Monthly Archives: May 2007

Why horizontal strokes are thinner than vertical strokes

Beer communicationIf you look at Sino-Japanese text printed in the Chinese Song or Japanese Mincho typeface (similar to serif typefaces in European languages), you’ll notice that the horizontal strokes in characters are much thinner than the vertical strokes. Here’s why:

The printing press appeared in China during the Song Dynasty. At the time, each print block contained two portrait-oriented pages placed side by side. The print blocks were all cut from rectangular planks such that the wood grain ran horizontally. Because the grain ran horizontally, it was fairly easy to carve patterns with the grain, like horizontal strokes. However, carving vertical or slanted patterns was difficult because those patterns intersect with the grain and very easily break. This resulted in a typeface that has thin horizontal strokes and thick vertical strokes. To prevent wear and tear, the ending of horizontal strokes are also thickened. These design forces resulted in the current Song typeface.

Reactions, Speculation on Matsuoka’s Suicide

As noted before, the beset agricultural minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide yesterday. Today I want to show you some people’s reactions:

First off, Matsuoka himself left a whopping eight handwritten suicide notes, addressed to various people including the prime minister and “the people of Japan and everyone in my support club.”

The police have only released a fraction of the notes to the public so far, and they shed little light on why he decided to take the easy way out:

“People of Japan and everyone in my support club… I am very sorry and take the blame for everything. I apologize for causing so much trouble. Please take care of things after I’m gone.” And another note states: “My wife knows the circumstances behind this. Please don’t look for the whys and wherefores. Please be gentle.”

Martin Fackler of the New York Times explains for the American audience “Suicides have a long and often romanticized history in Japan, where they have been seen as a face-saving escape from public humiliation.” This sentiment is familiar to anyone living in Japan, and the suicide notes seem to back up that face-saving motivation. However, it should be noted that Matsuoka is the first serving cabinet member in Japan’s postwar history to kill himself, and only the 7th serving Diet member. While some Diet members have killed themselves over scandal (Shokei Arai in 1998 among them, who took his own life over getting caught in several stock scandals), some were due to terminal illness (See Asahi for details). And while Matsuoka may have tried to conjure up images of Japan’s face-saving suicide culture, there aren’t actually so many people who (at least overtly) sympathize with his choice to die rather than face the facts.

To get a quick perspective from both sides of the debate, today’s Asahi editorial notes: “Wasn’t there another way, such as stepping down as MAFF Minister or leaving your Diet seat?” and later “We do not intend to speak ill of the dead, but [revealing the facts and starting over if you are in the wrong] is the right way to take responsibility as a Diet member and a cabinet minister.”

The more right-leaning Yomiuri takes a different tack, portraying Matsuoka’s death as a “tragedy” somehow caused by the “psychological pressure of this string of problems” that could happen again if political fund accounting regulations are not reformed adequately. This sort of argument strikes me as patently irresponsible and implies that Matsuoka’s death was the opposition’s fault for, as they put it, using the political funds issue as a “political football” as opposed to the truth, which was that Matusoka’s suicide was a personal choice and no one’s fault but his own.

And there are still other theories as to why he killed himself. One rumor proffered by freelance journalist Takashi Kitaoka (citing “police” sources) is that Matsuoka was in 1 billion yen in debt, and that even the money he gained from immense utility expenses and political funds from forestry contractors would not pay for the interest.

The opposition parties (including the DPJ, Communists, and Social Democrats) have taken an almost uniform line that PM Abe’s protection of Matsuoka actually contributed to his death. Anonymous blogger Kikko explains the reasoning behind this:

Now the Abe cabinet, with its ministers encountering one scandal after another, is now called “the most miserably bad cabinet in history.” The irresponsibility of Shinzo Abe, who thinks of nothing but protecting his own position, has at last taken a person’s life. Minister Matsuoka, whose scandals and crimes, from the “something something recycled water” office expenses scandal, to his connections with organized crime, to the political funds scandal, and finally the “J-GREEN” government-led bid-rigging incident, had reportedly told people close to him that he wanted to quit. But Abe would not let him quit for the sole reason that “if any more cabinet ministers are made to quit, the prime minister’s responsibility for appointing them will be questioned.” In the Diet, Matsuoka was subjected to a fully-mobilized attack from the opposition, questioned harshly by police on the bid rigging incident, and even people within the LDP were calling for his resignation. Yet he was not allowed to quit even though he wanted to, all to save face for Shinzo Abe.

