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Its regular readers would be most disappointed that the Asahi Shinbun, the most reliable liberal newspaper in Japan, repeats blundering. The newspaper published recently a story based on a faked information about the meeting held in Nagano between the two key players in the political world. Although the reporter at the Asahi's Nagano office had failed to interview one of the politicians participated in the meeting, he, blinded by ambition, fabricated a memo to depict the content of the meeting and sent it to the Tokyo head office. The memo was then processed to form a printed news article by his unsuspecting colleagues in Tokyo. In 1989, Asahi fabricated a story about the damaged coral of Iriomotejima in Okinawa using a fake picture, which forced the company president to resign for taking responsibility. Several years ago, the newspaper plagiarized an article from Chugoku Shinbun. While, early this year, Asahi reported of an alleged political pressure on the content of a TV program before its airing by NHK, it has not so far offered a clear evidence on the issue to conduct challenging questions from both NHK and those politicians involved. Journalism is expected to play an important role to critically observe movements of the establishment in the society. People have depended on Asahi from this point of view as some other newspapers shifted to show a rightward tilt. And now, the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japanese conservative papers, ran an apology explaining that a photo it published recently of a stork with the moon in the background was a composite photograph. It's interesting, however, a Sankei's columnist has written his impression about the incident unnecessarily quoting Nanjing Massacre that, he would claim, was almost fabricated based on some fake information and misleading pictures.
(Koizumi's party wins in landslide)
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party won the general election in a landslide. A high turnout was in general to benefit the interest of the opposition parties. This time, however, it has worked the other way around in favor of Koizumi's ruling party. Koizumi scripted smartly the election program. He treated badly his minority opponents in the LDP who voted "no" to the postal privatization bill in the Diet. They lost completely the support of the party in their election campaigns. In their traditional constituencies, as a matter of fact, they had to fight with an officially ticketed candidate delivered by the party headquarters beside those from the opposition parties. Koizumi's tele-politics worked perfectly. The theatrical spectacle was sensationally aired everyday in detail by the major TV stations. And this had squeezed out the airtime for the election campaigns of opposition parties. With his overwhelming majority in the Diet, Koizumi will push through the increasing burden on citizens such as tax increases in order to cope with the astronomical sums of national debts. Asian countries are concerned with Koizumi's leadership in giving Japan a rightward tilt. If we carefully look at his landslide victory, however, the LDP could largely benefit from the existing election system, single-seat constituency system. The ruling parties did not get the majority of the total votes, although they won the election with more than two-thirds seats. In fact, ballots were distributed among various political parties similarly to the general election held one week later in Germany.
(Centenarians hit 25,000 in Japan)
The number of centenarians in Japan exceeded a 25,000 level in September, 2005. The number was only 153 when the survey started in 1963. More people enjoy an extremely long life today. And the society is firmly aging. This is a welcome social phenomenon as such in a sense. It creates, however, various problems in the society. The pension system designed on the average longevity, 80 years old, will suffer an additional payment for those never ending a life. Increasing number of aged unhealthy people will cause a strong impact on the national medicare system. Many bedridden patients in a vegetative state or dementia will spend time in hospital without being offered a quality of life. All such expenses are to be financed by those younger generations active in businesses. And the active young population is shrinking in Japan due to the long-lasting low birth rate. It is essential that old people are held close to their heart. But quite often, old people are simply regarded as an important pensioner, breadwinner, among the family members. They are regarded simply as an important customer for medical institutions which are now earning two-thirds incomes from the aged. Therefore, old people are very much liked to live long by the interested parties though they are not always respected. The country, however, cannot afford any longer to have old people covered too much by the pension and welfare system. The aged will be necessarily treated worse in the future.
(Parents, children differ on job desires)
No child knows how dear he is to his parents. A recent survey shows that more than half of parents want their children to work anyway even regardless of job's desirability. But more than half of young people are willing to work only if they find jobs they like. Currently, the average jobless rate in Japan is 4.4 percent coming back from the record high level of 5.4 percent three years ago. The jobless rate for younger people, however, still keeps the highest level of nearly 11 percent since three years ago and is showing no sign for improvement. After they graduate from school, they hardly join a company to their taste as regular employees. Many young people will work as a part-timer until they find jobs they life. As they spend years in such a situation, they will be squeezed out from an ordinary lifestyle that gives their parents a certain sense of security. Some of them will end up a group of people called NEET (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training). When we have so many dropout people around us, the crime rate will increase in the society. A passage, "There is no free lunch," is nearly what the Bible says. Parents can, however, afford to keep supporting their grown-up children financially these days. Many youngsters don't have to work for their bread. Although the job market is getting brisk today, the employment system has become tougher to workers in general. The traditional seniority system is collapsing and a performance-based wage system is being introduced. More support from the whole of society is necessary for young people to achieve self-reliance and fully enter society.
(Government to levy more on salaryman's incomes
Japan is urged to do something on its huge, ever-increasing debt being estimated at one quadrillion yen in both government and municipal bonds at the end of 2005. And despite its medium-term plan to achieve a balanced national budget in the early 2010s, the Japanese government still spends an amount being nearly two times more than its revenue every year. Now, the salaried workers who are earning 210 trillion yen annually and paying only 14 trillion yen as income taxes are taken into account as the major group to participate in solving this problem. The fixed-rate across-the-board tax cut, 20 percent of the income tax, that was temporarily introduced several years ago aiming at a business recovery in the country will be held back shortly. The spouse tax credit will be abolished since the homemaking partner is not to be considered as one of the breadwinner's dependants. The employment income exemption, currently about 30 percent, will be largely reduced. Taxpayers can instead apply for a tax return based on their deductive expenses. All in all, the average salaried worker will have to pay income taxes five times more than the amount levied today. Before increasing income taxes, people say, the government has many things to do. It should streamline its operations more strictly. Salaried workers must get a fare treatment against the self-employed, medical doctors and other freelance professionals in terms of impartiality of taxation.
