An anthropomorphic Earth in Tokyo, as seen from space

Shibaura Water Recycling Center.JPG

O, the joys of Google Maps! Picture above is the roof of the Shibaura Water Recycling Center, located in Minato-ku, Tokyo, courtesy of the municipal Bureau of Sewerage (click the image to see the Google Maps representation). Why they decided to make their mascot, an anthropomorphic planet Earth wearing a manhole cover and Japan highlighted in red (see below), visible from above I have no idea, but it’s pretty sweet.

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“White Collar Exemption” and the danger to the LDP

Wages remain stagnant in Japan, and are even declining, even as the economy improves. TransPacificRadio’s Ken puts it well:

Certainly, Japan is in its longest period of post-war economic growth. That said, the current ‘boom,’ if it can be called that, has returned 2-3% annual gains in GDP. Further, the recovery has been fueled by capital expenditure. This means that corporations are the ones spending the money, not consumers. Consumer spending has remained flat in Japan, and it accounts for 50% of GDP.

abe looking serious t2007011229abe.jpgThere are those who have argued for interest rate increases by claiming that a rate hike would provide a better return on savings accounts. This, of course, is disingenuous. Current returns are next to nil; even doubling the prime rate from 0.25% to 0.50% would mean little in the way of returns on savings accounts. It would, however, mean substantial increases in terms of mortgages, business loans and automobile loans.

Plenty of experts have wondered why consumer spending has yet to increase in Japan. Yet, the reason seems obvious: wages declined by about $4,000 on average per worker from 1995-2005 and then increased by about $400 per worker over 2006. Given that two recent effective tax hikes have taken place, in January 2006 and January 2007, the average worker in Japan simply has less money.

The bigger questions would be: Why haven’t companies been able to increase wages during this period of supposed economy recovery?

PESEK has your answer, Ken:

Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, changed the tone in Tokyo, forcing the need to upgrade an antiquated economic model on change-resistant politicians. Yet Koizumi, who stepped down in September, was a transitional figure. It was always up to his successor to accelerate and broaden efforts to modernize the economy. So far, Abe is failing in this regard.

That can be seen partly in how households aren’t increasing consumption as you would expect by this stage in an expansion. If households had more confidence in the outlook, they might spend more. If consumers trusted politicians to increase GDP or shore up the national pension system, people might save less.

The thing is, foreigners are far more excited about Japan’s recovery than the average Japanese citizen. That’s a problem, considering that the only way for this revival to gain momentum is by increased household spending. Exports can only get Japan so far; domestic demand is a more important dynamic at the moment.

Without faster growth and fatter paychecks, Japan will be hard-pressed to restore fiscal sobriety. Abe is right to want to reduce Japan’s reliance on debt for growth, yet the government’s plans to increase consumption taxes may backfire. The same goes for central-bank policy makers anxious to raise rates. Doing so might damage Japan’s recovery.

Abe’s task is a tall one. A key reason Japan isn’t booming as hoped is that it, like other rich economies, is increasingly facing the dark side of globalization. High-cost nations are being pressured as rarely before by fast-growing developing ones. That competition is reducing the willingness of Japanese executives to boost wages.

Combating that dynamic is a long-term process. It includes increasing productivity among current workers and encouraging more start-up companies to create new jobs. The effort would have a greater chance of success — and its benefits would kick in sooner — if Abe were focused on it. What’s more, Abe needs to improve his public-support rating if he’s going to have clout to build on Japan’s successes of recent years.

PESEK’s somewhat grim recommendations to avoid “economic booms that the average citizen doesn’t benefit from” (my convoluted and liberal translation of “jikkan dekinai keiki”) — a long-term process of productivity boosting and job creation — will assuage the concerns of neither workers nor powerful, large corporations, who both want security, in the forms of stable career paths and guaranteed profits, respectively.