Pushed into a corner, Matsuoka in the end took his own life. In other words, he was forced to kill himself for the convenience of Shinzo Abe. Despite the fact that Abe’s responsibility for appointing him was obvious, what with the discovery of so much improper and illegal activity, Abe protected his own position by not letting Matsuoka quit, and this is the cause that pushed Matsuoka toward suicide. Abe should be questioned aggressively on this. Many people are killing themselves due to the growing societal disparity caused by bad policies, but for Abe to cause a suicide in his own cabinet just shows how selfish, incompentent, and irresponsible he is, and I’d like him to quit immediately.


Add notoriously corrupt (yet still alive, showing there is another way) politician Muneo Suzuki (formerly of LDP, now of the Hokkaido regional “Shinto Daichi” party) to the list of “it was Abe’s fault” proponents. As a former partner in crime, Suzuki speaks with the perspective of someone who really knows what was going on in his head:
The last time I saw [Matsuoka] was when we met on the night of May 24. I made a suggestion to him: “I am going to question you at the Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration tomorrow, so why don’t you apologize to the people from the heart? Your explanations that you are following the law and acting properly based on the law are not understood by the public. You should bow low on the ground before them and frankly apologize by saying that you did not fulfill your responsiblity to explain yourself.” But he lamely replied: “I thank you for the advice, but my orders from the Diet Affairs Committee, the top, are to stay quiet for now. I can only follow that.”

I asked him again: “This issue will go on whatever you do, so I think you should hurry up and honestly explain to the people.” He smiled and said: “Suzuki-sensei, you’re the only person who says that.”

I feel like I understand Matsuoka’s heart. Up to the day I was arrested, Matsuoka called me to express his support almost every day.


And some are speculating that there are some members of the farm “tribe” who must be relieved that Matsuoka will never be forced to testify as to what he knows about the various dealings that go one with the network of agriculture-related publicly owned corporations. His cryptic messages also show that he kept quiet to the end.

In all, the man whose career was made on smart, if shady, political decisions seems to have miscalculated the effect his death would have on the political scene. Or perhaps he knew exactly what sort of bind it would put the Abe administration in. Unfortunately, “the people” will probably never find out the truth, partly because Abe has declined to investigate the matter.

Agriculture Minister Matsuoka DEAD in suicide


Recent reports have noted that MAFF Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, a powerful LDP figure recently embroiled in a political funds scandal, hanged himself at an official Lower House residence in the Akasaka area of Tokyo at around midnight May 28.

As of earlier today, MAFF officials had not confirmed the reports from wire services and were reportedly as shocked to hear the news as this blogger is.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police stated that Matsuoka was found by his personal secretary and a security guard in the living room of the apartment, where he was hanging from a dog leash tied to a metal fixture on a door. He was rushed to Keio University Hospital but died of his injuries.

From FT and Reuters:

”This will have serious political fallout, but at this point it’s hard to tell how much,” a government official told Reuters.

Matsuoka—under fire for a series of political funding scandals—was found unconscious in his room at a residential complex for lawmakers in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters.

Media said Matsuoka had hanged himself in his room. Police later confirmed had died in hospital.

Local media had linked Matsuoka to at least two political fund scandals including one involving massive, dubious spending on his office near parliament.

Last week media also reported that he had received political donations from businessmen involved in a bid-rigging scandal.

Matsuoka had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

See what Adamu’s reading

It’s not pretty, but I’ve made my Google Notebook public, so MF readers can keep track of what’s been in front of my eyeballs recently, such as Hakuho’s upcoming promotion to Yokozuna and an analyst’s description of Dentsu’s attempts to leverage its near-monopoly of TV ads to dominate the Internet market as well.

