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October - December, 2000

December, 2000

(Homecoming after yearend parties)
"Last Friday, we held the yearend party with workmates," says a middle-aged member, "and we went out for a post-party party." He had another party at a karaoke bar in Kitashinchi, the amusement area in northern Osaka. "I saw customers were back in the area," he says, "though I'd been told such night spots were heavily in recession." "I was once told," another member says, "those bars and nightclubs in Shinchi had been reducing prices to get more visitors at private expense, rather than sticking to expense-account businessmen who used to pay any prices." "It was not cheap," says the middle-aged member, "of course, we made it at our private expense." However, people do not stay late in the area. These days, they never fail to get the day's last train heading home. Almost nobody rides back in a taxi. Business of the taxi trade, therefore, is very bad as the cab driver hardly gets midnight customers who travel long distance. "That night, however, I missed my last train leaving Osaka Station at 12:38," says the member, "so, I hailed a taxi." Those days ten years ago, he experienced many times on the midnight street that cab drivers refused him because he could not offer an attractive distance. "But this time, the cab driver didn't look sulky," says the member, "even though I asked him to shunpike." If he rocketed down a highway, he would have paid a 30% higher cab fare.

(Year of the snake, the year of crusade)
"Year of the snake is always special for me personally" says an aged member, "in 1989, 1977 and 1965, I could have a positive shift each time in my business life." In Oriental Zodiac, the twelve-year cycle with different animals, the beginning year of the 3rd millennium is the year of the snake. Most Japanese, just for amusement, or half seriously, try to relate the year's animal with character of the year's potential proceedings. "Year of the snake predicts we will have a big change," the aged man says, "we take the snake a symbol for transformation as it sheds its skin." Indeed, we had some big changes in 1989, the last year of the snake. The collapse of communism was symbolized dramatically by the fall of Berlin Wall. And in Japan, Emperor Showa ended his life and Heisei era started. "Then, I got a transfer," says the aged member, "first time, I experienced working outside the headquarters." He says it was the beginning of his enjoyable business life at the local workplace. "Yes, I didn't see it," says a middle-aged member,"that year, I also had the present assignment, and I know it was not bad." "If I have to foresee a personal change next year," the aged retiree says, "the next epoch-making shift must be the event that I cross the bridge going to Heaven." Year 2001 is already special because it starts the third millennium. But what else we are going to have?

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

Our periodical Round Table, this time joined by a Swiss guest, first lightly touches the Swiss tourism. "I once conducted a tour group to Geneva," says a middle-aged participant who has worked for a travel agency, "I was impressed by the country's efforts to protect its tourist resources." He refers to Zermatt where ordinary cars are off-limits and only electric vehicles are in service. "Japanese are important customers for Switzerland," the Swiss gentleman says, "they visit all tourist spots and by a lot souvenirs." Visitors can speak, hear and read Japanese in such places as most popular sightseeing spots and some jewelery stores. "On the mountain railway to Jungfrau, the taped conductor's voice announces by loud speaker in German, French, Italian, English, Spanish and today Japanese," the guest says, "and there were full of Japanese people when I visited it a few months ago after many years' absence."

(Was Pearl Harbor staged?)
Ceremonies to mark the 59th anniversary of the Japanese attack were held last week in many places in the United States. "Pearl Harbor is not a surprise attack," says one lady, "I think we must now leave the correct story to younger generations." Some say America already knew before the attack that the declaration of war by Japanese emperor was reaching its embassy in Washington. All coded Japanese telegrams were tapped in those days by the U.S. agency and the communication between Japan and the embassy was fully monitored. "And a few hours before the Japanese air raid," says a middle-aged member, "a Japanese submarine attempting to enter the bay of Pearl Harbor was already attacked over international waters by American naval ships." He says, with such information, even though the formal delivery of the proclamation of war was not made in time to the U.S. government, it could take some defensive measures for its military forces in Hawaii to prevent that much losses. It is not fair that American people claim Japanese behaved dishonestly in starting Pacific War against their country. And it is true, because of Pearl Harbor, American citizens, who had been weary of war in Europe, were effectively provoked and united to support the country's involvement in Pacific War. "I was too young that time," says the Swiss visitor, "and we were already in World War II. I think Pearl Harbor didn't shock European people so much." He says, however, it was understood by everyone that the aggressor was Japan in the battle. "Question is not who started first," says a young lady, "but the bitter experience should remain as an important lesson to us younger generations." Whether Japan was provoked by America or not, it is the fact that it began Pacific War on its own decision. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, is it so important to prove yourself?" an aged member says, "the winner makes history, and the loser mutters away insisting it was not always wrong." "Now, Japanese are planning to spend 25 trillion yen during the next five years for military expenditures," a middle-aged member, journalist, says, "and rationale there is that we lag behind the U.S." However, is military preparedness the only area where we lag behind others? Don't we lag behind others in those areas such as science, art, living environment, family values and, most importantly, democracy?

