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"The latest white paper on the developing gender-free society in Japan has been just issued," says a senior member, "and it reports that women are still not treated properly in the job market." It is only 3 percent of working women who earn an annual income more than 7 million yen, while 25 percent of male employees earn such an income. 90 percent of male employees are full-fledged while more than 50 percent of female workers are temping. If we look at those members in local assemblies, over 50 percent of the nation's 3,300 local councils do not have any female representative elected by the local resident.. "Working for a public school," says one lady, "I don't feel any inequality in entreatment between men and women." Gender Equality is most advanced in the educational circle. We see many woman schoolmasters these days in primary and middle schools. "I think it's very much different in the private sector," says another lady, "in our company, women are not often given training programs and challenges for new activities." She says the society and general public are very slow in accepting a gender-free culture. "Women are getting tougher," says an aged participant, "these days, there's an increasing number of divorces that are initiated by the wife's side." The divorce rate will increase significantly in the society where male-chauvinism shrinks . Last year, some 260 thousand divorces took place while 790 thousand couples started a married life in Japan. "There is an interesting record," says a senior member, "during the period from Edo to early Meiji, the divorce rate was much much higher." It was more than 40 percent in those days. And most divorces were initiated by the request of the wife. The number, however, dropped dramatically around 1880 when the census registration law was revised to give power of decision to the household head. Even though women wanted to divorce their husbands, they became unable to get an easy agreement. Then, there came such a stereotype that divorce is immoral. Divorced women were stigmatized by relatives and neighborhood and had to live on quietly in the community. "Now, we are coming back," says the member, "divorces are getting no more stigma to the eye of the general public today." So, gender-free society advances much more quickly in marriage than in the job market.
(Telecommuting becomes fashionable?)
"Nearly half of Europe's employers use information technology to work at a distance," says a senior member, "and E-work is most extensive in Finland, above 70 per cent of employers, but low for France, 30 per cent." Finland owns the world biggest cellphone company, Nokia Mobile Phones. Home-based teleworking is still rare, provided by a small number of employers. With time, however,, many employers will use modern technology to allow employees to work at home. Today, employees do not have to flock together at worksites. Jobs are becoming rather individual than a teamwork. They can be easily done at home. "Telecommuting will save our precious time to commute everyday," says a middle-aged participant, "but for some, it will be tough to work alone without being timely given proper work instructions from their supervisors." Particularly, working alone at home needs to sharpen concentration. "You must be as much productive as being in the office," says one lady, "you need to provide a suitable working environment at home." A large number of people have now signed up for jobs to be offered by manpower supply companies. Some jobs offered there can be done at home on the personal computer hooked up on the intranet or Internet. "In future, businesses will use more subcontractors for the piecemeal deskwork," says a participant, "those skilled workers registered in the manpower supply system will cover outsourcing by businesses." There will be no more a geographical handicap. "Even in the educational area, you may become able to study in classes at Tokyo University on the Internet," says one lady, "and you will be exactly qualified as one of those graduates from the elite university." People do not have any longer to work in group. "But they are still in groups of competing colleagues," says a senior member, "among those registered in the manpower, only 50 percent could get a job regularly these days." People cannot stand individually. Jobs they do benefit wealth for their family members, for local communities, for the country and for the world. Telecommuting should not contribute to further penetration of individualism in the public. It should play only a role to promote the overall productivity in the society.
(Capital punishment, not vengeance?)
"Tomorrow, in the United States, the first federal execution since 1963 will be held," says a senior participant, "Timothy McVeigh, 33-year-old Gulf War veteran, is going to be executed for the April 19, 1995, attack in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people." More than half the world's nations have abolished capital punishment in law or in practice. Still, 1,500 people were executed last year by 29 different governments. Nearly 90 percent of those executed was put to death in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States. "Among the industrialized countries, only the United States and Japan still keep the death penalty," says the participant, "the trend is clear." For some inmates who committed hideous crimes, the death penalty must be relief from the hardship of life imprisonment. "The scene of execution is no more cruel," says another member, "the death penalty is given by lethal injection, neither by hanging nor by the electric chair." The process is calm and peaceful. It is a state-assisted suicide, or a doctor-assisted suicide. "It won't effect anymore a sense of vengeance in mind for the victim's family," says one lady, "because the killed victim couldn't take such a peaceful death." The victim's family naturally wishes to see the killer be killed exactly as in the way the offender attacked the victim. "I feel compassion for the family having lost children in the knife massacre at an elementary school in Ikeda," says one lady who is a school teacher, "parents and teachers must be consuming themselves with hatred." Last Friday, a 37-year-old knifeman who is said to have been mentally disturbed killed eight pupils in a rampage at their school. "The culprit will be put to the death penalty," says a senior member, "if he is certified to have been able to take criminal responsibility." There are many cases in which mentally troubled people, even after being arrested, return to society and cause another shocking incident. We must admit there is a defect in the country's legal system. "Back to the subject of execution," says one middle-aged participant, "it's carried out in Japan always behind the curtain while, in the United States, the related information is more disclosed to the public, and in China, the execution is even conducted in public." Capital punishment is therefore not designed in Japan to serve as a lesson. "These days, there is an increasing number of the case that the offender's family faces a damage suit at the civil trial," a senior member says, "and the blood money is very expensive." Some have to pay it by writing a sensational biography about the killer.
(People like to live alone)
"The trend in 1990s is for more people to live alone," says a senior member, "according to census data 2000 in the United States." The number of Americans living alone surpassed finally that of married couples with children. Among 105 million households for the total head-count population, 272 million, 25 percent is filled only with one resident living in isolation. Divorces and unmarried births increase the number of households for single mothers and single fathers. The central place of marriage in our family is no more valuable. Straight live-in couples, couples living with partners and couples without children are increasing. "We drive the same direction in Japan," says one lady, "people living alone look affluent." There are businesses and infrastructures supporting people living in isolation. "Convenience shops help them a lot with frosted foods and boxed meals," says a middle-aged participant, "and the Internet will also assist them very much down the road in banking and other public procedures." They don't see value any longer in living mixed with family members. "My daughter, however, always says she wouldn't marry but stay with her parents," a lady says, "she likes to enjoy being a parasite." Her daughter feels very comfortable at home. Her mother does the cooking and cleaning. Her father is always willing to drive for her homecoming. "My husband is happy and responsible whenever he receives a phone call from our daughter at the nearby station," she continues, "he never hesitates to pull his car out of the garage and drive downward." While social isolation is concerned with the growing number of one-person households on one hand, people living together with family members are not concerned about family ties at home on the other hand. "They stay at home in isolation," says one gentleman, "they don't enjoy communication with each other." Household members are all in their private room and do something for their own." But we do not have to be pessimistic. The trend changes sometimes. For example, the divorce rate and unmarried births are leveling off in the United States. Sooner or later, people may revalue the traditional lifestyle, marriage and family ties.