A quick look at online advertising through the lens of America

Slate wonders if online ad companies are worth what companies like Google and Microsoft are paying for them:

Last month, big establishment online company Google bought online-ad firm DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in cash. Last week, big establishment advertising agency WPP bought online-ad firm 24/7 Real Media for $649 million in cash. The next day, big establishment tech company Microsoft bought online-ad firm aQuantive for $6 billion in cash.

...this may be less a case of the market being irrationally ahead of the industry’s economic reality and more a case of the market being behind rational expectations for the industry.

Television, magazines, and newspapers may be hanging on because they are more powerful media for reaching the consumers companies most want to reach. But I suspect they’re hanging on for another demographic reason. Advertising is supposed to be a with-it, hot, trendy, tomorrow-based industry. But at root, the business of advertising is one of allocating capital, not cooking up clever jingles. And the people who make the decisions about how to allocate that $300-odd billion in capital each year—CEOs of consumer products companies, Fortune 500 executive vice presidents, media buyers, brand managers, agency heads—well, they’re old. It takes time to climb the corporate ladders to get to the rungs where really important decisions are made. Of course, these people, most of whom came of age as consumers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, use the Internet, spend a lot of time on it, and buy stuff on it. But they don’t understand it intuitively the way the younger crowd does. Do you think the CEOs of Ford, Citigroup, or Procter & Gamble are uploading photos to their MySpace pages, downloading music, and blogging?

...the question for people who invest in the stocks of online-advertising companies—as Google, WPP, and Microsoft have just done—isn’t just whether online ads are the way to reach consumers today. No, the question is whether online ads will be among the best ways to reach consumers in five and 10 years, when today’s twentysomethings will be buying cars and houses and kitchen appliances and pharmaceuticals. More important, in 2012 it’s possible to imagine that the brand managers and executives responsible for making advertising-spending decisions will be people who grew up with the medium, who didn’t need a consultant to tell them how it works. It’s a reasonable expectation that online advertising will continue to gain market share and that more and more capital will slosh into this sector. The big companies paying top dollar for online ad firms have just bought some expensive buckets.


The points of this article, plus or minus a few details, could be easily made about Japan, with the exception that Japan’s traditional media are much more nervous about aggressively engaging the Internet. I’ll go through them as we proceed to give you what you need, but for now suffice to say that Japan is awash in new technology, the young folks are growing up as avid users, but the managers at the advertisers and the agencies are too old to really get it. But as in the US, the future growth in Internet ads is understood, and traditional companies like Dentsu are realizing that they need to follow where people’s eyes are.

Surprising drug classification

I haven’t been posting lately due to a variety of reasons, most of all are my move back to the US this coming Sunday, and the absolutely wretched chest cold/cold-like disease that has floored me well enough so that my packing and other preparations for moving leave me utterly without energy.

Which brings me to my discovery of the day- that many brands of over the counter (i.e. non-prescription) cough medicine in Japan contain codeine. I find this rather surprising considering the general strictness of pharma regulations in this country, such as the rule that even drugs as mild as aspirin cannot be sold except in a pharmacy, which means that if you have a headache late at night the only medicine you’ll find in the corner convenience store that can help you is going to be whiskey.

In a related bit of trivia, I was bit puzzled to learn that due to a quirk in the Taiwanese legal code, ketamine has become the new drug of choice there for teenagers. According to the Taiwanese (Republic Of China) narcotics control law, ketamine is classified as a “minor” or category 3 drug, which means that possession is only a ticketing and not criminal offense. Oddly, cannabis (marijuana) is a category 2 drug, along with cocaine, morphine, and about 150 presumably dangerous chemicals I’ve never heard of-despite that fact that the aforementioned category 3 ketamine can actually be fatal in large doses (although rarely.)

