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January - December, 2003


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December, 2003

(Help-yourself checkstands)
The result of any customer satisfaction surveys suggests that supermarkets must improve their checkstand operations. It is always frustrating for shoppers to queue for their turn to pass through the checkout stand. Each time finishing your shopping at the checkstand, you will make it sure that you are not choosing a wrong line where you are behind those people with heaping goods in the till and very much potential taking your precious time. Several supermarkets are trying out a "help-yourself checkout" system. At the unmanned checkout, the shopper places goods by themselves under the barcode reader one after another, also identifies those products without carrying barcodes such as vegetables pressing buttons on the display panel and pays the total amount at the automated cash register. The system works well and looks to attract shoppers. Supermarkets can increase the number of checkout stands without employing additional shop attendants. Another supermarket chain is trying to reduce the checkout time for customers by providing so-called charismatic cashiers. The company's in-house training creates many skillful shop workers who can finish the checkout process very quickly. The retailing industry now looks forward to the new generation system based on the electronic radio tags. All products in the shop are fitted with tiny IC chips. The radio tags are wirelessly connected to readers placed around the store on shelves and at the check-out. They will also help prevent shoplifting. The radio tags of the future could even remove the need to have check-out desks altogether. The cost of the wireless IC tag is still high today, around 500 yen per piece. It is estimated, however, that the cost drops down to only 10 yen in a few years when trillions of radio tags are needed in the market.

(ESD Takatsuki)

November, 2003

(Satellite transmission)
In the morning of November 24, a magnificent live picture showing the total solar eclipse going on in Antarctica was satellited into the TV cabinets of Japanese viewers. People on the easternmost chain of islands could enjoy the celestial scene together with penguins and scientists on the White Continent at the same time. The technology of the transmission via satellite was first implemented in Japan exactly 40 years ago. On November 23, 1963, the first TV news came from by satellite relay was about the assassination of John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, in Dallas, Texas. The scheduled opening ceremony of the satellite transmission was then replaced by the surprising news. It is doubtful, however, whether most Japanese were so much impressed by the assassination news right at the time. 40 years ago, most people were not so much interested in foreign affairs. They were not concerned about whoever the American president was. After the Kennedy case, many conspiracy theories kept being told on the media exciting people's curiosity. Then, most Japanese people came to have a feeling that they had been really impressed by the news right at the time of the satellite transmission. In those days, most people were not even interested in Cuban Crisis as their near affairs. Now, 40 years since then, the satellite transmission has made people comfortable with more global live news. Now they feel like personally sharing information in the world.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Beajolais Nouveau right here)
Posters at liquor shops, convenience stores and supermarkets are announcing the new wine "is here!" Japan's biggest-ever demand for France's youngest wine is expected by the local liquor businesses. The number of wine-drinkers continues to grow in Japan, but still not so much dramatically. The wine consumption of Japan is only one 25th of that of France. With interest in Beaujolais Nouveau as high as it's ever been, however, the nation's major wine merchants are bullish on imports of this year's vintage despite their weaker wine sales than usual this year. It is estimated that nearly 15 percent of the world sales of Beaujolais Nouveau is made in Japan. The wine importers consider that the Japanese demand for Beaujolais Nouveau would further expand as it is said that there are 60 percent of the local drinkers who have never tasted it. This year, a bottle of Nouveau is sold here at 2,200-2,800 yen, 7-9 times more expensive than the price in France. A wine specialist says, "Although most Nouveau fans enjoy the novelty of the fresh wine, you don't have to be in a hurry buying the expensive bottles brought by air a few days ago from France if you like to see its real taste." These bottles don't have to be drunk as fresh as possible. Their taste and bouquet actually improve if they are left in a dark place for at least a week after arriving in Japan. Their quality then continues to improve even beyond the end of the year. Perhaps one month later, you will get the same bottles with improved quality at a much cheaper price.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(30 years after first oil crisis)
Exactly early November 30 years ago here in Osaka, housewives rushed into supermarkets to buy as many toilet rolls as possible. This passed into a proverb telling how the first oil crisis had let people panic. In response to the embargo of oil from the Persian Gulf region, industries took a variety of defensive actions trying to purchase more raw materials and to restrict sales of their finished products. It was the seller's market everywhere. Inflation accelerated. And inventory built up. Most companies could achieve a high growth rate in 1974 because of the industry-wide speculative demand and price hikes. Although they experienced some negative rebound in 1975, industries came back shortly on the right track. They could survive the second energy crisis in 1979 without much difficulty. At the same time, most people could benefit from the steadily lasting inflationary trend in those days. They got every year a substantial increase in the nominal salary, which could discount their burden of the housing loans effectively. During the last five years, however, the deflationary trend has really settled in Japan. Money is gaining its buying power every year. And those with housing loans are having a hard time.

(ESD Takatsuki)

October, 2003

(Television audience measurement in question)
Is it statistically justifiable that only 600 sampled monitors represent the taste of 16 million TV viewing households in the Kanto area? TV program producers are competing at their peril for the viewing ratings to the decimal point as a yardstick. A 41-year-old NTV (Nippon Television Network Corp) producer bribed four monitoring viewers to increase ratings for his programs. One of his programs watched by the four bribed households must have added 0.67 percent to its viewing rates. And this means statistically that as many as about 110,000 more households watched the program. The current TV audience measurement that functions to decide the price of the broadcasting time for the program sponsors, is made on a very small number of samples and liable to be distorted by approaches to a few monitoring households. In addition, viewing rates are not always reflecting the quality of television programs. Most TV producers are competing for the ratings trying to attract viewers by presenting further vulgar programs.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Decisive moment in game)
There is always a small event that turns the tide in the game. And we only know later that it's been the decisive moment in the game. The Chicago Cubs having been winning the seventh game for the National League's championship, for example, gave suddenly away the chance of victory to the Florida Marines when one of its fielders failed to make the catch of a foul ball that had been intercepted by a fan in the stands. The Cubs then lost its winning rhythm. Goddess of victory is tricksy. It looks Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi starts altering the direction of his lucky political drive during the past two years. He further became a temporizing politician. He made a clever move to beat the media performance of the leading opposition party. On that very day the Democratic Party was holding its kickoff ceremony with its merger partner, the Liberal Party, Koizumi asked Transport Minister Nobuteru Ishihara to sack Japan Highway Public Corporation President Haruho Fujii, the character most sensationally taken up in the media since a few months ago. He had shelved the subject for a long period and suddenly took it for his party's interest to receive more public support. However, things started running out of Koizumi's scenario. Fujii didn't accept the advice of resignation. He says he would bring it to the court battle. Koizumi's clever move surely diluted the news about his opposition party. But it left a further big issue that could affect his own party negatively.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Ways of speaking)
Politicians just heading for the general election in November are now tuning up their elocution for speechmaking. A popular ballpark emcee in New York says there are three important elements to make a nice speech; it must be clear, concise and correct. Being a a specialist in public speaking and phonology, he says, he enjoys pronouncing names of some Japanese ballplayers such as Ichiro Suzuki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Hideki Mtsui. They are so melodious while American names are mostly monotonous, he says. There are another set of three elements that displeases him, he says; they are comic, colorful and cute. Politicians tend to make a speech in these ways. Voters will not be trapped by such a fluent tongue. Politicians often play their hokey-pokey. We will listen to a sincere speech and the content of it coolly. An eloquent speaker is not necessarily a winner throughout his lifetime. It may still be a proverbial truth that an empty kettle makes the biggest noise, or that silence is gold, eloquence is silver.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Travel agents face competition)
The first monthly periodical covering the timetable in Japan was published in 1894. The monthly booklet contained the guide of sightseeing spots and some travels besides time lines for trains and boats. Today, the one-inch-thick monthly timetable sells still well as most companies subscribe it at each and every office for their people's business trips. At the same time, however, an increasing number of people design a travel plan on the Internet. The Internet navigation is quite quick and effective. It will provide a smartly structured itinerary and the list of hotels. For example, the most popular local website for hotel reservation requests, My Trip Net, has now three million as its membership. My Trip Net, started modestly with only six company members a few years ago and grew rapidly to one of the most popular on-line services, has been just sold to a big e-commerce company at 32 billion yen. The on-line assist at the personal desktop is gradually threatening conventional travel agents in the street. Though the tour agencies in Japan are aiming at a big jump in line with the government's plan to promote tourism by inviting at least ten million visitors a year, two times more than today's, from abroad in the course of 2010, the potential attacks of the Internet businesses cannot be ignored. And there will be more and more on-line service companies on the Internet in the future.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(More men live single)
The unmarried population at age 50 had been always larger in Japan for women than for men until about 30 years ago. Today, however, it is quite opposite. Nearly 13 percent of the country's quinquagenarian male population live a bachelor life while about 6 percent women in the same age bracket remain single, although the unmarried has been increasing year after year for both sexes. As women became more educated and liberalized on the heavy burden of house hold chores in the society, they were no longer blindly marrying in a hurry. And not all boys are aggressive in attracting their partners. Men do not feel inconvenience in day-to-day city life. They can live without a partner just for housekeeping. Men hardly move unless somebody among their parents or relatives matchmakes. They still dream about a good marriage, though. The present recession strengthens the tendency toward a further miserable picture for boys. Today, about 20 percent of young men are jobless or job-hopping part-timers. They are too slim financially to think of a married life. On the other hand, more young women work positively in the society and do not need a cohabiter as breadwinner. And there is no peer pressure in the community to encourage women to marry. Women have now their choice of a partner. And there will be more dropouts on the male side.

