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July - December, 2002


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December, 2002

(Where have all the cremains gone?)
"Recently, a Chicago-based company developed a process whereby cremated remains could be rendered into synthetic diamonds," says a senior participant, "that means, we can leave flaming diamonds as the proof that we've once existed in life." The process involves choice pickings from the dear departed's being subjected to lots of heat and high pressure and takes about four months to complete. Synthetic, or man-made, diamonds have been manufactured from carbon since the mid-1950s in a manner that is subjecting graphite to extremely high heat and pressure. "It looks feasible to make a reasonably high-quality diamond from the carbon in a cremated human," the senior man says, "the company's gemological process is offered for prices ranging from 0.5 to 3 million yen for a quarter-carat up to a full carat." Another company in Canada also started to offer a similar service. "It may be a good idea," says a middle-aged member, "I would become a full carat diamond spending 3 million yen, rather than spending the same amount of money to hold an expensive funeral ceremony for me." Reflecting the ever-growing aging society, the number of funeral houses is increasing in Japan. They are charging bereaved families millions of yen for holding the funeral ceremony. And if you have to start your own family graveyard, you will spend another 2-3 million yen for purchasing a plot in the cemeterial site.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(First human clone in Italy?)
"An Italian doctor has announced that the first human baby clone will be born in a month," says a senior participant, "and an American company also claimed it had women that were pregnant with baby clones." Experts say the Italian doctor's announcement is questionable. He made similar claims about his work in April saying that one woman he was treating was eight weeks pregnant with a clone. If this pregnancy had gone to full term, then the woman should have given birth by now. Many countries have now introduced legislation to outlaw the practice. "Most people see such research programs as ethically irresponsible," says one lady, "many experts warn that even if the process succeeds it may produce babies with severe defects." Skepticism about the present cloning technology is even held by the man who led the team that created Dolly the sheep in England in 1996. "The cloned sheep looks to have its biological clock moving too fast," says another member, "the sheep is said to be aging far quicker than the natural sheep." Both genetic engineering and cloning technology still require the process of trial and error for many years from now. A lady questions, "is it no problem at all we are already eating beef of the cloned cow or the one genetically modified?" The present very low success rate in the cloning and genetic engineering may imply that we are trying to harvest fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge.

(ESD Takatsuki)

November, 2002

(NTT faces IP phones)
Japan's telecommunication giant NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) already suffering from impacts of deregulation now faces the new communication system, IP phones (Internet protocol-based telephone service, that will minimize the use of switching equipment owned by the company. At present, IP phone services operators lease lines from NTT to connect subscribers with NTT's telephone offices while linking the offices through their own phone lines. As the operators are required to pay set charges to NTT for the use of its lines, sharp cuts in phone charges are difficult. The charges are 20 yen for three minutes for Fusion's IP calls within Japan, for example. "And when an ADSL-connected PC is given a phone number starting from 050-- in the near future," says a senior participant, "free-of-charge telephone services worldwide will become possible." Of course, we have to still pay the Internet provider the fixed monthly charges. This takes most of NTT's current business away though NTT itself plans to join the IP phone service. "NTT's latest business report indicates that it has lost number of calls dialed by the Internet users who left for ADSL," says the senior man, "and also lost millions of its ISDN subscribers to the ADSL providers." There are also wireless Internet services available that no more depend on the telephone cables of NTT.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(How to boost babies' brain power)
"Every parents will wish their children born intelligent and try to raise them to a smarter kid," says a senior participant, "there are many how-to books telling many things." Of course, everyone agrees that genetics plays an important role. But it seems a baby's future is not written in its DNA. Besides importance of parent-child interaction, one of ways being always spotlighted to increase baby brain power is breast feeding. "It's said breast-fed babies have immunity to infantile diseases," says one lady, "the breast milk seems to contain something miraculous." Experts believe breast feeding is also good for a baby's developing brain. "It's interesting my newborn baby stops crying," says a young man, "when I start to play the violin." Listening to music is still thought by many experts to enhance math skills. Many parents send their children to early education, or special education for the gifted. These days, our toddlers are given opportunities to learn English, piano, calligraphy, swimming and so on. And whenever they show an unexpectedly excellent performance, that reminds their parents of the proverbial phrase, "Genius will assert itself at an early age." "But don't be too optimistic," says a young man, "in any age, there will be only a limited number of gifted children no matter how the educational environment is provided well." Although the national education level is certainly enhanced because of those parents who are obsessed with their children's education, most of their rising stars will grow to a healthy little man.

(Yomiuri rakes power hitters filling in for Matsui))
The Yomiuri Giants that loses Hideki Matsui, the most talented circuit slugger in the Japanese professional baseball, to a major league team next year is busy now in reinforcing its team by spending money like water. Yomiuri, though being already the most powerful baseball team in Japan even without Matsui, is still seeking star players with avidity from other teams. "fans will lose interest in the local professional baseball, simply to confirm the promised winnings by the Giants," says a middle-aged member, "the arrogant behavior of the Giants will finally spoil the Japanese baseball." As one of few profitable baseball teams among 12 members in two leagues, Yomiuri can afford to spend money for star players. But the profitability gap between Yomiuri and other teams will be broadened further. "The Pacific League is miserable," says a senior participant, "its attendance to ballparks is getting poorer year after year as it has lost some star players to the MLB and to the Central League which can still enjoy attendance because of those games with the Giants." There is urgent need for the Japanese baseball to streamline its business structure.

(Koizumi hears wrong messages)
"The present high approval rate doesn't mean that Koizumi is accepted for what he has done so far," says a senior participant, "but it expresses public opinions asking Koizumi to go ahead with his original reform plans." Junichiro Koizumi has been Japanese prime minister for just 19 months now. His reform ideas of postal deregulation, privatization of special purpose public corporations or sorting out of Banks' non-performing loans have been left unrealized. His original ideas that had effectively drew public attention 19 months ago went halfway to meet partly the interest of the antireformers in his political party. Koizumi lost his approval rating widely early spring when he sent Makiko Tanaka, former foreign minister, to the showers. He came back however by showing his strong will to reform the controversial public highway corporations. The abduction issue on which he wrestled with North Korea in September also boosted his public support. Koizumi still delegates authority to the wrong people at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Having delegated, he seems to wash his hands of the subjects. He always avoids his personal involvement in any critical issues. "Under these circumstances, opposing parties have completely lost their power," says a middle-aged member, "and no powerful politicians are in existence at present in the ruling LDP to replace Koizumi." With deteriorating economy and worsening job security, people will soon become stalled with no way out. Then, the public will have to give him up.