(Whistle-blowers gaze at corporate blunders)
Sumitomo Corp., a general trading firm, has introduced a system to encourage employees to expose possible cases of breach of trust or embezzlement to an in-house ethics committee. ""Such an in-house system is welcome," says a participant, "and this should become vanguard for other companies." There are cases today that an internal tipoff invites public or authorities' attention to some illegal corporate practices. Covering up of consumers' complaints about automobile defects at Mitsubishi Motor is the last example. "I think such an internal tipoff is usually made by those employees feeling frustrated at work," says one lady, "it's important for companies to encourage rather those motivated mainstream employees to point out existing or potential corporate misconduct." These motivated employees are likely to close their eyes to the shadow of companies. To achieve their own organizational goals, these people tend to cast their eyes aside from social justice. An aged member questions, "Is it because Japanese are irreligious that we lack basic moral sense?" "We see no difference in Europe and the States," says the Swiss gentleman, "people put the top priority on their business, they try to protect their organizations, Christianity is not making much contribution here but the ethical attitude of corporate management toward social justice is important." Managements take a big risk if they cover up the companies' illegal conduct. It endangers the company's prosperity and the management will be accused bitterly by shareholders.

(Euthanasia legalized in Netherlands)
"In Netherlands, mercy killing has settled almost in public," says the Swiss guest, "so, Dutch people think it's about time to put euthanasia into law." More than 2,000 people a year are dying in Netherlands by a lethal injection of doctors, or a doctor-assisted-suicide. Since Catholic, who strongly opposes the idea, is the minority in the country, it could be legalized here first in the world. "In other countries, people have just started to talk about the difficult subject," he further says, "and the trend will not be spread so rapidly." "I will consider," a young lady says, "and I should have my choice for euthanasia when I become terminally ill in future." Of course, most elderly participants here prefer that they are not kept alive for several years or months more while the quality of life is already completely lost. "It's ideal for us to get a sudden death," an aged member says, "we wouldn't like to stay bedridden." "My mother asks me not keep her on a life support system," one lady says, "when she becomes terminally ill." "If elderly people are not happy on the life-support," a middle-aged member says, "we should stop treating them against their will." We can save a lot expenditures for the country's health insurance and pension system if we stop the medical treatment that is hated by the recipients. "It's difficult, by any means, for us health care workers," says a young lady who works for a hospital, "to help our inpatients shorten their lives." Once the patient is connected with necessary medical devices and as the patient is no more capable of making its own decision, nobody is authorized to turn off the respiratory for example. "You need to leave a clear wish to your family members," says the Swiss visitor, "in the form of notarial document while you are still healthy." "Doctor-assisted-suicide might be abused," says one member, "it will cause criminal cases with regard to survivors' motivation for legacy expectations." And nobody knows, if the patient survives a few more months, there may be a magic bullet coming out of the medical research to cure the fatal disease.

(IF Osaka)

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

(Living in Chiba as business bachelor)
"At my age, I don't feel miserable," says a middle-aged member who got recently a transfer to activities in Tokyo area,"twice a month, I join my family in Osaka over the weekend." He bed-sits in Soga, Chiba Prefecture, and commutes to and from work in Ichihara. His studio, a six-mat room with kitchenet, bath and toilet, is run by a hotel chain. Breakfasts and weekend suppers are served, and the room is cleaned periodically. "The house is almost full with business bachelors working for companies in the area," he continues, "it looks the number of business bachelors is increasing these days in line with the tough economic situation forcing companies to further streamline their operations." Everyday, he exchanges e-mail with his wife. And since he is still fresh in his new assignment covering a pipeline project in Ukraine, he does not have to worry about his leisure hours that do not exist at the moment. "Scenes are quite different," an aged member says, "in the past, job bachelors had always time on their hands in the evening." And they used to accommodate their local colleagues around them for dinner, karaoke or playing mahjongg. "The bad habit of Japanese salaryman's untiring activities after office hours was perhaps initiated by the job bachelor," says the aged member, "and this has given most office workers a false sense of security that they are rigidly united at workplace." However, they know now their solidarity was shaky and elusive. And instead, they know they have sacrificed family values for their jobs and the after-office social obligation with superiors and colleagues that ended up nothing to gain.

(Students lose interest in math)
"Japanese students rank fifth in mathematics and fourth in science," remarks an aged participant, "though they ranked first in both school studies several years ago." A recent survey by the Amsterdam-based International Association gauged the educational achievement levels in mathematics and natural science of eighth-grade students in 38 countries. "Japan has been meantime topped by Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea," he says, "but it's still among the world best-scoring group." "Problem is however," he further says, "students in Japan least show interest in studying these subjects." In the survey, Japan is the second last showing enthusiasm for math and science among other nations. "This explains quality of engineers around me," says a middle-aged member who does business of admeasurement, "they have no basic professional skills, only they are able to use measuring instruments of the latest design." Engineers do not even know how such machines are built and on what principle they work. "Only very small number of professionals can move the whole society," an aged person says, "the rest of people don't have to learn those principles and mechanisms which are supporting our civilized lifestyle." For example, the science of numbers is taking distance from the average citizen. "In a supermarket, price tags are all bar-coded," he says, "the cashier doesn't have to fiddle with the adding machine any longer, goods are optically read by the POS system, and the bill is ready right there for the shopper." And if the shopper makes payment by credit card, all number games leave people there. "There is no demand in society for people to make even a simple calculation," the middle-aged member says, "and they are never damaged in real life even though they lack ability to calculate numbers." People no more wonder why a television works, how the Internet brings about the magic and what makes the mag-lev train run. And children are losing their curiosity.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