(IF Osaka)

September, 2003

(Postal service privatization)
The Postal Service Public Corporation now plans to sell a life insurance, whole life insurance with term rider, the similar type of policies that are widely offered by the private assurance companies. Such policies are based on their premiums mostly covering insurance with no refund payment. The corporation has been so far selling only the postal life insurance which collects reserve premiums and does not cover a a big insurance benefit in general. The private sector, currently suffering from potential problems with the solvency ratio, is strongly opposing the plan showing a fear of losing its clients to the semi-governmental competitor. On the other hand, the postal service corporation is in a hurry to strengthen its business performance as much as possible in preparation for the forthcoming privatization. The present low-interest world gives assurance companies an affliction in attracting their policy purchasers. In the past, policyowners didn't have to pay the stipulated annual insurance premium as they could get a substantial dividend from the assurors who was always positive in the financial management. Until the current low-interest policy is softened, we have to buy an expensive life insurance policy.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(I want to be a healthy centenarian)
September 15 is a national holiday in Japan, Respect-for-the-Aged Day. The number of centenarians in Japan has topped the 20,000 mark for the first time in 2003. The centenarian population was only 153 in 1963 when the government began compiling the statistics. Women continue to make up the vast majority of 2003 centenarians, namely 85 percent. The number of healthy elderly enjoying their affluent lifestyles is also growing. Some talk about the three basic anti-aging efforts: Break a sweat, drive a quill and be humiliated from time to time. Taking a moderate amount of exercise, being clever with their fingers and being occasionally insulted for doing something wrong, people can keep their physical and mental health. No one likes to join the group of one million seniors suffering today from dementia. The increasing number of centenarians symbolizes Japan's aging society together with the declining birthrate. The demographic chart has drastically shifted during the past 40 years. When the world first pension system was introduced by Otto von Bismarck in Germany in the late 19th century, the life expectancy was only 68 years old there. Retirees were receiving benefits for three years. Present centenarians receive their pension benefits for more than 35 years.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Tigers' negotiation on trademark)
As it becomes realistic that the Hanshin Tigers would win the year's pennant in the Central League, the baseball team is in dispute over the trademark "Hanshin Yusho Champion Hanshin)" that was registered some years ago by a speculator living in Chiba. The initial negotiation between parties concerned has failed. It looks the trademark owner did not want to sell the right at one million yen. Hanshin decided to go to court. At present, there is no way to stop speculators holding trademarked names to ransom. The trademark owner seems to have tried a similar application for the Yomiuri Giants. It was however not accepted by the authority. Perhaps, the examiners accepted the Hanshin's case believing that the team would stay as the loser in the league for many more years while the Giants had been always regarded the most potential winner. Last spring when the Internet started allowing domains written in kanji characters, many cybersquatters snapped up .com domains bearing popular Japanese names. There are people who use their creativity in this way. Examiners at the patent office are too busy to analyze the potential conflicts of every application with the historical owners of such popular names.

(ESD Takatsuki)

August, 2003

(Companies are responsible for matchmaking?)
Some government officials just brainstormed to stem the country's declining birthrate that would certainly affect negatively the economic strength of Japan in future. One proposal they concluded is to ask the business sector to actively organize a company-sponsored matchmaking party as part of its welfare and benefits menu. The proposal immediately attracted criticism. A female lawmaker says that the move infringes upon the individual's right to make decisions on procreation. The mind-set will pressure psychologically those who choose not to, or are unable to give birth. Today, it looks the number of marriages between co-workers at worksite is decreasing. Men are getting less aggressive towards the married life. Perhaps, they are losing confidence in their ability to create a home financially or mentally. On the other hand, women have become stronger in living a life to their own taste. Many women put work before starting a family. They have gained advancement in social standing. So, young boys! You have to wait until your boss in the office kindly promises you a date with a woman of no choice.

(Who must keep order in Iraq)
Security in Iraq never improves. A truck bomb exploded at UN headquarters in Baghdad two weeks ago taking the lives of 24 visitors and workers there. Another huge explosion took place last week outside Najaf's holiest shrine killing 120 Iraqis including Shia cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim. There is even an extreme argument saying every aid group, including the U.S. military forces, should now leave Iraq and let Iraqis do their worst. They will conduct challenging looting, vandalism, civil war or anything they like. The main targets, weapons of mass destruction, have not yet been discovered in Iraq under the 4-month lookup operation. There is still some doubt for what good cause the alliance had to start fighting. The international community is very much concerned about Iraq that bogs down every day. We cannot simply say that the United States should take responsibility alone because it initiated the war without the consent of the international community. Now several months after the collapse of the Sadam Hussein's regime, it is time for the UN's action to help Iraq become quickly a stable democratic nation.

