Monthly Archives: June 2010

8819 LDP

That’s not a license plate number: it’s the LDP’s cryptic way of tying themselves to the paternity leave system. Read out loud, it sounds similar to papa ikukyu (パパ育休) or “Daddy Childcare Leave.”

The code makes a very subtle appearance in the recent TV commercial featuring Sadakazu Tanigaki’s ridiculously impassioned speech about making Japan number one again. This spot has been coming up once in the rotation during every World Cup game I have seen so far (except, of course, the ones on NHK).

The slogan appears on the green silicon bracelet he’s wearing.

You can buy your own here, although you have to register as an LDP merchandise customer first, and I’m not sure whether non-citizens are definitively eligible for this. They do specify that you have to be a resident of Japan and that they will only ship within Japan.

(Thanks to Mrs. Peter for the tip)

Koizumi on the Next Election

The following are quotes from former PM Junichiro Koizumi, from a speech on 28 June at Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture, assembled from a number of sources, mainly the Asahi and Nikkei.

The Liberal Democratic Party should be the minority for a while. This has fixed its majority party addiction, and given the people a chance to see [the LDP] become a healthy opposition party… Even if they win in the next election they cannot become the majority party.

However, the Democratic are running wild, lost. Even the LDP was never that bad… it’s good that this administration change has given the Democrats a taste of the difficulty of being the majority party…

The people expected that the Democrats could cut waste where the LDP failed, but they have been let down.

Why did we privatize the road public companies (during the Koizumi Administration)? “From Public to Private” is a slogan that [calls to] stop the use of tax money and seeks to vitalize the private sector. Now it’s the reverse, “From Public to Public.” The ones causing this reverse in course are the Democrats.

Say what you will about his politics or the current politics, I think he accurately just stated a snapshot of what the average Japanese voter things about the current state of affairs in politics today.

Cheap haircuts in Japan are real, still not enough

Today I will point out a minor error in a pundit’s description of Japan. This is sort of nitpicky, but hey that’s what we do here.

NPR’s Planet Money recently had an interesting interview with an author whose theory is that countries like Japan and Germany that grew rich after WW2 did so by selling exports to countries like the US who were willing to overspend (thanks to cheap credit provided to compensate for failing to provide good educations and hence good jobs to the people). This way, those emerging countries were able to achieve wealth and growth without subjecting their domestic industries to intense competition.

Japan, he says, has top-rate manufactured goods but a hopelessly inefficient domestic service sector. However, the example he gives is somewhat outdated. Basically, he says that haircuts in Japan are very expensive because the existing players banded together to keep out new competition by requiring that all haircuts require a shampoo afterward; to do otherwise would be unhygienic.

That might have been the case maybe a decade ago, but in today’s Japan Y1000 haircut places are everywhere. Just yesterday I got my haircut in Tokyo with no shampoo. I am not too clear on the history, but if memory serves the operator of QB House fought for more than a decade to liberalize the byzantine barber shop regulations.

Here’s the comment I left on their blog:

The interviewee’s example of Japanese barber shops is very outdated. Just today I got a haircut for about $12 with no shampoo. Until recently he would have been right, but there has been considerable deregulation since then. That isn’t to say there aren’t other occupations with ridiculous guild-based restrictions – Japan’s many dubious “qualifications” have recently come up as a subject of debate under the new government. It’s just that the particular case of haircuts doesn’t apply anymore.
Adam in Tokyo

That said, I think he’s got the right idea, even today. Even without special regulatory protection, many Japanese institutions have become massively inefficient thanks to successful attempts to keep out competition – think JAL, all those shuttered shotengai shopping districts, TV broadcasting, the music industry, you name it.

Ghost to be remade as Japanese film starring Nanako Matsushima

The title says it all. From Nikkei (sub reqd), we learn that Paramount is doing a co-production with Shochiku to remake Ghost, the 1990 the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore romance. It will star Japan’s tallest movie star Matsushima Nanako opposite Korean actor Song Seung-heon. NTV is apparently also involved. The US studios are apparently broadening their cultural horizons because their native, English-language content isn’t as popular with Japanese audiences as it used to be. Japan is no doubt a lucrative market for Hollywood since movie tickets cost significantly more here than they do in the US.

Ghost was a pretty sweet movie, so a remake might make for some good viewing. More to the point, I love the idea of remaking classic American films for Japan.

Personally, I want to see a Japanese version of Be Kind Rewind. “Sweded” versions of Seven Samurai, Godzilla, and Audition would be intense.

Or maybe Mr. Baseball, only in reverse? Given how times have changed, the story of an aging Japanese ballplayer getting sent to a small team in the US is probably more common now than the scenario in the original.

Skymark vs. the SDF

The new airport in Ibaraki Prefecture just lost its only domestic route, though it will still have a flight to Korea.

There were reasons to expect this. The airport is far from Tokyo, even farther than Narita, and it has no rail service. It is only particularly convenient for people in Mito, Tsukuba and other cities in the immediate surroundings. (More on this at CNNGo and Yen for Living.)

But economics didn’t kill Skymark Airlines’ Ibaraki-Kobe route: instead, the neighbors killed it. Ibaraki Airport was originally built as an Air Self-Defense Force base, and it still houses units of fighter defense jets and military civil defense transport planes. This is not really a unique situation to Ibaraki: Itami, Komaki and New Chitose Airports all have SDF units on-site, and Misawa Airport shares its runways with the U.S. Air Force. These airports manage to keep a balance between civilian and defense traffic, but the officials in Ibaraki were apparently less cooperative.

Yomiuri (English):

It’s possible the ASDF could ask us to suspend our flights when they are holding a troop inspection ceremony. We are therefore unable to conduct this service on a regular basis,” a Skymark spokesperson said.