(2,000 yen bank note in poor demand)
"The other day, at a small reunion party, I paid my 2,000-yen membership in the new bank bill," says a middle-aged participant, "the steward instantly said to me I must give him another 1,000 yen." All other members were paying the reunion leader 2,000 yen in two sheets of 1,000 yen bank note. Since he handed his leader just one sheet of money, he was immediately marked for alleged short paid. "Nobody has yet the idea that he might receive the new 2,000 yen bill in day-to-day life," the member says, "most people still keep their accounts based on those traditional bills, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen." The new bill has been issued for five months by Bank of Japan. However, it does not circulate enough among consumers. It circulates today only 20% of the initial BOJ's plan. "Even in a supermarket," says an aged member, " the cashier is instructed to pick the new bill out from the payment of its shoppers and separate it for forwarding to the shopkeeper's office upstairs." "Today, if the bank note is not accepted by those modern machines, such as the banking ATM and various vending machines, " says a lady participant, "it's of no use and causes just confusion in our wallets." Most of such machines still stand in public unfriendly to the new bill. And industries are not in a hurry to modify their machines by budgeting some additional expenses. "The new 500 yen coin doesn't work on machines either," says an aged member, "I tried the coin changer on a city bus this morning, but the new coin was rejected." Here, however, those machines will be soon adjusted because the new coin was primarily designed to protect machine owners from attacks of bad coins such as Korean money. "The issuance of the 2,000 yen bill took place without any convincing purpose," says one member, "I suggest the government stops it." He insists the bill should end up commemorative money as one of the country's millennium programs. "Then, it will turn out a painless tax for the public as it may be frozen in each and every house as one of commemorative goods," he further says, "you remember, we all bought the 100,000-yen gold commemorative about ten years ago and it's still somewhere in our house." The 20-gram gold coin was issued to celebrate the sixtieth year of the former Emperor's reign. The coin rarely circulates in public and is still too young to be an antique coin. And today, people can buy a 20-gram gold mass at about 20,000 yen.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

November, 2000

(German guest utters witticism)
A visitor from Germany brought into the club meeting by one of our regular members joins the round-table discussion this afternoon. Being a mechanical engineer from a town near Dusseldorf, he works on textile machines in several overseas countries. "I saw on TV the report of the 62nd anniversary of the Nazis 'Kristallnacht' at the Brandenburg Gate," an aged member questions, "I doubt if the neo-Nazi campaign is so potential to influence the German society." "No way," the German visitor says, "the neo-Nazi is a very small group, and such skinheads are hated like a scorpion by almost all German people." "We may be overcautious," he further says, "but we must act this way in the eyes of the country's history." The Nazi started also as a handful of activists about 70 years ago. "Media are picking up their activities too much," the German guest says, "and the story is always linked with high unemployment rates among youngsters in the eastern part of Germany."

"We often quote the European manner to deal with the unemployment problem," a middle-aged member says, "but I hear the work-sharing concept is not always welcome by employees." "Well, work sharing means you have to accept a reduced salary for the same workload," the visitor says, "the win-win concept has its limit." It seems people in Europe are looking more into the American style how it works to keep providing dynamos in the society contributing to the nationwide economic development. "We must probably accept somehow the widening gap between rich and poor," says an aged participant, "in such an option, however, the society could not offer a comfortable social security to the loser." In Germany, jobless people are entitled to receive the unemployment allowance for one and a half year. Then, those who are still jobless after the period will have to live on the social security unless they have no other sources of income. Economic prosperity in the United States will not last forever. If it declines too soon, the world economy will be endangered. At present, Europe is doing well. Cheap Euro favors European countries in export business. "But, I see a bright future in Asian markets," the guest says, "China is, for example, very promising." Chinese people are hardworking and now manufacture products of good quality at reasonable prices.

One member asks, "How is your situation with ecological taxes?" "Since many months ago, we have been paying about 20 yen as 'eco-tax' per a liter of gasoline," the German visitor says, "it's big money, 20% of the gas price." German government uses the gas tax particularly for environmental conservation. There are no outcries among German people. They think such taxes would be needed to drive people toward a lifestyle that must not destroy their living environment. "The recycled paper, for example, is more expensive in Japan than split-new paper," says one participant, "a particular effort, therefore, is needed for businesses and consumers to keep ecosocialism in mind." "In Germany, recycled paper is cheaper than new paper," says the guest, "it's natural because the paper industry uses the waste paper." German people sort out their trash carefully and in detail. Therefore, the paper industry can get the used paper at cheaper cost as its raw material. Also, there should be a tax incentive by the government to help that situation.