(Resident registry network starts)
On August 25, the controversial resident registry network (Juki Net) started formerly in Japan. Under the system, each municipality provides personal information on the name, date of birth, sex, address and individual 11-digit number for every registered resident. Concerning security, it is explained that the system runs independently of the ordinary Internet. It is said that dependable firewalls protect the system against illegal contacts when the local office's LAN system, being possibly linked with the Internet, handles the Juki Net. However, there is still some doubt why the government hesitates to put a brake on possible abuse and state surveillance of citizens. Most importantly of all, it is not so much convincing that people benefit from the new system. Most of us are not frequent visitors to the city office for a resident card or passport. Is the huge investment in the Juki Net justifiable in terms of the gain of efficiency and convenience in public services? There is no indication by the government on possible reduction in manpower at the central and local offices. Far from it, the government established a new public corporation particularly looking after the system where many parachutists are going to work.

(IF Osaka)

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(People wear no hats)
Another play on Japanese words took August 10 (hachi-to) for the memorial day of hats. These days, not so many Japanese, particularly men, wear a hat or headpiece. Around 1910, almost all Japanese men wore a hat such as bowler hats, hunting caps, Panama hats, boaters, etc., whenever they went out. Since the late 1880s, Japanese people introduced as much English culture as possible into their lifestyle. They performed babuism for choice. After World War II, however, the American culture dominated the country. People took American's hatless and casual lifestyle. The suppliers of hats and headpieces are making efforts to drive the public to wear their products emphasizing the headwear is effective to protect people against the ultraviolet light that causes cancer. In Japan, the hat market claims its annual sales around 55 billion yen. Nearly 50 percent of the annual sales is made on imported hats mainly from China. The hat sales occasionally booms attracting young customers to some fashionable designs. Besides such a short-lived boom, hats are not interesting people and the sales is stagnated. People wear no hats, no traditional outercoats.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Comb honey at reasonable prices)
Playing on words, August 3 (hachi-mitsu) has been picked up as the memorial day of bee honey in Japan. Honey is spotlighted more and more in recent years as health foods. Per capita consumption of honey in Japan is around 300 grams in a year, far below the level in Western countries. The annual domestic apicultural production is about 3,000 tons covering only 10 percent of the local demands. Today, we could buy everywhere honey imported from China at reasonable prices. China is the world best producing country with its annual crop yields above 150,000 tons although its people take honey even five times less than Japanese. In Japan, honey becomes popular in seasoning a dish highly. It becomes more often used in cooking as one of the important flavoring materials. Trillions of working bees contribute to the supply of honey to human beings worldwide. One working bee produces only a half tea spoonful honey throughout its life. A natural bacteria fighter enriched with royal jelly is another of nature's wonders. Royal jelly is specially produced by working bees from grass pollen for feeding the queen bee. It gives energy and vitality, and enables the queen bee to discharge 2,000 eggs a day. As the proverb goes, the history of honey is the history of mankind. Since 10,000 years ago, people wished to live a long life and were interested in the bee world.

(ESD Takatsuki)

July, 2003

(Ah, Ueno Station!)
The Jr Ueno station celebrated its 120th anniversary last week. A stela was put up just recently in front of the station. The inscription of the monumental stone tells words to the popular song "Ah, Ueno Eki!" which was sung by Hachiro Izawa, one of the popular singers in 1960s. The song reminded many people of the Ueno station where they had taken the first step some years ago into Tokyo the vast metropolis. They recalled those days they were fresh from the country. Entering the high-growth period, the metropolitan area absorbed almost unlimitedly labor from the country. Without exception, young people just graduated from school headed for Tokyo in the style of mass employment leaving the local railway stations at their home towns. Most of them could settle in the metropolitan area successfully bringing about phenomenon of underpopulation in rural areas. Because of its connections with the Tohoku districts that had been regarded really backcountries in Japan, the Ueno station kept a certain hicksville atmosphere by contrast with the Tokyo station which was linked to the western part of the country. At Ueno, people can still see arrivals of those new from the country speaking nostalgic Tohoku accents. Gradually, however, the Ueno station is diluting its special atmosphere and being modernized particularly since it started the underground Shinkansen operations giving up its role of terminal station to Tokyo 12 years ago.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Gifted children compete in math ability)
The 44th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO 2003) was held recently in Tokyo. The questions were posers being far too difficult for mere calculating ability or exam-taking techniques to handle. Here, participants are requested to show great resourcefulness at problem solving. One of the six Japanese high school students participated in the competition ranked 9th among 460 participants from 82 countries and regions. In this year's competition, Bulgaria was ranked first, followed by China, the United States and Vietnam. These are almost the standing countries that rank high at the IMO. Japan is not in the high ranking group although it has always ranked high in international surveys of the scholastic ability of its students. These surveys aim at simply assessing the average scholastic ability of students in the world. Gifted and talented children are not necessarily spotlighted in such a survey. Educational system in Japan looks to emphasize the lock-step mentality and is designed not to foster students who might be ranked among the world's best. At the primary and secondary education levels, it has been the basic idea that considers special education for gifted children taboo. A more flexible educational program should be provided to nurture gifted children. The system will allow more fast-track students who could enter universities at age 15 or even below like cases happening in some other countries.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Automobiles have changed people's lifestyle)
The car giant Ford has just celebrated 100 years of business at its River Rouge plant in Detroit. The appearance of Ford's model T transformed the world, people's lifestyle. Until 1903 when Ford started the world first mass-production with affordable vehicles, most people had never travelled more than 30km from home in their entire lifetime. People were given freedom to move. The founder Henry Ford largely contributed to a social and industrial revolution. He doubled the average wage and that put spending power into many hands, creating a middle class in the society. He was the first to provide jobs for African Americans. Today, nearly one billion vehicles are driving in the world. And about 60 million new cars are manufactured in a year worldwide. Cars are indispensable for people to live a standard life. They are rapidly going over the heavily populated developing countries. From an environmental viewpoint, we should shift to an eco-friendly vehicle as soon as possible. A fuel-cell vehicle, the most ideal alternative, however, is still very expensive, 50 times more expensive than popular cars. Somebody would start to manufacture such an eco-friendly car as an affordable vehicle. And that guy will celebrate its centenary in future with records of contribution to the harmonious society.

(ESD Takatsuki)

June, 2003

(Leaving books on the shelf)
A recent survey says that about 40 percent of Japanese never read books, excluding weekly magazines and comics. Some say, with the advent of the society in information overload, we can get along without reading books particularly. And the survey still telling that 60 percent of Japanese read between one and ten books every month would take the national standards of culture not too low. It looks there are many well-read middle-aged people while school libraries are visited by a decreasing number of students. Parents and teachers are concerned about children's poor reading habits. Books seem to have made way for the Playstation gadgets. But when something attractive for children's reading is given, they will surely come back. Author JK Rowling with a bunch of the Harry Potter installments has got children reading books in many countries. Although all people have access to a library, it has only a limited number of regular visitors. These days we don't have to stay too long in the waiting list for a popular book, as libraries would prepare many copies of such a book to cope with readers' anxiety. Today, libraries cannot be ignored as good customers by the publishing world. And everyone must know libraries are mostly tax-supported.