(Curry killer's death sentence appeal)
Osaka High Court recently dismissed a woman's appeal against the lower court ruling that had sentenced her to death. She allegedly killed four people at a community festival in Wakayama seven years ago by lacing a curry stew with arsenic. Though the 43-year-old woman had kept silent on trial at the lower court, she became talkative at the High Court. She insisted that witnesses might have wrongly seen her wearing a white T-shirt on that day, claiming that she was wearing a black T-shirt and the one who was wearing a white shirt was her second daughter. Her not-guilty plea, however, was not accepted by the presiding judge at the court. In this case, judges had to conclude a story mainly based on circumstantial evidences. In six years, we will be involved in this kind of controversial trials as a citizen judge. The ordinary citizen couldn't shrink from giving the decision at the criminal court. Citizen judges are asked to conclude the decision even though there is no self-explanatory evidence of the crime. They would go this way and that on some circumstantial evidences. It would be hard for them particularly to condemn a person to death only based on some circumstantial evidences. under these circumstances, the campaign to abolish capital punishment will be strengthened to give future citizen judges a certain sense of security. They will be afraid to become involved in a party to misjudge a criminal case.
(Japan's whaling bid fails)
A fastfood franchise in Hokkaido started serving a whale burger. The burger contains meat from minke whale that has been hunted for Japan's scientific research. European animal rights activists immediately came back with their critical comments. Japan meantime failed to convince the majority members of IWC at the last general meeting in South Korea with its proposal to overturn a ban on commercial whaling. Japan's another proposal of introducing a whale stock management and monitoring system was also dismissed by the meeting. The Hokkaido chain said it would try to increase whale meat's popularity among the local customers. Despite disagreement at the meeting, Japan will double its scientific whaling from this year. And the number of whale it catches will exceed that Norway hunts in a year under commercial whaling they started several years ago. Some European countries say that Japan has already started a commercial whaling under the name of scientific whaling. Japan claims that whale population is expanding unproportionally against the other marine life. They are taking too much salt-water fish in the world. In fact, the general public in Japan is not so much interested in whale meat. Older people have their bitter memory about whale meat during a certain period after the war. They were fed up with the canned whale day after day. Scientists studying environmentology warn that whale does not offer good meat in terms of food safety as it stands at the top of the food chain in the sea. All industrial toxic substances could be condensed in the whale meat.
(Something wrong with high school students)
A recent survey indicates that 45 percent of Japanese high school students rarely study on weekdays except at school in comparison to 15 percent in the United States and 8 percent in China. Many students are not ambitious any more. They like living without working. Their scholastic abilities are dropping year after year.. They are not so patriotic. In floods of these low-spirited young people, we couldn't foresee a bright future for our society. There are plenty of people in the society very much demotivated due to the industrry-wide restructuring campaign under Japan's long-lasting economic recession. They are hardly treated by high school students as a model for their future courses. Some say there are not so many contemporary success stories available around us that would give young people a charge. And there are few talented teachers these days who could strongly influence their students. However, the biggest question lies in their parents. Their children can take it easy. In fact, most of young students think they can live in ease without working after graduation continuously supported by their parents. And parents, particularly those retired, are still wealthy enough to look after their children.
(Sexists can't stay on)
The thirty-year-old scene at worksites on gender discrimination is still in dispute in Japan. Osaka District Court ordered Sumitomo Metal to pay 64 million yen in compensation to four female employees who suffered sexual discrimination in wages and promotions. In the meantime, most companies became more careful about treating female employees in line with gender equality. Therefore, such a scene the above female plaintiffs had claimed some 30 years ago almost disappeared from the workplace today. There are already many female governors and mayors in office now elected by their local people. Although the company in question has appealed the ruling, women are treated much more comfortably these days at the office. In the business world, it's nothing unusual any longer that a female board member or division chief manages a large number of her subordinates. And male workers there are never made feel uncomfortable with their female bosses. In fact, some women are very much talented. They could keep a sense of purpose without compromising. Perhaps, we are heading for the society of female chauvinism.
(Death with dignity)
Amidst nationwide disputes about the quality of life and death with dignity in the United States, the 41-year-old terminally-ill woman, Terri Schiavo, died finally. She was bedbound for 15 years in a vegetative state. Although her husband gave up Terri's recovery eight years ago and wished to disconnect the feeding tube that had sustained his brain-damaged wife, Terri's parents strongly opposed it. Despite the intervention of some pro-life politicians, the life-prolonging treatment for Terri ended several weeks ago to let her starve to death with the support of court rulings. Terri's husband repeatedly claimed that his wife had left a verbal instruction about the medical treatment in case she became bed-ridden hopelessly. Some say such an instruction should be a written advance request for treatment based on which doctors have a duty to provide artificial nutrition or hydration. When this is recommended, people would easily write their wish not to be treated too long on a life-prolonging medical system. They wouldn't like to stay alive in a vegetative state. But this they can say while they are enough healthy. We know, at the same time, people are by nature flexible and adaptable. They quickly get used to the new surrounding, even though it has been thought a hardship. People are optimistic for life. Nobody could tell whether the incompetent patient really wishes death with dignity still now. As science advances, more modern life-prolonging medical treatments will become available. Are you willing to pay an increasing amount of money out of our Health Insurance to those terminally-ill patients who are hopeless in terms of recovery?
(Are universities just for well-off children?)