An aged member asks, "How many countries have you visited so far?" "I think I've visited about 50 countries around the world," the German visitor answers, "mostly on business." He says then English is what he speaks always on such business trips. "In Germany, most students take English out of optional language courses at school. "People think it indispensable for doing business," he says, "besides English-speaking natives, people in Europe are aggressive in learning the international language, and even French people, who in the past was able to understand English but would never speak it, now start using the lingua franca." A middle-aged participant asks, "Which place in the world do you like best?" "Well, after all," the visitor says, "at my age now, I often get the feeling that any meeting takes place only once in a lifetime, it never recurs in the exactly same condition, and therefore, I must appreciate I could have the opportunity." What he means is the concept of Japanese tea cult, "Ichigo Ichie", namely, "people must treasure every encounter for it will never recur." So, he praises every place in the world and every meeting with people there.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

(Democracy hardly works on neck-and-neck showdown)
"The vote recount in Florida must show how democracy and justice work in the United States," says one lady, "I'm interested in the way how finality would be made out of the confusion." American people still don't know who out of two candidates, Vice-President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, is going to win the presidential election held two weeks ago. The two camps are exchanging their rhetoric on those contested ballots in Florida such as "dimpled" or "pregnant" chads, the punch-card ballots with indentations but not full perforations. They seem to enter an endless exchange of litigation on the detailed counting procedure. "Since Gore won the popular votes," a middle-aged participant asks, "is it possible for him to persuade electors to switch their support from Bush to whom they are pledged?" American Constitution requires victory in the Electoral College, Gore says he completely disavow any effort to work on electors. "There were nine cases in the past where some electors shifted," an aged member says, "but they didn't affect the result, and such electors took no penalty for their betrayal." "It's interesting," another member says, "American Constitution specifies in detail all potential deviations from the ordinary process of deciding the president-elect." "A failure mode analysis is always made carefully beforehand on such procedures," he continues, "and this is very different from Japanese style where a consensus management prevails behind the curtain." These weeks, America will show to the world how democracy works for such an agenda. "Perhaps, nobody thought there was a potential pitfall in democracy," another aged participant says, "democracy looks working very well when a slight majority deals with a slight minority." Anyway, the Bush-Gore showdown is not a serious issue for most of American people and bystanders in the world. "It's not an issue for anybody in the world to choose between life and death," the aged member says, "Bush and Gore, they are not ideologically diverse, and both Democratic and Republic parties are leaning toward the middle with their policies." Therefore, people other than those directly involved in the confusion are just enjoying the game.

(News media do it, but are busy again)
"During reporting up-to-the-minute returns, American news media made mistakes twice," says a member who works for a newspaper office, "they predicted in the beginning of the vote count in Florida Gore was going to win the state, then, a couple of hours later, they retracted the prediction, and shortly gave Bush a victory mark." An hour later, however, news media corrected their judgement again saying Florida was still too close to call. "The exit poll didn't work this time," the journalist says, "while they were almost able to foresee election results in the past by confirming early returns in line with the exit poll." Exit polls mean nothing, he further says, when a battle goes fifty-fifty in the particular constituency. "Being in a hurry to outpace the competition, we made also such mistakes occasionally here in the past," he continues, "there were cases short-lived winners were terribly disheartened even after his victory had been celebrated by his supporters hearing the premature judgement of news media." One lady asks, "Then, in such cases, don't you beg your victims' pardon, or accept a bill of consolation?" "Never," the pressman answers, "we are not brought to a standstill, and each time, we as well as our readers are already busy on the next agenda." American media are getting busy on the issue of manual recounts in Florida, and the next agenda in Japan is, of course, Koichi Kato's rebellion in the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). On Monday, Kato and his group members are not going to join the mainstream LDP and its coalition partners in defeating the non-confidence motion against the Mori cabinet to be submitted by the opposition camps. "It's apparent from the latest opinion poll on the approval rate of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori," an aged member says, "people are fed up with the manner the coalition handles today's politics." News media are agitating the public and sending Kato "hurray." God bless Kato!

(Lucie here, Ichiro there)
"The long-lost Roppongi hostess, Lucie Blackman, a British young woman, is talked about widely in tabloid papers," says one lady, "I didn't know there were such places in Japan where ordinary white young women worked to entertain eager beavers." Such women are here mostly on a tourist visa and are not legally allowed to work to make money. The missing British woman, who might have been kidnapped or involved in some criminal cases several months ago, was one of such women attempted to earn a substantial income by working as bar hostesses in Roppongi, a busy hot spot in Tokyo. And she is still lost in this land. Usually, these girls seem to travel further on with the earning leaving a short stay in Japan. "My husband works for the immigration office here," says a young lady, "and he says the number of illegal aliens is increasing year after year." Some entrants attempt to stay in Japan even on a fake marriage. For them, Japan is the place where they can make money. "For a baseball player, however," says a middle-aged member, "he seems making more money in the United States." Ichiro Suzuki, a seven-time Japanese batting champion, decided to join Seattle Mariners to play in Major League from the next season on. New York Yankees, who usually pursue talented foreign players, did not think highly enough of Ichiro, the left-handed-hitting outfielder. "The Mariners, on the other hand, thought having Ichiro to contribute to the team's business," one member says, "the Mariners could expect a higher annual turnout to their games on the west coast where many Japanese American people concentrated." One aged member asks, "Where does Ichiro pay his income taxes?" Of course, he has to pay them in the United States where he makes his money. "Therefore, the Japanese baseball will lose its annual sales and pay less taxes to the country as it's going to lack one of popular star players," a middle-aged participant says, "we talked about the brain drain some years ago, and now we may call this a 'sport drain' or 'muscle drain' from Japan." Anyhow, Ichiro has to survive a tough American baseball which has many more games in a year at ballparks widely scattered in the huge country.