(Obesity campaign eyes school drinks)
Obesity concerns most people in the United States as a devastating epidemic for the country. There are growing legal movements against the obesity issues, targeting fast-food restaurant chains or schools selling soft drinks in vending machines. Certainly, we see changes in people's eating and drinking habits. Particularly, it draws our attention that young people are frequently tempted to drink some liquid. They must have taken to such drinking habits because they grew in the environment that was giving them easy access to soft drinks whenever they felt a slight thirst. It looks they've become addicted to Coca-Cola and McDonald's. For sure, obesity is a problem. But, this is certainly the product of free economy. The economic system creates some problems on one hand. On the other hand, however, it also creates opportunities for those powerful tobacco lawyers to be involved in many more litigation practices, for nutriceutical foods suppliers to sell more antifat goods, and for esthetic clinics and gym owners to sell more membership tickets.

(Tax hike eyed to cope with graying society)
A midterm tax reform plan has been released by the government's Tax Commission. The plan insists the necessity for a tax increase to finance social welfare programs in the graying society. It emphasizes the need to increase the income tax for the wealthy elderly who could currently enjoy uniform preferential treatments simply because of their age. Consumption tax is the next big target of the plan. The consumption tax rate will be raised to a double-digit figure to secure fiscal resources for public pension systems. Because of the economic slump, the number of low-income earners is rapidly increasing. The swelling ranks of such people will pay very low income taxes. A survey shows 21.2 percent of working people aged between 15 and 34 are so-called freeters, job-hopping part-timers, and earn mostly less than 2 million yen a year. This will eventually affect Japan's competitive power in the world economy as the country will have its labor force more without professional skills. The government plans to encourage younger people to hone a particular skill by offering some training programs. It must be also considered that those part-timers with professional skills are treated by the employers equally to the full-time workers in terms of remuneration.

(IF Osaka)

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(TOEIC becomes de facto national exam)
Today, Japanese companies are putting pressure on their employees to improve their English-language proficiency. In the past, those workers involved in international business were the only ones required to develop English communication skills. Many firms have begun to require their employees to use English at inhhouse meetings that now include one or more foreigners. Such employees also have to file corporate documents in English. Companies ask their employees to take periodically the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) exams to prove their English language proficiency. The TOEIC score has become so popular that it is nowadays widely used in businesses as the qualification criteria for Japanese people to demonstrate how they are capable of communicating in English. These days, the TOEIC examinees are outnumbering those taking several other public English examinations such as STEP, TOEFL, UN Associations Test of English or exam for guide's license. Interestingly, some universities started to include the TOEIC scores in the credential issued to the graduating students. Universities know now how the TOEIC score is important in selling their students to the business sector. This means, however, they have started an outsourcing.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Aerial photos amuse us)
Today, we can locate our own houses on an aerial photograph available on the Internet. Some of such a picture are ones taken many years ago and, therefore, seeing them makes us longingly recall the good old days in the area. There are also websites offering an accurate topographic map in 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scales. More sophisticated global positioning systems and satellite scanning techniques will further improve the precision of the maps and photos. Already 200 years ago, the first Japanese map was scaled by Ino Tadataka (1745-1818). He was the first Japanese to utilized western geographic methods for map making and based his work on coastal surveys that became known as "Ino Maps" that cover the entire country. He was late-blooming. He started studying astronomy at 49 years old. He was asked to make maps of the islands of Japan. He continued his work to the age of 70 and covered over 43,700 kilometers of travel just within Japan. The episode is often quoted to embolden middle-aged people to start something ambitious. The Ino maps were so accurate that they were used for the next 100 years. Since maps were regarded as a state secret in Tokugawa times, an intrigue took place when a copy of Ino maps were obtained by Philip Franz von Siebold, a German physician employed by the Dutch in Nagasaki. Siebold was arrested being found in possession of the maps and exiled from Japan. With the advent of the current digitalized society, we doubt how much information available on the Internet could be categorized into military secrets.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Street cars, one-time public transportation)
June 10 is the commemoration day of tram cars in Japan. Tram advocates and railway fans are holding a memorial meeting nationwide. The country's first tram was built in Kyoto in 1898. Everyone older than 40 years old can recall scenes of their good old towns with the cobwebby overhead power cables and street cars running actively all over the area. Since the introduction of the first tram in 1903, Tokyo had expanded the public transportation to the maximum coverage in 1962 with 213 operating kilometers and 1.5 million passengers a day. However, getting into the high-growth period of Japan, tram cars became treated as a nuisance obstructing traffic on the busy streets in Tokyo. And the tram system of Tokyo was demolished there in 1972 leaving only one tram line, Arakawa Line, serving areas between Waseda and Minowabashi which still runs today for the benefit of 60,000 local passengers a day. As the Arakawa line does not mostly share the street with other vehicles and runs through its own tracks sometimes along the backyard of lovely row houses, it completes its entire, 12-kilometer course forty minutes flat, irrespective of rush-hour traffic and the inevitable delays cars and buses are subject to. Now, 40 years after the Tokyo Tram's golden days, streets are busy with cars and buses. And those randomly constructed overpasses are blocking people's vision on the deck. An astronomical sums of money were meantime invested in the subway system which could offer almost similar user-friendliness to the good old tram network. Most European cities preserve their tram systems giving them priority in use of the public streets regulating strictly the incoming vehicles. In Japan, several cities, such as Hakodate, Hiroshima and Kumamoto, are successfully operating the tram system.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Digital photography advances)
Somebody started calling June 1 the day of photography. Photography was originally invented by a French painter in 1839. Already two years later, the first photograph was taken in Japan. It was the picture, taken on June 1, 1841, of Shimazu Nariakira, the local warlord of Kagoshima, who had been known as a typical neophilia. Eastman Kodak put the first color film on sale in 1935. Surprisingly, last year, digital still camera sales overtook film camera sales in terms of quantity sold for the first time. With the advent of digital photography and imaging, it is a matter of time that digital will overtake both film and video in the still and motion arenas. While film cameras remain far more dominant in Japanese homes and throwaway cameras are still popular, digital cameras are outperforming their traditional counterparts at an astonishing rate. But those conventional photo-finishing stores are gradually losing their customers. Those people who are able to use a digital camera for developing its images on the personal computers and printers are totally independent of the traditional photoprocessing market. At the same time, however, the more digital cameras are sold to the masses, the more users, being bad with machines, will need help with processing their digital data in the camera. Looking at such potential business areas to activate the traditional photo-finishing outlets spread nationwide, camera and precision instrument suppliers just proposed a unified standard that will enable customers to print pictures by directly connecting cameras to printers, regardless of brand. With such a printer, the stores can eliminate the troublesome digital processing on a PC.