The cancellation has shocked local officials. “I am very surprised. I will ask the officials concerned to fine-tune any differences as soon as possible, and give top priority to passenger convenience,” Ibaraki Gov. Masaru Hashimoto said late Thursday.

Toyo Keizai (Japanese):

Skymark management explained the cause of the service cancellation: “There is a need for consideration for the Air Self-Defense Forces in excess of what was expected, and this harms our ability to provide steady service.” They have also indicated that there is a possibility of resuming service if the situation improves, but the relationship with the SDF was expected at the time the service began, and some related parties are calling [Skymark] irresponsible.

Load factors on Skymark’s Ibaraki-Kobe route are high, exceeding 75%, but the route is running in the red when maintenance and other operating costs are included. Skymark aimed to make the route profitable by providing service three or more times per day in the future, instead of the current single daily round trip, but apparently determined that such a schedule would be difficult to arrange because of the SDF relationship.

Asiana Airlines are maintaining daily flights between Ibaraki and Seoul, so the airport is not totally a ghost town. Assuming passengers can get there, it’s actually great for ultra-cheap flying because of its low construction budget and lack of frills. The terminal is extremely compact (it doesn’t even have jet bridges to the planes) and on-site parking is free.

Excited about Chrome OS

Not Japan-related per se, but…

As some already know I am extremely excited about Google’s upcoming Chrome OS. The prospect of a laptop that turns on instantly and “just works” like the iPod Touch give me a warm, tingly feeling. I’ve recently come across some articles that tie together some of my thoughts on the subject, so here goes:

Why Chrome OS Is a Game Changer
...
Historically, open-source operating systems and applications have had a rough time attracting consumers. For example, Microsoft completely dominated Linux in netbooks. But Android proved that the Google name resonates with consumers and manufacturers looking for something fresh to push. Companies that bet on Android—such as Motorola (MOT) and HTC —are seeing that gamble pay off. Android has basically paved the way for manufacturer adoption of Chrome OS.

The primary criticism against the Chrome concept is that it’s almost entirely Internet-focused and doesn’t have much use when not connected to the Web.

However, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing because, for most consumers, all computers are bricks when they’re not online. Google wants eyeballs on the Web—not on desktop applications—so it has a direct incentive to push Web-centric devices. In the late ‘90s, Internet appliances were big jokes, but that’s all computers are these days—a way to get on the Internet.


  • Some more details on how the OS is coming together from TechCrunch, with some good signs that it will include at least one OS essential – mindless video games.

  • One potential drawback – the relatively high specs Google is demanding from PC makers (solid-state hard drives, HD screens) might make Chrome notebooks a bit pricey.

My ideal machine would be a “convertible laptop” with a screen that can swivel into a tablet. If someone can pull that off (so far all the convertible laptops I have seen are atrocious) whatever OS it runs could work.

Is anyone else as interested as I am? I wonder if Chrome OS could take off in Japan. Maybe if they come out with Chrome tablets…

SLAMMING into election season

Somewhat randomly, the Wall Street Journal has recently started up a Japan blog called Japan Real Time (partly, it seems, to provide content to their new Japanese language site). Great stuff, welcome to the party. But being a mainstream media blog, it can’t seem to shake some conventions, like our pet-peeve (or is that favorite?) synonym for sharply criticizing someone:

Party Heads SLAM Tax Plans

Naoto Kan’s proposal to raise taxes, part of a broad fiscal reform package, has hit his popularity ratings and sparked plenty of discussion.

On Tuesday, several party heads made clear that they oppose the tax increase, accusing Mr. Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan of everything from “hocus-pocus economics” to potentially pushing suicide rates higher.

Here’s what they had to say:

Sadakazu Tanigaki, Liberal Democratic Party: The LDP is more or less on the same page as Mr. Kan’s DPJ — it proposed the tax hike to begin with — but Mr. Tanigaki sought to differentiate the two, criticizing Mr. Kan for not being clear on how the tax money will be used. The LDP, Mr. Tanigaki said, made clear in its policy statement that the money would be used for social security spending.


I like the frowny Tanigaki picture they chose (stolen above).

***

In other news, campaigning has heated up around my station. The other day I took a pamphlet from the Happiness Realization Party guy, and this morning the freak actually tried to talk to me on my way to work. If it weren’t so freaking humid a chill would have run down my spine. Those people have a few good ideas (bigger houses, more linear trains) mixed in with the crazy (attack North Korea preemptively, retirement age of 75, do everything to make Japan the world’s top economy by GDP), but zero respect for democracy. Funnily enough, part of their platform is to abolish the upper house of parliament, which just happens to be the very body they want the people to elect them to!

(thanks to Joe for the link)

Why I am long Japan: exhibit A

I have a longer post about this kicking around in the MFT cutting room, but one key consideration is that Japan has a culture of creating incredible things regardless of the incentives offered (or not offered) to do so. This video (forwarded by our frequent commenter Peter) is a good example.

In twenty years, this generation will control the country by default. Watch out.

Most Congressional hearings are now “kabuki”

Click here to watch some wrinkled political blowhard casually dismiss an entire branch of government with our favorite tired cliche:

(The BP hearings are) not a forum where we can expect answers. It’s kind of a “kabuki drama” if you will, like most congressional hearings.

You can leave comments on the BP oil spill under this post. Bill Maher said that even he is too depressed to read the news these days, and I agree. It seems like such devastation for so much of the gulf I am tempted to block it out of my mind, which is the kind of tactic I usually reserve for the suffering in third world countries.

(Borrowed the fun image from Google. Bloomberg’s Youtube channel doesn’t allow embedding)