The tertiary education and its preparatory expenditures cost parents a fortune. Only well-off families could send their children to big-name colleges or universities. There's a survey telling that a large majority of parents sending their children to Tokyo University, the nation's most prestigious school, get an annual cash earning above 10 million yen. In former times, most students there were with grants and bursaries. Once children from deprived backgrounds got into university, they did very well. More went into postgraduate study than those from more affluent backgrounds. Today, teenagers from well-off backgrounds are several times more likely to go to famous universities than those from the most deprived areas. Such a report always highlights the significant divisions between rich and poor areas. This problem is social. The society must be reaching out more positively to students from deprived backgrounds. Some say the women students studying today at Tokyo University are more beautiful than those in the past. They say this happens out of a virtue circle for the affluent and a vicious circle for the poor. Children from well-off backgrounds can receive their education at good universities. And they will start their career as selected number of superstars. Then, children from well-off backgrounds could marry a good-looking partner. And they give birth to a good-looking child. In this way, the gulf between haves and have nots is broadened.
(Alleged censorship on TV programs)
Japan's public broadcasting station, NHK, and the country's leading newspaper, the Asahi Shinbun, are colliding head-on. The Asahi seems to have reported bit too eagerly of politicians' alleged involvement in censorship of an NHK program about a mock trial on the wartime sex slavery which was aired four years ago. At the same time, it's an unlikely story that, NHK claims, it's never bowed to political pressure in producing its TV programs. NHK is run by a public corporation based on subscription fees collected from most households living in the country. As its annual business plan and budget are subject to Diet approval, NHK needs to communicate with key politicians in the ruling parties to lay the groundwork for its draft proposals. "Out of consideration for either the right-wing or the left-wing," some critics say, "NHK tends to shrink from digging into those critical issues that are considered to be under taboo in the public." In recent years, there has been a series of cover-ups of misdeeds committed by NHK employees. The culture of such cover-ups has really been created by the long-run chairman, Katsuji Ebisawa. Lodging protest, more than one percent subscribers have stopped paying their levies on the set. Bitterly accused, Ebisawa retired last week. It is almost felt by the public that NHK has grown to a big business. It runs a number of unnecessary activities. NHK should be streamlined to broadcast only news and some educational programs. Subscription fees will eventually be reduced drastically.
(Fringe benefits for civil servants under pressure)
It has been revealed that Osaka municipal employees are receiving an 18-billion-yen worth extra benefit annually from the city's taxpayers. The self-serving public spending has been made in the style of false claim for overtime work, special pension funds, handsome allowance for personal job skills and periodical supply of suits and uniforms to all employees. It's true that, up until 20 years ago, the private sector was offering similar benefits to its workers. However, the long-lasting recession and toughened competition due to prevailing market economy have meantime made Japanese industries stop giving such fringe benefits to their employees. Nation's most civil servants still enjoy their life at worksites based on the vested interest supported by their strong labor unions and promised job security. The labor union for the private sector has lost its power in defending union members from the worsening remuneration and job insecurity under the employer's restructuring campaigns. The public servant was not so much spotlighted 20 years ago as a popular careerman for young people to strive to become. Most parents, however, will be pleased today if their children could pass the tough employment exam to become a public servant. Citizens' ombudsmen here and there are investigating the public spending of their local governments. Civil servants will not be able to continue with those fringe benefits. Wage workers in the private sector think the total number of public servants should be reduced drastically by streamlining the governmental organizations and maximizing their productivity.
(Is a woman's place on the throne?)
No males have been born to the Imperial family for almost 40 years. Crown Prince Naruhito's only child is three-year-old Princess Aiko. Under these circumstances, all court noble households of the Imperial family will collapse eventually. And the nation's emperor system will be endangered. An advisory panel just kicked off discussions on the Imperial House Law, with the central theme to be whether and how a female could ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. The Imperial House Law stipulates that only a male in the paternal line of the Imperial family could reign. The tradition has continued for more than 1,000 years. Media polls indicate that a vast majority of people would not object to a reigning empress. People take it for granted that the Imperial family demonstrates gender equality by acting as the symbolic emperor. Taking the public opinion into consideration, the panel will study on maintaining a stable succession for the future. The panel is tasked with compiling recommendations for revisions to the 1947 Imperial House Law by the end of this year. Some rightwing elements oppose to a female succession. They wish the panel to conclude adopting a male from one of Emperor's distant relatives who were pushed out of the Imperial family after World War II. Then, the only long-established monarchy in the paternal line in the world could be maintained. There are no strong opinions that the emperor system itself should be reviewed on the occasion.
(Japanese get a kick out of blood groups)
People are often entertained by a fortune-telling. They attempt to make everything a crystal ball. And in Japan, the blood grouping is talked about for a giggle. Most people simply enjoy such talks and are never serious about its 'divine' revelation. But it looks there are some people who think they are offended. The blood grouping is distributed among Japanese as 40 percent for Type A, 30 for O, 20 for B and 10 for AB. Critics say that genetic fortune-telling is controversial and blood groups are hereditary. There may be a danger that the public and the government accept in future the idea of screening people. Today, many TV programs deal with fortune-telling based on the blood groups. Although they do it as an entertainment act, they are still accused of their attitude giving a flavor to particularly please the majority blood groups, Type A and O. This is also a scene when blood grouping is used for character assessment. For the minority blood groups, Type B and AB, their characters are often judged as 'unique.' And people of Type A and O are regarded as 'standard.' This is a scientifically unproven idea. There isn't any correlation between blood groups and individual characteristics. A serious fortune-teller will be defined as anyone who claims to tell fortunes, to have occult powers or psychic powers. But, in some place, fortune-telling is a crime. People are allowed to do it only as an entertainment act.
(Going into labor)
Pregnant young women are carefully deciding where to go when they go into labor in the several months' future. Today on the Internet, many maternity houses attempt to attract these women by their hospitality. They offer a comfortable single room, nice meals, an esthetic clinic, foot bath and so on. The pregnant women can have a larger room if they have to stay at the maternity house together with their little children. There is a day nursery that looks after those toddlers whose mothers are busy in getting a checkup or starting into labor. Everything is well-organized to impress the inmate and visitors. Of course, the young mother has to work hard the first couple of days for giving birth there. But later, she would enjoy living a queen's life for seven days at the maternity house. Their newborns are taken care of mostly by nurses. Those women delivered of a baby by cesarean section are also treated perfectly staying four more days at the house. The package price of the luxury stay at a maternity house is certainly expensive ranging from 300,000 to a half million yen. The birth rate has declined to 1.29 in 2003 in Japan. It means that an average Japanese woman will have opportunities to give birth to a baby only once or twice in her life. The luxury stay at the maternity house is therefore not so expensive for such women. And usually, the large portion of the expenses is subsidized later by her husband's company or the health insurance. By word of mouth or on the Internet, pregnant young women are curiously rating hospitals of birth these days.