(ESD Takatsuki)

May, 2003

(Dining cars disappear)
On May 25, 1899 the first dining car in Japan went into service on Sanyo Railway Line. Dining cars became popular among passengers nationwide and most express trains had an attached dining car by late 1930s. After some years' break due to World War II, they came back on the JR Tokaido line in 1949. As the postwar national railway system was increasingly used by Japanese for long-distance travels, there were a number of new model dining cars introduced on the major lines. They amused passengers very much providing a relaxed atmosphere and something like a posh banquet. This had peaked out, however, on the old JR lines in the mid 70s when the bullet train, Shinkansen, started covering major cities in the country. When Shinkansen started traveling seven hours from Tokyo to Hakata in 1975, it also coupled a full-size dining car together although each train had carried already two buffet cars from the beginning of the service of Shinkansen in 1964. In 1985, Shinkansen introduced a double-decker dining car that drew passengers attention. However, dining cars are all gone today except those on so-called twilight expresses, Nihonkai and Hokuto, sleeper trains traveling along the Sea of Japan from Osaka to Hokkaido. About three years ago, Shinkansen stopped its service with dining cars completely. As Shinkansen trains run faster and faster, passengers are no longer to make enough time for eating at the dining car. And on the old lines, fast trains run more and more wobbly giving no comfort to customers in the dining car. People are busy. Trains are busy. Therefore, passengers' eating on the train has finally replaced meals on the dining table with boxed lunches on their knees. Some of them may be homemade boxed lunches. But there are food bought from the vendor's carts loaded with eye-catching assortments for eating and drinking constantly circulate up and down the train's aisles. There are boxed lunches bought at the station prior to departure and these are called 'ekiben' (station boxed lunches) that are inseparably bound up with railroad travel in Japan. Every major station along the JR lines has its own boxed lunch in which the local delicacies are arranged. They are sold mostly at a reasonable price. As there are an increasing number of women traveling on business, the box lunch suppliers have started selling a high-class version that contains such a luxury foodstuff as caviar or truffles. They are conducting a limited sale only at the Tokyo station. It looks the 3,000-yen box lunches are quickly sold out in the evening when working women head home by Shinkansen after finishing their tasks of the day. For Japanese, eating and traveling by train are inseparable and keep bringing a new way of culture.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Another summer for Tigers frenzy)
Although fans understand unconsciously it happens every spring that Hanshin Tigers makes a good start at the beginning of the Japanese professional baseball season, they feel something different going on this year with the team. After playing 45 games since the start of the 2003 pennant race, Tigers has achieved 30 wins and one draw. Furthermore, out of the 30 wins, 21 games were come-from-behind victories. Now Hanshin Tigers takes a seven-game lead over Yomiuri Giants which is still regarded the most potential winner of the season among five other pennant chasers in the Central League. Fans are confident that Tigers heads the league until the ballplayers' summer event, all-star games. Then, most probably, it will run further towards the year's victory. The drawing power of the team is great. The past home games have accumulated already one million attendance. Besides Yomiuri Giants, and Daiei Hawks in the Pacific League, such a drawing power must be object of envy to the other professional baseball teams. In terms of the business performance of Hanshin Tigers, the present frenzy works very well. Its games draw always a capacity attendance as long as it keeps its strength in the league. It sells very well items for Hanshin Tigers. Its parent company, Hanshin Electric Railway, is happy carrying more visitors to the Koshien ballpark. And the Hanshin department store benefits certainly from the Tigers frenzy. Therefore, the prices of shares of Hanshin group companies have gone up in spite of the present poor atmosphere in the stock market in Japan. Most fans, however, are still doubtful whether Tigers would achieve the year's victory first time since 18 years ago. Year 1985, that is the time when the country started driving in top speed gear heading for the bubble economy.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Metropolitan spots under redevelopment)
On April 26, more than 300,000 people rushed into the 270 billion yen Roppongi Hills complex, developed by Mori Building Co. Roppongi Hills complex debuted on 11.6 hectares of land that has been transformed into an integrated business and residential community about eight times the size of Tokyo Dome, spotlighting luxury apartments, movie theaters, art galleries and a museum. Owners of the classy flats, spread out among twin 43-story towers, an 18-story building and a six-story building, include those who joined the redevelopment project by giving up their own ancestral lands. They are facing challenges in their new lifestyle at the sky flat which is very much different from that had long taken place on the ground level. The huge site is expected to employ 20,000 people and accommodate about 2,000 residents. The total floor space of Mori Tower, the 270-meter-high office tower, is 380,000 sq. meters. The developer says, Roppongi Hills won't suffer from the glut of office buildings in Tokyo. However, the site has to compete shortly with a similarly redeveloped area near Shinbashi called Caretta Shiodome. At the same time, several big companies opened their offices in the high-rise buildings just completed in Shinagawa Grand Commons where another redevelopment project goes on. Specialists foresee an extreme oversupply with the office space in Tokyo towards the end of 2003. Many owners of old office buildings will suffer from a high vacancy rate. Some are thinking to transform their office spaces into residential rooms. If the rent for such flats or rooms becomes reasonable, the building owners will be able to attract office workers being fed up with long commutes. Then, the city center will turn out to be a residential area.

(ESD Takatsuki)

April, 2003

(New trend in local elections)
The nationwide mayoral and municipal assembly elections took place last Sunday. Despite another record low voter turnout, many female and independent candidates won seats this time. It looks voters are shifting. Things are seemingly not what used to be. At polling stations, we saw some young voters although they were still sprinkling there. In the past elections, we could rarely see young people going to the polls. Nonparty candidates scored votes well in general. Declining voter turnout has been so far favored by the coalition candidates who could receive substantial organized votes from, for example, loyal religious groups. On the other hand, the traditional block vote that had covered major labor unions did not work any longer as industries could not look after labor-management issues under the current recession. Labor unions could not exhibit a power of organization that benefited interests of the opposition parties. When the elderly people who used to be the loyal conservative voters for the ruling coalition are put under pressure on social security programs, they wouldn't go to the polls or vote the opposition parties. Without solving the present recession, the ruling parties will face bitter challenges in elections forthcoming. If the aged abandons its vote and the young joins the game, the voter mix will largely shift in forming the country's political world.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Matsui debuts with grand slam)
Hideki Matsui, just began his life of ballplayer belonging to the New York Yankees, is establishing himself as a clutch hitter in the Major League Baseball. Matsui started the dramatic, hitting a grand slam in his home debut at the Yankee Stadium. He is so far successful in coming up to the expectation of the Japanese baseball fans with his performance in the MLB games. Matsui must be a person born under a lucky star. As compared to Ichiro Suzuki who started his MLB life three years ago and established himself with brilliant records as the major player of the Seattle Mariners, Matsui looks more attractive to the baseball fans. Matsui is different in character from Ichiro who looks a little bit shy and unsociable. Being a slugger, Matsui looks dynamic as a baseball player and more liked by the fans. Some people doubt whether it is an amazing fact that a Japanese baseball player is able to work in the MLB. Perhaps, skills developed in the local professional games are not so much different from those in the United States. It will be impressing more the local fans that a Japanese soccer player works satisfactorily among the first-class European booters for a professional football match. The MLB players must however live in a complete rat race. Compared to the local players, they have to play many more games in a year and go on tour in the big country. It will take time that Matsui really settles himself in the new world and becomes recognized as an able rookie there.

(Astro Boy's birthday)
According to the cartoon story, Astro Boy, or "Tetsuwan Atomu" in Japanese, written by Osamu Tezuka, the birthday of the principal humanoid robot is set on April 7, 2003. Several memorial events were held for those fans still loving Tezuka's cartoon stories. Though the first series of "Astro Boy" was written about 50 years ago, it describes mostly those blessings of civilization around us today. In the Western science fictions, humanoid robots are depicted mostly as a complicated machine that helps people with household chores, or often as a robot that becomes offensive to humans. By contrast, Astro Boy is characterized to be a lovely humanoid robot that has a keen sense of justice and benevolence. Today, our society is supported by a large number of unmanned machine systems and so-called steel-collar workers. They are extremely contributing to people's affluent lifestyle and productivity. Real humanoid robots are also being developed by several companies and are getting close to human beings year after year with their movement and behavior. It is said to be possible to develop technically a humanoid robot that can let emotions show. The human clone will be in a sense called a man-made robot. House-care robots that clean rooms and take charge of the house have been already sold in the market. Some companion robots that dispenses solace and emotional support to lonely persons replacing animal companions will be shortly put on the market. What sort of futuristic society are we heading for? Could we keep those friendly or unfriendly robots under our control?

