And to think we were excited about JPY12,000…

Man, I know Adamu is totally pumped about his FREE MONEY, but get this: a colleague in Australia revealed to me that she is thinking of buying a brand new, beautiful beachside condominium. I asked her what prompted the buy and here was her response:

only reason i’m thinking of getting something now is cos the government is basically giving first home owners free money towards buying something – $26,000 for an off-the-plan (ie, not yet built) place. the government’s grant is only until end of June! if it wasn’t for the free money, i would not be thinking of purchasing at this stage.

Wow, at present exchange rates that’s about 350x the benefit given here in Japan — although for a far more specific use, and only available to a limited number of people in a position to make such a purchase in the next few months.

Oricon Survey – professional Japanese want to get more exercise, stop wasting money, quit their jobs

ZAKZAK reports on a recent Oricon online “monitor” survey of professionals aged 20-49. When asked a multiple-answer question on what activities they want to “graduate from” (read: grow out of), they gave the following top responses:

  1. Lack of exercise (37.9%)
  2. Wasteful spending (27.8%)
  3. Being too easy on myself (26.4%)
  4. Between-meal snacks (23.3%)
  5. Negative thinking (20.4%)
  6. Being single (19.9%)
  7. Wasting time (18.8%)
  8. My current workplace (18.3%)
  9. Habit of skipping things/being lazy about doing things (18.3%, tied for 8th)
  10. Staying up too late (16.5%)

The poll is positioned as a list of graduation season resolutions, as March is the time when most schools hold their graduation ceremonies just ahead of the new fiscal/scholastic year in April.


What the hell is happening in NK?

Reading this FT article makes it sound as if NK is acting seriously belligerent:

North Korea on Monday cut its military hotline to Seoul and put its million-man army at battle stations, ratcheting up tensions as South Korean and US troops began war games that Pyongyang warned could spark open conflict.

UN forces last week tried to counter North Korean claims that the exercises were a smokescreen for an invasion by promising to keep the hotline open, giving Pyongyang advance warning of anything that could cause a misunderstanding.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency quoted an army spokesman as saying: “It is nonsensical to maintain the normal channels of communication when the South Korean puppets are in a frenzy about these military exercises, levelling their guns at fellow countrymen in league with foreign forces.” 

Severing military communications had an immediate effect on workers trying to reach South Korea’s investment zone at Kaesong in North Korea. Some 726 South Koreans could not reach their factories in Kaesong on Monday because all crossings require clearance on the military hotline.

The communist state also warned that any attempt to shoot down a rocket it plans to launch soon would be an act of war. Pyongyang argues it is simply planning to blast a satellite into space whereas spies insist this is a ruse for testing the Taepodong-2 long-range missile, which could hit Alaska.

South Korea said it deeply regretted North Korea’s moves and sought the immediate resumption of traffic to and from Kaesong.

“As we have mentioned several times, the US-South Korean exercises are defensive in nature and are part of annual training,” said Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the unification ministry.

Even by its own standards, Pyongyang’s rhetoric has been exceptionally bellicose during recent months.

The reclusive state has torn up its non-aggression pacts with the South, vowed not to recognise a tense maritime border and last week said it could not guarantee the safety of South Korean passenger aircraft in its airspace. Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s dictator, is furious that Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s conservative president, has not courted him in the manner of previous leftwing administrations and has made vital aid to the North contingent on progress in talks about dismantling Pyongyang’s atomic work. Although it tested its first nuclear device in 2006, most military experts do not believe Pyongyang has mastered the technology required to fit a warhead on a missile.

On the home front, Kim Jong-il was, as expected, returned to his country’s most powerful body, the Supreme People’s Assembly, with a vote of 100 per cent in Sunday’s elections. Although that result was a foregone conclusion, analysts are eager to see whether one of his sons has also gained a seat. That would be the clearest sign yet that Mr Kim is grooming a successor, following intelligence reports he suffered a stroke last year.

All very troubling!

Double passports?

Apparently Taiwan has a peculiar new proposal, the likes of which I have never heard before-to allow second passports. Upon seeing the headline, I assumed at first that this was about some change to the laws on multiple citizenship (which have been hugely controversial in Taiwan recently, at least regarding politicians such as Diane Lee) but it is actually something completely different.

He said many businesspeople had been lobbying for a second passport as their travel documents were sometimes held up at travel agencies or embassies during the visa application process, which prevents them from traveling abroad during the waiting period.

I can certainly understand how this might be useful, as I had to be without my passport for well over a week when getting a tourist visa to enter Kazakhstan, and could have serious problems if, for example, I had to rush home to the US for a family emergency.I have simply never heard of such a thing before. Would this system be entirely unique, should Taiwan implement it?

AWESOMENESS ALERT: Ark Hills to get Chopper Flights to Narita!

Joe has previously written about the potential for corporate and personal jets to make it big in Japan, what with Japan’s massive excess of airports previously noted in this post. Joe also pointed out the enormous heliports in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote and underutilized location.