(Quake hits Japan's bullet train)
Not so many days after its achievement of forty years' perfectly safe operation since October 1, 1964, Japan's bullet train (Shinkansen) was hit by a 6.8 magnitude quake in Niigata. On the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, a ten-car train from Tokyo derailed while running at about 200 kph near JR Nagaoka Station when the deadly quakes hit the area on the evening of October 23. Although there were no injuries, this was the first derailment since the high-speed service began 40 years ago. When the Kobe earthquake took place in 1995, the elevated Shinkansen track dropped at many places. It was fortunate that the Kobe quake attacked the area very early in the morning when the bullet train had not started its daily service. This taught the railway operators a lesson how their elevated tracks were weak. They started reinforcement of piers supporting elevated railway tracks for the Shinkansen networks nationwide. This time, there were seemingly no fallen tracks. But many piers supporting the elevated track are apparently damaged by the jolt. The bullet train is equipped with an accurate seismic sensor. The system can stop trains immediately after a quake takes place. But still it's no help for trains just running unfortunately at the epicenter.
(NEET youths spotlighted))
About a half million young people are considered to fall into the category of so-called NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in Japan. Most of them are possibly supported financially by their wealthy parents. They are those having withdrawn from society, those enjoying hanging around with friends after dropping out from school education, those could not decide what to do on graduating from universities, or those having given up a full-time job in their earlier business life. This seems to be the fallout from the long-lasting period of Japan's peaceful and prosperous time during the past decades. Our society has been so established that an easygoing life seems available for people as long as they stay unambitious. For the time being, they will be supported by their parents or by the welfare check. But this wouldn't last long. They will be thrown back into the rat race, whether they like it or not, as our society becomes more competitive and less wealthy as a whole in the near future. Then, the NEET youths will disappear. They will be distributed somewhere in the social structure that shows a great gulf between rich and poor.
(Optician challenged of racial discrimination)
An Afro-American recently filed a suit against an optician in Osaka for refusing him entry to the shop. The American says that this was the first time he'd been discriminated in his nine years in Japan. Things are not what used to be. Japanese were known to be courtly and refined. They were too shy to refuse any foreign visitors the power to go into their stores. Japanese are no more xenophobic. They can be round with foreigners. As some Japanese are now explicit, however, they become often brutally honest. They have to learn to be insincere particularly in case that they are involved in the subject of some critical issues such as racial discrimination. This is a normal attitude taken by most citizens in civilized countries. There are certainly those people in these countries who advocate desegregation in accordance with their strong beliefs. For Japanese to become more cosmopolitan, they have to learn how to go through the issue of racial discrimination smartly. They are no more shy enough to cover up their true feelings. People, by nature, discriminate against other groups of people. Even within a homogeneous society, they create innately a group to be offended. Education and discipline would be then very important.
(Fixed-line prices become cheaper)
Japan's telecommunication giant, NTT, faces up to a price war with KDDI and Japan Telecom in the country's fixed-line phone market. NTT has been suffering declining revenue from its land-line business as mobile phones and IP phones spread. But NTT still keeps a big annual income amounting to 1.7 trillion yen on the monthly base rate of its fixed-telephone service. And now, country's deregulation campaign makes it possible for newcomers to join the fixed-line phone business using certainly NTT's current infrastructure by lease. Such newcomers are planning to offer a monthly base rate around 1,500 yen, or 250 yen cheaper than the NTT's basic fee.. They also try to attract subscribers to an inexpensive long-distance call that could be achieved utilizing their own IP infrastructures. In Japan, the number of cellular phone subscribers topped that of fixed-line phone subscribers already three years ago. These days, the fixed-line phones are rarely used at home. Means of communication by people are shifting to mobiles and personal computers where subscribers mostly pay an unmetered monthly rate. Then, the idling land line at home keeps paying almost the base rate alone every month for no reason. There will be further development technically in the phone market. When a mobile becomes able to replace the personal computer on the Internet, we need no more the fixed-line service. It is strange that NTT still forces the new subscriber of a land line to buy the telephone right at 72,000 yen. The behemoth telecommunication company will disappear eventually as mammoths did.
(Promenading with hand-held audio guide)
Pressing buttons on the handy audio guide each time standing before one of those paintings displayed in the Kobe museum last Tuesday, we had a careful look at a bunch of 17-century pictures of Flanders. The cover-page picture of the gallery catalog "The Art of Painting" by Johannes Vermeer was the major attraction there. The audio guide was giving explanations of the allegorical meanings of those items depicted in the Vermeer's painting. Similarly, we enjoyed looking at those paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon, Peter Paul Rubens and other Dutch painters. The electronic gadget, Audio Guide, was great help for us promenading among pictures in the museum. During a business trip in Europe, I often visited the local art museum on the weekend to fill up the time. On such an occasion, I innocently looked at paintings displayed in the quiet museum. Some of them were well-known pieces painted by Chagall, Gauguin, Picasso and so on. Visiting the local museum many times, some paintings became friendly to me for no reason. I was impressed by them though I had no knowledge about the paintings. This time, because of the hand-held gadget, I was even forced to learn about the details of each painting. It was good. But it was too much in the end.