(Arrogant public officials)
While Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is today very much under pressure of opinion polls that are conducted so frequently by news media, a Nagano bureau chief has been inundated with a number of angry phone calls from the public for his insulting Governor Yasuo Tanaka. "I've seen the television footage," one lady says, "and I doubted whether that guy knew he was spotlighted by a TV camera." In the scene, the bureau chief folded arrogantly Tanaka's business card in half. "It's certainly impolite," she continues, "I think everybody who saw the scene must have felt how arrogantly he could perform." Of course, this bureau chief, as well as all other high-ranking officers in the prefectural government,doesn't like the new governor who is just a layperson and was elected by chance for his fame as novelist, beating his opponent, the former vice-governor who was known as a professional in administrative affairs. "Perhaps, the bureau chief intended to make a display of his power before his subordinates in the scene," a young lady says, "he tried to put Tanaka under the yoke, but probably, he didn't know there was a TV camera." Then, the next day, the bureau chief turned out a powerless salaryman. Because of the mounting criticism of Nagano people, he apologized to Tanaka for his poor performance. "That's it for the story," says a middle-aged member who is a central government officer, "we professionals shouldn't get obstinate, we must be flexible, and we must know, in the end, we have to respect the will of the people." And he says, of course, the power of media is not negligible these days but works with effect, sometimes negatively, but mostly positively.

(Austrian funicular disaster))
"I like things about the railway," says a young member, "but the cable car accident in Austria is terrible." He says, 155 skiers were killed November 11 when the carriage caught fire deep inside the 3,200-meter Kitz-stein-horn mountain near Kaprun, southwest of the city of Salzburg. Extreme heat has completely destroyed the train, making identification of people on board very difficult. "I wonder why it happened," an aged participant says, " such trains are drawn up the mountain by a cable and they do not have an engine or on-board power source." "And this funicular system is widely in operation in Europe," he continues, "I took it many times without any sensation of fear." Only 9 people managed to escape from the carriage and survive the terrible accident. One lady wonders, "How could those 9 people perform wisely stepping downward through the flame and smoke?" Most skiers who could get out of the carriage tried to run away from the fire at the tail of the train climbing the stairway beside the rail track in the long and steep tunnel. And they all were apparently shagged shortly by the high-temperature smoke and died at the stone's throw from the carriage. "I make it a rule not to ride the lead or rearmost coach of a train," a middle-aged member says, "but I'm not sure if I'm safe enough with such a precaution." Certainly, there are cases where passengers on board in the middle part of a long train are killed by accident. About two years ago, for example, a German intercity express was derailed, slammed an overhead bridge pier and killed nearly 100 passengers on board. But the leading five coaches could went through the bridge without being damaged. And about one year ago in the Tokyo subway, Hibiya Line, we had a train crash that killed several passengers on board in the middle part of the ten-car train.

(IF Osaka)

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

(Spinning industry moves to China)
"These days, I'm busy in relocating spinning and weaving machines from factories in Japan to those in China," says a middle-aged participant who works for a machinery firm, "most clothing items sold here are now from China." His business is to supervise the dismantling operation at his customer's factories in Japan for those machines to be shipped to China, and then to supervise reassembling of such machines at factories in China. An aged member questions, "Is the spinning industry still labor-intensive?" "There are often demonstrations in the market with a modern system where machines are fully automated," the middle-aged member replies, "but number of female operatives are still needed, and cheaper, to look visually after the running strings on spinning and weaving machines." "Now, one yuan is about 13 yen," he further says, "everything looks selling cheap to me in China." The first-class hotel costs only 3,500 yen a night. Many more products from China will serve Japanese people in years to come. "The most popular clothing firm, Uniclo, now attracting consumers for its pricing, takes all its goods for sale from China," he says, "and Uniclo is very successful as its product quality is able to satisfy local consumers." The aged man then asks, "Now how does your business develop after you complete the relocation of weaving machines from Japan?" "That's what gets me," the middle-aged man says, "but if we look at European companies, they all experienced the similar situation many years ago." Those machine manufacturers in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland do not depend any more on their home markets, but still do good business with foreign customers. "We must live on our own technical competence also in future," he says, "and our business will be to sell machines to those overseas customers who plan to manufacture goods for consumers in advanced countries."