(Sensationalized North Korean issues))
"Today, all news media, tabloid papers and TV wide show programs are busy in reporting sensationally stories about those five abductees returned from North Korea," says a senior participant, "and it looks all news items are nearly controlled by the association of the abductees' families and its supporter block consisting of some Diet members." All little happenings and events of their everyday life back home are reported emotionally and in detail. However, there are little arguments whether, as promised between diplomats, the Japanese government must return the abductees to North Korea at least once and let them join their family members there to talk about their future, whether talks of diplomatic ties comes first, or whether the humanitarian aid to North Korean starved people must continue any way. "Here, journalists are quiet and sabotaging commenting from a broad perspective," says a young man, "they don't write in the major news media what is against the main stream." The political pendulum looks to start swinging to the right on each and every event that appeals to the nationalistic emotions. We don't need any more the mainstream media who had simply given up journalism and turned out the spokesman of the military government 60 years ago.

(IF Osaka)

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(Some are overliving)
"It's slowly the season for us to receive letters from those excusing their willing not to express New Year's greetings since they have lost their loved ones this year and are now in mourning," says a senior participant, "the first such letter I received last week is a good one. The card tells the one my friend has lost was 107 years old." In fact, the defunct 107-year-old woman who was my friend's mother had been the oldest person in Hirakata City. Usually such messages arriving in early December every year offer us some surprises and regrets for families who have lost their loved ones in the year. "But when I read the card," the senior man continues, "I felt the softening of relief and pleasure in the area of my diaphragm. I have still 40 years to go!" Today, the average life expectancy of Japanese is 85 years for women and 79 years for men. "Here, I have only 12 years in front of me to reach the average life," he further says, "it makes me feel at peace, however, to know there are increasing number of longevity people in the society." There are 13 million people older than 80 years old in Japan. And more than 17,000 among them are above 100 years old. And everyone knows these numbers are swelling year after year.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Hideki Matsui leaves for MLB)
"I'm very sorry Matsui declared himself a free agent last week," says a middle-aged participant, "and decided to join an American major league team next year." In his 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Hideki Matsui, Japan's most talented center fielder, has belted 332 home runs and batted .304, missed only a handful of games and led his team to the Japan Series four times. The success of Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki in recent years has led to a wave of Japanese players eager to test their abilities in the majors. Though Matsui says he has not decided where he would like to play next year, the Japanese media are reporting that the Yankees will sign him to a two-year contract worth 2.8 billion yen. "If all talented baseball players leave for the MLB," the participant continues, "the Japan's professional baseball would turn out a farm team for America." Japanese baseball suffers from an imbalance of power that leads to lopsided pennant races. The Giants overwhelmed the Seibu Lions in the last Japan Series and frustrated fans rooting for teams in the Pacific League. The Giants are the oldest and one of the only profitable baseball franchises and so dominate the sport that half the country's fans root for them. "No able players want to stay in the Pacific League that has no drawing power," says one lady, "I think Norihiro Nakamura of the Kintetsu Buffaloes will join a team in the Central League next year." Nakamura, one of the leading power hitters of the Pacific League, has also declared free agency and seems to enter shortly into negotiations with the Giants. "This means the Pacific group is a farm team for the Central," says a senior participant, "Japanese baseball must be restructured to improve its business." In fact, baseball fans are simply divided between groups for the Giants and against them. And the Central League can draw attendance just because of having the Giants as its member team. "I don't know whether this explains somehow Japanese culture," says a member, "in politics, for example, bipartisanship couldn't be achieved here." Opinion polls are always divided into two big blocks, namely, 30-40 percent supporting the ruling LDP and more than 50 percent having no party to support. The champion of opposing parties, the Democratic Party which once developed its power very close to the LDP is rapidly losing its popularity, below 5 percent.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Lottery tickets sell well)
"Tickets for the Year-end Jumbo lottery will go on sale nationwide shortly," says a senior participant, "sales of lottery tickets in Japan exceeded one trillion yen this year." Lotteries were losing their popularity about seven years ago. However, after the maximum jackpot was raised to 300 million yen in summer 1999 and with introduction of Lottery Six that could give the highest prize by hitting six numbers out of 43 numbers, the country's sales of the lottery has been growing year by year. "A survey shows 90 percent Japanese buy at least one lottery ticket a year," says one lady, "and until the drawing takes place in a few weeks, they dream of their winning the jackpot and of spending it for houses, around-the-world tour, etc." Out of the one-trillion-yen sales, about 50 percent goes into the revenue of the central and local governments. "The amount bears comparison with almost one quarter percentage point of the consumption tax," says a member, "we are paying in effect a painless tax here, namely, 5.25 percent instead of the 5 percent consumption tax."

(ESD Takatsuki)

October, 2002

(Making English work)
"In Japan, most people learn English at school for eight years," says a senior participant, "but as soon as they graduate from school, they go out into the world where they need little to use English." In fact, living in Japan does not require English at all. People's knowledge on English acquired during the eight-year education will vanish away shortly after they leave school. Some people still pursue English. Some need it in business and some others love it by avocation. They are often a member of some English speaking clubs active in the city or in the local communities. "I've just attended today's meeting of Osaka Toastmasters Club," says a young lady, "the club's all-English meetings give me the opportunity to deliver prepared speeches and impromptu talks." Today, this round table of International Forum is joined by several members from the local Toastmasters clubs in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. "I think we can have discussions in depth here on various current topics," says one lady, "we are enlightened at the IF meetings not only about English skills but also about structuring personal views on a variety of current subjects covering politics, economy, tendency of society, etc." For those people who do not need English at worksites, they need more energy and their strong will to continue with studying English by themselves. "Continuation is power," says a senior member, "having a talking partner in this kind of club activities is great help to develop your personal ability." Even for those people who use English at worksites, they must have fresh air here as what they speak or write in business is often very much technical and not usable for other general conversation.

(Foot care parlors prevail)
"The prevailing foot care therapy won't last long," says a young lady, "there are many parlors newly open here and there." Reflexology is becoming popular in Japan. When people have their bottoms of feet massaged in a particular way, they feel very much relaxed. "It started a boom," says a young man, "some Shinkansen trains started a traveling foot care parlor for passengers who like the reflexology." Businesspaersons on the road are mostly stressed out. On the way home, they always look for something therapeutic. "Reflexology may be an alternative therapy to cure some stress-related diseases," says a senior member, "but people, particularly women, are trying it just to feel relaxed." Perhaps other Oriental therapies such as acupuncture and moxibustion treatment will be spotlighted more to replace the reflexology. "Anyone can become a reflexologist by attending a private training school," says one lady, "one of my friends took a training course and could start a foot care shop seemingly without any authorization by the local government or Health and Welfare Ministry for the health care intervention." In some Asian countries where the reflexology prevails widely, the care parlors are often associated with a shady business and the therapists are almost women of a certain description.