These competing interests are coming to blows in recent days, as the government’s plans to submit a bill that would create a “white collar exemption” — meaning office workers who earn 4 million yen or more (or 9 million depending on what the final bill looks like) annually could no longer be eligible for overtime — have come under intense criticism.
Continue reading “White Collar Exemption” and the danger to the LDP

Zainichi Korean History textbook: Timeline

A couple of months ago I picked up The History of Zainichi Koreans, a Japanese language middle school text book intended for use either by ethnic Korean Japanese residents at Mindan (South Korean) affiliated schools, or as a supplemental text for history teachers in Japanese schools. It was published by Akashi Shoten in February 2006, and written by the history textbook creation sub-committee of Mindan and can be bought through Amazon Japan.

Looking at how history is presented in textbooks is, as readers may know, something that I find rather fascinating and so I would like to translate some small sections of interest in this text for everyone. Today I will start with the timeline of key events in Zainichi history. It is divided into two parts, Pre Liberation and Post Liberation, with the respective timeline being placed at the beginning of that half of the book. Notice which events, some of which are probably unknown to over 99% of Japanese citizens (i.e. the details of foreigner registration) are selected as key to Zainichi history.

View the entire post to see the timeline.

Continue reading Zainichi Korean History textbook: Timeline

2ch to be shut down??!?

UPDATE: 2ch might be safe after all.

top12.gifZAKZAK reports that a 35-year-old man who is suing 2 channel founder Hiroyuki Nishimura has filed to put a lien on all Nishimura’s assets, including the 2ch.net domain. The filing comes after months of Nishimura’s complete refusal to respond to any legal actions against him, including judgments ordering him to delete inflammatory posts and even pay compensation.

Nishimura can object to the motion, but if he does not respond 2ch could be shut down in as early as 2 weeks! He may decide to move the 2ch servers to a different domain, but such a move could take up to 2 weeks due to the decentralized nature of the server.

DOUBLE UPDATE: So far it looks like ZAKZAK has the exclusive scoop on the motion to seize Hiroyuki’s assets, and we at MF have the first reporting of the development in English. ZAKZAK’s close connection to the story could stem from their earlier coverage of Hiroyuki’s legal troubles.

UPDATE: A fitting goodbye as any (if it doesn’t show up look at post 34 in this thread):

34 :名無しさん@七周年:2007/01/12(金) 13:48:23 ID:LrUGxQZl0
                                 ∧ ∧   ∧ ∧
   /⌒~~~⌒\                       (   ,,)   (,,・Д・)
 / ( ゚〟д〟゚ )y─┛~~                ~(___ノ  ~(___ノ ,?_
(_ ノ? U  ∩_∩)   THANK YOU 2ch     ┌───────┐   \
  ?___J _J         and          (| ●        ● |      ヽ
  / ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄\  GOOD-BYE 2ch WORLD! /.| .┌▽▽▽▽┐ .|____|__||_| ))
 /     ●  ●、                   ( ┤ .|        | .|□━□ )
 |Y  Y       \ またどこかで会おうね  \.  .└△△△△┘ .|  J  |)
 |.|   |       .▼ |                 | \あ\      | ∀ ノ
 | \/        _人|∧∧∩゛冫、 .∧_∧      |    \り.\     . |  – ′
 |       _/)/)/( ゚Д゚)/ `  . (´∀` )..ヽ(´ー`)ノ  \が\ .   |  )
 \    / 〔/\〕 U  / ∩∩ (    ) (___)    \と.\ .|/
  | | | c(*・_・)  |  |ヽ(´ー`)ノ_|  |  | |   |~ /\.\う\| (-_-)
  (__)_) UUUU /∪∪ (___)(_(__) ◎ ̄ ̄◎─┘ .└──┘.(∩∩)

Aso’s cultural diplomacy: so far so good

If Foreign Minister Taro Aso can keep wonderful photo opportunities like this up, I would support him for prime minister no matter who he might want to nuke:

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Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, front centre, poses with Bulgaria’s sumo wrestlers during the opening ceremony of a donation to Bulgarian Sumo Federaton, in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, Thursday, Jan.

Bulgaria was likely singled out as it’s the home country of star Sumo wrestler Kotooshu. Kotooshu is currently an ozeki, one rank under Yokozuna, though he is unlikely to achieve yokozuna status, the top rank in the sport, for some time (Japanese  Mongolian wrestler Hakuho might make it this year to the delight of people who want to see more Japanese Mongolian faces in the sport).

