US infrastructure is pathetic

As a simple reminder, look at the plans for the rail line being built to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport (former Chiang Kai Shek Airport).

Travelers leaving from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport will be able to check their luggage in at Taipei Railway Station before boarding the Airport Rail, the Bureau of High Speed Rail said yesterday.

“When the Airport Rail is launched in 2014, passengers can check in and get their boarding passes in the city first,” Bureau Director-General Chu Shu (朱旭) said. “The Taoyuan airport will be the fourth system in the world to offer in-town check-in service, following airports in Kuala Lumpar, Hong Kong and Bangkok.”


Even in cities that have a half-way decent rail system, most airports in the US don’t even have a rail connection. NYC’s JFK Airport has the so-called Airtrain, but after trying it once I suspect it might be faster to walk. There is also some talk of extending the PATH 2 miles so that it connects Manhattan directly to Newark Airport, with 24 hour access, which would be a huge improvement. But I can’t even imagine any place in the US putting together a baggage check-in service on the other side of an express airport rail. America was once the world leader in infrastructure, and now look at the list of cities in that article that have not just better airports, but better airports AND better airport rails! Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to see the rest of the world catch up, but I’m disgusted that 21st America is making so little investment in similar upgrades. China’s insane empty city aside, they are also pumping $200 billion into high speed rail infrastructure. The United States has only about 10% of that figure promised.

Dual nationality and Zainichi Koreans

Via the Marmot’s Hole, it appears that South Korea is currently drafting a law that would finally allow for dual citizenship of adults. The dual citizenship law in Korea is currently more or less the same as Japan, i.e. that it is only permitted for minors who are theoretically forced to choose upon reaching the age of majority. In Japan that age is 20 and in Korea is 22, but the principal is the same.

Those who obtain foreign citizenship by birth will be allowed to maintain it if they submit a written oath by the age of 22 not to exercise the rights and privileges of foreigners in Korea by using their second passport.

After the age of 22, men will be allowed to maintain multiple citizenship only if they complete their military service here. Under the current law, dual citizenship holders must choose one nationality by the age of 22 and submit a written pledge to give up their foreign citizenship if they choose their Korean nationality. The revision is aimed at blocking a drain on military manpower.

Those caught using their foreign passports to enter international schools or invest in Korea as foreigners will be ordered to choose a single nationality and automatically lose their Korean nationality if they fail to give up their foreign citizenship within a specified period.

The regulations also apply for other groups such as foreigners who have immigrated through marriage with Koreans; highly skilled foreigners; senior citizens living overseas; those who have regained Korean citizenship after being adopted by foreign families; and Chinese nationals who were born and have lived here for more than 20 years.

Under the current law, foreigners have to give up their foreign citizenship within six months after they obtain Korean nationality.


There are a couple of complications that I’m curious about, however. First, I assume that military service has a maximum age as well, and if so, are older men allowed to acquire dual-citizenship without doing it? The second case is more complicated though-the so-called Zainichi Koreans. Republic of Korea citizens who are permanent residents of Japan, particularly those who came during the pre-WW2 colonial period and their descendants. Will they also allowed to become dual nationals? And if so, what about military service?

Well, as it currently stands Zainichi Koreans, as well as Korean permanent residents in other countries, are exempt from the draft. However, should they “return” to Korea with the intention of becoming a permanent resident there, they lose this exemption.

大韓民国 兵役法
第65条(兵役処分変更等)
第2項 ・・・・・・・・・・・国外で家族と共に永住権を得た者(条件付き永住権を得た者を除く。以下同じ)又は永住権制度がない国で無期限滞留資格を得た者の場合には、兵役免除の処分をすることができる。
第4項 ・・・・・・・・・・・兵役の免除を受けた者が国内で永住する目的で帰国するなど大統領令が定める事由に該当するときは、その処分を取り消して兵役義務を賦課することができる。

But will overseas Koreans, such as the Zainichi, even be allowed to acquire dual citizenship? There would probably be no significant issues in a country like the United States, which tolerated dual citizenship-even with countries that require military service, as long as they are a military ally like Israel. But what about Japan? I really can’t say. Although later-arriving Korean immigrants are also technically lumped in with Zainichi, the term is mainly concerned with those who, as I mentioned above, came over as colonial subjects, and their descendants, who were granted an unusual “Special Permanent Residents” status as a diplomatic compromise between Japan and Korea. (Note that the population of Zainichi who “came over during the colonial period and their descendants” is actually larger than the number of Special Permanent Residents, as some thousands returned or moved to Korea when it became independent, but later decided return to Japan, where they had spent most or all of their lives. Those who left Japan and returned were legally counted as new immigrants, and did not qualify for Special Permanent Residency.)

