Uniqlo arrives in the US

I had actually heard about this a few months ago, I think on some Japanese news site. But yesterday I was surprised to see that The Motley Fool had reported on it.

You’ll have to forgive me for not catching this one sooner. A year ago, I wrote about the possibility of Japanese retailer Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo business setting up shop in the U.S. and the potential competitive problems that could cause for Gap (NYSE: GPS). However, it looks like I wasn’t paying close enough attention, because in the last six months, Uniqlo has opened three stores in New Jersey and now has one store open temporarily in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

I must admit, I was a little puzzled to see that their first three stores were in New Jersey malls, at least there is some kind of sense to it. After all, while we may not have the largest mall in the country, we are the undisputed center of the shopping mall lifestyle – as much as that association pains my holier than though New York oriented Montclair ass. Now, the fact that their next store was in Soho really shocked me. At least, shocked insofar as I can have any kind of emotional reaction to retail clothing. Which, I should not have to inform you, is rather minimal.
Now, will Uniqlo have any impact? Well, they’ve already managed to expand profitably into China, Korea, Hong Kong and apparently, England. I assume that if England had been a flop they would never have bothered with the US. But what does the Fool think?

Overall, I still believe Uniqlo poses the biggest threat to Gap’s namesake stores and its Old Navy shops, because the price point, style, and level of quality are similar. Whether or not Uniqlo ends up being a true threat will take years to play out, and Uniqlo will also need to prove that it will endure in the U.S. and is not just a passing fad. As a customer of Uniqlo for a number of years, I believe the company can compete successfully, largely because the company has had some success in the U.K., Hong Kong, and Korea.

I must say, I always liked Uniqlo well enough when I was in Japan. I have a jacket from there that I’m rather fond of, and the zip-up black hooded sweatshirt I got almost 4 years ago for something like 2500 or 3000 has very possibly been worn more days in total than any other single piece of clothing that I own, but in all honesty the main attraction of Uniqlo was that it was the only decent store in Japan where I could find clothes that I was comfortable with at a decent price. While the Gap and Levis stores in Kyoto might offer clothing that I would be willing to wear, they did it at prices dramatically higher than I would pay for identical items in the US, while Uniqlo, despite being in Japan, cost no more than the Old Navy at the Willowbrook Mall a short drive from my house in Jersey. Uniqlo may be a pretty good store in Japan, but is there any particular need in this country for a Japanese clothing brand whose style is, in my eyes, virtually indistinguishable from the preexisting mainstream American brands?

Usefulness of local indexing

One technique I use to help me with translations is saving as many dictionary and glossary files as I can find in one place on my hard drive. I’ve managed to wrangle a good number of very specialized Japanese/English glossaries out of the dark corners of the Internet, since one never knows what’s going to be useful. While one can always browse what may be a relevent file, or load it up in Word or Firefox and use that programs built in search function, the best thing to do is really to use something like Google desktop search to search the entire folder for the desired keyword.

Sadly, Google Desktop Search hasn’t lived up to the promise so far. It’s been very useful for locating file (aside from a tendency not to erase the old record of files that have been erased/renamed/moved) but in contrast to the plethora of operators avaliable on their web site search, has until now lacked a convenient operator to restrict searching to a particular folder.

Thankfully, this has been addressed in the newest version. The updated feature list tells us how to do this.

“under:” search New!
The under: operator lets you restrict what folder your file search results can come from. For instance, if you search for [basketball under:”C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents”], your search results will only include files found in the “C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents” folder.

Government of Japan Places Full Names, Addresses of Newly Naturalized Citizens on Internet

As fellow Japan watchers, haven’t you ever wondered what kind of people decide to naturalize as Japanese citizens? Well, according to the Ministry of Justice, it’s vastly Chinese and Koreans followed by “Other.”

But let’s say you wanted a little more detail. In fact, let’s say you were so curious about what kind of people are deciding to become Japanese that you wanted to visit each of them personally and congratulate them? Sounds impossible, right?

Wrong! As I was digging through some government regulations today, I noticed that the government of Japan publishes the full names, addresses, and birthdates of every single naturalized citizen on the Internet via the online version of its Government Gazette (“kanpo” in Japanese), the official public registry for new laws, regulations etc. You can even see who celebrated a very lucky St. Patrick’s Day with their official acceptance into Japanese society. Or you can check out the online archives going back 1 year at the Prime Minister’s Office website. And I am sure if you took a trip down to the Diet Library the nice librarians would be happy to allow you to peruse the Kanpo archives.