Aso has made promotion of Japanese cultural exports, chiefly anime and manga, a priority as he sees it integral to cultivating Japan’s “soft power.” You can read the details of his cultural diplomacy ideas (essentially, the main pillar in building a “Japan brand”) here.

A brief look at free English-language online sources on Japanese politics

Happy New Year, everybody. 2006 was Mutant Frog Travelogue’s 2nd year of existence and a good one for a number of reasons: our readership has surged, we’ve been dubbed a top 10 Japan blog, and most importantly we have learned a lot in the process, both through researching for blog posts and through reader comments. Loyal readers: thanks for the support. Newcomers: Stick with us!

We don’t pretend to offer anything but whatever inspires us to click the Publish button, but we do hope you’re interested in what we have to say. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use this site as a main source for information, especially since there are much more comprehensive and professional sites out there.

For example, if you want information on Japanese politics in the English language, there is a wealth of sources to consult. For background, you can consult Wikipedia or the CIA World Fact Book to brush up on the basics or find papers by various experts in the field (the two best sources I am aware of: JPRI and Japan Focus), all free of charge.

On top of that, the Japanese government (such as METI’s think tank RIETI and MOF’s research institute, the websites of the various political parties, especially the LDP, as well as every ministry and agency’s English websites) and various think tanks (Keidanren, Daiwa, and other corporate-sponsored tanks are often quite interesting though they often focus more on the economy) provide much of their research and information in English free of charge.

To find out what’s happening now, there are several excellent English-language sources that are either straight, on-the-scene reporting or translations thereof: Japan Times, Asahi, and Yomiuri all offer different perspectives on daily events. Though you often won’t get the “story behind the story” you can nevertheless keep yourself informed of the details. And if you’re looking for a lighter side of the news, there’s even Mainichi’s WaiWai section that includes many translations of weekly magazine articles, rife with speculation and sensationalism.

And then there are various sites run by foreigners with a particular axe to grind or focused interest. The source most narrowly focusing on politics is the Japan Considered Podcast, run by a veteran Washington Japan policy hand Robert Angel. And there are plenty of others: the people at the new TransPacificRadio take a comprehensive look at the latest news, Debito has a blog chronicling developments surrounding Japan’s treatment of foreign residents, Marxy keeps an eye on pop culture and its gatekeepers, and (until last year at least) Japan Media Review took a look at Japan’s news media industry and let us know how awful the kisha club system is.

Even compared with 2 years ago, the amount of good information out there has become almost staggering. So with so many great resources out there, what can I, Adamu, offer? Biting analysis? Not so much. I try, but there’s a lot I need to learn about Japan, and I feel that I lack a certain perspective by not actually living in the country. In essence, I try to give you two things: (1) My observations as someone who follows the news in Japan with an almost religious devotion; and (2) Translations of interesting articles that would otherwise never find their way to an English-speaking audience. And if you think the increase in freely available Japan information in English was impressive, the surge in Japanese-language online content is even more staggering. It’s not as impressive as the revolution that’s occurred in the US: Japanese newspapers have not followed their American counterparts in posting their entire contents online, for starters. But that may only be a matter of time, and meanwhile there’s enough to keep me busy in my offtime at least.

Newsflash: Hawaii doesn’t have enough Japanese people

The state of Hawaii is facing a minor crisis: not enough Japanese tourists. So they’ve enlisted advertising megafirm Dentsu to sell the state to people in Japan. And, since every ad in Japan needs a cute face, they brought actress Mayumi Sada on board.

Well, okay, she’s not that cute. More “sophisticated.” Anyway, the Honolulu Advertiser reports:

Through November, Japanese visitor arrivals were down nearly 9 percent. Takashi Ichikura, executive director of Hawai’i Tourism Japan, blamed the decline on fewer airline seats from Japan to Hawai’i, rising fuel surcharges on air travel, rising hotel charges and a weakening of the Japanese yen. Hawai’i Tourism Japan was hired by the state to promote Hawai’i in Japan.