Incidentally, cannabis is fairly strictly banned in Japan as well, following the 1948 passage of the Cannabis Control Act, which is said to be based on the corresponding American law. I have read in a couple of places that cannabis consumption was in fact a part of Japanese religious practice until quite recently-which considering the existence of names like 麻生 and 麻美 seems quite believable-many people in Japan actually believe the Reefer Madness version of reality. Still, while I don’t expect a more rational drug related policy in any of the three countries I have lived in (US, Japan, Taiwan), at least the availability of over the counter cough syrup with harmlessly small doses of codeine is a bright spot of common sense.

Taking the “Japan Brand” concept literally

The creation of a unified “Japan Brand” has been called for recently as a way to promote exports, boost tourism, and take control of how Japan as a nation is perceived abroad. To that end, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency has recently announced a new logo for its campaign to help promote local products for export that to this blogger seems to lack a certain subtlety:

jb_symbol.jpg

(Click the picture for the full size picture. It makes a great desktop wallpaper!)

Bluntness aside, it’s a simple and attractive logo. It seems intended as a sort of umbrella logo to bring disparate marketing strategies pursued by the various regions of Japan in under a unified concept that will “create new traditions” by very efficiently letting anyone who comes into contact with a product bearing such a logo that it DEFINITELY comes from Japan, which should let a potential buyer know that, like Japan, the product stands for “quality,” “beauty,” and “pride.”

And at least this logo should make sense to outsiders. “Yokoso Japan,” the tourism version of “Japan Brand” logos, was SLAMMED last year by American Japan theorist Alex Kerr, who told a government discussion panel that it would sound like “blah blah blah Japan” to those unfamiliar with the Japanese term for “welcome.”

UPDATE: I should note the similarity between this logo and the typeface at YH Chang Heavy Industries, a flash animation website known for its hit “Cunnilingus in North Korea:”

cink.JPG

Internet ad startup hit hard by Consumer Finance crackdown

Nikkei has news on poor financial results of many startup companies last year:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Earnings Growth For Start-Ups Slowed To Single Digits In FY06

TOKYO (Nikkei)—Start-up businesses, which had been piling up double-digit earnings gains, saw their pretax profit growth slow to the single digits for the fiscal year ended March 2007 on a slump in online advertising and intensifying competition.
...
The latest slowdown among start-ups stands in stark contrast to the double-digit growth major corporations racked up in fiscal 2006 amid the global economic expansion.

While companies such as social networking service provider mixi Inc. saw the unit price for ads rise in line with increased membership, conditions were harsh for online advertising agencies as a whole.

Cyber Communications Inc. (a subsidiary of Dentsu), which posted a 21% profit drop, said that its earnings suffered because financial firms and insurers refrained from advertising.

Consumer Finance Consolidation from STK

The following translation was done with the aid of my brand new copy of the Nikkei Japanese-English Dictionary of Current Economic and Financial Terms, an amazingly helpful (if pricey at 9000 yen) resource for anyone who does business or finance-related translation. It was put together by the people who write Nikkei Net Interactive, Nikkei’s English-language news site, so it includes a wealth of examples taken from actual Nikkei articles on recent events.

Normally, I use a combination of 3 free online dictionaries—Eijiro, WWWJDIC, and goo’s Japanese-Japanese dictionary (Yahoo’s is useful since it has both 大辞泉 AND 大辞林). But I’ve noticed that it’s not always easy to get financial terminology all in one place, or in a format that can be easily used offline (so far my attempts to download a bunch of online glossaries and search them using Google Desktop have proven time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful), so I decided to splurge on a dead-tree solution.

If you just want a reference that explains recent events in the Japanese economy in simple (Japanese-language) terms, I would recommend picking up the much cheaper Dictionary of New Economic Terms 2007. I picked up a used lite version of the 2006 edition at Book Off and it is already coming in handy.