With the Japanese people in an uproar over leaks of personal information, often to unscrupulous scam artists, it should come as nothing less than a slap in the face that the government is publishing their fellow citizens’ home addresses. I’m just a curious nerd, but what’s to stop some right wing group from harassing new citizens for tainting Japan’s supposedly sacred and pure bloodline? (Of course, they’d have to go looking for it at a relatively obscure and boring government website, but gosh darnit, it’s just like that Clint Eastwood movie where all the celebrities get put on a hit list!)
Continue reading Government of Japan Places Full Names, Addresses of Newly Naturalized Citizens on Internet

Scary: New Taste Analyzer Mimics Human Perception Of Flavors

From Nikkei:

Friday, March 10, 2006

New Taste Analyzer Mimics Human Perception Of Flavors

KYOTO (Nikkei)–A Keio University research group led by chemistry professor Koji Suzuki has developed a taste analyzer that can evaluate beverages quickly and with high precision, identifying flavors in a humanlike way that includes the ability to detect sweet-sour and bitter-but-tasty flavors.
Continue reading Scary: New Taste Analyzer Mimics Human Perception Of Flavors

Rare Chinese frog uses ultrasonic communication

It may not be a mutant per-se, but it sure is an evolutionary rarity. From Reuters:

The frog, Amolops tormotus, is the first non-mammalian species known to use the ultra-high frequencies that humans cannot hear.

It comes in handy to be heard above the pounding waterfalls and streams in the mountainous region of east-central China where Amolops tormotus, which is known as the concave-eared torrent frog, lives.

Update on used electronics restrictions – some good news

Update to an earlier post where I discussed Japan’s new restrictions on sales of second hand electronics. I’ll start by summarizing what I know about the issue so far, and then add the good news at the end.

To summarize, Japan is (from April 1) requiring that most used electronics older than 5 years of age must be certified as electrically safe for usage before resale, which puts a serious cramp in the business of small scale used goods stores. While few people really care about being able to get their hands on a decade old refrigerator or rice cooker, fans of vintage electronic musical instruments were particularly outraged, and organized a strong campaign against the new regulations.

This issue became widely discussed on the English internet when retro gaming fans became scared that sales of used consoles would become illegal. I pointed out that foreign export sales of all items will remain unrestricted, which is at least a boon to retro electronics fans outside of Japan, but it could still potentially cause problems for Japanese gamers.

Since the regulations are about electrical safety, in the case of units that operate off of an external power supply, it seems that only the power supply itself will be tested, and there will also be a grace period of 2 additional years before regulations regarding AC adapters and power cords come into effect. Now, it would be possibly to replace the old power supply with a newer one of the correct voltage/amperage, but that’s a rather serious step for an ordinary gaming store, and would probably cause serious price increase. Also, there are unfortunately a few models of consoles that integrated the power supply, which means that they will be affected right on April 1, without the AC adapter related grace period.

HOWEVER, thanks to an anonymous comment, I noticed that there is some very good news on this front. In fact, I’ll just repost the text of the comment below, since it covers it pretty well.

Yesterday March 14, 2006 the Japanese ministry in charge of the PSE law and its interpretation announced that “Vintage Electric Equipment” including guitar amps, audio, electric musical instruments, and electric powered photographic equipment etc. will be exempted from full PSE testing requirements, and will be allowed to sell after a simplified registration procedure is followed by the merchant.

For those who can read Japanese, see news item at Yahoo Japan:

Also notice that major second-hand audio retailer HiFi Do had already registered with the ministry as a re-manufacturer of used audio equipment and has set itself up to do fully compliant testing and certification, and also will equip each piece of used equipment they sell (after testing and modifying the equipment to comply with the law) with a properly registered PSE sticker.

See http://www.hifido.co.jp/merumaga/osu_sale/060310/

So this means the good Ryuichi Sakamoto (who campaigned against the law prohibiting sale of vintage synthesizers etc.) and his friends were successful.

Check out that last link for a neat series of photos of the solder-smiths at Hifido testing, repairing, and certifying equipment under the new PSE regulations (the source of the above image.)

According to the Mainichi Shinbum, the Japanese Synthesizer Programmers Association delivered a petition with 75,000 signatures to the PSE office, prompting their decision to reclassify musical equipment. This is obviously great news for fans of vintage music and photographic equipment, it also offers hope to retro gamers. While gaming machines (software and peripherals are of course safe, since they aren’t serious electrical conduits) are still classified as restricted items, this decision clearly opens the door for their inclusion on the list of vintage, exempt, items. While their may not be a Japanese Vintage Gaming Association, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some higher-ups from companies like Nintendo or Sega step forward and ask the government not to cordon off their legacy with red tape.

Death sentence of Aum sarin subway terrorist upheld

Saru forwarded me the AP story, but I don’t have a link so I’ll just post it below.

Japan: Death for Man in Subway Gassing

The Associated Press


Tokyo’s High Court upheld the death penalty for a doomsday cult member convicted in the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack that killed 12 people, a court official said Wednesday.

Tomomitsu Niimi, a high-ranking member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, was sentenced in 2002 to hang for murdering 26 people in seven separate attacks.
Continue reading Death sentence of Aum sarin subway terrorist upheld

Japan called upon to curb small arms trade

You may have read this post I made a little while back, discussing Japan’s international trade in small arms under the guise of “sporting equipment,” in defiance of their official stance against exporting weapons. Well, the Japan Times is carrying a brief Kyodo article stating that a London based group is now asking Japan to lead the fight against international small arms trade.