(Controversial book on Emperor Showa)
After introducing the book "Hirohit and the Making of Modern Japan" written by Herbert P. Bix, American historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, a middle-aged participant briefs his argument, "The message given in the book depends very much on the author's interpretation of the available memoranda left by those people having surrounded Emperor Showa that tell how Hirohito was involved in World War II." Though, in Japan, Hirohito is remembered as a helpless figurehead to the general public, Bix suggests Japanese to face the subject once again and look how he performed actually during those wars with China and the United States. "I still believe he was a pacifist," says a senior member, "and he made his efforts to avoid wars." He says the Imperial Constitution was not written to allow Emperor Showa to execute the veto over proposals made by the belligerent cabinet. "But he could end the war based on his own decision," another participant says, "under the same constitution." It looks there were still many cabinet members who insisted to continue fighting America and never to accept Potsdam Declaration. "However Hirohito is characterized," says an aged participant, "it's undeniable that he was the head of the state." Some people think he should have taken his personal responsibility. "In a sense," one lady says, "it was Douglas MacArthur who made this ambiguous solution since he needed Hirohito for managing the Japanese public without any potential problems." Today, Emperor is the symbol of the unity of the people in Japan. He is now really a helpless figurehead and, even if he is personally a strong pacifist, he has no power to prevent the nation from making another reckless drive.
(Still acquisitive at age 89))
"Why does he need money at age 89?" a senior participant briefs his argument over the case of Hiroo Mizushima, the former chairman of bankrupt department store operator Sogo Co. Police arrested Mizushima on suspicion he hid assets from creditors. The amount he tried to hide in personal assets after Sogo's bankruptcy in July is 156 million yen. "As senior person, I can't understand his idea," says the gentleman, "that amount is hardly spent in the rest of his life." "For example," he continues, "I have no intention to leave my personal assets to children." He says he would spend all what he has saved and what he still receives today. Therefore, he says, with age, we need money less and less. "Mizushima is a poor guy," says one lady, "he helped Sogo for its business loans on his personal guarantee." This is not always done by other corporate executives even though their operations face difficulty. In such big companies, they do not normally borrow company's operational funds from banks against their personal assets. "Having said so, however," says a middle-aged participant, "Sogo bankruptcy is Mizushima's fault." Mizushima expanded his operation too much. Even in post-bubble years, Sogo continued opening its new stores nationwide and in overseas without any clear-cut business plans. Banks finally hesitated to give loans for Sogo's limitless development. Therefore, Mizushima had to offer his personal guarantee for additional loans. "It's pity Mizushima couldn't spend peaceful days any longer," says the senior member, "while not so many years are left for him." Mizushima could have stayed away from such an effort to hide his distrained assets. For the elderly, money should make way for something more valuable.
(Leprosy ruling faces no further appeal)
"Two weeks ago, I joined a petition campaign recommended by one of my friends," says one young lady, "and I sent the e-mail to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi asking not to appeal the case to a higher court." "Then, I heard the news with emotion," she briefs her compathy over the bold decision made by Koizumi. "The story is terrible," she says, "I wonder why nobody could save these patients earlier." Government officials and legislatures accused in the ruling had not taken any action until five years ago to scrap the outdated Leprosy Prevention Law. "Something wrong took place some 35 years ago," says a senior participant, "when an official in the Health Ministry tried to initiate nullification of the law based on the WHO recommendation." Patient associations were looking forward to it. Some politicians supported it. "But there was a big power, Dr. Mitsuda, who was tyrannizing authoritatively the leprology circle in those days," says the senior member, "and he disagreed strongly to the proposal." On the contrary, the doctor even suggested the government to further tighten the segregation law. "You see, we have an exactly similar case today," says the member, "on the issue of HIV-poisoned blood products, Prof. Abe of Teikyo University played his role to produce many AEDS patients because Abe opposed immediate introduction of heated blood drugs about 15 years ago and even threatened his colleagues who were positive on the idea." So-called center of competence does not work positively in these cases. "And the media is helpless either," says another member, "they never reported those campaigns held by leprosy patients in those days." The media caters to the public and do not report what people would not like to learn. "So, in the end, we are guilty ourselves," says a middle-aged participant, "neither politicians nor legislatures."
(Nicknaming effects harmony)
"Most great apes such as gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orang-utans could be extinct in five years' time," says an aged participant, "and the United Nations Environment Programme just launched a programme to save them." The main threats to their survival include war, the bushmeat trade, loss of habitat, and poaching for trophies and souvenirs. Along with elephants, the great apes are the gardeners of the African and South East Asian forests. The UN Ape Alliance says that, during this year, thousands more orang-utans have been killed or driven from their forests by illegal loggers. and thousands more gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos have been also killed for bushmeat. "By the way," says the participant, "among those naturalists in study of the ape, Japanese scientists seem to have talents for identifying individuals in the ape group under observation." This is not an easy task for zoologists from other countries as monkeys look all the same in the group. Japanese do not only see the face form and physicality, but combine them with the specific mannerism of the individual in its daily activity. "First job Japanese do in observing an ape group is to nickname each individual," says the aged member, "and such names always imply some linkage with peculiarity that each individual demonstrates." Nicknaming must have an effect to warm up the relation between apes and observers. "In our daily life, we do the same," says one lady, "and, by doing so, we can have a friendly atmosphere in the group and society." For example, the current Koizumi cabinet draws the highest public support ever. And some cabinet members got the nickname. Then, names are not such a sarcastic one that is usually given to a politician, but rather a cozy nickname. This means people like to keep Koizumi in his original motivation towards the political and economical crusade.
(Darkness makes immune systems work)
"A recent TV program says darkness is essential in human life," says an aged participant, "the immune systems of animals grow weak if there's artificial light at night." Scientists just discovered that, only when it's really dark, our body could produce the hormone called melatonin. Melatonin fights diseases, such as breast and prostate cancer. Melatonin turns off the cancer cells from growing. But if there's even a little light around our bed at night, our melatonin production switches off. "These days, many people sleep at night in a room where they keep their TV turned on, or at least a small light through the night," says a middle-aged member, "many people seem to be nyctophobia or nectiphobia, and they couldn't stay in a dark and noiseless room." In general, we must feel a certain sense of security in the darkness of night. It must be a natural physiological reaction for all God's creatures. "When my son's wife gave birth to her first baby," says another member, "she did it underwater, and she remembers she felt very much relaxed at that time because the delivery room was rather dark and her labor was not spotlighted." All physical beings give birth in a dark place. They select instinctively their safest delivery spot. For them, the bright spot forces them to keep a sharp watch on their enemies. "I usually keep the small light on while I sleep in my room," says a middle-aged participant, "but my family members don't like it and always turn the light off whenever they come across it." He says his family members are not cautious about the potential diseases of their head of household, but they are simply the cheapskate. They think they can save some electricity by doing so. "Anyway, darkness at night, without any artificial light, will provide people with a healthy life," says an aged member, "with the lifestyle of energy conservation and with the beauty of stars in the sky."