(Big-scale theme park collapses)
Huis Ten Bosch, a big-scale theme park in Nagasaki, collapsed recently with debts of nearly 230 billion yen. The Dutch style amusement park is now looking for a powerful sponsor under the Corporation Reorganization Law. Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a U.S. investment fund which started already helping Seagaia, a leisure facility in Miyazaki , and Nippon Columbia, a nationwide music and visual content provider, shows interest in the sponsorship. Oriental Land Co., the operator of Tokyo Disneyland, also expresses interest in joining the bidding. Of Huis Ten Bosch, the leisure facility itself seems to have performed well attracting about 3 million visitors annually. Its amusement programs and facilities were liked by the visitors. But, like all other theme parks did wrong in the bubble era, it had invested too much in housings and golf courses that became affecting the overall business performance negatively. Under these circumstances, Tokyo Disneyland, now celebrating its 20th anniversary with its 300 million cumulative visitors, is doing exceptionally well. This is not only because of its geographical advantage having the site surrounded by big cities but also because of its correct management in attracting visitors with interesting programs and comfort, tempting them to repeat visits further. Employees are requested here to be always innovative in line with achieving so-called "customer satisfaction."

(McDonald's makes an effort to come back)
The leading fast food chain, McDonald's, reported recently its first quarterly loss since the company went public in 1965. It looks customers' interest is shifting. And competition from so-called fast-casual chains is getting tougher. The issue of mad cow disease (BSE) talked very much these years and the ever-growing trend toward the healthy diet have seemingly driven people cautious about eating meat. McDonald's plans to improve the bottomline performance by reviewing its business strategies and retraining its employees and managers to provide a more customer-friendly restaurant. McDonald's could once draw more customers by putting an extremely cheap hamburger on sale. But this couldn't contribute to the bottomline. Then, it tried some deluxe meals and high-grade coffee. They didn't work either. As Uniqlo, a clothing company, is struggling hardly with its casual garments, a company once known for its bargain sale could not get rid of its spoiled image in the market. Many fast food chains with their individual innovative ideas are competing in the town on rice balls (onigiri), Sanuki noodles, sushi and other Japanese dishes, curried rice, Chinese noodles and so on. Without some unique efforts and politeness to customers, no one will be able to survive the hard competition in the chain restaurant industry.

(Introduction of environment tax)
The government plans to introduce a temporary tax on coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels in 2005 in an attempt to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goal stipulated in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The tax will be imposed only for seven years until 2012. A 3,000 yen tax per 1 ton of carbon in coal or other fossil fuels consumed by industries is now under consideration. Although this would work out to only about 2 yen per liter of gasoline, the business community is concerned about its impact on the local economy. The expected revenue of about one trillion yen will be spent for those projects related to the Kyoto Protocol. European countries are tackling the issue much more seriously imposing a heavier carbon tax and regulating automobilists more stringently. The current recession in Japan is apt to drive people to put the environmental issues on the back burner. But the environmental projects must be a major challenge for mankind. We must use more positively those eco-friendly products such as hybrid vehicles and energy-saving household appliances. Japan should work hard toward practical use of the fuel cell. In order to protect the local industrial activities facing an impact from the environmental programs, the United States and Japan are more concerned about trading the amount of emission cuts. Their industries can purchase ecology rights in the market. They can also gain emission credits through their ODA activities where they contribute technically to the eco-friendly development of recipient countries, which is called CDM (clean development mechanism).

(IF Osaka)

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(Government reduces training aid budget)
Last-minute calls by major English schools are being aggressively made to invite new applicants to begin studying English making use of the government's training subsidy system that will shrink drastically as of May 1. Currently, the training aid policy supports financially those people covered by the employment insurance and intending to better themselves by studying some professional skills such as English, computers and business accountings. Their student fees are now subsidized up to 80 percent by the system. This will be halved from the next month and those vocational schools presently enjoying prosperity thanks to the system will come certainly under the influence of the change. So far, the government judges that the system has not always been effective in creating workers with improved skills in line with its man power policy. Namely, the training aid is largely wasted as many people benefiting from the system do not study hard taking to heart. Such a system where everybody is entitled to benefit will not work as it is originally intended. It will work more as a tool to boost a little bit the local economy by activating the education industry. There is another example. Several months ago, the government supported financially those elderly people who wished to learn how to use personal computers in line with the country's promotion projects with information technology (IT). Many aged people attended the five-day orientation courses free of charge. But very few started their lifestyle with a personal computer. Most people didn't even buy computers after the training. It says, "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him it drink." Still, we have some more weeks for us to start studying something benefiting from the tolerant training aid system.

(ESD Takatsuki)