For me, when I look at a Google Maps satellite view of Tokyo, all I see is wasted potential. Almost every major skyscraper in Tokyo has a rooftop heliport. Narita Airport is infamously far away from the center of Tokyo (and even more galling, Japan’s famous bullet trains don’t run to Narita, despite the fact that this would be the best way to promote the symbol of technological Japan to the world). There is a helicopter service that flys between Narita Airport and heliports in Tokyo, Gunma and Saitama — probably a good thing for the few rich executives living out in mountain ranches in Gunma — but basically pointless for those in Tokyo. Why? For some reason, it’s located out in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote area near Tokyo bay, and requires a taxi ride from the station if you’re taking the train.

Joe and I have discussed this in the past as utterly pointless. The chopper flight costs thousands of dollars, yet if you live in most parts of urban Tokyo, it takes the same amount of time to get there as taking the express train or bus! Why, we lamented, can’t the Tokyo heliport be the top of the Shin-Maru building in Marunouchi, or atop of Roppongi Hills? That’s a type of service that executives and bankers could probably use, and it could probably get enough interest to level-up from a charter flight to a quasi-regular heli-bus service.

But there’s breaking news on this front: starting next month, Ark Hills in the Akasaka/Roppongi area, one such building with an unused heliport on its roof, will become a heliport offering chopper flights to Narita Aiport! This is even more awesome for everyone’s favorite Viceroy because I work in Ark Hills! (Although it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to afford the inevitably overpriced fare.) Here’s an excerpt from the Nikkei story:

Mori Building Co. will start in April helicopter charter service between Narita airport and Ark Hills, a major commercial complex it owns in central Tokyo, targeting foreign business executives visiting Japan on company-owned private jets.

President Minoru Mori has been nursing the idea for many years, feeling himself that the two hours it takes to travel from Narita to the firm’s headquarters is annoyingly long. From the airport to central Tokyo, for example, takes about an hour by express train. The charter flights will be serviced with rented helicopters until an aircraft purchased from Eurocopter for 500 million yen arrives in May.

Helicopter services between Narita airport and Tokyo are already available, but most of the flights, operated by companies like Excel Air Service Inc., use Tokyo Heliport in Shinkiba, close to the southeastern edge of the city… Ark Hills’ prime location, in Minato Ward, gives Mori Building a competitive edge over its rivals.

The helicopter service is also intended to make areas around Ark Hills more attractive places to locate businesses. Mori Building currently owns and manages a total of 110 business and multipurpose buildings, and many of them are situated in Minato Ward. The company estimates that as of the end of March, 95% of the space will be filled with tenants and that the average rent per 3.3 sq. meters will be 36,000 yen, up 12.5% year on year.

Here’s a Google Maps look at the Ark Hills heliport — scroll around a bit to see lots of other helipads on other neighboring tall buildings.

The service is supposed to go public next month, but one of the first beneficiaries of direct flights from Narita to Roppong is Tom Cruise:


Hollywood star Tom Cruise (46) has brought his whole family to Japan with him for the first time. He arrived in Tokyo yesterday with his wife, actress Katie Holmes (30) and their daughter Suri (2). They flew by private jet into Narita Airport, where they were greeted by about 1,000 fans, before transferring to a helicopter for the trip to the Roppongi Ark Hills complex in central Tokyo. Cruise is in town to promote the WWII movie “Valyrie,” which opens here March 20, and the helicopter was painted with a promo for the flick. Cruise and family will be here until Thursday and attend the movie’s Japan premiere.

Regardless, I’m mighty please with the powers-that-be for finally listening to Joe (and my) recommendations to open up helicopter travel, and hope this is a harbinger of more good things to come.

How much should I worry?

The NYT headline pretty much says it all: Doctoral Candidates Anticipate Hard Times.

Of course, the economy has already run off a cliff and is currently plummeting and times are hard for everyone, but should prospective academics like myself and, I presume, many of our readers, be particularly worried? The article has, as is the form, a number of anecdotes from individal PhD holders who have had trouble finding jobs, but while these may be representative they are of course not necessarily so. The statistics and generalized data are the important part. And they don’t look particulary good.

For example:

A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Association’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year.

Or perhaps:

In the past 30 years, public and private money dedicated to the humanities has also significantly declined. The budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities is roughly a third of what it was at the high point of 1979, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Humanities Indicators data, though stimulus money may raise that figure.

Only 13 percent, or about $16 million, makes its way into scholarly projects. And unlike the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Health, the humanities endowment does not give awards to postdoctoral students.

Although there are some small positive signs in the article. According to one “Margaret Peacock, 35, who spent eight years on her dissertation in Soviet history at the University of Texas”, “Americanists seem to be having a much tougher time now than those specializing in other historical areas.” As is the case in other fields, supply and demand is still the rule in academics, and perhaps it is true that American historians are the most plentiful, as it is naturally by far the easiest field of history to pursue while studying in America.