(Child-rearing extends life expectancy)
"The average life expectancy is longer for women than for men," says an aged participant, "and this looks same for most ape species." There must be some biological reasons for this sexual difference. Also men generally take a higher risk in life than women. Men have to protect and support family members at their peril. "Amongst the ape, however," says the participant, "some monkey species including a kind of gibbons present a longer life expectancy for males." Zoologists have found that in the world of such monkeys, males are looking after the child-rearing while, in other groups, females do this job. "Today, neuroscientists are concluding that women have much more developed right-brain than men have," says another member, "and both sexes have an equally developed left-brain." This means those provided with a developed right-brain is much more capable of having a big hand in child-rearing. "I understand such a theory," says one lady. "Child raising is not a logical performance, but we need to be emotional and instinctive." In today's society, however, ever-increasing number of women are joining businesses, politics and other activity areas that have been almost dominated by men. "And there are ever-increasing number of men who share child-care and housework at home," says another participant, "I think men will eventually have also a developed right-brain and thus a longer life expectancy than those women who are freed from household routines." "With regard to the country-specific life expectancy," says an aged member, "India is unique with a longer life for men." In the country, traditional male-chauvinism coupled with poverty causes a shorter life expectancy for women. Among the poor, when parents have their kids becoming ill, only boys are taken to a doctor. Therefore, the child mortality rate is higher for girls. Boys are regarded as important workforces for the family. "India will change rapidly and join other countries," says one gentleman, "but nobody knows how mankind develops and evolves biologically with centuries."
(Second-hand goods on sale)
"Last weekend, Takatsuki City held one of its annual events, Jazz Street 2001," says one lady, "I and my husband enjoyed a program at the Jonan Park Saturday evening." For the jazz festival, many musicians including Toshiko Akiyoshi, pianist, came to Takatsuki and gave a performance at various concert spots. Residents in Takatsuki and many visitors from other places enjoyed the festival. "My daughter together with her friends joined a flea market organized just besides the jazz performance at the park," says the lady, "they sold second-hand articles there., clothes, foot gears and sundries, and could book 30,000-yen sales." Recycled articles are drawing public attention these days. "People don't care them brand new or second-hand," says one gentleman, "and people positively take them as long as prices are reasonable and their quality is acceptable." Businesses dealing with old clothes are increasing. "We see many rag shops today in town," an aged member says, "those 40-year-old scenes where people used to buy secondhand clothes at such shops are coming back." Clothes and other sundries are also made in Asian countries these days and sold cheaply to Japanese consumers. And quality of such imported products are fully accepted here. "Even the Japanese ethnic costume, kimono, is now made in China," says a participant, "it will be no more an expensive article for women." Most newly marrying women are given several kimonos by their parents for use in some ritual occasions in the new family. "These kimonos are little used," says one lady, "for example, I have three mourning kimonos for three seasons, but I've never used the summer wear and the others are used only once or twice in a year." She says however each set of kimono costs nearly one million yen. Today, there are increasing number of women who wear no more Japanese kimonos at such ritual occasions. Lack of demand for kimonos is damaging the local kimono industry. Some old kimonos are revived as modern mockers depicting their original designs. So, the second-hand campaign is also rampant here.
(Japanese players in MLB)
"Some years ago, we talked about the brain drain from Japan's academic community," says an aged member, "and now, it seems such an outflow is taking place among the Japanese baseball icons." And those joined the U.S. MLB (Major League Baseball) are doing a good job. Kazuhiro Sasaki with his record 13 saves in a month and Ichiro Suzuki with his batting average 345 largely contributed to the Seattle Mariners winning their ninth straight and setting a major league mark with 20 April victories. Also recently, Hideo Nomo of the Boston Red Socks accomplished his second no-hitter in the MLB. "Those MLB games involving Japanese players are telecast in Japan," a middle-aged participant says, "these days, I'm interested in watching more such games than the local professional games." It looks a sharp decline in attendance is taking place at ballparks here. The audience rate is dropping on TV. The management team of the local professional baseball fears that their games are getting no more a spectator sport. "You see, the big stage is always in the United States," says a participant, "America takes all the first-class away from the world." "And we are losing the second and third either," the participant continues, "businesses are moving their production operations offshore, to Asian countries for example." We would become totally hollow. We are scrapping all local resources ranging from food articles to entertainment programs. Could we, however, keep buying them?
(Journey into space by American millionaire)
"Last week, I made a two-day bus tour to Okuhodaka hot spring," says a gentleman, "the tour program was wonderful and costed me only 11,000 yen." His 500-km round trip included a cherry-blossom viewing, an enjoyable stay at a hillside hot-spring hotel and the fantastic view of Alps from the top of Mt. Okuhodaka. "You made such a horizontal trip for 11,000 yen," an aged member says, "but there's a guy in the world who's going to make a 350-km vertical trip for 2.4 billion yen." The Russian space agency will send a paying tourist, California millionaire Dennis Tito, 60, to the international space station from the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at the end of the month. The flight team includes two professional cosmonauts and Tito who paid up to $20 million to the cash-strapped Russian space agency for the 10-day round trip excursion into orbit. "Many years ago, there was a popular film depicting a science fiction about the interplanetary travel in 2001," says one member, "though we are already in 2001, we seem to be very much behind the realm of the movie's science fiction." The little step by the American millionaire is timely reminding us of the old movie although his attempt could little catch up with those scenes we enjoyed in our younger days. "There are many millionaires not only in the United States but also in Japan," says one member, "but it's sure that there will be no Japanese billionaire who attempts to cost himself a fortune to go off on such adventures." Anyway, for most people, it must be more therapeutic to make an 11,000-yen round trip to a hot-spring spot than to be boosted to a dry space station 350km from the ground.