(Takenaka's bank plan climbs down))
"A last-minute rebellion was staged by Japanese conservative politicians last week against plans to deal with the country's troubled banking sector," says a senior participant, "Koizumi and Takenaka face again the arrogant interest group in the ruling Liberal Democratic party like in the cases of restructuring the public highway corporation and the nationwide postal service system." Heizo Takenaka, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's economic supremo, was forced to postpone the announcement of its plan to accelerate the disposal of banks' non-performing loans, citing "political reasons." "Seeing such a scene Koizumi is blocked by his LDP colleagues who hold fast to vested interests, we are tempted more to support him and his reform programs." Despite Koizumi's pledges to reform the country's evil practices in politics and budget execution, no visible results of his attempted crusades have been so far presented since he started his cabinet 18 months ago. "Now, Japan is running out of gas," says a middle-aged member, "it's too late for us to accept a crash landing in the banking sector." With the current record high jobless rate and deflationary trend, we will face catastrophic consequences in the society if the original Takenaka plan is strictly implemented. Before its implementation, a dependable safety net must be structured for possible increases in the rate of business failures and unemployment. The government must be active in leading the Japanese industry to a change in its structure. We need many new industrial players that give the society job opportunities.

(North Korea develops nuclear weapons)
"It's North Korea's another brinkmanship," says a senior participant, "they admit their guilt and shift to a defiant attitude." The U.S. prompted two weeks ago the North's defiant declaration that it had secretly started a program to enrich uranium in violation of its past commitments. "In early 1990s, North Korea threatened the international community saying they would withdraw from the NPT circle," the senior man continues, "and they could obtain the KEDO project from the United States." The KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization) project which builds several LWR power generation facilities in North Korea is strongly sponsored by South Korea and Japan. "I doubt timing of the disclosure of the U.S.-North talks that took place two weeks ago," says a middle-aged member, "why the story comes out now while those five abductees are just back home in Japan?" The nuclear issue will certainly complicate Japan's negotiations with North Korea on the further treatment of the abductees.

(IF Osaka)

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(Organ transplants from brain dead donors)
"Five years have passed since the Japan's Organ Transplant Law was enacted in 1997," says a senior participant, "surprisingly, however, there are only ten local cases of organ transplants from brain dead donors." In many other countries, thousands of organ transplants from brain dead donors are taking place each year. "The news media and general public were very hot when the first case to harvest organs from a brain dead patient was spotlighted a few years ago," the senior member continues, "but the fever didn't last long and the campaign to invite people to have an organ donor card has been meantime cooled down." The current Organ Transplant Law specifies that an individual must have signed a government-authorized organ donor card to be diagnosed as brain dead with the intention of becoming a donor. "Although it's five years since the law started, only 9 percent of the country's potential donors have the card," he says, "and only about 50 percent people know how to get the donor card." There is a revision proposal that would overturn the basic principle of the current law, which requires prior written consent from donors. Such a proposal also includes legal ideas, particularly, how to permit those under 15 to donate, and therefore receive, organs. Under the current law, people under 15 cannot donate organs. This stipulation is included to maintain consistency with the Civil Law, which allows only people aged 15 or over to leave a will. "Parent groups of pediatric patients demand that organ transplantation be allowed for ill children," says one lady, "otherwise, they are forced to travel abroad to seek transplants in other countries." In the near future, organ donation from brain-dead patients would become possible with a written permission from bereaved families, unless the potential donor has previously stated a direct refusal to donate.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(New lifestyle for young Nobel-prize winner)
"It's another Cinderella story," says a senior participant, "Koichi Tanaka, the 43-year-old Nobel Prize winner, faces a completely new life." The Shimazu employee will be promoted shortly to an executive post from the present rank-and-file worker's position as early as this week in recognition of his winning the 2002 Nobel Prize in chemistry. "His annual income from Shimazu will be doubled or tripled," the senior member continues, "and furthermore, he will be given the order of Culture from Emperor in early November." Eventually, Tanaka will also be given a PhD from one of prestigious universities. Tanaka shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry with two other scientists in the United States and Switzerland. They were rewarded for their contributions to the study of proteins that have paved the way for the development of new medicines and the early diagnosis of cancer. Another Japanese winner, Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, shared his Nobel in physics with two American scientists. He was honored for his contributions to confirming the existence of cosmic neutrinos by developing and using the gigantic Kamiokande neutrino detector. "Koshiba has long been on the rumored waiting list of those Nobel-prize candidates," says one lady, "and he has already been given the order of Culture." For Koshiba, Nobel was no surprise. "But for Tanaka," she says, "the public, academic clubs, the news media and even most people in Shimazu first voiced, Tanaka who?" Tanaka has become one of the world's academic celebrities. Although he insists to continue in Shimazu with his research projects, he would certainly face temptations taking him away from his original wish. "Tanaka will have a completely different lifestyle henceforth," a senior member says, "it'll be difficult for him to geek further and most probable that he ends up one of those smart celebrities in Japan."

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Fire damages Diamond Princess)
"I made a trip to Nagasaki last week," says a senior member, "and I was fascinated with the beautiful night view from the hilltop hotel, Yataro." The view from the hilltop covered the Mitsubishi shipyard where the 113,000-ton passenger liner, Diamond Princess, and one more luxury liner were under construction. "I became aware two days later that the blaze had broken out aboard the Diamond Princess," he continues, "and I was shocked very much because those two luxury cruise liners looked so beautiful in the night view from the hilltop." The multi-million dollar luxury cruise liner being built for the UK's biggest cruise operator was severely damaged by a fire. The fire started in the forward part of the fifth deck, which was to house an art gallery and passenger cabins. The ship, whose water sprinkler system has yet to be installed, has 14 decks. About 70 percent of the ship was damaged. The Diamond Princess, 290 meters long and 41.5 meters wide, will accommodate 3,100 passengers, making it one of the world's largest luxury liners. "There were suspected cases of arson aboard during the past few months," says a middle-aged member, "this time again, somebody must have set the ship aflame." Mitsubishi Shipyard made the Japan's first passenger liner, the 6,800-ton Hitachi-Maru, in 1898. The ship had however a very short life. It was sent to the bottom in the Japanese-Russo War in 1904. "I must be careful," says a senior man, "as I'll make a voyage to Okinawa on the NYK's Asuka next month." NYK's ships are all built by Mitsubishi Shipyard.