(Women think two or three kids ideal)
A recent poll indicates that 90 percent of Japanese women consider it ideal for a married woman to have two or three children for her family. At the same time, most of them show an empathy with those women leading a single life. Majority of women are definitely against the stereotype that a man should work outside while his wife protects the house. Japan's total fertility rate dropped to 1.29 in 2003. Birth rate, the average number of children women will give birth to in their lifetime, is one of the key factors to build up and keep national strength. Working women are increasing. They put importance on their own professional career. To give birth to a child, they need their husbands' help, understanding among co-workers and a powerful social welfare system. We'll be optimistic. Today, young husbands are getting positive in helping with household chores. Companies are improving with their corporate culture treating female workers up to the western standards. And the government will for sure introduce tax incentives for encouraging women to marry and go off. Then, these women are desired to have more than four children since there are many other women who decide to live a single life.
(Steam leak kills five at nuclear plant)
The steam leak accident at the Mihama power plant is the worst in history in terms of death. Rupture of the high-pressure steam piping took place at the turbine room separated from the nuclear zone. There was no danger of a radioactive leak. It looks the power company has overlooked corroded spots in the steel piping system during the periodical maintenance work. Last year, Tokyo Electric Power was accused of a false report about its maintenance activities. The company had to stop its nuclear power plants during the demand season. As it was a cool summer last year, they could survive fortunately the peak demand in the metropolitan area. Each time an accident happens at a nuclear power plant, people become reactive and skeptical about the use of nuclear energy. To achieve the goal of greenhouse gas reduction promised at the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is surely in need of twenty more nuclear power stations nationwide. The government and those companies in energy supply should be more careful in managing nuclear power operations. There are no other alternative energy sources from the viewpoint of volume and economy.
(Granny dumping, a necessary evil?)
Japan keeps a high suicide rate following Russia, Hungary and Ukraine. The rate, 27 out of every 100,000 people, outnumbers that for the world leading industrial nations. Today, suicides are the sixth death in Japan among other major causes such as cancer, heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. The long-lasting economic recession and high jobless rate pushed many people to the breaking point. Waning family bond and weakening human relations often induce suicides among the aged and low teen students. One-third of those committed suicide in 2003 were aged over 60. This is far more than the number for the aged proportional to the demographic data. Some mock sarcasm, "It's not bad that old people take their own lives since Japan suffers from an aging society." This certainly reminds us of the Japanese folk story, "Granny Dumping (Ubasuteyama)." Another headache in the Japan's society is also the increasing suicides among grade-school pupils. Young students are easily influenced by the current social phenomenon where many commit either suicide or homicide.
(Mercury rises to record temperatures)
It looks Japan has been covered by a subtropical climate. Meteorologists say there is a warm water mass hovering 100 meters below the surface in the Central Pacific around the equator. And this causes ocean surface temperatures to be 1 to 1.5 degrees higher than average. It develops an unusual convection in the Pacific region. The accelerated ascending air around the Philippines eventually descends around Japan. This descending air creates the high-pressure ridge that causes the heat wave in Japan. During the past weeks, many people have got heat disorder. There were temperatures in the central Japan very close to the past record high, 40.8 degrees Celsius in Yamagata recorded in 1933. Although it is said that the world's maximum temperature is 58.8 in Iraq recorded in 1921, we are already sizzled with temperatures near 40 in Japan. Last year, the hot weather hit Europe while an unusually cool summer blanketed Japan causing negative impacts on the seasonal business and food crops. This year, it's quite opposite. Europe is not enough hot for people to enjoy the summer holidays. It seems the polar jet stream is traveling far in the south in Europe this year. Some say the current abnormal weather is caused in line with the global warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe! But we know at the same time those maximum temperatures in Japan and in the world were recorded already 70-80 years ago. People were consuming much less energy in those days.
(Seven percent more suicides in Japan
27 out of every 100,000 people of its population in Japan took their own lives last year. The figure, 34,427, up 7.1 percent from the previous year, remained above 30,000 for the sixth consecutive year. Nearly one quarter of them committed suicide over financial difficulties. Most of them are breadwinners for their families. The current economic recession causes apparently the ever-increasing suicide number in Japan. In many cases, they killed themselves to clear up their debts by life insurance. On the other hand, health reasons are still the motivation for the largest number of suicides in 2003, about 45 percent. In the tough and complicated society, many people are liable to develop a neurosis. And in most cases, they are not properly diagnosed as suffering from a mental disease. If these patients are medicated correctly and timely, there will be less people to take their own lives over health reasons. Almost 60 percent of the suicides are by people in their 50s and older. In the aging society, we are having big population in the age bracket. And aged people there are not always satisfied as they are thrown into a certain wealthy divide there. Some enjoy their affluent lifestyle. Some others have not enough money to live the rest of their life. Men account for a record nearly 73 percent of all suicides. This contributed to the wider gap, 7 years, between the average life expectancies of men and women in Japan. It looks women are biologically tough and optimistic. Men seem to be fragile, naive and pessimistic. Women give a yawn when they've got bored with their loves while men give a yawn when they've got bored with their lives.
(Air jackets never tried on)
No passenger has ever tried on a life jacket in the airplane, while the flight attendants demonstrate how to wear it almost by rote each time at takeoff. Most passengers do not watch and listen to the routine demonstration as if they were having learned enough how to wear the life jacket. When we become needed to wear the air jacket on board, the cabin will be in turmoil as the airplane is already heading for a devastating crisis. Perhaps, in the case of most aircraft accidents, the life jacket may be of no use anyway for saving passenger's lives. There were cases in the past that the life jacket installed under each passenger's seat was taken away secretly by some fishing maniacs who would plan to take it for their going angling. Likewise, a fire extinguisher for house use is never tried at home. This is a device used to extinguish a fire. It's usually tube-shaped with an attached hose through which water or pressurized gas, powder, or foam is sprayed onto a fire. Schools, companies and many public facilities have a fire drill periodically. But we rarely conduct a drill at home. Although the little steel bottle was touted many years ago as a necessary household gadget, it might have been meantime deadened at home in most cases. And most people have even forgotten how to handle it to put out a fire.
