My illegal post about the image rights campaign

Here is the copy of an ad promoting the “STOP! Image Rights Violations” campaign that currently stares at me during my morning commute (emphasis added):

The names and likenesses of entertainment talent and athletes are important business property. They are shared property created through the tireless efforts of the talent and athletes and the business efforts of the production companies. The rights protecting this property against unauthorized use by others are called “publicity rights.” In Japan, there have been many court cases acknowledging the importance of these rights, but since there is no clear stipulation of these rights in the law, in reality there is no end to cases of infringement.

I don’t have a ton to say about this now, except (a) you could make the case that the absence of laws explicitly protecting consumers’ rights to reuse commercial material to express themselves leads to patently pathetic violations as I have noted before (here’s hoping the Fair Use initiative passes this year); and (b) interestingly, Johnny’s Entertainment does not appear to be a member of this industry association.

As usual, Wikipedia provides concise and interesting background reading on the topic!

Dumbest research project ever?

I think we have a very strong contender here.

Karen, formerly a Hong Kong-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, seeks your input and is traveling around Asia for the next few weeks looking for people to interview.

Give your ideas below or shoot over an email. Here is Karen’s pitch:

Last month I wrote a two-part series for the Post called “Continental Divide” about the problems divorcing when you live outside your own country. I’m now in the region developing this series into a bigger project–both for the paper and as a possible book/film– on expat lives.

Expats live in a parallel universe. While they are culturally fish-out-of-water they can also live glamorous lifestyles. And while it can be a great experience for some, there is also a dark side to expat life. I’d like to further explore the issue by asking the simple question: Can marriages survive the expat life?

I’m looking for both men and women who are willing to share their experiences and willing to talk about the unique challenges they face. Men work long hours, are more stressed at work, and encounter greater temptation in the region. Women often quit good jobs at home, and while they find themselves nicely pampered at home, they often seen their identity slowly slip away as they face long days without husbands, and long months without family members or support systems.

So if you have something to say on the issue you an contact me at karen at mazurkewich dot com

I hope some people do write her with their opinions on this piece of Orientalist fantasy tripe. And this lady wrote for the WSJ? I take back everything I ever said about hoping the big newspapers survive.

Chocolate low-malt beer makes me sad

As a beer drinker (though I am really liking wine these days), this announcement was truly shocking:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — what a sad state of affairs! If I saw this at the store I might be forced to buy it for the novelty value, but apparently it’s only being offered online. Oh well.

This new chocolate low-malt beer (happoshu in Japanese) makes me sad, mostly because of the implications of the company’s decision to make chocolate happoshu instead of chocolate real beer.

What started as a clever way to get around a tax hike in 1994 has today resulted in low-malt happoshu and no-malt “third beer” gaining recognition among the Japanese public as cheaper, viable alternatives to the real thing. In my own life, it is typical to see housewives at the local Ito Yokado buying dinner with a cheaper beer alternative, either for the husband or to drink together (I do a lot of the grocery shopping).  How did things come to this?

According to the National Tax Agency, beer has long been Japan’s drink of choice. As far back as 1970, twice as much beer was consumed as Japanese sake. But for a long time, Japan has had a 40% tax on beer sales, higher than other advanced nations (UPDATE: in 2006 it was lowered slightly but remains high). This was never a problem when Japan’s economy was growing, but a tax change in the post-bubble year 1994 triggered events that would transform the local convenience store beer cooler:

Japan’s alcohol tax system divides beer-like malt beverages into four categories based on malt content: 67% or higher, 50 to 67%, 25 to 50%, and less than 25%. An alcoholic beverage based on malt is classified as beer if the weight of malt extract exceeds 67% of the fermentable ingredients. Since Suntory‘s introduction in 1994 of Hop’s Draft, containing 65% malt, a market has emerged for low-malt, and recently, non-malt beer substitutes.

With alcohol tax revenues decreasing as a result of happoshu’s popularity, the Japanese government eventually raised the nation’s tax on low malt beers. In 1996, the tax for products containing 50 to 67% malt was raised to that of beer. Brewers followed suit by lowering the malt content of their products. Today, most happoshu contains less than 25% malt, putting it in the lowest tax category of low-malt beer. In recent years, Japanese brewers have released dozens of brands in attempt to increase their market share. Many of these are marketed as more healthy products, with reduced carbohydrates and purines. Another trend is to use unmalted barley, such as in Sapporo’s Mugi 100% Nama-shibori.

Beer-flavored beverages collectively dubbed “the third beer“(第三のビール, dai-san no bīru) by the mass media have been developed to compete with happoshu. These alcoholic products fall under categories not yet as highly taxed. The third beer beverages either use malt alternatives, or they are a mix of happoshu and another type of alcohol. When comparing 350 ml cans, the third beer brands can be 10 to 25 yen cheaper than happoshu.