March, 2003

(Large theme parks go bust)
A Dutch-style theme park in Nagasaki, Huis Ten Bosch, one of Japan's largest amusement grounds, failed with debts of nearly 230 billion yen. It had attracted more than 3 million visitors annually. Visitors could experience an European atmosphere there by strolling along the canals and 17th century Dutch houses. The Dutch park has filed for protection from creditors with the local court under the amended Corporate Rehabilitation Law. This has followed on the heels of those recent cases of Seagaia in Miyazaki Prefecture and Gulliver's Kingdom at the foot of Mount Fuji. Private railways built several leisure facilities along their lines. They are not in good shape either. Hankyu closes its 92-year-old amusement park, Takarazuka Family Land. Hanshin Railway has just closed its Hanshin Koshien Park. They were apparently beaten by Universal Studios Japan opened in Osaka two years ago. USJ was regarded as Tokyo Disneyland's top rival and hosted more than 10 million visitors its first year. But even USJ couldn't keep its popularity. Its business performance becomes poor. Like the Dutch park, most companies running leisure facilities continued with a massive investment in housings and golf courses that has given them fatal injuries. Tokyo Disneyland and its affiliate, Tokyo DisneySea, are exceptions, attracting more than 20 million visitors every year. This is not only because of its favorable geographical location but also because of its attractive programs. The impact from the recession is large, but there is still demand for theme parks. Without a careful planning and proper management for such amusement facilities, visitors will soon get tired of them.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Candidates with manifestos)
A round of the unified local elections is taking place in Japan. Governors, mayors and members of local assemblies will be elected on April 13 or 27. The main issues this time are autonomy and decentralization. In this campaign for gubernatorial elections, one significant development is the trend in which candidates draw up a "manifesto." This was first proposed some years ago by Masayasu Kitagawa, Governor of Mie Prefecture. Candidates now try to spell out their policies and plans in specific terms instead of just shouting vague campaign pledges and lofty slogans. This reminds us of the recent verbal gaffe left by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at a Diet panel. He said the public commitments he had made during his campaign to become the head of the Liberal Democratic Party two years ago would be not so important. He takes such a campaign pledge not a big deal. Presentation of a manifesto to the electorates by a candidate cannot however be done thoughtlessly. When the elected persons fail to keep their word, they should be ready to go out of office. A manifesto is no hot air freely given by the election candidates. When those elected persons work strictly in line with their manifestos, they can proudly say they are representing those people who have bought the public commitments on the election day.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Bottled water as portable commodity)
Discussions at the Third World Water Forum being held in Kyoto, Osaka and in Shiga Prefecture are under way. It is estimated that 1.4 billion people in the world do not have access to safe water and that 2.3 billion people lack adequate sanitation. Seven million people die each year because of water-borne diseases. In 20 years, nearly two-thirds of the world's inhabitants may face water shortages. Most Japanese people think their land has no water problems because of its geographical location periodically providing a monsoon climate. However, Japan is not a country so much blessed with enough volume of rainfall. The level of Japan's annual precipitation per capita is below the world average. And the latest statistics on annual rainfall shows a gradual decrease. Global warming seems to be causing climate change also in Japan. Under these circumstances, Japanese are very much interested in the quality of water. To have health benefits, they drink water in the plastic bottles bought at supermarkets. They hate the smell of chlorine or bleach in the tap water. About five million tons of the bottled water are imported into Japan every year from abroad. The plastic bottle of mineral water, isotonic beverages or deep sea water has become a portable commodity for people going out. For the tap water, Japanese pay 200-300 yen per cubic meter. Quality of the Japanese tap water is very good to drink. But they still buy bottled water paying 50-250 yen per liter, namely, 200-1,000 times the tap water. Moreover, Japan's food self-supporting ratio is only 40 percent. This means the country imports every year huge volume of food from abroad which needs tremendous amount of the local agricultural water during its production. Such agricultural water used indirectly for Japanese people in overseas is estimated at a level corresponding to 70 percent of the Japan's present annual water consumption. Japanese couldn't be so optimistic enjoying bottles from Evian-les-Bains.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Do not touch cashpoints on Saturday)
Japanese major banks have started imposing fees upon depositors for their Saturday transactions at automated teller machines. They have implemented it almost simultaneously. The Fair Trade Commission is looking into the subject. The moves will not contravene the antimonopoly law if they are based on each bank's judgment, but it is a problem if they stem from talks among banks. So far, for transactions at ATMs, depositors were only paying their fees after 2 p.m. on Saturday and whole day on Sunday. This question wouldn't be disputed so much in those days when banks could pay depositors a substantial rate of interest on cash at bank. Today, depositors get only 10 yen a year on their one million yen at bank. One day, a man touched an automated teller machine not properly while he wanted the machine to dispense 10,000 yen. He first pushed 10-yen keys and the acknowledge button by accident. The machine gave him a ten-yen coin. At this point, ten yen and 105 yen as the ATM fee were deducted from his credit balance. Then, he tried again. And this time, he could get 10,000 yen successfully from the cash dispenser, of course, paying another 105 yen as the ATM fee. To withdraw 10,010 yen of his savings, therefore, he needed to pay 210 yen for transactions at the ATM. This wouldn't happen on a person-to-person transaction at the bank counters. These days our cash in bank will never grow but it will be nibbled each time we touch the greedy machines at the weekend. People will become more careful to try visiting cash dispensers during the business hours of banks.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Traveling first class)
For an elderly couple, traveling first class is cheaper if they make a train trip more than 1,000km. The JR companies in Japan are selling "Full Moon Green Pass" for a married couple who is old enough to get more than 88 by adding up their ages. "This time, we purchased a five-day pass," says a senior participant, "to travel up to Kitakami to attend the wedding of our nephew." The five-day pass costed them 80,500 yen. If they even traveled economy the same distance, they would have paid nearly 90,000 yen for the two-way tickets and additional tickets for limited express trains. With the Green Pass, the married couple can travel first class to any spots on the JR lines nationwide. Of course, the husband and wife must travel always together. "On the way back from the wedding in Iwate," says the senior member, "we enjoyed two hot-spring spots." The new bullet train "Hayate" on the Tohoku Shinkansen pleased them very much with its comfort. On the Hayate's Green car, passengers are served a cup of tea or coffee with compliments. Hayate runs at 270 kilometers per hour. It connects Sendai and Ohmiya (322km) in 75 minutes. It's really a fast train. "Then, we visited Minakami spa," the senior man continues, "and we stayed one night at a hotel in Minakami where I took up lodgings 59 years ago as one of student evacuees from Tokyo being hit by the US air strikes." Unfortunately, he couldn't come across anyone there who would be able to share the wartime memories. "The next day, we took a train called Hakutaka from Echigoyuzawa to Toyama," he continues, "it was also a comfortable train." Seats on the Green car are roomy and arranged in three lines, A and B on the left side and D on the right. Hakutaka takes a short cut to the coast of the Sea of Japan. The newly built route with tunnels and straight tracks of Hokuhoku Line, a private railway, takes the train quickly from the mountainous area. Here, the train runs at 160 kilometers per hour, the fastest on the narrow gauge track in Japan. "And from Toyama, we took another comfortable train called Wide View Hida down to Gero spa," says the senior man, "the Green car with the similar design to the previous train offered a nice view of the valley that flowed in line with the direction of our train." All in all, the Green-pass trip was very successful for them. He says they would do it again as the next time they can get another 5,000 yen discount for the same pass.

(ESD Takatsuki)

February, 2003

(Give me chocolate!)
On Valentine Day of days, Japanese women have been pushed to buy chocolate, not just for their beaus but for all menfolk at their worksite, related or not. But now, women are seemingly shifting to their courageous actions not any more to entertain guys but to enjoy themselves with authenticity of some branded chocolate in this particular season. Still, young women give chocolate to their boys, but converge it more on their lovers and a limited number of their partners regardless of sex. So, for those middle-aged fellows, deelo men, the ritual of interchanging presents with office girls on Valentine Day and the white day in March will be gone. That's good. It was giving us a headache what to buy for girls as presents in return on March 14. At the same time, however, guys will feel ostracized from the young community that enjoys itself releasing the aroma of high-quality chocolate in the office. Then, some elderly people will suddenly recall a scene in their childhood that, hemming American occupation soldiers about on the street some 50 years ago, they were begging a handout shouting "Give me chocolate!"

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Communicative English skills)
Japanese students study English for six years but can rarely utilize any of it in practice. Various propositions have been given to improve English classes at school. In order to prepare students for entrance examinations, however, teachers still have to focus on the technical aspects of English such as grammar and word for word translation. What students learn at school is not always applicable in the real world. Classes of advanced mathematics, physics or classical literature hardly give students skills that can be utilized in practice after graduation. Today, college entrance examinations are gradually shifting to include more listening comprehension. Indeed, we see some improvement. Particularly, there are a growing number of young people who speak English in correct pronunciation. And there are many Japanese people who can clearly express their own opinions in English. In the society where English is practically not needed, we don't have to ask everyone to become able to speak English. It looks the country has already a good number of people who can speak English to conduct their individual international activities without problems. Slowly, we had better stop enjoying this everlasting subject.