(ESD Takatsuki)

September, 2002

(

Foot care in Thailand)
"I'll leave for Thailand next week for a four-week trip," says a senior member, "and there, I'll receive a reflexology treatment." The complementary therapy, reflexology, in which points in the feet are massaged in a particular way to ease discomfort in other parts of the body, is getting popular also in Japan. "Today, Thailand is promoting so-called medical tourism," he continues, "it offers high-level medical services ranging from dental care to cancer treatment." Thailand is becoming one of the most reliable medical destinations offering an inexpensive alternative to visitors who may need procedures not covered by health insurance. "People visiting the medical destination are generally suffering not from a serious disease," the senior man says, "they come here for dental care, cosmetic surgery, cataract operations, sex-change operations, etc." And, at the same time, they take a vacation here in the land of temples, floating markets and elephant rides. "We see foot care parlors here and there in Osaka," says one lady, "I know one in the Umeda underground town and it looks always busy with customers." It seems the contemporary therapy does not have to be authorized by the local government. Most massagers are giving reflexology after quickly finishing their internship at some unauthorized training schools. "Reflexology is not for me," says another member, "I'm too sensitive to tickling there on the bottoms of my feet." JR East and Shiseido jointly open a foot care parlor in JR Mejiro station shortly and they plan to develop the business in many other stations.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(McDonald's reduces some fat)
"These days, companies cannot stay absent-mindedly simply enjoying their sales growth," says a senior participant, "because one day, some of their good customers will suddenly sue them claiming their products were defective." A man sued McDonald's and other fast food chains, claiming their food made him obese. Then, McDonald's has decided to use a new cooking oil for its french fries that will do less damage to the diet of its customers. "I think everybody understands it's not good for our health if we keep eating fast food only," says a young lady, "it's an individual responsibility to try getting a balanced diet." Nevertheless, it is not bad that McDonald's starts using a new oil that contains a reduced level of trans fatty acid as people are driven more frequently to McDonald's for its attractive campaign prices. "I could get rid of my fatness," says a young man, "besides the dietary care by my wife, largely by doing my exercise to protect against obesity." People are shifting from greasy food to lightly seasoned food. Foe example, the onigiri, rice ball, is getting popular for its diverse types. And McDonald's has already invested in the rice-ball business sector.

(North Korea confesses to kidnapping)
"The local newspapers are unisonous with their tone asking the government to take a tough attitude toward North Korea on the abduction issue," says a senior member, "today, they almost shifted taking the side of Sankei Shinbun, the most conservative Japanese news media that had long been accusing North Korea and its local sympathizers." Japanese people are shocked by the news that the majority of abductees have already been dead in their 30s or 40s in the communist country. At the same time, people place a high value on the Koizumi-Kim talks that has reached a positive agreement for North Korea to freeze missile tests indefinitely. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi could improve his approval ratings by 15 percent after his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. "I think we must promote security dialogue first with North Korea," says one lady, "and the abduction issue will become clear automatically when two countries achieve normalized bilateral ties." The emotional reaction of the public to the abduction issue pushes the Japanese government to say that the economic aid to North Korea must be based on the settlement of the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Japanese fact-finding mission members are now in North Korea to check the accuracy of North Korea's claim that eight of the Japanese it abducted are dead. We will see their survey report next week.

(Sea of Japan to remain Sea of Japan)
"South Korea argues that the current use of the term Sea of Japan reflects Japan's one-time predominance in the region," says a senior participant, "and asks to call the body of water, bordered by the Korean Peninsula, the Russian Far East and the western side of the Japanese archipelago, the East Sea." Discussions were not made in depth at the UN conference on geographical names and at the last meeting of IHO (International Hydrographic Organization). The Japanese government argues that the term Sea of Japan has been used internationally since the late 18th century. "I think it's all right for South Korea to call the body of water the East Sea domestically," says a middle-aged member, "countries often have their own way of calling the geographical spots over the border such as Chomolungma against Mount Everest." North Korea locally calls the body of water the Sea of Korea. "Perhaps, we can even call North Pacific Japanese Ocean if we wish to do so," says a young man, "and we print it right in locally published maps." However, we need an internationally agreed name for the waters to chart a course. The international hydrographic map will continue to carry the term Sea of Japan.

(Cross-dressing creates problems)
An office worker who suffers from gender identity disorder was fired by a top publishing company for cross-dressing. The company says it is difficult to accept that a man it hired has suddenly become a woman. The effects of his hormone treatment were beginning to show. His body became more feminine. "I think it's not good for people to discriminate the office worker who unfortunately suffers from the strange problem," says one lady, "but it's a pity for other colleagues too in the workplace being puzzled to accept the extraordinary situation." The office worker will shortly undergo a sex-change operation to live physically as the gender he believed to be. He has sued the company to retain his job. Because of the medical care, it became already difficult for him to continue using a male toilet. "I can understand the situation and cannot caricature reality," says a senior participant, "but, this morning, I could hardly use the male toilet at the JR Takatsuki station, because I saw suddenly myself wearing my long pants back to front."

(Unprecedented declaration by BOJ)
"The announcement of the Bank of Japan to buy the shares from the ailing banks was made to push the government to take a drastic measure in parallel from its part," says a senior member, "but Koizumi's reaction was very modest and the stock market couldn't keep its welcoming rally more than two days." Anyway, the skeptics think the BOJ decision is simply a stopgap measure. This is a ploy to stop the stock market falling thus helping Japan's commercial banks to demonstrate that they have adequate capital to tide them over the half-year financial period ending September 30. Banks must book latent losses from falling stock prices. "I think the BOJ can buy anything, either shares or nonperforming loans from the banks," says another member, "they can divert funds to do this using money from their printing machines." Certainly, this will drive the country to the extremity of hyperinflation. "No choice! Japan is heading for that end," says a middle-aged member, "we must now think of buying more foreign currencies." Nobody can deny there will be an active capital flight from the financial assets of households, now estimated at 1.4 quadrillion yen, if the local economic malaise advances further. Some European critics say the world second biggest economic power is now getting a banana republic.