Anyway, here’s an article on the consolidation in some of the major consumer credit companies that occured after long-running string of crimes and suicides by people in deep to usurious consumer lenders, along with 2006 Supreme Court decisions ruling that companies like Aiful could not keep loans made over the legal limits, caused the Diet and Financial Services Agency to crack down on consumer lending. Measures that were taken included, in no particular order:
1) Business suspension orders on lenders for using threats to collect loans;
2) a phased-out closing of the “gray zone” interest rate regulatory framework that allowed lenders to legally charge 30% annual interest (as opposed to the legal limit of 15-20%) as long as borrowers gave legal consent;
3) a ban on the practice of taking out life insurance policies on borrowers that will pay out if the borrower commits suicide (a standard Japanese practice);
4) allowing borrowers to recover interest retroactively that was collected over the 20% legal limit; and last but not least
5) A thorough public humiliation in the media.

Number 4 was a particularly large factor in the net loss of a whopping combined 540 billion yen by the nation’s top consumer credit companies. Now that the times of easy money are over for Japan’s lenders, only the most healthy companies will survive, and as you will read below there is intense competition among the megabanks to find and acquire the picks of the litter:

Ambitious Mitsui Sumitomo Takes a Step Toward Acquiring OMC Card
May 17, 2007 (from Shukan Toyo Keizai’s May 19 edition)

A shockwave is rocking the financial industry—an unprecedented “change of management.” Central Finance is leaving Mitsubishi UFJ and joining the Sumitomo Mitsui group. Observers are watching to see what effects this will have on the battle for OMC Card.

Not all is quiet on the consumer finance front. Central Finance, a former member of the Tokai Bank group, has decided to leave Mitsubishi UFJ. Its new partners will be Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Mitsui & Co. (recently famous for building the new Tokyo Midtown building complex).

Here are the details of the new capital tie-up: First, SMFG (including subsidiary banks) and Mitsui & Co. will invest 19.4 billion yen in common stock and corporate bonds with equity warrants. After those bonds are traded in for shares, the total investment by both companies will rise to 20%. Meanwhile, Central Finance will buy 7.5 billion yen of common shares in Quark, a Sumitomo Mitsui-owned consumer finance firm. Central and Quark will then merge by September 2009.

Shockwaves continue to riddle the consumer finance and credit card industries over developments such as the lowering of the legally permitted interest rate for nonbank “cash” lending dictated by a revision of the law regulating non-banking moneylenders. Yet even in such difficult times, at least one president of a major consumer finance firm was “frankly surprised” to hear about this most recent capital tie-up, since such a “change of management” is almost unheard of in Japan’s financial industry, which prefers to build up tight group-oriented relationships in both both capital and personnel.

That is part of what makes this such a big gain for SMFG. Compared to the group’s rivals, Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho, SMFG faces a conspicuous lack of consumer finance capabilities. And it was no small accomplishment to successfully bring in Mitsui & Co. in this capital tie-up. Of Japan’s major trading companies, Mitsui has been a latecomer to investments in finance businesses. This has allowed the banking side to cooperate in Mitsui’s plans to get back in the game, thus putting Mitsui in SMFG’s debt.

Past Merger Plans Crushed

What was behing the decision by Central Finance President Tatsuo Tsuchikawa? A former UFJ Bank official explains: “When UFJ was [created by the merger of Sanwa and Tokai Banks in 2002], Tsuchikawa, who was the Executive Director for Project Planning at the former Tokai Bank, strongly objected to the strongarm integration tactics of former Sanwa Bank officials.” Central Finance held tight to its independent strategy even amid the rapid-fire merger. It charted its own course amid the Mitsubishi UFJ-owned credit/consumer companies, including NICOS, UFJ Card, and DC Card.

A top official at a rival company points out that “that’s not the end of the story.”

“Central Finance had entered merger talks with another card company before, but the move was stifled after opposition from Mitsubishi UFJ.” In fact, that company was OMC Card. OMC is currently in the eye of the storm of reorganiztion in the credit card industry. Daiei, which is currently undergoing management rehabilitation, is currently in the process of selecting a buyer for its 30% stake in OMC. SMFG is one of the bidders.