Many have wondered why neither country has ever allowed dual citizenship in the past, particularly for this minority. In fact, when Japan and South Korea were originally discussing the legal status of the Zainichi Koreans, the idea of allowing dual citizenship was floated, but was allegedly vetoed by the US government. As domestic politics in both countries, as well as their relations, have changed a lot over the decades, (and the US probably doesn’t care, or have the power to set policy anymore) a similar conclusion would not necessarily be foregone today, but I still can’t see Japan tolerating South Korea to unilaterally change their citizenship policy in a way that potentially hundreds of thousands of Japan residents. Zainichi Koreans (a group which actually consists of both South Korean citizens and quasi-stateless/quasi-North Korean citizens) have no problem naturalizing as Japanese citizens (they used to), but (at least anecdotally) are also forced to give up their Korean citizenship more strictly than westerners. I can’t see this changing until Japan also changes their own law to allow for adult dual citizenship, and I have yet to see any sign that they plan to do so.

Profile of the (surprisingly lucrative) university co-op business in Japan

When I did a year-long exchange at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, one of the more interesting entities on campus was the co-op that ran cafeterias and a general merchandise store. Prices were reasonable, the food was excellent, and service was comparatively decent. The store even had an entertaining message board where students could ask the staff questions on any random topic, similar to the Japanese blog “Shiraishi of the Campus Co-op.” Like me, many foreign students probably leave Japan with fond memories of their university cafeteria and the friendly middle-aged ladies who served them.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the co-op system, but the always informative Shukan Toyo Keizai’s profile of the university co-op system taught me a thing or two.

Here are some key facts:

  • University co-ops are non-profit institutions operated and funded by student members. Around 30% of Japan’s 762 four-year universities (around 230 228 to be exact) have a co-op on campus, which will likely run at least one cafeteria, merchandise shop, and bookstore each. 40% of all university students (1.3 million) are members. At universities that have co-ops, membership is around 95%. Students pay between Y10,000-30,000 to join when they enter university, which is returned without interest once they graduate or drop out.

  • All such co-ops are organized under the umbrella of the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations in Japan, formed in 1958. While the first university co-op was formed in Kyoto’s Doshisha University in 1898, they didn’t really start to take off until after World War II, as universities set up co-ops to help ensure steady food supplies as Japan’s economy got back on its feet, similar to neighborhood co-ops (they are regulated by the same law). The federation’s website notes that co-ops offer a wide range of goods and services, among them “food, clothing, housing, books, stationery and PCs…arranging and subcontracting for tourism, Student Mutual Benefit [a type of insurance plan], language training programs, courses for applicants for public employee and computer training programs.”

  • Co-ops are a serious business – in 2008 the federation counted revenue of Y207.5 billion. Considering there are only co-ops on 230 228 campuses, it’s nothing short of amazing their revenue compares with convenience store chain am/pm (Y195.5 billion in FY08, 1,129 stores) and Tokyu department stores (232.3 billion in FY08, scattered stores in major cities). The article explains the universities benefit from a captive customer base of students on campus and virtually no other on-campus competitors (though that has changed slightly following some deregulation in 2004).

  • About a quarter of all sales are recorded in March and April ahead of the start of the academic year. However, in those two months the co-ops typically sell around 60,000 PCs. Sales in 2008 break down as follows: 15% from cafeterias, 19.9% from bookstores, and 65.1% from merchandise stores (in the merchandise category, 18.6% comes from hardware & software vs. 11.5% from food).

  • Gross margin (revenue minus cost of goods sold as a percent of total revenue) is roughly 20% overall and 50-55% in the cafeteria segment. That basically means that for every 100 yen in sales, 20 yen is profit before labor/administration, financing, and tax costs.

  • One benefit of being a student association is the university charges virtually no rent. This allows them to keep cafeteria prices low and charge the same for electronics as big-box retailers. The co-ops also have considerable bargaining power as procurement is all done through the national federation. That’s how the cafeterias can charge an average of Y380 per meal.

  • Another advantage of the co-ops is service. One student interviewed from the article bought a PC at the co-op because he liked getting advice from a fellow student.

  • One disadvantage of having your business limited to college campuses is the limited number of business days. Vacations slash the total number of business days to around 250-300, and students only show up for class on about 150-170 days a year.

  • In 2004, Japan’s national universities were stripped of their status as arms of the government and reorganized as corporate entities. This meant they gained a freer hand to get creative in running their campuses, and one such initiative has been to open convenience stores on campus in direct competition with the co-ops. Already, 40 co-ops are reported to be competing with on-campus kombini.

  • Co-ops have responded to this competition with initiatives of their own, for example opening chain stores inside cafeteria areas and selling pre-paid meal plans to students (something typical at US universities).

  • The population of 18-year-olds in Japan (an indicator of the size of the co-ops’ target demographic) expected to hold steady at 12 million in 2009 but then fall steadily into the foreseeable future. With this declining customer base, the author speculates there will be closer cooperation with universities and co-ops in the future. Already there are examples of a co-op collaborating with Yamanashi University to offer Yamanashi wine on campus.