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

(Autumnal azure sky is distant toward jobless people)
"Even in our small local printing house," one lady says, "people are rushing to look for a job." Her workplace recently placed a help-wanted ad as it had created one vacancy. "And they are all highly qualified middle-aged gentlemen," she continues, "who have been kicked out from some statusy companies." Of course, the small firm could not pay such applicants an enough salary to cover their past incomes. The issue of the nation's unemployment is serious. During the past two years, the jobless rate has not shown any improvement from a high level around 4.7%, namely about 3 million people without occupation. "This causes severe social problems such as a high crime rate and growing number of committing suicide," a middle-aged participant says, "but most companies couldn't stop streamlining their operations to achieve a projected business goal for the benefit of shareholders." Companies are no more functioning to provide social security, in a sense, to the country. "We seem to be getting rid of the depression according to the latest economic indicators," says a retired man, "and new jobs are being offered in the labor market." For example, jobs related to the information technology (IT), environmental activities and care businesses are increasing. "One of my friends started business with the used paper as the material for man-made lumbers," a middle-aged member says, "and he needs more workers for his production." "And there will be a big demand for teachers to teach Japanese to foreigners," he further says, "such teachers will be paid minimum 2,000 yen as hourly rate." "There will be jobs in the labor market," says an aged man, "however, they'll never pay for almost all those unemployed persons who have enjoyed a high salary at big companies." "We are heading to the terminal phase of capitalism," says the retired man, "competing recognizes no other authority." There will be less efforts by the government and people to keep a certain win-win society. To introduce dynamism in the country's economic development, people cannot help but accept the existence of one percent wealthy group among them who steadily inflates its own assets at the sacrifice of the loser. And this will last until the moment when the latter blows up realizing that the fairness and equal opportunity stipulated in the society are just illusions.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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

October, 2000

(Business of English education)
"Last evening, I watched a TV program covering English education in the Japanese business sector," a middle-aged participant says, "because of the expatriate CEO, Carlos Ghosn, the employees of Nissan Motor became in need of English ability." These days, some ailing Japanese companies are helped by foreign business partners. At such workplaces, employees are forced to use English. "The NHK TV program says even in the CEO's French mother company, Renault, employees are encouraged to improve their English ability," he says, "I thought French mentality would hardly accept languages other than its own." In the business sector, English is already the lingua franca even noble French people have to speak with their global partners. Under these circumstances, most Japanese companies have strengthened English education for their employees. "Many companies introduced TOEIC scores in the promotion system," the middle-aged member says, "and, at my workplace, every morning, office workers read aloud chorally the company's motto hanging from the wall, which is no more written in Japanese, but translated into English." Many companies pay subsidies to those employees who study English at private conversation schools. "To my surprise, the same TV program says the business size of English education in Japan is worth 2 trillion yen," he further says, "this means every Japanese spends 16,000 yen for English education each year." An aged participant questions, "Is such money spent effectively?" He says Japanese people seem to be more interested in methodologies than practical uses. They always look for a magical solution how to master English. "Look at the most popular educational English magazine, Eigo Kenkyu," the aged member continues, "it's 95% written in Japanese." Most magazines dealing with English education are written in Japanese because they would not sell if they are written in English. "In Singapore, children learn English in English," he further says, they learn math, science and other subjects in English at school." In Japan, people learn English in Japanese. Does it make sense?

(Judicial system reform))
"JFBA (Japan Federation of Bar Associations) holds its general assembly next week," says a participant, "apparently, attorneys are opposing the government's plan to increase the number of the lawyer in Japan." In Japan with its population of 126 million people, only 18,000 attorneys are active. This is not proportional at all to the situation in advanced nations. The other extreme is the United States where 600,000 or more attorneys are always looking on their way for seeds of litigation arguments among people. "In the States, litigating struggles are nothing special," he continues, "they take place even between friendly neighbors." "Japanese people were not accustomed to such businesslike settlements," another member says, "they used to bear silently with frustrations taking it a virtue not to lay into each other." Over time, however, Japanese people have also changed. They don't accept anymore something wrong to their interest. They have become impatient to accuse the absurdity they come across in their life. "For example, today, we are told almost everyday about the story of hospital blunders, corporate scandals and misconduct's by public officials," an aged participant says, "victims are no more accepting them meekly, and there are also many whistle blowers who support such victims." Therefore, the aged member says, Japanese lawyers are getting busy with an increasing number of practices these days. "To secure transparency in our society," he continues, "lawyers' efforts are very much needed." Now, bar associations are not happy about the judicial reform plan and claim that attorneys' business will be damaged if there are too many participants. "The reform plan attempts to add only 2,000 newly qualified lawyers every year to the current 1,000 who pass the annual bar exam," a middle-aged member says, "with this very little step, it takes 100 years for Japan to get the judicial world of American size." Bar associations are selfish and still trying to protect the guild of lawyers.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Aging society presents weeping boys))
"Boys should keep back their tears," elderly people always told us children in this way in days of old. And people called us sissy britches when we boys were too much in a blubber. At the same time we felt it was very natural that women often drowned in tears. And we even liked women being feminal showing their fragility in tears. By the time, we young boys didn't know that the eyedrop was a woman's wit or weapon, and that weeping would never mean she was badly defeated. Now, little boys are relieved of such a burden. Parents are away from that stereotype. Boys, even adult males, weep their unseemly eyes out in these days. It seems tears do not shame themselves. And, of course, tears little work as their wit or weapon. Today, many adult men seem to fond of tragic cinemas and dramas that drive them to burst into tears. Who knows? Tears are therapeutic also for men, always stressed out and little motivated at their workplaces. But, why we see so many adult men today who shed tears in public? Three years ago, with the statement, "My employees are not wrong, I am the one who should be blamed," the CEO of Yamaichi Securities burst into tears at the press conference where he announced bankruptcy of his company. It was a rather strange scene to the eye of general public. Now, we know this soppy guy himself already working as high-ranking officer for another big company. Why weeping is no stigma for men these days? Some people say this is the result of the aging society Japan faces now. The average life expectancy for Japanese men is about 77 years. Many elderly males must survive a nonproductive life after their retirement. They could not perform any longer as paragon for their followers. They are no more active, tough, arrogant and authoritarian to their family members. And when they become bedridden, they are just a burden for women. Modern society creates a great number of manlike women, and many womanlike men as well. Men should not live too long. They should die while they are active in order to prevent female chauvinism from prevailing soon in our society.