(Price competition in fast food service)
"The quality was normal," says one participant who tried recently Yoshinoya's 250-yen gyudon, a beef bowl, "I think the present price competition in the food service industry is a welcome trend for consumers." In order to beef up their sales, fast-food chains have reduced drastically prices of their gyudon dishes. "I also attempted to have one in Ginza the other day," says another member, "but I gave it up because I had to stand in long line for a while." After the price cuts, such fast-food companies are having a higher number of customers and their sales are climbing more than 10 percent. "For us women, Yoshinoya is not a friendly spot," says one lady, "it's always full with men all around snatching a gyudon quietly and dismally." For women and schoolgirls, McDonalds started earlier a special weekday pricing, about 50 percent price cut. "I think the nationwide food demand must be unchanged," an aged participant says, "so, such general price cuts mean that the total cost of meals by Japanese people is dropping. Isn't this deflation?" There are still rooms for productivity improvement by fast-food companies and they are now making efforts to streamline their operations. However, everybody cannot win the game on the limited size of pie. "Winners are all right," says a middle-aged member, "but there will be many losers and unemployed people who must often work as part-timers for a small hourly rate." It seems the hourly rate paid to part-timers who are the dominant employees in fast-food outlets is getting lower than that was five years ago. But it is still the most expensive in the world. "It's nearly a deflationary spiral," says an aged member, "consumers will have less incomes, then far less spending and companies achieve less sales, a vicious circle." The government therefore concluded last week an emergency economic plan that would attempt to solve the bad-loan mess at banks and boost the stock market in Japan. "Since so-called one-coin husbands, being given only a 500-yen coin for daily expenses by their wives, are prevalent today,," says one lady, "250-yen gyudon dishes will help them a lot." Most participants do not believe that these fast-food chains could keep their price cut campaign forever.
(High tech closet recommends what to wear)
The newly developed Web-linked wardrobe, Internet-commloset, may help you in solving your routine problems every morning what to wear. "This will perhaps save my precious time every morning," says one lady, "but at the same time, it's pity if my own decision is no more needed." The high tech closet suggests you the most appropriate outfit for the day based on information about your day's activities and weather forecast as well as your individuality. "Perhaps, I'll have a quarrel with the wardrobe every morning," says a young lady, "and it would be fun for me trying to be vicious." In five years, technology will lead us to the lifestyle where all everyday objects around us have both intelligence and the ability to communicate by the marriage of the Web and the further advanced smart sensors. "One day, even a carrot in your refrigerator will voice its message," says an aged member, "please use me now, I'm going off!" Some participants say this is no more the utopia for human beings if they are all directed what to do next by the computer. Aren't we all slaves of modern technology?
(Holding wedding ceremonies abroad)
A recent survey reported that about 20 percent of newly marrying couples chose to hold their wedding ceremonies in foreign countries. And this is on the rise. "One of my friends also held her wedding in Guam sometime ago," says one lady, "although I couldn't join the wedding, some invitees told me they'd enjoyed it and the associated overseas trip." The survey says the average number of people who attending such a wedding ceremony abroad is six. "The bridal industry is looking at this trend," says a middle-aged member, "the proceeding is all organized perfectly for the couple and its accompanying crew." Having a wedding ceremony in foreign countries means the bride and groom do not have to invite their company bosses. It is certainly less expensive than having a formal wedding at a first-class hotel inviting many relatives, company colleagues and friends. "A no-frills' wedding is almost accepted these days in the society," says an aged member, "partly because of the current economic environment and diffusion of individualism." "In days of old, we made it for our community and relatives," says another aged participant, "and those spots where we honeymooned were Atami, Shirahama and Arima, all the suburban hot spring." Every participant laughs.
(Domoto wins Chiba governorship)
Akiko Domoto, 68, a former House of Councilors member, on March 25 won the Chiba gubernatorial election without the support of any political party. She joins the governors of Osaka and Kumamoto as the nation's third female governor. "The election followed the resignation of former Governor Takeshi Numata having served for 20 years," says one gentleman who lived in the prefecture until recently, "Numata did a good job there, such as Narita Airport, Disneyland and the road along the bay." Chiba residents, which is often described as an "LDP kingdom," chose Domoto, an independent candidate, as did residents of Nagano and Tochigi prefectures in earlier elections. "Over time, the mix of Chiba's constituency shifted very much," says the gentleman, "those lately joined residents in large cities such as Chiba, Urayasu and Matsudo are no more conservative." Such people hate pork barrel politics run by the dominant ruling party, LDP. Now the LDP's April 24 presidential election, which will virtually decide the next prime minister, is nearing. In their election campaign, former health minister Junichiro Koizumi, 59, with his radical plan to crusade his party and the country, is contrasting sharply with three other candidates, former construction minister Shizuka Kamei, 64, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, 63, and Economic Minister Taro Aso, 60. The front-runner Hashimoto seems to be losing support among the party members due to his unsavory image. Here at our Round Table, Koizumi wins popularity, but not overwhelmingly.
(Expectant mothers look for maternity homes)
"Today, for giving a birth, young expectant mothers are eager to find out a maternity home," says one lady who trains students becoming a midwife, "there are ever-decreasing number of maternity homes in our society. We have only two in this big city, Takatsuki." Young women prefer maternity homes to big hospitals because the childbirth assisted by an experienced midwife seems to be more relaxing. They hate highly modernized hospitals where they should be connected with various sophisticated medical gadgets during the delivery. And doctors often easily decide a Caesarean birth. Young expectant mothers are looking for a maternity home on the Internet. "People are swinging back," says a middle-aged participant, "the natural childbirth is ideal for every expectant mother." If there is such a growing demand in public, maternity homes will come back soon. "My granddaughter was born in a water bath by the underwater delivery," says another member, "it looked fitting for both the mother and child." People sometimes praise and believe the latest technology, but often, they stop and rethink of it, and come back to a traditional manner.
(Excitement after survival game)
"When I was an inpatient in a six-bed all-male room," says an aged participant, "one day, we had a lady visitor from the room next door that was for six female inpatients." People enjoyed chatting for a while. They talked about their diseases and medical treatments. The lady told guys how her own surgical operation, mastectomy, had been done. "Then, to my surprise, she suddenly lifted her underwear and showed boys her breast," the participant continues, "I hated to see it, but I quickly confirmed she'd lost her brace and bit on one side." It was no more a tit show. The lady looked old enough, above 60 years old. "People must feel a certain sense of relief after successful surgical operations," says another participant, "and they become talking more about their own diseases and show proudly the evidence how bitter the challenge was." "That's correct, maybe," says one member, "one of my friends also showed me his seam of wound that had been made by a surgical operation to have his stomach cancer taken away." Usually, any third party would not feel like seeing the trace of such horrible surgical operations although the survivor is very positive to demonstrate it.