(IF Osaka)

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(Takanohana sets up clash with Musashimaru)
"Two weeks ago, nobody believed Takanohana would come back in shape," says a senior participant, "today, he fights with Musashimaru for the prized Emperor's Cup." The highlight of the Aki Basho, the autumn sumo tournament, was Takanohana's attempt at a comeback after being absent since the final day of the May 2001 tournament. The consensus of opinion prior to the Aki Basho was that the 30-year-old yokozuna was doomed. "I thought he'd drop out winless after the first few days and retire," the senior member continues, "but, after his second defeat, Taka rallied dramatically from that point on." Takanohana's return generated a level of excitement which has been missing from sumo in the last few years. He has contributed to a high TV audience rating and drawing power for attendance to the Kokugikan sumo ring. "Takanohana has lost his power," says a middle-aged member, "he was sidestepping ozeki Chiyotaikai on the 13th day, the first time he had done so since many years ago." But nevertheless Takanohana's comeback was incredible. There is no reason to believe that Takanohana will not take the victory again. Takanohana is battleworn and a very old 30. He must be covering declining strength with his experience and technique. "Takanohana always keeps silence and not friendly to the media," a senior member says, "apparently he hates the mass media that had often bothered himself and his family members in the gossip columns." At his last winning tournament 16 months ago, Takanohana was praised by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with his famous emotional comment "Good job despite your injury! I'm touched!" "If Taka wins Musashi, I'm interested to hear how Koizumi will speak to Taka this time," another member says, "unfortunately, Koizumi is out for the ASEM in Denmark." Takanohana doesn't keep an across-the-board popularity. Some people favor him, some other people hate him, but still never ignore him.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Paying electricity bills cheaper)
"The other day, I had the visit of a door-to-door salesman," says a senior participant, "who wanted me to hire a device to lower the electric power consumption at my home." The concept the door knocker tried to sell was use of a special transformer that would adjust the domestic power voltage exactly at 97V. While the local utility is generally supplying us with electricity at 104V, the salesman says, we are wasting some excessive power for our household appliances which are originally designed to work most efficiently at 97V. By introducing the voltage regulator, the traveling salesman says, we will be getting a 15 percent cheaper electricity bill every month. "The idea has a logic of its own," the senior member continues, "and I became almost convinced though I didn't accept the offer at last." The rental rate of the device is not attractive. "The system to be leased costs us 1,000 yen every month," he says, "this means the two-thirds benefit from the arrangement goes to the rental agency while my monthly average electricity bill reads around 10,000 yen these days." If such leasing companies get only one-third or one-quarter, there will be more customers buying this idea. "Furthermore, on the subject, it was interesting to realize the difference between myself and my wife in responses to such a sales pitch," the senior man says, "husbands are more easily convinced, but wives are always skeptical." Women see things in their mind's eye while men are often reasoned readily.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Stroke by stroke in sequence)
"The other day, I was suddenly paralyzed to write a kanji character stroke by stroke in exact sequence," says a senior member, "it's the Chinese character 'Hi' which means flying." The kanji character 'Hi' consists of nine strokes that, however, must be written in sequence. When one ignores the right order to lay each stroke down, the written character doesn't look handsomely. "Finally, I learned the right stroke sequence for the kanji from the Internet," he continues, "there's a homepage that provides animated instructions for many kanji characters how to write them in sequence." Today, in any case, these volunteers' websites offer us a helping hand so timely and smartly. "Although, at school, we learn chirography and how to write Chinese characters in sequence," says one lady, "we come across in the real world very few opportunities to handwrite a paper using many kanji characters." On the PC, however, it's not big deal to write papers full of kanji characters. Characters are all there conveniently installed in the word processor. Perhaps, kanji characters are much more used these days in personal letters and papers printed by the PC though not many people can handwrite them correctly in sequence. "Aliteracy advances among students," says another lady, "they don't read books, and they don't understand traditional idiomatic phrases that appear in novels from the classics." The modern digital gadgets are having a great impact on our charactery culture.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Voyage by luxury liners)
"In November, I'll make a two-week sea trip with my wife to Okinawa," says a senior member, "we will take NYK's Asuka, the luxury liner, again this time." The trip costs them more than one million yen. "The price is still for them to sail economy," he says, "if you go first-class, you need to pay three times more." And there are certainly many people traveling first-class. Luxury cruises have grown in popularity among the middle-aged and wealthy elderly people in Japan. NYK's Asuka, built ten years ago as Japan's largest cruise ship, is creating a new dimension in Japanese culture among the affluent. "People are easily addicted to cruises," he continues, "particularly, women are happy with three free meals and a nap everyday." They can make many shipboard friends on the sea trip. During and after the trip, they forge close ties with each other. And they come back to gather again on board for the next cruise program. "On Asuka, we really feel disconnected from our ordinary society," the senior member says, "for some dinners, we will be in full dress, and for some others, we will be in casual dress. We feel like participating in a drama." Some women say they never see their husbands dressed in tuxedo in their day-to-day lives. And they are of course happy themselves dressed everyday up to the nines. Each woman takes at least three suitcases with her to such a seagoing journey. "Today, however, it looks people are not so much satisfied with such a luxury cruise any longer," says another senior participant, "in the United States and Canada, more people are becoming interested in a sea trip that offers a special objective or a theme for the event." The standard round-the-world voyage is losing its popularity. Cruises with a special theme such as "shipboard strip farm" for nudists, "smoking cessation sea trip" for those who wish to stop smoking, etc., are attracting customers. In the smoking cessation voyage, for instance, participants must follow a stringent regulation on board. If you violate the no-smoking lifestyle during the sea trip, you will be definitely kicked out at the next calling port. Then, you have to head home at your own expense. At the same time, the cruise provides you orientation classes, counselings and other aids to help you quit smoking. For passengers, this is the cruise no more to blow off steam, but to come under further stress.

(ESD Takatsuki)

August, 2002

(JR's seasonal gifts, Youth 18 Tickets)
"We, a middle-aged backpacked couple, recently made a budget tour to Atami," says a participant, "we used in the trip the Seishun Juhachi Kippu (Youth 18 Ticket)." With the Seishun Juhachi Kippu, you can travel practically anywhere in Japan for just 2300 yen, however, being only allowed to take local trains. Of course, it's always a bit of a long trip, and you will have to do some difficult train changes. "We started 8:02 in the morning at the JR Takatsuki station," says the backpacker, "taking a 66-minute ride on a rapid train to Maibara, then waited there 18 minutes for the next 32-minute ride to Ogaki, waited there five minutes for another 81-minute ride to Toyohashi, waited three minutes for the next 31-minute ride to Hamamatsu, waited there 11 minutes and took the final 139-minute ride arriving at the Atami station at 14:28." The 2,300-yen travel covering 431km in six and a half hours is compared to a standard travel on a bullet train that can be made in less than three hours but costing 12,000 yen. The Youth 18 tickets are only available at certain times of the year. You have to buy them in sets of five, making the price 11 500 yen altogether. 11 500 yen, which gets you five days of unlimited travel, is still cheaper than what you would pay for a typical two or three hour journey. As it says 'Youth 18 (years old) ticket', main customers of this ticket are young students. But there is no restriction rule about user's age, and actually this ticket is popular among all travelers. "Then, we stayed at the hot-spring hotel in Atami," the member says, "and we did the sights in Atami and around Hakone though we couldn't view Mount Fuji as the weather was not good." Their lodging expenses were not so cheap in contradiction with the budget train trip. And on the way back, the same boring seven-hour journey on the JR local trains including many troublesome changes took a lot out of his wife and himself.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Mountaineering no more attracts youth)
"These days, those people who mountaineer are all the elderly or middle-aged," says a senior participant,, "everywhere, the trail up a mountain has been kept well up for the elderly and beginners." He shows a 46-year-old black-and-white picture where five young mountaineers sit at the summit of Mt. Yarigadake. The photo shows two guys wearing apparently not a pair of mountaineering boots. "They are in fact ammunition boots released by the American occupation army," he says, "in Akihabara, we could buy all such released goods from the GHQ in those days as the climbing gear, boots, parkas, sleeping bags, etc." Climbing in the mountains was not an easy one 40 years ago. There were not many safe tracks. And there were still many unexplored routes and peaks. "Young mountaineers then attempted to conquer a new summit in competition with others," says another senior member, "quite a number of youth was enchanted by the hill walking in those days." These days, however, there are no more unexplored peaks and routes left in the Japanese mountains. "Youth has lost its motivation," a young member says, "because there's no challenge left any more in the mountains." It looks, however, the area where youth has lost its motivation is not only in the mountains. In politics, in businesses and, particularly in Japan, in academic circles, younger people are hard to see the biggest challenge during their morning of life. You, the elderly! You've done too much in your life. You've harvested too much wealth for the younger people!