(Making Japan tourist destination)
It's said that foreign visitors to Japan are often bewildered by so many people who don't understand English. The government has just started a campaign project to activate tourism at home with the goal in 2010 to invite 10 million tourists from abroad. Today, Japan sends 16 million tourists to foreign countries in a year while it receives only 4.8 million visitors from abroad. The annual tourism deficit is amounting to 35 trillion yen. Why is Japan so unpopular with foreigners? It may be one of the reasons for unpopularity that most Japanese don't understand English. Some say everything is expensive in Japan. Hotels, meals, public transport and all other travel fees are the highest in the world. Locally, Kyoto receives nearly 40 million tourists in a year. The number is not far smaller than that of Paris although visitors to Kyoto are mostly Japanese. Visitors here, however, always complain about their experiences having been caught in a traffic jam and hardly covered their planned sightseeing spots in Kyoto. For foreign visitors, the two hub airports, Narita and Kanku, being equipped with only one runway, are very small compared to those in neighboring countries. And they are located in a remote place where visitors must be ready to pay at least 20,000 yen to be taken to the midtown district by a taxi. Japan currently suffers from a long-lasting recession and has no powerful plans to increase its GDP any further. Tourism is very important for Japan's future. Now, Japan must reform its land to become more visitor-friendly.

(Campaign against unpaid overtime work)
We must get over the habit. One of the main campaign subjects in the spring labor offensive by the Federation of Trade Unions is to end 'service zangyo' (no-pay overtime). Employers who attempt not to pay extra for overtime made by their employees are violating the Labor Standard Law. Recently, the chairman of a nursing home in Tokyo was arrested for forcing its employees to work unpaid overtime up to 100 hours a month. Even statusy companies such as Toyota Motor and some consumer electronics manufacturers are receiving a warning from the Labor Standards Bureau on a similar custom. Often, it is a case in the Japanese workplaces that people feel uneasy leaving the office sharp at five p.m. while many other colleagues are still working. You feel there is peer pressure. But in the workplaces of foreign affiliates, the situation is quite opposite. If you still stay and work in the office after office hours, there will be peer pressure among those leaving for home. You will be regarded as a slow worker or a lazy and unproductive fellow. So, there may be a cultural difference in working environment between countries. Introduction of the performance-based wage system in line with a clearly expressed job description, the traditional habit loosely accepted by both employers and employees will disappear in the near future. And those who really work overtime will certainly get paid extra for the contribution as the administrative direction by the authorities is strengthened against the employers.

(Is Koizumi burning out?)
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi looks to be getting out of blood. Being criticized for his recent fiasco expressing his unachieved campaign pledges as "no big deal" at a Diet panel, he didn't keep any more his haughty face to make an excuse for it but apologized sheepishly to the same panel. He still keeps a high public support, above 50 percent. General public may feel Koizumi's dynamo is stalling out. But it is unfortunate for people there are no alternative leaders they would call forward. There is no sign of economic recovery in the Japanese society with the record high jobless rate and long-lasting deflationary pressure. Koizumi emphasizes he still keeps his efforts to achieve the main political promise of crusades. His original ideas, to limit the annual issuance of the government bonds within 30 trillion yen , to start imposition of a refund cap on bank deposits in April 2002 and to pay a Yasukuni visit on August 15, were all unachievable exactly. On the reform plans, he faced a strong resistance from his LDP colleagues who never gave up their vested interest. And he had to compromise such issues with them. Each time, he disappointed the public. For his survival in office, he must now make a step forward with a drastic reform project to streamline the government expenditures.

(IF Osaka)

January, 2003

(Toothbrush, most important)
"A recent study shows people think toothbrushes more important than cars, refrigerators,televisions, personal computers or cell phones," says a senior participant, "they are getting more cautious about oral hygiene problems." There is evidence that Mesopotamian had used something like a toothbrush to clean teeth already in BC 3000. Toothbrushes nearly in the present form were developed in China and sold to European countries in the 15th century. "These days, people brush their teeth every time after eating," says the senior member, "I never do so. I only brush my teeth when I get out of bed in the morning." The country is driving a nationwide campaign '80/20' that asks people to take care of their teeth to achieve having at least 20 natural teeth on the gum lines in their mouth when they become 80 years old. Dentists recommend us to call them at least once a year to remove tartar deposit from our teeth even though we are not suffering from any dental diseases. We must clean our teeth carefully and effectively to remove as much plaque as possible. "Again, I never call a dentist," says the old man, "I called the dentist only two times in my life. And my last visit was 22 years ago." Perhaps, this guy is exceptional. "You may be not so lucky. One of my friends," says another senior member, "suddenly lost all his teeth due to a periodontal disease although he had been proud of his complete set of healthy teeth for a long period." To the modern eye, the toothbrush is one of the most important take-along articles in people's hand bags. And it is quite often taken out for use in a day from the hand bags. "Looking around the aged within my circle, the goal to have 20 natural pieces active in my mouth at age 80 is not an easy one," says one lady, "I think, therefore, brushing of teeth is very important at least to achieve such a goal even partly." There will be more and more nervous people who take the toothbrush out of the hand bag and hurry over to the bathroom as soon as they finish eating at restaurants.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Consumption tax rate will be raised)
"In the current aging society, to maintain social security programs such as health insurance and the pension system," says a senior participant, "a drastic measure must be considered." Nippon Keidanren in its 'Vision 2025' proposes that the consumption tax rate be hiked by 1 percentage point each year from fiscal 2004 through 2014, thus raising the rate to 16 percent in the final year. "I wouldn't like to see a big reduction in my pension benefits for my retirement," says a middle-aged member, "perhaps, we need to pay a higher consumption tax to maintain the system." With aging workforces, it is necessary that the tax system should focus more on people's spending than on income. Since 1997, we have been paying 5 percent consumption tax. The average rate of equivalent taxes in other Asian countries is 10 percent, while that in Europe is nearly 20 percent. "While raising the consumption tax," says one lady, "a special consideration is necessary, such as introducing lower rates on daily necessity goods." The government, however, needs to collect at least 30 trillion yen as additional taxes to achieve the balance of revenue with expense in the national budget, even though government outlays at both the national and local levels are reviewed to cut back on wasteful expenditure. "Major income of the consumption tax is certainly on commodities people have to buy in day-to-day life," says a senior member, "without imposing a tax on bread and butter, for example, around 10 percent, the government cannot get enough money." One quarter of Japanese workforces is in the group of those who don't have to pay income taxes as their annual earnings do not exceed the minimum income level. When the consumption tax rate is raised substantially in future, they would become an important tax payer.

(ESD Takatsuki)

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(Youth with optimistic outlook on life)
"In connection with Coming-of-Age Day, a public opinion poll was made," says a senior participant, "and it shows younger people have an optimistic outlook on their future life while they foresee a dark future for the Japanese society at the same time." 1.52 million people nationwide who have reached or will reach adulthood, 20 years old, during the period from April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003 were invited to celebrate coming-of-age ceremonies on January 13. In Japan's aging society, the number of people blending in newly with the adult is decreasing year after year. According to the poll, young adults do not worry about their own futures although they think the Japanese society would become much tougher. "They can't link social problems and personal problems," says one lady, "they don't feel a sense of unity in the society." Most of young adults are still supported by their parents. Current social problems such as high jobless rate, deteriorating social security, astronomical sums of government debts and long-lasting recession are beyond their mind. "In general, people regard such public problems or affairs of other persons as having nothing to do with themselves," says a senior member, "and they don't try to draw a lesson from such problems taking place outside their field." Even an elderly person who attends a funeral for one of his intimate friends would not think seriously that it will be his own ceremony tomorrow. People are basically optimistic.

((ESD Takatsuki)


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Updated on: March 22, 2004

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