(New time table for Hankyu Line)
"Yesterday, the Hankyu Kyoto Line shifted to a new time table," says a participant, "then, my nearby station gets a deteriorated service, only 6 stopping trains an hour, two trains fewer than before." Suffering from an ever-decreasing number of passengers, Hankyu must now offer a better service than the competing JR does. But such improved services are majorly given to those passengers at Hankyu's important stations where they can choose one out of the two competing railways. During the past years, railway companies could not raise the fare because general consumer prices were stagnant. To improve the business bottom line, they had to make efforts to increase the number of passengers and streamline their own organizational operations. "The JR turned out user-friendly after it was privatized some 15 year ago," another member says, "particularly, between Kyoto and Kobe, they improved drastically both the fare and riding comfort." The ticket in the area was always cheaper by competing private railways up to about 5 years ago. Today, they almost offer an equal fare. And the JR is always faster getting to the destination. "So, the JR takes passengers remarkably from the private railway," says an aged member, "during the past 5 years, Hankyu is said to have lost 15 percent of its passengers." "It's nice railway companies compete with each other," says another participant, "but it's not always good for some people using local stations where they get services poorer and poorer." Free market economy is fated to create this gap between the mainline spot and the local ghost station. Publicness of railways will be ignored more and more by today's capitalist society.
(Criminal liability of corporate leaders)
"The former management team of Snow Brand Milk has just been indicted for causing a widespread food poisoning with its products last year," says an aged participant, "This is the first case the top management is charged with a criminal liability." In the past, only those employees who made the blunder directly were accused by police. "The former president of Snow Brand is said to have been not properly informed by his subordinates about the developing case," one lady says, "I rather feel sympathy for his responsibility." The team of Snow Brand management was meeting at a bar in Sapporo when they first heard the case developing serious. Yet, it looks they stayed there and did not take an immediate company-wide action. "I think the president has a comprehensive responsibility for the company's activities," says a middle-aged member, "if he insists he was not informed, it's his own fault that such poor communication prevailed in his organization." Stockholders' derivative actions will become rampant in Japan as companies must work on global standards in terms of the shareholder's interest. "Company president is no more an honorary post," says another member, "the title used for the post, CEO, implies he has full powers how to operate his company, and therefore, he is responsible for all the results." "In Japan, corporate management is not paid well enough for such tough responsibilities," says a lady, "they shouldn't be treated so cruelly." "Yes, they should be remunerated properly," says a middle-aged member, "there's a trend in the United States that they are receiving the ever-increasing average annual salary." So a modern company is run by a large number of cheaply paid rank-and-file employees and a very small number of highly paid leaders who take risks of incarceration. "Today, however, we see many Snow Brand products in shops and supermarkets," says an aged participant, "it seems people are no more punishing the company." Some say Snow Brand is offering a higher margin to those shops handling its products. It looks the mass population is forgetful and forbearing. "Well, this food poisoning case is not as serious as the arsen-milk case committed by Morinaga many years ago," says one lady, "the victims of the arsenic poisoning are still suffering today from the after effect." Anyway, Snow Brand is making efforts to regain its name and traditional share in the market, and they do this because they need to please their shareholders by achieving a much better bottom line in the next business term.
(Nobody pays risk money)
"I've lost about 20 percent value in my stock portfolio," says an aged participant, "particularly the NTT shares could never make me glad." "But, you do still better," says another aged man, "my stocks being for many years in salt have lost two-third of the average purchase value." Stock markets are getting gloomy everywhere. "In NASDAQ, the dot-com frenzy is over," says a member, "those spotlighted high-tech chips today turned out 'dot-gone" shares, they are no more 'dot-come' as they were one year ago." The NASDAQ plunge will certainly effect a spillover on the mainline blue-chip market. However, it is believed that American households would not pull out from the stock market. They would rather average down their cost of investments on this occasion and therefore don't take energy out of the market. The Japanese government has just confirmed that the country now suffers deflation. "Consumers feel happy about lowering retail prices," says a middle-aged member, "we don't know whether we really face a deflationary spiral." About 70 years ago, Japan, like many other industrialized countries in those days, experienced the great depression where a heavy deflationary spiral had taken place causing the rapid shrinkage of the nation's economic activity. "Can we imagine," the participant says, "that our nominal incomes shrink every year by 5-10 percent?" This will hit most debtors across the face as the relative value of their debts grows. "There will be bankruptcies and then many more jobless people," says a lady, "we will get caught in a vicious circle." The government is therefore trying to encourage people to invest their money in the stock market. Most of their money, estimated at 1,400 trillion yen, is now immobile at the savings account of banks and post offices. "Capitalism doesn't work unless gambling parlors make a good trade," an aged member says, "we need gamblers definitely to boost the country's economy." People's memories of those post-bubble troubles are still fresh. They say they have no risk money. And the local gaming room has not shown winners these few years. But in order to get rid of the vicious circle, we must be wise enough in taking individual risks at the parlor. We are on the boat of capitalism, and we like it.
(Developer's agony in Guam)
"I've been just transferred back from Guam," says a middle-aged participant who works for a bank, "during my two-year stay in Guam, I streamlined our business operations of the local hotel and golf links. His company developed a resort complex in Guam some ten years ago among other property developers who were in a race for having a similar activity. "Yet, we are not optimistic about our business in Guam," he further says, "today, price erosion takes place everywhere." Hotels and recreational facilities here are in competition with those in other tourist spots for Japanese. "90 percent of those visitors to the island are Japanese," he continues, "Guam receives one million Japanese visitors every year, being one of the five most popular destinations for Japanese." Guam can be reached by a three-hour flight and has little time difference from Japan. "Here and there, not only locally in Japan, you have such non-performing loans," says an aged participant, "it is hardly imaginable that each and every investment makes profit down the road." The government is now inclined to suggest banks to write off all such non-performing loans in this fiscal year. And if they need help in doing so, another infusion of taxpayers' money will be organized.
(Prepaid contracts for ceremonial occasions)
"I don't know it still prevails in Japan for people to make a prepaid contracts for potential family events," says an aged participant, "in the United States, there are numerous consumer complaints about prepaid funeral contracts." Recent ABC program reported there were complaints about fraud, abuse and high-pressure sales tactics aimed at the elderly. Salespeople often fail to tell their elderly customers the contracts - which supposedly cover every detail - often don't cover flowers, burial costs, vaults and police escorts. The American TV program says finally to the elderly if you really want to plan ahead for your funeral, just open a savings account. "My mother had membership of one of such mutual help systems, Gojokai, as she had paid 60-time 2,000 yen for five years," says the above participant, "then she died. But we didn't use that membership simply because we had forgotten all about it." And he says, even if his family used the funds, they would have paid the funeral home much money in addition since the benefit from the system could not manage a decent ceremony alone. "Yes, such membership is losing its value," says a middle-aged member, "recently, on planning a wedding, my relative's family decided to take the reasonable program offered by a downtown hotel rather than benefiting from its membership in a mutual help system." "Price slashing is taking place everywhere," says one lady, "all traditional ways of doing business are dropping out today." "On top of that," she continues, "the style of holding such a ritual ceremony as wedding or funeral has become diversified." Participants agree that stereotypes on such ceremonies are disappearing. Nobody gets pressure or peer pressure on its family programs these days either from among relatives or neighborhood. "Many young couples have a no-frills' wedding today," says a member, "I must plan a very simple funeral for myself." Participants recommend him to leave a clear-cut note behind so that his family could not try any other option. "In fact, I'm planning to write a will," says a middle-aged member, "that tells my family how the funeral must be held and how my small property must be shared by the members." "You do it already with your age," says an aged member, "I wouldn't think of my funeral ahead." He says he knows it comes. But at the moment, he will enjoy his affluent lifestyle.