Japan urged to champion curbs on firearms trade

LONDON (Kyodo) Campaigners on Monday called on Japan to lead efforts to strengthen the international code on the export of small arms.

The London-based International Action Network on Small Arms, a group of more than 700 civic organizations around the world, wants the rules to be made more explicit to deter exports to countries that abuse human rights.

It will call on members of the United Nations in June to strengthen the code and wants Japan to take more of a lead in discussions.

IANSA estimates that more than 300,000 people are killed each year by small arms, with the largest number of deaths occurring in Russia, Latin America and the United States. Legal trade in small arms is worth $ 4 billion annually, with another $ 1 billion generated on the black market.

In its domestic laws, Japan recognizes how deadly small arms can be. There are a growing number of countries which are getting behind the idea of an international treaty to stop small arms transfers to countries which abuse human rights, or where they are going to be an obstacle to sustainable development,” said Rebecca Peters, director of IANSA.

Have you noticed the curious omission from this article? Nowhere does it mention why Japan should be the country taking the lead. Is it because Japan is known as a nation of pacifism with an official policy of not selling weapons, or is it because they violate that very policy and are being asked to begin the reforms at home?

Japanese suicide forums

You may have read about one of the several incidents over the past few years in Japan of suicide pacts arranged by total strangers who hooked up via suicide themed Internet forums. After seeing yet another article about it a couple of days ago I decided to look at some of these forums for myself. Needless to say, it’s rather grim stuff, people asking for advice on how to kill themselves, locations to do it, looking for partners since they lack the courage to do it alone, other people responding with advice or heartfelt pleas not do to it, and so on.

Because it’s possible that nothing has yet happened to ruin your day, I’ve decided to start translating some random suicide forum posts for your amusement and edification. Here’s the first one.

From Miss Chika,

I am a 22 year old woman living in Tokyo. For a few years I’ve been depressed, unable to go about my life without alcohol.

Wrist cutting, hanging, gathering up medicine to drink, I did all kind of things. But being a half-alcoholic it all ended up just attempts.

Now I’m working, but the scars are still there. When someone asks me about them I just say “I cut myself.” There are people, dummies, who ask around to find out more information. There isn’t anything more than “I cut myself,” so that’s all I say.

But there’s nobody who asks about the injuries. It’s because everybody is scared of themselves being injured by the sadness and pain of others.

It’s bad, but I’m being difficult. I even carry a knife when I go to the psych clinic.

Having come this far already I’m not threatened by or scared of cutting my neck or wrists. If I can die the momentum at that time, I’ll be satisfied.

Saipan, Desperate for Japanese Tourist “reparations,” Offers to Open its Own Version of Yasukuni

The governor of Saipan has made a morbidly cynical offer to the Japanese families of those who died in the bloody Battle of Saipan:

Banzai Cliff as cemetery for Japanese war dead?

By Agnes Donato

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Banzai Cliff in Marpi could soon turn into a cemetery for the Japanese war dead, with the governor offering the property to the families of World War II soldiers who lost their lives on Saipan.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial announced Friday that he had received two pledges of donation amounting 10 million Japan yen (about $84,000) each for the planned cemetery.

A separate offer of $100,000 has also been made for the sole benefit of the Public School System, he said.

“I am making land available at Banzai Cliff for Japanese groups to build a temple. This temple will be a token of our appreciation for the Japanese people visiting Saipan. I am also offering the same property to all the families and relatives of 47,000 war heroes who lost their lives here on Saipan to come and erect monuments,” Fitial said during his weekly press conference.

I can’t think of a more depressing idea. The Banzai Cliff was what hundreds of Japanese civilians jumped from in the aftermath of the battle. They chose to end it all rather than be raped and tortured by the Americans (UPDATE: …or so they may have believed. Another blogger, objecting to this “spin” – though it was unintentional – helpfully pointed out some of the sacrifices US soldiers made to save Japanese civilians in Saipan. Take a look.). I remember seeing on the History Channel a mother jump with her child no more than 50 feet from the American soldiers who looked on with a video camera rolling.

But will this save Saipan’s embattled tourist industry? It remains to be seen:

Tourist arrivals from Japan continue to drop as a result of Japan Airlines’ decision to cease all regular, scheduled flights to Saipan in October 2005.

Data from the Marianas Visitors Authority showed that the CNMI received only 25,555 visitors from Japan in January 2006. This represents a 29-percent decline compared with the 35,795 Japanese who came to the islands in January 2005.

But MVA is hopeful that the Japan market would recover when Northwest Airlines increases the frequency of its Tokyo flights beginning next month.

Northwest, which currently operates seven weekly flights between Saipan and Narita, will have 10 flights a week between the two points starting April 24, 2006.

The new service will operate a second Boeing 747 jumbo jet from Tokyo, flying three times a week. The aircraft will carry 400 economy and 30 business class passengers.

Homework assignment: Does anything similar exist in the world? There are certainly things like the Normandy memorial or Auschwitz, but are there any war memorials designed almost purely as tourist traps? I’m kind of offended — maybe Saipan does suck!