(Monologues)

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(Ichiro auctions himself in Major League Baseball)
Ichiro Suzuki, a star player in the Japanese baseball league, announced that he had decided to play in the U.S. major league next year. "I don't know what would be the number on his price tag," one member says, "but it's not easy playing as a regular fielder in Major League Baseball." He says Ichiro looks physically poorer than the average American fielder. It's doubtful whether Ichiro could survive the tough condition of American baseball with long-distance travels and resultant jet lag as well as more number of games in a season he must play than he did in Japan. "I think Ichiro has already peaked his power," another participant says, "he would have a much better life as the highest-average hitter in Japan." "Perhaps, at his age, 26, now, he must have felt he could get another big break in the United States," a middle-aged member says, "as he belonged to Orix Blue Wave, he could little enjoy capacity spectators in his games." The member says Yomiuri Giants is the only baseball team out of 11 other professional teams in Japan that can pack the baseball stadium, and the team could employ many more star players than others because it always performs better in its business profit. Giants enjoys its virtue circle raking in all the luck there. "Japanese people tend to go along with the crowd," says an aged member, "in each and every sector, the top always leaves the second far behind and there are not many cases the top two are tying neck and neck." He says such a healthy political environment based on a two-party system, therefore, couldn't be achieved in Japan.

(America the final judge)
"It's a wonderful gamble for Ichiro," the aged man says, "if he receives recognition from Major League, that is the fateful value he'll be proud of in this country." He says judgment by the local people is very much influenced by the rating in overseas, particularly in the States. "For example, the latest Nobel-prizewinner Hideki Shirakawa, Professor emeritus Tsukuba University, has been suddenly squeezed into a seat for those nominees who are going to receive the order of Culture from Emperor on November 3rd," he continues, "otherwise, without Nobel prize, Shirakawa would have been spending quiet autumn days back home as just another retired professor." In fact, Shirakawa's work on conductive polymers was first scooped about 25 years ago by an American researcher who had then invited Shirakawa to University of Pennsylvania for a joint study program. Shirakawa's work didn't draw at the time the attention of Japanese researchers who were generally looking at only overseas trends. Today, Shirakawa's work is applied to many consumer products as some important components for cellular phones and ATMs. "However, until a few weeks ago, nobody thought of Prof. Shirakawa in using such modern gadgets," the aged participant says, "if he was not spotlighted in this way and if he was not remarked by the American colleague many years ago, his name wouldn't have been tied with such consumer products forever." "The government shouldn't perform thin veneer," says a middle-aged member, "it should keep its own consistent judgment in nominating people to be honored." "For instance, some people oppose to government's plan to present the marathon star Naoko Takahashi, with the rarely bestowed People's Honor Award," he continues, "is it fair if other gold medalists in the latest and past Olympics have not been treated similarly?" He insists we must scrutinize the country's conferment system thoroughly now.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Mere resignation doesn't redeem blunders)
"Conservative politicians and corporate management's were just intimidated by the recent Daiwa ruling," says a middle-aged participant at this October Round Table, "and have already moved to legally limit the scope of the shareholders' derivative lawsuit." Osaka district court has ordered 12 former and currently standing Daiwa Bank executives to pay about 80 billion yen to compensate the bank for losses it incurred as a result of unauthorized dealing by a former employee at its New York branch. "This must be a tough lesson to the average Japanese corporate manager," another member says, "but the latest ruling will be understood well by American managers." He says American businessmen have a strong sense of responsibility and the public is very strict about their conducts in terms of shareholders' benefit and social conscience.. "We must accuse the negative attitude of Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) towards the shareholder lawsuit," an aged participant says, "corporate managers should survive the tough responsibility by grasping exactly what's going on in their organizations." He quotes the poor performance of Masatoshi Ono, CEO of Bridgestone-Firestone, at the testimony on Capital Hill a few weeks ago to testify the case of the company's defect tires. "He couldn't make any explicit explanation about the tire problems," he says, "and he seemed to be almost ignorant about what his company was manufacturing." "Silence is no more a virtue," he continues, "Ono was replaced by his American vice-president immediately after the testimony." "I feel sorry Japanese managers are not paid enough by their companies to have a sense of responsibility," says one lady, "and most of them are not superior in quality to rank-and-file employees." "We are changing," a middle-aged member says, "working more in the global market, we must change in line with the world standards."