(Good persons are cheated)
A postcard arrived. A small tag with my name and address apparently copied from some address files was stuck on its front. The printed address is outdated. Yes, the postcard was forwarded to me after its visit to my old place. It carries a funny message. It says that I have never settled the bill while my cellphone had visited frequently the pay service on the Internet. The statement doesn't detail the content of the service, the corresponding fare to be charged and the total amount due. It threatens me with a further writing saying that the creditor would file a lawsuit against me unless I immediately pay the debt in full. It says the court will seize my financial assets and the monthly salary. And it finally presses me to dial a call to a person printed at the bottom of the mail. Of course, I didn't stand up. I have never had or used a cellphone in my life. I know this is a new version of the so-called "ore-ore" fraud which has been in the news for months in Japan. Good persons are often cheated into the belief that they are involved in the subject in question. In the "ore-ore" fraud, the caller says "It's me, gramma, it's me, please help me, I'm in trouble." Then, the old lady is thrown into an intimate conversation without confirming whether the caller is really one of her grandchildren. In ten minutes, she is at one of the bank's ATMs for transferring millions of yen to the account number suggested by the caller. For the fraudster, the success rate will be very low. But the organized gangster does business in a systematic manner using many address books obtained sometimes illegally. If there is one good person out of 100 ordinary people, the criminal syndicate achieves a substantial bottomline.
(Pyongyang summit eases tension on issues)
Most of Japanese people valued the Pyongyang talks between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held on May 22, although the Japanese leader had been seemingly treated shabbily there. The reason why Koizumi went ahead with his plan of Pyongyang talks in a mad rush is said for him to avoid the public criticism on his own pension scandal that was beginning to be spotlighted. While politicians were deliberating in the Diet on a new bill that would force Japanese to pay a higher premium and receive a smaller benefit in order to maintain the national pension system, it became apparent that most of the cabinet members and legislators had a poor record themselves having neglected to follow the mandatory pension system. And Koizumi was about to join such politicians with shameful acts. It seems now Koizumi could cover up his pension story with the Pyongyang visit. People think it was good to see the five children who could join their abducted parents back in Japan. But they think the promised gifts, so-called humanitarian aid items, worth more than 15 billion yen are too expensive as a ransom for them. Although the full details of the talks have not been disclosed, there seems no drastic advance on the nuclear and missile issues. The Japanese government, however, seems to have softened against North Korea after the talks. Koizumi might have initially managed to manipulate the local public emotion utilizing his tele-politics. history would show in decades from now whether Koizumi has turned the steering wheel correctly for the sake of Japanese people.
(Development going against her personality)
Most Japanese are puzzled by Crown Prince Naruhito's recent statement "there were moves to negate Masako's career in the Foreign Ministry and go against her personality." This is an unprecedented expression by a member of the imperial family touching criticism against the inner circle. Princess Masako is said to be exhausted from the pressure of royal life. She's been strongly pressed to produce a male child as her pending role to play in the imperial family. She's been meantime not allowed to work for the imperial diplomacy. These days, in the public mind, people tend to prefer a daughter to a son. It's strange that the imperial family maintains male chauvinism rigidly though it should act under Japan's constitution as the symbolic institution. The government shouldn't be reluctant to start a debate on the revision of the monarchy system, Imperial Household Law. Then, going with the current of the times for the gender-neutral society, people would even accept Princess Masako herself, sometime in future, succeeds to the throne as the first queen. Why not? Today, people wouldn't discuss anymore the existence of the monarchy system itself, while they did so seriously in the past.
(Japanese addicted to pick-me-up)
It's often observed at the station kiosk that Japanese salaried workers take hastily one of the expensive pick-me-up drinks. For sure, they're wishing to have a feeling refreshed and energized. The most expensive one, a 50ml bottle costs them more than 4,000 yen. It contains ginseng root, powdered pit viper and royal jelly. Japanese businesspersons believe it being an effective quick fix for them to recover from their fatigue or lack of sleep. They take such drinks to get prepared for the company's next work program. Yes, they are company-first persons. Outside Japan, workers consider it enough to drink coffee or herbal tea from time to time at the office to get refreshed. They hardly buy pick-me-up drinks out of their pocket for a job. They will do so for their private use. The picture illustrates how Japanese are working under the pressure of overburden. As most companies have streamlined their organizations to recover from the long-lasting recession, each worker gets bogged down with a lot of work and becomes stretched thin. They are no more those voluntary workaholic in the good old days, but ending up slavish workers. Therefore, the pick-me-up drinks would sell continuously well, and they would become more expensive to prove them further effective to the client's satisfaction.
(Basho leaves for "Oku no hosomichi")
On May 16 (March 27, according to the lunar calendar), 1689, the haiku legend, Matsuo Basho at age 46, left Edo, today's Tokyo, for his renowned journey called "Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Roads of the Interior) covering 2,500km in five months. Basho's travel journal expressed in his particular way as haibun, haiku prose, contains short, impressive literary sketches and his haiku poems. In the present JR railway system, Basho's 150-day trail, from Tokyo to Ogaki via Sendai, Sakata, Kanazawa and Fukui, could be swept in less than 15 hours by three modern express trains though one of them travels at night. 315 years ago, Basho and his disciple, Sora, walked all the way although, on occasion, they made a tour on horseback. They must have needed a big amount of money to cover their traveling expenses. Today, we can travel to scan the same course in 15 hours within 40,000 yen including box lunches and drinks bought at some stations or on the trains. As part of preparation for the long journey, Basho sold his six-year-old house, a riverside hermitage in Fukagawa. He received farewell gifts from his disciples in Edo. In his travels, Basho was treated well by his local disciples in the provinces where he usually held a haiku contest. Therefore, Basho and Sora could easily manage the travel financially. It seems traveling is a necessary conduct for artists to create something masterpieces. Occasionally, they have to run away from homeliness to be inspired to create something unique.