(HIV-positive blood donations increase)
The ratio of HIV-positive donors has been increasing and is now more than three times higher than 10 years ago. "Sixty-seven out of some 6 million people who donated blood in 2000 were HIV positive," says an aged participant, "and several hundred people have been infected with HIV last year." A surveillance report says, in November and December, 39 people were newly reported to have developed AIDS and five people died from AIDS in the same period, raising the cumulative total of deaths from AIDS to 1,205 in Japan. "People have many more opportunities to visit those countries where AIDS is widespread," says a middle-aged member, "and we have many more visitors from such countries." "We should keep telling people AIDS is still around us," one lady says, "and they need to defend themselves properly against sexually transmitted diseases." "Today, those HIV-positive people could survive a longer life thanks to some effective medicines," says an aged member, "and the medicare system works for HIV-positive patients in most developed nations." About 70 percent of the world's AIDS sufferers, or 25.3 million people, are in Africa. Yet they receive only one percent of AIDS treatment drugs sold on the world market. "Many African countries spend only $10 per year on health care for each citizen," says a member from a pharmaceutical company, "they are unable to purchase drugs at any prices." Nevertheless, major drug companies did, under public pressure, recently promise to drop their prices in poor countries from $10,000 to about $1,000. "These companies alone should not be accused," a middle-aged participant says, they are always pressed by shareholders to maximize their business bottom lines and such high drug prices include the R&D investment for the future." Everybody agrees the broadening gap between rich and poor countries could not be bridged by activities of private companies. The international community must solve such a basic problem and improve the situation.
(Murder of British woman, Lucie Blackman)
"Some still believe Japan as one of the world's safest," one lady says, "but such stereotypes must be corrected now by foreign visitors." The dismembered body of missing British woman Lucie Blackman was discovered by police near a cave in Miura. "In Japan, there are also maniacs like Joji Obara," she says, "Lucie should have been cautious about Obara's invitation." Wealthy property developer Joji Obara, 48, is still denying involvement in the murder case. "I think Japanese police did a good job," says a middle-aged member, "and the British media had pushed for an extensive campaign searching for the missing woman." British Prime Minister Tony Blair even told his concern about the case during his talks with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori at the Okinawa Summit last summer. "Did the Japanese media and government make a similar effort when a Japanese girl was murdered in Britain some years ago?" the member questions, "or could the Japanese media sustain with the local criticism against the U.S. submarine hitting and sinking the Ehime Maru on its rapid ascend a few weeks ago?" There are many foreign bar hostesses working in the country's hot spots. Most of them including Lucie Blackman are said to be illegal aliens who work on a tourist visa, or on an expired visa. One lady participant asks, "What could be the search campaign, if the victim was not British but Filipino?" There must be many foreigners in illegal residence who are among the missing, or staying incommunicado. They will go in the drain unless somebody, either their home government or the local media, initiates a search campaign.
"I smiled when I read the expression - ecstatic frenzy of recession-mongering - in the recent Washington Post," says an aged participant, "it sarcastically insists the media is responsible for pulling the consumer confidence down." A nationwide concern about the economic slowdown has prevailed since last autumn in the United States. And this made other countries worry because they thought they could not stand without support of prosperous America. "I think, besides the media reports, you like by nature hearing the bad news that affects primarily other people than yourself," says one lady, "thus, the tabloid show on TV wouldn't sell if it treats only good news." "But I doubt people are influenced really by such negative reports by the media," a middle-aged member says, "in fact, most consumers have had things enough." People could take a pause in spending their money. Particularly in the United States, people have been spending money during the past 9 years but have not meantime built up their savings at all. By contrast, during the same period, the private cash saving of Japanese people has snowballed to 1.4 quadrillion yen, most of which is frozen at banks and post offices. "If a portion of such money is put into the stock market," says an aged member, "the Japanese economy will show a different scene." He says America has taken always a right economic policy and they will certainly achieve so-called soft landing and a sustainable development down the road. Another member asks, "Why do we need to develop endlessly with our economy?" This question should be seriously taken up by the media now.
(Human genome uncovered)
"It's interesting human beings are genetically 99.8 percent identical regardless of race or looks," says a middle-aged member, "and with regard to the number of genes, they are only twice as more sophisticated as a fruit fly is." Just recently, researchers for the Human Genome Project have identified and placed in order the 3.1 billion-unit long sequence that makes up the human DNA. "About 30,000 genes were found to be significant for characterizing human beings," says a participant who is Doctor of Pharmacy, "but there are many others in the human DNA that have been not yet known about their significance of existence." In the future, people will have access to a medicine based on their own, individual gene. "Tailor-made medicines will certainly benefit the sick in future," another member says, "but the individual gene profile could be abused by businesses, for example, on employing the person, or on selling life insurance policies." Invasion-of-privacy on the medical heritage must be legally prevented. "Although some say human beings are genetically identical," says one lady, "the 0.2 percent variation is still very diverse." Such a small difference is indeed driving people to discriminate against socially. The rich will benefit from this technology," a middle-aged member says, "they would even clone a baby in future if they think themselves a super human." There are some scientists who support the cloning technology. Such advocates attempt to give children to those married couples who are diagnosed as being infertile. But ...
(Privacy protection by novelists)
The semiautobiographical novel "Ishi ni Oyogu" written by Yu Miri was just accused by the Tokyo High Court for its inappropriate depiction about the used model as its fictional character. "This is an everlasting subject for novelists," says one lady, "historic novelists, such as Dazai Osamu, Shimazaki Toson and Shiga Naoya, all suffered such criticism." It is however understandable that the woman model who was suffering from a malady on her face felt her privacy having been invaded. "It's difficult to make both ends meet, freedom of expression and privacy protection," says an aged participant, "but what happens, if this was published in English outside Japan?" And if the same novel is published 50 years later, there will be no one in life who claims its privacy damage. "These days, political correctness is also binding novelists' freedom of expression," says another member, "even some historic novels could not be read in public because they contain some discriminatory expressions." Over time, this will change to the taste of the contemporary human.