CEO Masayuki Oku of SMFG, outwardly denies a relationship between the new capital tie-up and the battle for control of OMC: “We have not even remotely considered (bringing the two companies together).” However, another senior staff member of the group reveals what are likely SMFG’s true intentions: “(OMC) will probably be happy about this new capital tie-up.”

The first round of bidding for OMC has already ended, and hearings including the top executives of the remaining bidders will be held in mid-May. SMFG is more than likely going to play up a growth scenario for OMC involving Central Finance.

And the benefits for SMFG don’t end there. Central Finance is generally considered a consumer credit form run by the former Tokai Bank, but a glance at the company’s history shows a unique character of support from influential Nagoya business people. The former Tokai is just one powerful parent of several. President Tsuchikawa is a major presence in the Nagoya business community, and is said to be close with the founder of Toyota. That would quickly shorten the distance between SMFG and the Toyota Group.

The economy of the Nagoya area, which is experiencing continued vitality, is considered friendly territory for Mitsubishi UFJ, which is the successor organization to Tokai. However, the drama surrounding this capital tie-up could change the lines of battle in the “financial wars.”

(by Osamu Namikawa)

Copyright Term Extension in Japan: Balance shifting *against* extension?

Nikkei PC Magazine reports:

Arguments for Caution at Cultural Affairs Agency Deliberation Council on Copyright Term Extension Issue
May 16, 2007

The Subcommittee for the Protection and Use of Past Copyrighted Works Etc. of the Cultural Deliberation Council’s Copyright Commission, an advisory body to the Commissioner of the Cultural Affairs Agency on the copyright term extension issue, held its 3rd meeting of 2007 on May 16.

Continuing from the previous meeting, a hearing was held consisting of 17 people including stakeholders engaging in business activities related to copyright. This time, however, moderate-thinking lawyers and academics with a background in copyright made multiple arguments against term extension.

“Cases of Copyright Inheritance are Rare”

Professor Masaru Itoga (Library Information Science) of Keio University, pointed out that gaining permission to use copyrighted materials will become more difficult by extending the copyright term from 50 years after the death of the rights holder to 70 years. “With the exception of famous works, cases in which surviving family members inherit copyrights are rare. Also, finding the addresses of corporations is easy, but the contact information of individual rightsholders is not made public. If the copyright term is extended, there is a danger that there will be an increase in the number of works that are not passed on after the rights holder’s death and it is unclear who holds the rights to them.”

[snip issue of “free use labeling”]

“The International Balance of Copyright is -600 Billion Yen Annually”

Attorney Kensaku Fukui commented that while the US, Europe, and Japan have extended copyright term repeatedly, copyright term has never been rolled back, and called for caution on a hasty extension: “The effects from term extension will felt by posterity semi-permanently. I hope for and will watch carefully for a debate that will stand up to historical investigation, showing who and with what proof did people favor, oppose, or remain silent on extension.”

He went on to question: “Those in favor of term extension argue that if a database for copyrighted works is built then past works can be easily accessed. I think there is merit in that idea, but it would be difficult to create a database comprehensive enough to cancel out the problems posed by extension. The list of authors tops 790,000 just based on the archives of the National Diet Library. Extend that to overseas works and a database would grow exponentially in size if the copyright term is extended to 70 years retroactively. Are we going to place this cost on the Japanese people?”

Fukui also commented on the fact that according to Bank of Japan statistics, Japan’s international balance of payments for copyrighted works is negative 600 billion yen annually (meaning that more copyrighted work is imported than exported) and is growing year by year: “If prewar Western works’ copyrights continue to be extended, then over-importing and the international uneven distribution of intellectual property will become permanent. There are those who argue that ‘extension is necessary to protect the works of Haruki Murakami or Japanese animation,’ but these works’ copyrights will last for at least another 30 years. The decision to extend works such as those should be made based on the situation 30 years from now, and it is no reason to extend copyright term now. I think we should stop immediately trying to find a way to cooperate whenever we are told something by the US and Europe.”