“With the rising fuel surcharge and other cost factors, Hawai’i now looks expensive in Japanese consumers’ eyes, and they expect Hawai’i to be a refined and sophisticated destination to match the price they are paying,” Ichikura said.

… The campaign, called “Discover Aloha,” is meant to depict the experiences of a female visitor who experiences the feeling of aloha through various encounters that could only happen in Hawai’i.

My dirty mind had high hopes when I read that last part, but Dentsu let me down.

The effort includes two posters featuring hula and lei-making and another showing Sada reflecting on her Hawai’i experiences from a lanai overlooking the ocean.

It still sounds kind of like running “Visit Texas” ads in Mexico, doesn’t it?

The Japan-Korea tunnel gets revisited

Goh Kun, a former prime minister of Korea, is proposing a Japan-Korea tunnel as part of his campaign for president. With this tunnel intact, Japan and Korea would be directly linked by rail and highway, and assuming that North Korea comes out of its isolation in the future, it would be possible to ship goods between Japan and Europe entirely by rail (through the trans-Siberian).

This is hardly a novel idea. Back during World War II, the Japanese government had a long-term goal to run high-speed rail service from Japan through Korea and into the Asian mainland. Transport historian Roderick Smith:

The need for expansion of capacity [in the Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka corridor] was recognised, and work actually started on a new standard-gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in. or 1,435 mm) line in 1940. A key part of the motivation behind this new line was to link Tokyo with the western part of Japan, which, in turn, linked up with Japanese-held territory in China and Korea. It was planned that fast electric trains, already nicknamed dangan ressha (Bullet Trains), would speed along this line towards Kyushu and perhaps even through an undersea tunnel to the Asian mainland via the Korean peninsula. Although the undersea Kanmon tunnel was completed between Honshu and Kyushu in 1942, thus directly linking two of Japan’s four main islands for the first time, the Pacific war had started in 1941 and it was to be some time before the railway network could be further expanded.

A few of the tunnels blasted as part of this plan were eventually used for Japan’s first high-speed railway line, the Tokaido Shinkansen, which opened in 1964.

Anyway, they could be on to something with this tunnel. Besides freight, an overnight high-speed train from Tokyo to Seoul could prove very popular, and in the future, it could even be extended to Beijing or farther. A big investment, sure, but perhaps not as hare-brained as it might initially sound.

Abe’s wife’s blog not that hot, says Gendai

Even though I just got back from Japan, somehow I feel kind of out of the loop. Thankfully, Nikkan Gendai, perhaps Japan’s least prestigious (and therefore often most entertaining) daily, is there to put right back in there with some totally irrelevant news (for relevant news, read this good rundown of why PM Abe is in trouble right now from JT):

Jan 8, 2007

Tired Abe and agnes chanMrs. Akie’s Obscenely Embarrassing Blog

Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo, is humiliating her self in the extreme. She started a blog “Akie Abe’s Smile Talk” in Nov 2006 in an attempt to revive her husband’s popularity, but the contents have met with criticism, and constituents have come out against her in droves, telling her to “stop messing around.”

For example, she had this to say on Christmas:

“We visited my husband’s friend [popular singer] Agnes Chen’s house (snip) and we had a delicious meal, fun conversation, and in the end as a special treat Agnes even sang a song. I could feel the goodness of this energetic family.”

That was followed by photos of turkey and other gourmet food. On Dec 24, Xmas Eve, she posted a picture of herself eating porridge at the PM’s official residence, a shining Xmas tree decorated with decorations received from Laura Bush, and the comment “Today I just want to take it easy.”

Akie says, “I would be happy to get people to understand my candid daily thoughts by introducing a part of my life on this blog,” but Internet message board site 2-channel was less than kind: “It’s a blatant revealing of a winner’s circle celebrity bourgeoisie diary,” “She is totally screwing with us,” “Honestly, neither of them have any sense of tact,” “She’s most likely going to strangle her husband to death later on.”

Perhaps in light of the criticism, the blog hasn’t been updated since her new year’s greeting. Team Abe’s PR strategy is to put her in the spotlight, but her out of place blog might not last long.