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Suicide and longevity)
A total of 31,042 people committed suicide last year in Japan with its population of 127 million. It was the fourth straight year that the number of suicides exceeded 30,000. The income-related suicides were highest ever reflecting the present bad economy in Japan. "Out of the number of suicides, more than 70 percent cases are by men," says one lady, "why do more men commit suicide than women do?" This proves that we are in a male-dominated society where women depend still highly on men's earning power. And when a man faces an unsolvable problem and knows he loses his position of the breadwinner, for shame, he will be tempted to commit suicide. At the same time, it looks women are tough mentally and biologically. "In general, women rarely buy an expensive life insurance policy for their lives," says a middle-aged member, "for men, by committing suicide it's often the case that they could cover all their financial debts from the life insurance." Life insurance seems to be working as temptation of suicide. There is an increasing number of people who are stressed out working and living in the modern society. Such people suffering from manic-depression are also likely to commit suicide. "Japan, the country that enjoys today the world longest life expectancy has a high suicide rate," says a senior participant, "suicide is not talked at all in those developing countries where people have a short life anyway due to food hunger and civil wars." For a mature country, quality of life is an important question for the elderly as one-third victims of those committing suicide are over 60. We must know suicide is one of the side-effects of civilization.

(New bills boost economy?)
"New banknotes will be issued in fiscal 2004 mainly to fight forgery," says a senior participant, "the government and Bank of Japan, however, seem to wish the issuance could also contribute to an upswing in the country's economy." A private think tank put the economic benefits of the issuance at nearly 1 trillion yen. However, industry reaction has been mixed. "Vending machine companies, for example, will gain more business," says one lady, "but some additional financial burden is given to those companies who have to upgrade their machines." There was little influence on Japan's economy when the new 2,000-yen banknote and anti-counterfeit 500-yen coin were issued two years ago. "If Japan's economy dips further in the course of the next year," says a senior member, "the issuance of the new banknotes would invite the government to play their last chip." He means the government could either limit the validity of the old bills or devalue them against the face value by 5 percent for example. Then, all those so-called cabinet savings at home in older bills would start to move. They would suddenly head for consumer spending and bank deposits. In fact, many consumers still keep some cash even in 20-year old bills under mattresses. "With regard to the first woman since 120 years ago selected for the portrait on a banknote in Japan," a young lady says, "I don't know why Ichiyo Higuchi was the right figure for the new 5,000-yen bill." There were apparently other candidates such as the legendary poet, Akiko Yosano, or the women's movement activist, Raicho Hiratsuka. Ichiyo might have been regarded a little bit more nationalistic than two other women. Anyhow, it doesn't make much difference and creates no big issue.

(Vasectomy prevails)
"Many men in their 30-40s are undergoing a vasectomy in western countries," says a senior participant, "for couples who don't want any more children, they decide husbands to undergo an operation for contraception." Vasectomy is an operation that renders the man infertile by cutting the tubes to the sperm-producing testicles. In the UK, 16 percent of men are undergoing the operation. In the United States, a half million men undergo a vasectomy every year. In these countries, it looks the number of cases that men undergo an operation for sterilization exceeds the number of cases that women undergo an operation such as tubal ligation. "It seems vasectomy is simpler than an operation that women have to undergo," says a member, "it is safer and less expensive, for instance, 60,000 yen in Japan." And people in these countries say it is only fair that couples share the responsibility for contraception. But even here, vasectomy prevails mainly among the middle-class and above. In those countries suffering from population explosion, such as India, women are still pushed into sterilization. The direction, however, is clear. As the society becomes mature, women are more protected. Our society is seemingly getting back more to nature, while we try more to modernize it. Like in the college of bees, the queen bee could only survive with its ability of fertility. Worker bees live a life only dedicated to the queen. Female-dominated society will come soon. We hope it would not be a warlike society. Who knows?

(Shintaro Ishihara; ambition for political power)
As the present cabinet keeps disappointing the general public in Japan on its original campaign pledges for crusade, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi becomes already the one who provides a subject for his potential successor. Shintaro Ishihara, the Tokyo governor and novelist, is then regarded by the media as one of the potential candidates for Koizumi's successor. "Public opinion polls always include Ishihara as one of the ideal characters for the country's prime minister," says a senior participant, "but I don't know why people like him so much." Ishihara looks speaking his mind. Like Makiko Tanaka, the former foreign minister, who was sent to showers by Koizumi six months ago for her poor performance, Ishihara often elucidates a kind of truth which is rarely articulated in Japan's polite society. He is bombastic and a foot-in-mouth personality. In the recent interview by Financial Times, for instance, Ishihara said that Japanese technology was 10 times useful during the Gulf War than the despatch of 80,000 British soldiers. "He is liked for his straightforward character," says one lady, "but he is clearly to the right." He often speaks racial prejudices like those rising right-winger politicians do in Europe. "From the list of today's popular politicians, Tanaka has gone and Koizumi is getting a goner," says a middle-aged member, "Ishihara is only one left in the list." It looks, however, Ishihara's political gospel is not accepted by many other politicians and majority of the general public. It will be not the case that he succeeds Koizumi. Ishihara is 70 years old but he looks still ambitious.