(Storytellers fuel major news media)
When the hostage crisis of three Japanese happened in Iraq one month ago, there were many storytellers on the Internet board dropping a plausible tale. Some said the threatening video sent from the captor showed somewhat unnatural pictures and might have been prearranged scenes. Then, apparently, some major news media took up such comments on the Internet implying that they had doubt about the credibility of the case. Conservative politicians quickly made a critical comment on the hostages' misconduct jumping on the bandwagon. The story developed further in a manner to accuse the trio's families who had demanded the pullout of Japan's SDF immediately after the broadcast of the threatening video by the Arabic news media. Conservative politicians and news media started insisting that the trio's families had to pay those taxpayers' expenses needed in the rescue operations. One of the major newspapers even estimated the overall expenses at two billion yen including the ransom to be paid to the captor. The paper, however, did not tell exactly the calculation basis. It didn't talk about the ransom if it was really demanded. It simply quoted the figure together with the wording "as report has it." Is it a sincere attitude taken by one of the national major media? Today, they have no local news reporters in Iraq because the land is very dangerous for their own employees. And they buy reports from freelance journalists. Sometimes, they even take up stories from the Internet bulletin board where no credibility is assured.
(Politicians admit nonpayments in droves)
After some cabinet members confirmed last week they had neglected payments of their mandatory pension premiums sometime in the past, many politicians have come back with a similar confession of their failure to pay their own. The scandal certainly fuels public distrust of the basic public pension framework. The current system seems to have misled even politicians to their failure. Such politicians themselves complain about the complexity of the system that induces some clerical errors. And yet, those cabinet members were inflexible with their original reform plan of the pension system in face of the opposing party's alternative plan, a drastic reform program, in the Diet. The public pension framework consists of three separate pensions that serve different occupations, the self-employed, public servants and corporate employees. Politicians fall into the category of the self-employed. Insisting on the original plan being a drastic reform, the government is simply proposing to raise the pension premium and cut the benefit in years to come, without touching any program to give unification to the current three different systems. Self-employed people are not exactly grasped by the government on their annual incomes while, for public servants and corporate employees, taxes and pension premiums are automatically deducted from their monthly incomes. The national pension system must be reformed to be more open, simple and fair. Introduction of the universal identity numbering scheme is a great help. Then, some wealthy self-employed citizens cannot run away saying "We can manage our old age without the public pension system."
(At your own risk)
Three Japanese civilians who were held by Iraqi militants and threatened with death have arrived home, but not to a jubilant welcome. Reporters, television cameras and hundreds of onlookers gathered to greet them at the Kansai airport. But the three, two aid workers and one photojournalist who had been released last week, kept their eyes downcast. They canceled a scheduled news conference at the airport. Doctors in Dubai had recommended they rest, diagnosing them with post-traumatic stress disorder. During the past few days, their families were criticized by the media, politicians and public for letting them not only risk their own lives but also jeopardize the government's activities in Iraq. Relatives of the trio came to Tokyo and demanded an SDF pullout for the sake of their loved ones' lives in line with the captors' request. Some conservative politicians and media even ask the trio and relatives to pay those expenses spent out of taxpayers' money for the rescue campaign under the principal of self-responsibility. How come the public opinion developed this way in Japan? Also last week, three Czech journalists taken hostage in Iraq have arrived home in Prague to a nationwide welcome. When Japanese talk about self-responsibility, they must accuse the high school girl for her unguarded behavior rather than the skirt peeper, renowned professor of Waseda University who has been arrested for peeping up the 15-year-old's skirt using a small mirror on an escalator at JR Shinagawa Station. Number of corporate executives who destroyed their businesses because of poor management and are now saved with the taxpayers' money have never taken responsibility.
(Yasukuni visits, everlasting issue)
It goes without saying that people do not feel like giving the dead a whipping. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi often says that the end makes people a Buddha and death pays all scores. He says he wouldn't discriminate between the seven hanged class-A war criminals and those 2.4 million military personnel and officials died in Japan's wars enshrined in the Yasukuni shrine. This idea, however, has never been accepted by China and Korea. They criticize Koizumi taking his Yasukuni visits as dedicating particularly those war criminals who victimized millions of Asian citizens and seemingly insisting that Japan was not totally wrong in World War II. People feel disgusted with such a never-ending dispute on the prime minister's Yasukuni visits even today nearly 60 years after the last war. There are increasing number of Japanese voicing a question about the legitimacy of the Tokyo war crimes tribunal that delivered judgement on Japan's war criminals. They also strongly propose to revise their present peace constitution, saying it was pressed by the General Headquarters of Allied Forces about 50 years ago. Some say Japan has never reviewed the last war by themselves as to the wartime leaders who must take responsibility. Isn't it too late to do so? Do we feel comfortable continuing with the current ambiguous attitude towards the last war?
(Infected farm owner atones with death)
Following those cases of avian flu in Yamaguchi and Ohita, thousands of infected chickens died at a poultry firm in Kyoto recently. Apparently, the farm owner hesitated to inform the local authorities of the case at an early stage. And the case in the farm quickly developed to kill many more chickens. When the local government became aware of the farmer's trouble informed by an anonymous communicator, it was already out of his control. As the poultry farm owner was accused bitterly by the news media of his covering up the outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus and thought he might have been prosecuted by police, he has committed suicide with his wife leaving a message of apology. Many times in the business world, companies repeated covering up such misdeeds. However, whistle-blowers in businesses are becoming active today. It couldn't benefit corporate profits these days for managers to conceal anything important to the customers, consumers and shareholders. Because of his mismanagement, the poultry farm owner caused damage to his fraternities and the local government. But it seems that the death of the person in charge has terminated all discussions on the pending subject among other parties concerned.