(Hitachi downsizes back-offices)
"Hitachi intends to drastically reduce its stuff members in the general affairs and personnel administrations," says a middle-aged member, "the company is going to introduce a new computer system which enables its 60,000 employees at all workplaces to settle their personal documents such as status-change reports and expense accounts by interacting with PCs at work or at home." The company will invest about 10 billion yen on the new computer system, but they think it pays as they can save substantial manpower in the back-office. For example, the company will stop handing each employee his or her monthly wage slip. Employees must read their monthly pay statement on individual PC screens. "So-called paperless management will be achieved here," says an aged participant, "but I doubt whether all employees could follow the system, some may always need office girls to help them fiddling with the keyboard or the mouse." He quotes the satirical poem written by a salaryman, "LAN runs, my fuse box runs off, and my mind runs away." The LAN (local area network) prevails in most businesses these days. But there are still many workers who have been left out in the cold from the ever-developing interactive tool, mainly due to their own digital illiteracy. "In 5-10 years, such people, mostly aged or middle-aged, will also have to fiddle with some digital gadgets in their lives even outside their workplaces," says another member, "the declaration of tax returns, resident register, banking and shopping will be made on the Internet much easily and at low cost." Those left out can still live on their own traditional ways in the modern society, but they must pay an additional bill for that. They must pay a higher charge for the same service. "By the way, where are they going, those dumped by the company's restructuring?" a middle-aged participant questions, "Are there enough jobs developing in the labor market for these people?" "They will have jobs anyway," says another member, "but they will have to do with a reduced hourly rate." A certain work-sharing system works here in the cheap labor market for most of those kicked out of the final game, namely, trying to get a job even for a lower hourly rate. The above aged guy quotes another satirical poem, "My annual income, just a three-day portion, that of Ichiro, the baseball star." There will be a heavy polarization in this capitalism society. There will be a handful of billionaires and a bunch of middle-class people who don't realize that they themselves are in fact the poorest in the society.
(Confucian ethic revives in China)
"It's interesting," says an aged participant, "political leaders in China, once the fanatic believer of Marxism and then of Little Red Book, are beginning to revalue Analects of Confucius." In the past, Chinese communists believed that the Confucian ethic could only work to benefit the capitalist's interest. They had long been denouncing all religious activities including Confucianism. "How does this change come?", he further says, "Perhaps, Chinese people begin to feel they need a certain moral education to run healthily their society." Chinese government is now clamping down on the activity of Falun Gong. However, on the other hand, the government might have learned why such a semireligious organization should have developed. It looks Chinese people are in need of another philosophical backbone, after Marxism or Little Red Book. "So reintroduction of Confucianism by the country's leaders is understandable," another member says, "but it's interesting to see how China is changing." In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori seems still to believe that the content of Imperial Rescript on Education, established more than 100 years ago and nullified after World War II, is not bad and even applicable to a certain extent to the drafting of new fundamental law of education. "I hate such an idea," says another aged member, "he doesn't have to particularly quote the old rescript that has a strong tie with Japanese militarism." And some parts of the content touching moral education such as filial piety, brotherhood and neighborly love are of course meaningful, but such points are nothing special for the Imperial Rescript but just common sense. "Anyway, it's interesting to know," says a middle-aged participant, "that in China, a 2,600-year-old philosophy comes back and, in Japan, an 100-year-old moral rescript is spotlighted." It looks a materialistic society cannot live on its own.
(Children flare, teachers apologize easily)
"The other day, a public school teacher tried to explain to his class what a sword is," says a middle-aged member, "for the explanation, he had brought a real Japanese sword into the class." The story was then picked up by parents and the media. Although it was soon found that the sword was not a real one and the teacher was just trying to teach Japanese chivalry in his class, the schoolmaster immediately apologized in public saying the teacher had been incautious. "I doubt why such adults as teachers, corporate executives and politicians apologize so easily these days," the member says, "while children often feel a sense of rage, lose self-control and then never show remorse." We must scrutinize our attitude being too flexible and not demanding. "Culture of apology is no more typical only for Japanese," an aged participant says, "in the United States, such a first-to-apologize strategy is now considered effective by businesses to avoid troublesome litigation arguments down the road with consumers." In the past, western people would rarely admit they had been wrong and always tried to defend their positions looking for any excuse to justify their behavior. In Japan, those who try to excuse what they have done are regarded effeminate. "Is it what the teacher tried to teach in class?" another member says, "First-to-apologize must not be a part of 'bushido' Japanese chivalry." Bushido rather ask people to act with confidence and not to put up with any injustice.
(Retail prices are falling)
"Last week, the government announced the declining consumer price index," says an aged member, "it says consumer prices fell by 0.4% last year compared to the previous year." It is not bad for consumers to see falling retail prices. "But, of course, your monthly income will also meantime decline accordingly," he continues, "the pension benefit, for example, is yearly adjusted by law according to the CPI development." The government is now worried about deflationary spiral taking place further in Japan. "If it's deflation due to the country's long-lasting ailing economy," says another participant, "Japan will quickly lose its economic power in the world." Today, China, for instance, records its GDP already one-third of Japan's. And it is growing at 8-10% a year. China will catch up with Japan in economic power within 7 years if Japan's nominal GDP grows, or even falls, in the present manner. "Perhaps, we are enjoying the last comfortable moment for consumers," another aged member says, "because it's clear that Japan must head sooner or later for days of violent inflation." So called bond dystopia will eventually hit the country with its heavy debt, 666 trillion yen or 1.3 times its GDP at the end of the fiscal 2000. "Still, I think it's good," says a middle-aged member, "the 12-year-old gift coupon just found in my desk drawer has now far stronger buying power at the store than it had in those days." During the past five years, a very low interest rate has been prevailing on household savings at financial institutions. But such money has also increased its buying strength. You can buy with such unproductive money at banks more home appliances, more clothing items, much broader land and much bigger houses than you could ten years ago.
(Blackouts in California)
"Deregulation doesn't always benefit consumers, you see," says an aged participant who worked many years for an electricity company, "we should avoid having the similar case in Japan." Last week, California suffered rotating blackouts as utility companies could not purchase enough electricity from the whole sale supplier who had worried about the financial position of such companies. "Utility deregulation is still an important issue for Japanese," says another aged member, "utility prices are very expensive here, 2-3 times of those in the United States or Canada." On the 1996 legislation, California implemented a jug-handled deregulation, namely, it deregulated the whole sale electricity market but kept freezing rate hikes for consumers. In those days, everybody thought a competitive situation induced by deregulation would bring the power price downward, never upward. The area had a very hot summer last year and is now with a very cold winter. Local utility companies have not meantime invested on new power generation plants but kept buying electricity from the whole sale market because this could only contribute to their bottom lines. As energy prices went up last few months and the whole sale market became speculative, the supply price of electricity skyrocketed. "It's a bad idea to involve public lifelines in free market economy," says the electric retiree, "Japanese power companies are supplying consumers with the world best power quality, which needs some costs of maintenance." He says Japan should keep its high quality standard in the nationwide power supply. An easy deregulation will jeopardize the country's industrial system. "But still our electricity bill is incomparable among other countries," says a middle-aged member, "we should make up a reasonable deregulation system." He says Japanese power companies are still enjoying their monopoly business and are too conservative in streamlining their operations. Telecommunications are now thrown into a somewhat competitive battlefield. And this is gradually benefiting Japanese consumers.