(Law to protect 'wangiri' phone scams)
"I have once been trapped by a so-called wangiri call,"says a young lady, "it was a dirty message on the phone when I called back." Wangiri calls ring only once, leaving the caller's number on the cell-phone display and tricking the receiver into returning the "missed" call. Callers are then directed to a taped phone-sex message or to information on other types of adult entertainment. Those who stay on the line are usually charged huge fees. Telephone networks have been paralyzed recently due to the wangiri scams making thousands of random calls a minute to cell phones. Phone carriers, NTT East and NTT West, asked for ministry approval to tighten their contracts for telephone services, enabling them to suspend connections for malicious callers that disrupt their phone networks. "I think not so many people are victimized these days," says a senior member, "because NTT couldn't disclose the address of such callers to a third person, unless the published telephone directory has it." Not many owners of household phones agree these days to disclose their addresses on the local telephone directory. "I think the system of cell phones to leave the record of missed calls is illegal by itself," says a middle-aged participant, "because, even without lifting the phone, a kind of communication is achieved between the two parties." Some years ago, a business bachelor was arrested for his violating the telecommunication law. He used a pay telephone as a communication tool by just ringing once or twice his family phone in Osaka. His wife at home never lifted the phone before it rang at least four times. Then, she knows, by a call at stipulated time every evening, how her husband is doing. They coded the number of ringing in advance, for example, ringing once meant "I'm fine," and ringing twice meant "I'll be back tomorrow." So, without lifting the phone, namely without paying any long-distance rate, a kind of daily communication could be achieved between the business bachelor in Tokyo and his wife in Osaka.

(IF Osaka)

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(Old private railways not in good shape)
"Hankyu Railway will ran shortly a new model train on its Kyoto line," says a senior participant, "the 9300-model cars to be used as express trains between Kyoto and Osaka have a six-door bodywork with its passenger seats all set in the direction of travel." Currently, Hankyu's Kyoto express trains have a four-door bodywork with passenger seats set also in the direction of travel, so-called 'romance seats.' In recent years, however, the nonstop Kyoto express trains could not keep running in their traditional manner to skip all those in-between stations with potential passengers in the newly developed residential areas. "In fact, Hankyu is losing its passengers to JR West running in parallel," says one lady, "because after being privatized ten years ago, JR has become friendly and flexible to its passengers and improved drastically its customer satisfaction." JR with its fastest service between cities in the Kansai area picks up more passengers from those stations where other private railways do not stop frequently. Hankyu's nonstop trains, therefore, have started to compete with JR by also stopping at such stations. And in order to increase the capacity of its cars for passengers without seats joining at in-between stations, the new model car is designed to have additional doors and more space for standers. "Like the other private railway companies in Kansai, Hankyu is not in good shape with its business performance," says a middle-aged member, "it has to streamline its business lines." Hankyu has already decided to close its 90-year-old amusement park, Takarazuka Family Grounds,next spring. It has sold its modern trains to a leasing company and is now leasing them back for its daily train services. Most private railway companies are suffering from the bursting of the bubble economy as they all aggressively invested in real estate in those days. "And now, they have to compete with the lifeful JR companies," says a senior member, "who were privatized and entitled ten years ago to get relief from the astronomical debts at the time that had depressed railmen in their daily services."

(ESD Takatsuki)

July, 2002

(

Qualification expenses for jobless people)
"Labor Ministry is going to review its subsidy of the qualification expenses for jobless people," says a senior participant, "because the subsidy exceeded 40 billion yen last year for training 280,000 jobseekers and most of them were unsuccessful to achieve their goals." When those people looking for jobs wish to go to a vocational school to learn some professional skills such as English, personal computers, etc., their tuition costs are financed by the government up to 300,000 yen. With the limited budget out of the unemployment insurance and increasing number of jobseekers who wish to use the qualification subsidy, the government must now review the system in terms of its real effect. "So, perhaps from the next year, only those applicants who could pass the qualification examination at a vocational school will be given money from the government," says the senior participant, "if he passes, for example, STEP 2nd grade, he will be credited his tuition costs." Similarly, to promote the IT society, the government has spent substantial amount of money to train middle-aged and elderly people for the user of personal computers. Several aged participants at this club have also benefited from the program. "I attended a five-day course a few months ago," says a senior member, "I enjoyed learning computers at the local community center. The woman teacher was very kind to me." But after the course, nothing has happened. He didn't buy a PC. He didn't feel he needed it and he has almost forgotten what he studied at the tax-supported course. "I think this was typically waste of money by the government," says a middle-aged member, "it's not so easy to motivate people, particularly the elderly." In this campaign, the government could have asked trainees at least to buy a PC even though it ended up an idling gadget at their home. "Oh no, if I was asked to buy a PC before the training course," the senior member says, "I wouldn't have attended it." You see, these guys just enjoyed gathering for their leisure hours in a room where a nice young lady taught them by the hand how to use computers.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Women-only cars repel gropers)
As part of its efforts to stop the problem of groping on commuter trains, West Japan Railway Co. introduced female-only cars on its trains of Osaka Loop Line and Gakkentoshi Line. "I think this is good," says a lady, "as summer comes, the number of victims of sexual molestation on commuter trains increases." She says she saw a young girl loudly decrying a man on the platform of Osaka Station the other day for having attempted groping on the train they just got off. And the man was making a firm denial of the accusal. "Some women have a strong sense of being victimized," says a middle-aged member, "on a crowded train, I'm cautious about my own position. I always try to distance myself from women on the train." It is said a wise man never counts danger. "A few weeks ago, a 30-year-old civil servant in Takatsuki was punished for sexually harassing a female visitor to his office," says a senior participant, "in that case, however, the perpetrator told regretfully that he had been witless of his misconduct. He simply tried to date her." It looks he must have not been the woman's favorite counterpart. If he were affirmative, she would have not made an issue of the case but accepted to date him. "Some 50 years ago, we had such women-and-children-only cars on the national railways," says a senior member, "but this was not made against Eve-teasers." In those days, trains were overly crowded everywhere in Tokyo. It was almost impossible for women and children to physically squeeze themselves in the train. Therefore, the national railways provided them a little more loose-fitting cars.