“Economic effects of term extension no greater than 1-2%”

Keio University Professor Tatsuo Tanaka (Econometrics) claimed that the economic effects of term extension would be small and that the rational decision would be to promote use of the public domain. Tanaka explained his doubtful outlook: “Citing books with past case studies, the increase in revenue for rights holders due to copyright term extension would be only 1-2% of all copyright revenue. Will raising royalties from 10% to 10.2% actually boost creativity?”

Meanwhile, arguing that the term extension is set aside would allow works to be used freely in the public domain, Tanaka concluded that not extending copyright would be better for society: “Businesses that promote new uses by exploiting the public domain are increasing. For example, Aozora Bunko boasts a lineup of 6000 titles, and the top 1000 titles are viewed by 4.5 million people per year. Cheap DVDs sell 1.8 million copies per year. There are also many examples where works whose copyright terms have expired, such as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Ayaka Hirahara’s Jupiter, have been recreated. On blogs and social networking sites, 10 million average citizens are creating and transmitting content. The public domain is the lifeblood of creativity for the next generation, and forms the basis for the average person’s creations.”

Other participants arguments’ included “I am negative on term extension, but even if the term is extended, I hope that the part of the term beyond 50 years will require a notification and that the term will not be categorically extended.” (Keio Univ. Associate Professor Kim Jong Kun [金正勲]), “As a part of a system for notification of intent, I would like a free use label to be created that indicates permission to freely use work in a museum.” (Akira Inoue, Director General of the National Science Museum)..... “Ryonosuke Akutagawa worried whether people would read his work 50 years in the future. The greatest hope of a creator is to have his/her work read by a great many people. Extending copyright term would decrease the opportunities for works to be used and lead to a cultural loss.” (Authoer/poet Chico Ryomi).

Still others’ contended: “For orchestras, the burden from usage fees they will pay to JASRAC due to term extension is a serious issue.” (Japan Orchestra Federation Standing Director Naomoto Okayama), “It is almost inconceivable that software will be used 50 years after [its copyright holder dies], making term extension unrealistic.” (Association of Copyright for Computer Software Executive Director Hiroshi Kubota)

Others Argue “We Should Lead the International Current”, “National Cultural Assets will be Lost”

Meanwhile, there were also arguments in favor of term extension, mostly from officials from rights holder groups. Hide Ikuno, Executive Director of the Recording Industry Association of Japan, noted that “copyright term for records is already greater than 50 years in 21 countries. Japan has the second largest record sales in the world, and is in a position to lead the international current.”

Kazuhiko Fukuodera, standing director of the Japan Artist Association, argued: “Edvard Munch is still copyrighted in the West but is public domain in Japan. When that happened, dolls parodying “The Scream” went on sale. We should not do things that are rude to creators. In 2009, Taikan Yokoyama’s copyrights will become public domain. The Taikan Yokoyama Memorial Center’s operating costs are taken care of in part by copyright fees, and if they become public domain the operations of the center could become difficult, leading to a loss of national cultural assets.

(by Kanto Kaneko)

Comment: Some things to be learned from/noted about this article:

1. Those who will benefit from copyright extension in Japan are overwhelmingly foreign rightsholders, such as the Beatles, Elvis, Disney and other popular foreign artists/movies.
2. The arguments for copyright extension, when shown in the light of day, are extremely weak (lead by following?!) and hold no legal water unlike the previous extension to 50 years to comply with the Berne convention.
3. The Japanese system of public hearings before advisory committees long before any cabinet decisions are made or laws passed can work much much better than, say, the American system in which copyrights can be extended through the sheer political will of Sonny Bono’s widow and Disney. This did not stop the copyright term for movies from being extended to 70 years after the rightsholder’s death due to foreign pressure from the US etc, but an increasingly copyright-conscious Japanese public may just save Japan as a bastion of consumer-friendly copyright term.
4. The bulk of the Japanese media, as major rightsholders themselves, spew endless anti-piracy, pro-rights management propaganda, though as you can see this is not always the case as there are opposing business/consumer interests involved. I’ll try and locate a good example sometime soon.