Effect on total consumption

These new, less tasty types of beer have grown in importance over the years. Third beer sales overtook happoshu for the first time in 2008, amid a record bad sales year for the beer and beer equivalent industry as a whole. Together, happoshu and third beer sold almost 90% as many cases as real beer (226 million vs. 256 million). In a matter of years, Japan may be drinking more loophole beer than the real thing. The bad sales were attributed to to price hikes (due to high commodity prices in the first half of 2008) and a general shift among consumers away from beer to other options or no drinking at all (due to being too old or a part of the supposedly vice-free younger generation).

Over a longer term, consumption of beer peaked in 1994 at 7 million kiloliters and fell 53% by 2006. The combined beer + happoshu + “other alcohol” numbers went from 7.09 million kL in 1994 to 5.9 million in 2006, a dip of around 18%. from the peak.

However, according to the tax authorities, overall alcohol consumption peaked in 1996 and fell 9.2% by 2006. It is clear that the decline of beer etc. was the biggest drag on the total, as no segment of the industry stepped up to take beer’s place. Beer’s share of total alcohol consumption declined from 73% in 1994 to just 66% in 2006. While shochu and liqueur (mostly chuhai aka shochu “alcopop”) and wine grew over that period (and sake, whisky, and brandy actually declined significantly), there is still nothing approaching beer.

Effects on drinking behavior, conclusion

The rise of happoshu came amid a major recession for the Japanese economy and the first instance of deflation for a developed economy in the postwar era. Just as the 1990s saw the rise of 100 yen stores and Uniqlo discount apparel, these near-beers are the product of downward price pressure and a relative impoverization of a wide swath of Japanese consumers.

This dual taxation appears to have created a similar dual structure in how people drink their beer. According to What Japan Thinks, while around three quarters of those surveyed drink at home, the overwhelming drink of choice was Happoshu: “over one in six of the total population drink happoshu almost every day!” So while a minority will drink beer or other alcohol, it’s clear that my observations of housewives at Ito Yokado aren’t just coincidence — as far as I can tell, the justification for drinking happoshu is that it’s cheap and tastes just good enough to be had with dinner.

The existence of these choices isn’t by itself a bad thing. I am not aware of the tax scheme in the US, but liquor stores are filled with nasty alternatives to good beer (some happoshu brands are much better than Schlitz, just to name one example). The only thing that angers me is that the tax policy has pushed the beer companies to pursue a decidedly low-quality product line in order to avoid their tax bills, to the point that it dominates their marketing such that even their novelty products are happoshu. Could it have been possible to negotiate an overall lower tax on beer that would maximize both quality and tax revenue?

Ultimately, the tax wars over beer ended up hurting everyone involved, concludes a helpful summer 2008 report by Shigeki Morinobu, a former tax regulator who was personally involved in the process between 1993-97. Annual tax revenues from beer and derivatives fell from more than 1.6 trillion yen in 1994 to 1.1 trillion yen in 2007, an enormous drop of 32%. The beer market has shrunk significantly, as detailed above.

Morinobu, in translation and with my full-throttled agreement:

And what about the consumers? The tax debate resulted in low-malt beers overflowing the store shelves. The flavor of beer-type drinks grew worse and worse, which constitutes perhaps the biggest factor behind the trend away from beer drinking, especially prominent among young people. Seen this way, it is clear there are no winners in this war over beer taxation.

In Germany, anything with less than 100% malt cannot be considered beer. Japan, too, should return to the root of the problem and recognize that creating good beer will increase beer’s overall consumption volume and in the end boost national tax revenues. This summer, I prefer to drink 100% malt, real beer.

Goodbye New Jersey?

From the current NYT:

Dr. Chu faces a variety of conflicting mandates. For example, he said that using more renewable energy is a national priority and thus will require a national electric grid. To help create such a grid, a 2005 law gives the department the authority to designate high-priority corridors, to overrule local objections to new power lines. But Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, complained that the department had designated his entire state, New Jersey, as part of a corridor. Mr. Chu promised to investigate.

Does this mean that our entire state will be paved over? Having all the turnpike jokes come true would be very traumatic.

Who owns these bodies?

Interesting mini article from the Taipei Times a few days back.

WWII graves located

Taiwan’s representative office in Papua New Guinea has located graves that it believes to be those of Republic of China (ROC) soldiers who died in World War II while they were enslaved by the Japanese army on the Pacific island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Lee Tsung-fen (李宗芬), deputy-head of the ministry’s Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said that local Chinese compatriots said the graves at Rabaul were first discovered by an Australian pilot. It is thought that more than 1,600 ROC soldiers were captured by the Japanese and sent to Papua New Guinea camp during the war. Many of the soldiers reportedly either died in the camp or on the way to it. Lee yesterday said the Ministry of National Defense would send officials to the island to ascertain the identities of those in the graves, adding that the ministry would decide whether to transport the remains back to Taiwan after consulting with the relatives of the men.