(Growth of home economy, never 13-year high)
There have been authorities' announcements in sequence about Japan's economic figures that indicate a firm growth. However, this is not really sensed by ordinary people in their everyday life. General domestic product was up 6.4% year on year in the last quarter of 2003, the fastest pace in 13 years. Jobless rate dropped meantime below the 5% level. The stock market keeps heavy trading these days. Industries for so-called digital household appliances such as DVD players and flat televisions, automobiles and iron and steel are very brisk. On the other hand, the average household income is still decreasing gradually. The jobless rate for younger generations remains high and becomes an object of public concern. The country's traditional lifetime employment in the labor market is disappearing. During the past several years, the gap between rich and poor has been broadened as industries tried to streamline their business operations. With the increase of job-hopping part-timers and temporary employees, it is said, Japan would eventually lose its national strength. High GDP numbers will no more shows people's satisfaction as a whole in the country. It is advisable for us to look into a figure (GDS) that sums up the individual degree of satisfaction in living in Japan.
(Blue LED inventor awarded 20 billion yen)
The patent owner, Nichia, of the blue light-emitting diode was asked by the Tokyo District Court to pay 20 billion yen to the inventor and its former employee, Shuji Nakamura, now a professor at the University of California. As Nichia plans to appeal, the issue will be further discussed at higher courts. The case is being seen as a challenge against Japanese corporate culture. The ruling would certainly encourage those R&D employees working in Japanese companies and young students now studying science at school. The ruling says at the same time that Nakamura's invention was an exceptional case which deserved such a huge sum. He could achieve the invention almost independently of the infrastructure and accumulated know-how at Nichia at that time. In a sense, he seems to have hit a jackpot. But if this happens, companies must take it into account as something to risk their bottomline. Tens of thousands of researchers and engineers at work are still paid 10-20,000 yen for their intellectual pursuits. And they are enough happy.
(Politicians' lying about academic records)
A member of the House of Representatives, Junichiro Koga, was expelled by his colleagues from the Democratic Party of Japan for lying about his academic career. At the lower house election last November, Koga claimed that he had graduated from Pepperdine University in California. This was denied later by the school. As some citizens' groups have brought an accusation against him about suspected violation of the Public Offices Election Law, he might eventually lose his seat in the Diet. Many voters in his constituency in Fukuoka are still sympathetic with him.. There are many other politicians who claim academic records of studying abroad which are doubtful.. They did not mostly receive an academic degree. Koga was just a little short of sufficient credits for graduation. Fukuoka women are also concerned about his opponent in the constituency, Taku Yamazaki, being regarded as a sleazebag, replacing Koga at the possible by-election. What is the real value of studying abroad? Why is such a record so attractive to women voters particularly?
(Young novelist emits nouvelle vague?)
Hitomi Kanehara, a 20-year-old high school dropout, has become one of the youngest ever winners of the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's most prestigious literary award. Her winning novel "Hebi ni Piasu (Snakes and Earrings)" tells the story of violence, pain, separation and growing up, written in a manner being somewhat sexually explicit. This is the picture of an eccentric world that could be only understood by those young women who look for the raison d'etre of themselves through reshaping their bodies, getting a tattoo and making their tongues forked like a snake's. Some criticize there was the ulterior motive of the publishing circles in choosing Kanahara's. The publishing world is suffering from a long-lasting recession. On reading her novel, most people will bend their brows. But remember those days when Shintaro Ishihara or Kenzaburo Ohe was awarded the same prize many years ago! Readers were conservative enough refusing a "nouvelle vague." Today, it's interesting, even women try to depict a decadent scene.
(Matsushita makes V-shaped recovery)
Japan's consumer electronics giant Matsushita is making a V-shaped recovery from its gloomy business situation just three years ago. And it is now replacing the excellent company Sony who has always been the leader in the market and was the only winner among its opponents three years ago. Matsushita could achieve the turnaround partly by implementing its tough reform plan including 13,000 job cuts. But they could more benefit from expansion in the sales of their DVD players, flat-screen televisions and digital cameras. They still need to improve the ratio of profit on sales to 5 percent from the current 2 percent. Matsushita looks into the automobile-related electronics as car navigation and electronic toll collection systems are expected to grow sharply. Sony has long dominated the market for conventional cathode ray tube TVs. But they are now left with a third of Matsushita's portion. The former king of TVs has been forced into a humiliating tie-up with Korean manufacturers to make plasma TVs and liquid crystal display TVs. Perhaps, Sony has stayed too comfortably on the Playstation business without paying enough attention to other branded goods. We know now even winners can't be careless.
(Corporate pension funds to bottom out)
Corporate pension systems are a lifeline for workers after retirement. Having faced with huge investment losses brought on by depressed stock prices, corporate pension funds were said to be on the verge of collapse. The funds had suffered a negative investment yield for three consecutive years since 1999. The shortfall came to more than 10 trillion yen out of the 50-trillion-yen funds.. Many corporations couldn't cover the shortfall due to the economic slowdown. The choice left for corporate pension funds was either to dissolve the funds or to reduce benefits. All of a sudden, however, the welcome announcement has been made that the funds could achieve a 12 percent yield in 2003, the first positive bottomline since 1999. The re-energized stock market during the past ten months has largely contributed to the positive result. We know now how the stock prices are important to our life. And we must know how our affluence is vulnerable at the same time.
(Too beautiful to fight forgery)
The Finance Ministry announced that the planned issuance of the newly designed banknotes would be delayed by several months. They seem to be hard put to designing the 5,000-yen banknote particularly due to simplicity given by the newly selected young woman's portrait. The picture of the big-name novelist, Higuchi Ichiyo, in the first draft note looked too beautiful to draw a distinctive expression on her face to fight forgery. As she'd died at the age of only 24, the picture didn't show wrinkles in her face. Those iconographies printed on the past banknotes were all showing somewhat sophisticated faces with wrinkles and moustaches. Too young means therefore not always good. It's easily duplicated. An old man shows all details that he experienced throughout his life. We are aging to live a life to identify ourselves further.