(Nobody likes afterlife in liquid nitrogen)
All participants at this meeting say, "I wouldn't like to live afterlife with my body in a frozen state." They say they want cremation. The story refers to the MLB legend, Ted Williams, who could be hanging upside-down in a vat of liquid nitrogen at the offices of a cryonics group in Arizona, waiting for a new life after death. "Cryonics business started about 40 years ago," says a senior participant, "and the idea was this: in the future, when medical science figured out how to repair and revive them, they could be thawed out." No one knows how far knowledge will advance in a century or two. "As cryonics has become less sensational these days," says one lady, "Ted Williams could draw again public attention to the technology." Nearly one hundred bodies are said to be stored in a frozen state. But some of them are doubted not perfectly maintained. "By spending 12 million yen, not so many people wish to be frozen and revive in the very remote future," says a lady, "I'd better pay my family temple instead the lump sum payment of a half million yen for permanent memorial services." Perhaps, Ted will not be happy when he revives and starts the first day of his remaining second life among so many unfriendly strangers. "then, he will be certainly involved in the struggle of mundane rights of inheritance." Here, a woman has given birth to a baby through artificial insemination using sperm from her husband that was kept frozen after his death. The mother has filed a suit with a local district court demanding that the boy be registered as the legitimate son of the deceased man. The Civil Code stipulates that a baby must be born to a woman within 300 days of the end of her marriage if it is to be registered as a child of the couple. "Development of technology creates conflicts with our common sense," says a senior member, "and laws cannot catch up with the modern age."

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(World Cup result mixed)
The 2002 World Cup Korea-Japan ended on June 30, having given a month of excitement to people around the world. "It was great fun, indeed," says one lady, "during that period, I really became a football fan." Yet various issues are left behind. It is apparent that the ticketing problem was attributable to the poor handling of ticket distribution by the FIFA's small ticketing representative in Britain. Excessive commercialism pushed by FIFA, for instance to raise the charge for broadcast rights, made it impossible to broadcast every match on conventional television. Problems related to the poor performance of some referees also caused repercussions. "I often hated to see rough plays in many matches," says a middle-aged member, "referees were not strict enough in condemning a player getting a foul." There did not show much fair play which should impress our children. And we must plan now how to make use of many of those stadiums particularly constructed for the World Cup games. They will need substantial amount of budgets at the respective local governments every year for operation and maintenance. "On the other hand, the event has been justified by some people," says a senior member, "they say Japanese were unusually united in rooting for their own team, and later, even the Korean team, co-host country's team." Some say the long-lasting critical atmosphere between people in Japan and Korea is beginning to move on the occasion of this co-hosting World Cup. "As soon as those nouveau soccer fans get sober, however," says one gentleman, "I think, suddenly activated nationalism and neighborly love extended to Korea would be cooled down." Anyway, visitors and the overseas media praised the two co-host countries for organizing almost perfectly the 2002 World Cup held first time in Asia.

(Midair collision over Germany)
"It looks a Swiss air traffic controller in effect put the planes on a collision course," says a young member, "by ordering the Russian pilot to descend at the same time that the plane's own collision-avoidance system, TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System), was urging him to climb." The midair collision, near Lake Constance in Germany and just north of the Swiss border, was between a passenger plane operated by Bashkirian Airlines and a Boeing 757 cargo plane operated by DHL Worldwide, an overnight courier service. "The accident would probably not have occurred if the Russian pilot had simply ignored the Swiss controller in Zurich," he continues, "a human error killed 52 Russian schoolchildren and 19 adults." In Europe, air traffic has been increasing steadily by about 6 percent a year for the last decade. It is said that the air crash was a result of an increasingly acute shortage of qualified air traffic controllers. "It surprises me," says a senior participant, "a privatized air traffic company, Skyguide in this case, plays such an important role in Switzerland." Our own sky in Japan is not spacious either. In Tokyo area, a very narrow space is allocated for the civil airway to give enough openings for the SDF and the US Air force. "When we have the Kobe airport in a few years," says a young participant, "the air traffic in the Kansai area will also become congested." Generally speaking, most air disasters take place during a few minutes on takeoff and landing. But human beings are not perfect. And a human error often misleads people to midair crushes because people basically tend to trust human more than machine.

(International Criminal Court starts without America)
"We don't hear this issue talked much in the local media," says a senior participant, "while International Criminal Court (ICC) has started on July 1." The world's first permanent war crimes court will have universal jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But it has no retrospective jurisdiction. It can deal only with crimes committed after July 1 this year when the 1998 Rome Treaty came into force. "The court, however, should stay being so far seen as geographically unrepresentative and Western dominated," says a middle-aged member, "many important countries such as Japan, China, India and Russia as well as most Islamic countries have not yet signed the Rome Treaty." Some seventy states have ratified the Rome Treaty and 100 others will follow in the future. The Americans argued that their soldiers might be the subject of politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions. They are negotiating a permanent immunity for their peacekeeping forces delegated to places of conflict in the world from possible prosecutions. "It's strange, however," says a senior member, "Japan who promoted positively the concept of the Rome Treaty four years ago has not yet even signed it." And we hear no discussions on the issue locally. "Perhaps, we are in a critical position facing the issue," says a young member, "since we have our no-war constitution, we couldn't even judge which war crimes are against humanity." We must worry that ICC is finally motivated to become the winner's court in a war.

(Japan's business confidence rises)
Executives at Japan's largest manufacturers, encouraged by rising exports and production, were more upbeat about business conditions for the first time in nearly two years, a central bank poll (quarterly Tankan report,) just showed. While the survey showed that pessimists still outnumber optimists, confidence is improving in corporate boardrooms. "This is not our feeling," says a senior participant, "we see everything still worsening today in Japan." Burdened with too many factories and swollen payrolls, Japanese companies continue to eliminate jobs. They are shifting manufacturing facilities to China and other Asian countries. This has pushed the unemployment rate to a near-record 5.4 percent in May. "With our jobs in doubt," says one lady, "we will be spending less on cars, homes and other expensive items." With consumers sitting tight although it is believed that they keep 1.4 quadrillion yen as household financial assets, Japanese companies are unlikely to benefit from a turnaround at home. The recent yen's rise will be weakening Japan's exports that have largely contributed to the upsurge in the local economy. "Dollar is losing its strength," says a middle-aged member, "the series of accounting scandals have damaged reliability of Wall Street." Sales at technology companies in the United States are still depressed. This is a shadow thrown over many Japanese companies.


(Students demand their money back)
"Students are suing universities they chose not to attend for keeping their up-front money, admission fee and tuition," says a senior participant, "and some schools are accepting to return tuition." The courts must decide whether the Consumer Contract Law enacted last April applies to students who are accepted by, but then opt out of, certain schools. "I, actually my parents, also paid half a million yen as admission fee to a private university when I took it on the safe side," says a young member, "I didn't enter the school as I was successful later in passing the school of my preference." It was a rule of custom in those days. Such an up-front payment is still an important revenue for schools that are not popular and prestigious. These schools set registration deadlines well ahead of other popular schools and keep the fees regardless of the school students finally choose them. If the move becomes rampant, many unpopular schools would face a big financial problem while they must be now getting ready for falling number of students because of the declining birthrate. For them, things turned from bad to worse.

(IF Osaka)

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Updated on: March 13, 2003

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