(Casual clothing at workplace)
"It's no more the scene of a white-collar workplace," says a middle-aged gentleman, "I visited some offices where I must see boys with graphics on their T-shirts wearing baseball caps and dragging their sandaled feet and girls in camisoles, hot pants and sneakers." Casual Fridays were introduced in Japanese firms and municipalities about 7 years ago. Also, there was a nationwide summer campaign for white-collar workers to wear short-sleeved shirts without neckties to survive hot temperatures at the office for conserving energy of air-conditioning. They didn't develop so much in the meantime. "But now, we see change coming to many workplaces," says the gentleman, "as the number of IT-related venture companies and foreign-affiliated offices that are taking a dress-down policy is increasing, other companies are no more pressing employees with their formal dress code." "I still like men dressed in pinstripes with straight ties," says one lady, "particularly, those dressed casually in their 40s and 50s never look attractive." In line with such a dress-down policy, many companies have stopped providing female workers with office uniforms. "I think the main reason is cost-saving," another lady says, "our office stopped the female uniform code several years ago as the uniform costed 100,000 yen per person and required expenses for the periodical laundry." An aged member asks, "When you dress down, don't you feel like resting your bones?" He further says people must feel tension in the air at the office when they are dressed up in the office attire. "Not really, stuffy office wear tends to kill creativity of workers," says a young member, "I don't mind as long as people keep their common sense in dressing, namely, not dressed untidily and dirtily." He says it can't be generally said that dress-down days have made for tardiness and absenteeism among white-collar workers and presented a flirtatious atmosphere at workplaces.

(Pressure on resident foreigners)
"I was surprised at the size of foreign population European people were discussing," says an aged participant. He quotes the recent Swiss voters' conclusion that they wouldn't impose a constitutional limit on the percentage of foreigners living in the country. Out of 7.2 million people in Switzerland, 19.3 percent is currently foreign. "If we look at our own," he continues, "far below 1 percent is the resident foreigners in Japan." "Switzerland may be special," one lady says, "it's basically a multicultural, multilingual country with relatively small population." She says Japan as a whole, with its 126 million population and its waterlocked geographic feature, couldn't be compared. "If you pinpoint a microscopic section in this country," she further says, "a small town in Gunma Prefecture, for example, counts its resident foreigners at more than 10 percent of the population because there's a big company that employs many Portuguese speaking workers." "It's not bad," another lady says, "to have some areas in this country where we can develop a certain intercultural communication." "Because of the breakdown of Eastern block and turmoil of Balkan Peninsula, number of people are rushing into Germany, France and Switzerland as unqualified workers and refugees," a middle-aged member says, "and this is drawing a negative reaction from the local people who suffer a long-lasting high unemployment rate." He says center-right groups in these countries are moving to close their borders to incoming people from other countries and promoting some xenophobic campaigns at home. "Countries such as Switzerland, however, definitely needs foreign workers at home," another member says, "they have long been depending on the cheap labor supplied by other countries." He says Japan with its rapidly aging society will have to take the same way in the near future in order to keep its economic prosperity.



(Bush and Gore debate issues)
"An excellent debater doesn't always get plaudits of the public," says a middle-aged member, "Al Gore, Democratic presidential candidate, known as a powerful debater couldn't overwhelm his Republican opponent George W. Bush at the Boston debate." He says Gore was not much liked by American TV viewers for his aggressive, offensive attitude towards his talking partner quoting too many detailed data and numbers, as well as even some wrong information, although he could score a marginal victory in the instant poll right after the TV program. "At the second debate this week, Gore modified his attitude from combative style to dialog interactions," the participant continues, "but Bush was liked this time as Gore seemed to have tried too much to subdue his sharpness." He asks, "How should a debater perform in public?" "If he tries to be a debater, he is not liked by ordinary people," he further says, "in this club, we often exercise debating. Why it doesn't work in public?" "If Gore was not successful," says a member who occasionally teaches here what debate is, "he's not a real debater." He says debating helps speakers structure rationally their opinions to convince other people. "Just to show that one attacks the opponent aggressively by each time catching its partner tripping is not the purpose of debating," he says, "it's a high-school debate skill." "I think Gore will come back on his own track next time, and if he is qualified, he will win the debate," says the debate specialist, "because debating doesn't only shows simple skills and techniques, but spotlights more personality and contents of speakers."

(IF Osaka)

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(National census 2000)
"Japan is taking a national census today," says an aged participant, "already this morning, a census taker visited us and took up the filled-out form." The country is holding its lustral census today (October 1) to grasp its residents' status and the intercensal change in the vital events. "My wife is busy today," a middle-aged member says, "since she works as one of the census takers." He says the part-time job pays his wife reasonable wage, but she must work hard in taking up, in her case, one hundred filled-out forms from each and every household in her territory. "There are still many residents who are less cooperative," he says, "my wife seems visiting them many times as they are often away from home at the appointed time." "Of course, she doesn't talk with me about her job," he further says, "because she handles a strictly confidential business." "I don't understand those questions in the census form," says one lady, "are they meaningful questions?" She doubts whether those search items, such as academic background, divorce record, job status and housing conditions, are only important and representative to tell the country's population movement. "The survey must be either much simpler," another participant says, "or with many more questions covering wishes and frustrations of people." He says this is the only occasion that all residents, 126 million people, in this land are approached and questioned by the government as the average national election generally covers only around 50% of the country's electorates. This shouldn't be utilized simply for fact-findings, but collect valuable information how residents think about their community and about themselves living in the country.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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Updated on: January 25, 2001