive treatments
and even cures would become available eventually. But this will also effect
to stigmatize or discriminate against particular individuals or groups.
"for example, life insurance businesses are interested in such information,"
another man says, "they will be screening their clients based on their
individual gene profiles." He says, for the time being, the technology
will only benefit the interest of the rich since tremendous expenditure
is needed to develop drugs or treatments using the genetic data. And the
current politics, always praising the free-market economy, will not be able
to discipline the owners of the genome information to refrain from releasing
it at good price.
(Record low fertility rate)
Our Round Table this evening first touches the issue of Japan's total fertility
rate. With the record low birth rate, 1.34, in the recent survey released
by the Health and Welfare Ministry, the Japanese population will start to
fall before 2008. There is a growing tendency for people to get married
later or not marry at all. The average age at which people marry for the
first time has been rising for both men and women, and today stands at 28.7
and 26.8, respectively. "I'm enjoying a single life," a young
lady says, "I have job satisfaction and fruitful leisure time."
She says young women are no more motivated in hastily entering a married
life. "I might have made up my life differently, much more brilliant
one," one housewife says, "if I didn't get married." "And
today, society is getting more prepared to support working women,"
she continues. "The stereotype about the classical image of an ideal
woman has almost gone out of most people's mind," one gentleman says,
"being single is no stigma, having no kid is no more stigma for women."
Society is changing, he says, but it will rapidly lose its vitality if it
should stay with fewer children in future. One member asks, "Why we
must worry about the decline of population?" He insists it is not always
bad having a smaller population in Japan where not enough food is produced
locally to feed the current population and no energy resources are available
domestically. "With regard to potential workforce, some people suggest
to increase the number of legal immigrants," a middle-aged member says,
"but we can still use the aged group as future workforce." It
is not good idea, he says, to accept a large number of immigrants to fill
the labor shortage and eventually to have a much bigger population in future.
Nobody knows whether a gradual expansion in population would help the country
make a sustainable development, or become finally tired of its endless attempts
(Rescue plan of department store, Sogo)
Not a single participant supports the government's plan to rescue a private
company at the taxpayers' expense. The financial authorities insist that
the public would have to pay a bigger price if they refused to accept the
rescue plan. "This is not convincing," a middle-aged participant
says, "and a certain moral hazard will be widespread among the industrial
leaders concerned." "This illustrates the typical attitude by
the government with anything-goes tactics towards ever-developing financial
problems in the business sector," another gentleman says, "and
it's not always fairly applied." He says such bailout or write-off
plans by the creditors will never be considered for the medium and small
companies who also suffer heavy debts. "There are companies, such as
Nissan, Kumagai-gumi and Daiei, being in a similar status as Sogo,"
an aged member says. "With such a funny treatment, consumers will get
angry and buy nothing at the Sogo stores any longer," one lady says.
"Some corporate managers must be feeling no tension in directing their
businesses appropriately," she continues, "Snow Brand Milk Co.,
that caused widespread food poisoning, is an extreme example." Discussion
by angry participants comes naturally to the ongoing issue of Yukijirushi
Milk. "We would buy nothing at Sogo, and we wouldn't buy any Snow Brand
products at any shops," ladies say with one voice.
Germany's decision on nuclear power)
Recent Germany's decision to phase out its atomic power over the next 32
years draws the participants' unanimous question about the alternative energy.
"Windmills and solar batteries couldn't output huge electricity,"
one member says, "and the fossil fuel is problem in terms of the greenhouse
gas emissions." "Ironically," he continues, "32 years
are too long future, and nobody knows what, positive or negative, happens
in the meantime." During the long period, he says, the nuclear technology
may be improved further to wipe out the serious potential problems, or some
unique technologies to produce electric power may be developed. "Still,
I would praise the decision," one lady says, "having seen the
Chernobyl accident, we know now the atomic power is out of human's control."
She says the decision may be a dreamy goal, but we should be proud to say
it clearly in public. "Europeans are taking a sensible course,"
she concludes. "In Japan, we are bound by the Kyoto protocol,"
a middle-aged member says, "and still MITI is planning construction
of 20 additional nuclear power stations to achieve the country's gas emission
target." "Nuclear is not a clean energy," another gentleman
says, "Japan has already stockpiled 14,000 tons of nuclear waste which
nobody has so far any good idea how to deal with." For the time being,
he says, we must be sitting on the ever-growing volume of dangerous nuclear
waste and must wait for some bright ideas coming out hopefully in the nearest
future. "Therefore, it's not only the huge national financial debts,
645 trillion yen, that we're going to send to the forthcoming generations,"
he further says.
(Death penalty under scrutiny)
The execution of a murderer, Gary Graham, in Texas has drawn public attention
and debate over the use of capital punishment. In this particular case,
the defendant could not have a "fair" trial because his court-appointed
attorney was almost incapable of proving his innocence. "Money talks,"
one lady says, "and in the jury system, one can bargain the price of
criminal acts by hiring first-class attorneys." "Europeans are
criticizing people in the USA for debating such an obsolete issue,"
one gentleman says, "and among the G-7 nations, only Japan and the
USA keep the use of capital punishment." He says, however, the existence
of capital punishment is always supported by the opinion polls both in Japan
and in the USA. "To avoid such mistakes and doubtful verdicts, and
to understand that no legal killing is justifiable, I think Japan should
stop death penalty," a lady says. "I am for the use of capital
punishment," another lady says, "we must extend our concern to
the victims, and it must help preventing recurrence of criminal offenses."
"Statistics shows, the use of capital punishment doesn't contribute
to deterrent of criminal cases," a middle-aged participant says. He
insists it is high time for our country to give a nationwide scrutiny over
the issue including the introduction of lifetime imprisonment as well as
reviewing the juvenile criminal laws.
Updated on: January 25, 2001