The ROC is of course the official name of the government which now runs Taiwan and its accompanying islands, but during WW2 it was one of the two governments competing for mainland China, along with the CCP, while Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Presumably these soldiers were in fact soldiers from the ROC of that time, i.e. NOT Taiwan, were were fighting against Japan and then captured as POWs. Of course, this brings up the question of who should claim these bodies. Is it today’s ROC, i.e. “Taiwan”, or the PRC, i.e. “China”? While similar questions have come up in the past regarding property disputes between the two governments, this case is complicated by the fact that much of the surviving ROC military moved to Taiwan, along with many of their relatives. Should these remains be brought to:

A: Their place of origin (China, NOT Taiwan)

B: The place held by the successor to the military and government that they fought for (Taiwan, NOT China)

C: The location of their closest living relative (could very well be either Taiwan OR China)

Going out in style

This guy might be a despicable investment fraud, but you can’t deny the guts it takes to try the “fake your own death” way out in this day and age:

Pilot Is Missing, and So Is His Motorcycle


Published: January 13, 2009

The authorities on Tuesday said that a missing financial adviser whose private plane crashed in Florida on Sunday had stored a motorcycle on the ground to aid his getaway.

The investigators say that Marcus Schrenker, 38, a financial adviser and experienced pilot from Indiana, parachuted from the small plane after faking a distress call as he flew over Alabama. The plane eventually went down in Florida, about 200 miles away, but Mr. Schrenker turned up in Childersburg, Ala., telling local officers he had been in a boating accident. He then disappeared again.


Court records show that Mr. Schrenker’s wife filed for divorce on Dec. 30. A Maryland court recently issued a judgment of more than $500,000 against one of three Indiana companies registered in his name — and all three are being investigated for securities fraud by the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, a spokesman, Jim Gavin, said.

UPDATE: They got him.

Cause and effect in the Japanese office

Nice argument from Noah Smith, guest contributor at Observing Japan, which I would like to forward for our esteemed readers’ comment.

I am in a position to know that Japanese white-collar labor productivity is substantially lower than most other rich nations (including Asian nations such as Taiwan and Singapore). That means that whatever is getting done in all those long hours Japanese people spend in the office, it’s not as much as it could be. Any physics student will tell you that work equals force times distance*; Japanese workers put in a lot of force without getting enough distance.

Japan’s leaders should recognize this distinction. We all know the story of how government protection of Japan’s domestic service sector has left it inefficient, but it’s important to realize the real impact this has on the lives of Japanese people – parents who can’t go home to be with their children, salaries that are lower than they could be, exhausting hours of work put in with not enough to show for it at the end of the day. Maybe Aso should take a clue from King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 4:14, and help the Japanese people to work smarter, not harder.

MY COUNTERARGUMENT: Much to the contrary, the “inefficient” 18-hour day is probably based more on being the easiest way for husband and wife to survive many of the bizarrely fractured marriages that prevail in Japanese society. If husbands had to come home earlier in the evening, for whatever reason, there would be a lot more chopstick-throwing and perhaps some instances of “hot ochazuke”. (Note that I’m generalizing here — there are many women in the workforce these days and more than a few “stay at home dads” — but the traditional structure still prevails.)

THE QUESTION: Even though I think the insane Japanese workday is self-imposed for the sake of the mismatched couple’s sanity, there’s almost certainly a long-term benefit in giving more Japanese boys a regularly-present and halfway-conscious father. What’s the appropriate policy response to move Japan closer to this outcome?

YOU are invited to the Japan blogger confab Jan 17

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mutant Frog Travelogue is honored to be co-headlining the upcoming Japan blogger confab, to be held January 17 by the good folks at Transpacific Radio. Here’s what they have to say:

A gathering for bloggers and blog enthusiasts is being planned in Tokyo for the evening of January 17, and we would like to extend the invitation to any and all visitors who may wish to come. Bloggers from Observing Japan, Shisaku, Global Talk 21, Mutant Frog, Coming Anarchy, Trans-Pacific Radio and more will be amongst the crowd.

All of us are hoping to meet with other bloggers and readers for an evening of food an drink. If you would like to attend, please send an email to before January 8th. Please let us know how many folks you would like to bring along with you. Although we have a place in mind for the get-together, we will wait to see what the final numbers are like before confirming. We expect that the gathering will be held in either Shibuya or Shinjuku. After we have confirmed the numbers and location, we will send you an email letting you know exactly where and when (probably about 6pm) we will be meeting up on the 17th.

We hope to see you all on the 17th of January!

I hope some of you can make it, particularly our new friends at Infinite Cash Secrets.