(Young people are never on their best behavior)
In recent years, unruly behavior by young people has marred city-run Coming-of-Age Day ceremonies. Particularly this year, public opinions are very tough to those ceremonies held in Kagawa, Kochi, Saitama and Okinawa where several young boys behaved badly and destroyed the proceeding. "Young people joining the ceremony just came for a reunion party," says one young lady who attended one just two years ago, "they were eager to have a talk with their old local friends." Most of young people got separated some years ago, after graduation of the local middle school and high school, and then took their individual courses. "We were not interested in speeches of those guests of honor at the ceremony," she says, "almost nobody was paying attention to the speaker, but they were busy in talking loudly with friends, or over the telephone." Some local governments are almost deciding to suspend holding such a ceremony for the new adult. But the kimono industry is of course worried about losing its opportunity to sell kimonos to families of the new adult. "I had no intention to wear kimono for the ceremony," says another young lady, "but my parents had bought one for me, and my grandparents were looking very much forward to seeing me dressed up." Her grandparents even took proudly their granddaughter dressed in kimono to the neighborhood from door to door. "Most young girls think it a precious opportunity in life to wear kimono," other ladies say, "and they need such an event for them to show up among friends and family members." An aged participant questions, "So girls need such an event, but is it also epoch-making for boys?" He says, in the old society, community people celebrated new adults and admitted them into the community's youth organization as manpower for local activities. "I lived in Kishiwada up to some years ago," says a young member, "there, new adults were automatically included in the block's club to look after its own parade float, the famous Danjiri." People should not simply accuse youngsters of bad manners. The local community should play an important role in knocking children into shape and accepting them as full-fledged members for the community on Coming-of-Age Day.
(Competitive society being accepted)
A recent survey shows more Japanese people are inclined to accept the competitive society that has been demonstrated well in the United States. For example, the merit system, under which a worker's salary is decided based on his or her capability, has been introduced in most companies and is now accepted by most workers. "The individual performance appraisal is still ambiguous," says a middle-aged member, "and it's still subjective." He says his last bonus payment was not justifiable while his performance record showed a high score. "Transparency of the remuneration system is not yet satisfactorily brought into Japanese industries," another member says, "in foreign-affiliated organizations, personal rating is much carefully and rationally conducted." "A competitive society places a dynamo in people's mind," says an aged participant, "but competition must be fairly made." Once the winner, as the result of competition, gets a far stronger position in society than the loser, they will never fail again in races forthcoming. "It's clear a competitive society broadens the rich-poor gap," another member says, "but we are now mired in the trap." In the end, the government must look after the loser in its social security system. "In the past, in a sense, Japanese industries played a role to keep the country's safety net," says a member, "employees were used to sharing a burden and joy equally with each other." "It's nice people are valued up to their ability," says one lady, "however, as long as I know, bosses don't always see their subordinates correctly." She says, between two competing staff members, the boss often chooses one for the next promotion who is generally observed inferior to the other in terms of job capability. "Nobody knows what's the real power in life," an aged member says, "a genius is not always the golden boy in business." This means winners should not be automatically labeled a high-grade personality, or a highly capable human, because of their successes.
(Homeless people put into temporary shelters)
The Osaka city office just started tearing down tents of homeless people camping out in Nagai Park. Such people are being taken into the newly built temporary shelter in the park. Some participants ask, "Why does Osaka have unproportionally high number of homeless people?" Osaka estimates about 10,000 homeless camping in its territory while Tokyo is said to have about 8,000. "Well, the Osaka district suffers a far higher unemployment rate than Tokyo," says an aged member, "and the general public here may be not so much alienating to these people as in Tokyo." There are groups of volunteers that extend support to homeless people. And the catering industry in town constantly disposes of its kitchen waste enough to feed homeless people. Of course, some articles picked up from the household garbage such as home appliances and furniture even offer them a comfortable atmosphere in camping. The Osaka government is eager to clean up the area as it will shortly have the study mission delegated by the IOC which will inspect Osaka's facilities planned to be used for the 2008 Olympics. "City officials take the occasion very important," a middle-aged member says, "because Osaka must win four other candidate cities in hosting the 2008 Olympics." Anyway, homeless people need jobs. It is not totally bad idea to host the next Olympics here, if the project could create number of jobs and opportunities for such people to get rid of the miserable situation. "Modern society, free market economy, will produce homeless endlessly," says an aged member, "we can't avoid facing the dropout in the society." These people have reason to live homeless, some hiding away from home and family members and some others even enjoying such lifestyles. If we push the competitive society on one hand, we will have to trail the shadow on the other hand.
(In 2006, baby boomers start to retire)
"I was born in 1946," says a participant, "it's the first baby-boomer year." He says, every year after 2006, a big crowd will join the group of people enjoying an affluent retirement in the society. "Most of such retirees own substantial savings," he continues, "but they will find out no proper ways to spend them." In fact, 70% of the nation's individual assets, now being estimated at 1.4 quadrillion yen, are said to be owned by those people aged above 50. The center of gravity of the nation's wealth is rapidly shifting to the aged group. "Most of the baby-boomer generation can't speak English," the participant says, "so, they are unable to enjoy traveling overseas or settling in some comfortable countries for the rest of their lives." "Malaysia, for example, offers an affluent lifestyle to Japanese wealthy retirees," an aged member says, "if you have a 4.5 million yen saving at one of the country's banks, you can stay there for all your life." Their monthly pension benefits from the Japanese government enable them to enjoy a good living in Malaysia. "But you must speak English at least," the aged man says. "Today, business people are taking the elderly an important target," another member says, "and baby boomer who have been always regarded as the nation's buying power join the group of retirees." The luxury cruise and gorgeous round trips being increasingly organized by some travel agents are attracting real crowds. All such plans are immediately sold out. "It looks mentality of the elderly is also shifting," says an aged man, "the newly joined elderly is no more stingy, no more with the attitude to save each and every penny for its children and no more with fear that its family members may face problems of household economy in future." The baby-boomer will look for more seriously for some meaningful ways to consume its huge savings.