Now, while I can certainly sit and think about dimming future career prospects and conjure up a state of apoplectic nervosia I’m not actually particularly concerned. While I mainly study and research things of particular interest to me, I believe that I am lucky to have stumbled into areas that will continue to be of particular interest in the future. Although there is aways the possibility that, say, Taiwan will be absorbed by the People’s Republic at some point in the future-an event which, upon consideration, I am not sure would actually increase or decrease demand for a course on Taiwanese history-and Japan’s economy may very well wither over the next decade to the point where it falls into the second rank of world economy’s (a far from foregone conclusion, naturally) , I certainly expect that my general areas of interest, which I suppose could be summed up as late 19th century-20th century modernization, colonization and education in East and parts of Southeast Asia, will be at least as relevant as today.

Where I stand: I will be starting a 2 year MA at Kyoto University in April. Graduate in March 2011. I will have sent out PhD applications in November 2010 to several PhD history programs in the US and will therefore hopefully be moving into one of those in September 2011. Hopefully the school of my choice will also be providing a good living stipend and perhaps a decently subsidized apartment, but considering the financial situation at present this is perhaps the most insecure part. Over the course of the PhD studies, I would hopefully be spending at least one year doing research in Japan, one year studying Chinese in Taiwan, one year doing research in Taiwan, and perhaps a few months doing shorter stints of varying lengths in other Asian countries. Assuming relatively prompt completion of my dissertation (none of the 8 or 9 year marathons referred to in the article), I would hopefully be getting a PhD around 2017 which is rather shockingly far away.

Having done all of this, would I then be able to get a real university job, not a mere adjunct teacher but also with a research budget and so on? Perhaps, perhaps not-I really have little idea. But would I be able to get some other sort of decent job? I certainly think so. Assuming that working as a professor in a university setting is not the only option I allow myself, I actually think that even considering this sort of academic background it would probably be far easier to find a decent job in other sectors. Naturally government would be the easiest, particularly the State Department, but there is also the UN, NGOs, assorted think tanks and other non-academic research institutes, and probably even some sort of corporate options. There may even still be a news media by then, although now I tread into the realm of the fantastic.

Oh hell yeah

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I don’t know who had the insane idea to make a Japanese live-action version of Spiderman, but I’m just glad that it exists. And glad that Marvel has, for some reason, decided to stream episodes for free on their web site. There’s also a very odd Spiderman manga I’ve read a bit of, which may or may not be based on the plot of this show.

FREE MONEY in Adachi-ku, Tokyo – apply “between late March and early April”

Out of my deep civic pride and dedication to the cause of getting FREE MONEY NOW from the government, here is my translation of the announcement from Adachi-ku about the current status of preparations to hand out the free cash. Watch your mailboxes to receive application forms between late March and early April:

We are currently preparing to pay out the fixed-sum cash handouts, etc.

Updated: March 5, 2009
We plan to  send applications to eligible payees by registered mail (kan’i kakitome) between late March and early April.

[Eligible recipients]
Persons who meet either of the following conditions as of the reference date (February 1, 2009)
(1) Persons listed in Adachi-ku’s official residence registry [tr: anyone registered as living in Adachi-ku in their juuminhyou]
(2) Persons listed in the official alien registry (gaikokujin touroku genbo) [tr: this means anyone with an alien registration card (gaikokujin tourokusho)] (persons on short-term visas are excluded)

[Payable amount]
12,000 yen per household member
(persons aged 65 or older or 18 or younger as of the reference date will receive 20,000 yen)

[Application procedures]
(1) Enter your account number on the application form and affix your official stamp (mitome-in) (you cannot use a stamp seal) [tr: Not sure, but you should be fine using the seal you used to open your bank account]
(2) Place the application form in the attached reply envelope and drop it in the mailbox.

* Due to the large number of eligible persons, we expect it will take 1-2 months for the funds to be deposited in each specified account. If you give a Japan Post Bank account, it will likely take even longer.

We will also pay a Child-rearing Support Special Allowance (for second children, third children, etc., born between April 2, 2002 and April 1, 2005) at the same time as the cash handouts.

Please watch out for fraud schemes posing as the official cash handout process.

If you receive a suspicious phone call regarding the cash payments, please contact your nearest police station (or call the police consultation line (9110)) or the Adachi-ku office assigned to cash handouts.

Use the attached sample for help filling out the application form (PDF).

Good morning

I was awoken at around 6 or 7 this morning by a brief earthquake, and then again at about 8:30 as a series of monks, in their straw sandals and wide-brimmed woven-reed conish hats, starting wandering back and forth down the road, chanting at the top of their lungs. I wonder perhaps if there was a causal relationship, some sort of special prayer or spell given in the wake of an earthquake to calm the restless earth dragons. Even some of the Japanese neighbors seemed startled and amused by this curious occurance, and the entire family in the house just across and over from mine got out to watch in mild wonder this anachronistic scene, and one monk stopped to give a personal blessing to their little girl.

The ANA-Shinsei theme music continuum

If you spend enough time in Japan with consumption habits like mine, you will eventually discover that All Nippon Airways and Shinsei Bank have very similar corporate theme songs. This is because both songs were composed and performed by Taro Hakase, a Japanese violinist who sports a generous afro, a skilled bow and a sizable repertoire of corporate contracts.

Here’s the ANA music, “Another Sky,” as presented in their employee tribute video which plays while an ANA flight deplanes. They also play it as hold music on their reservations line and as boarding music on international flights.

And the slightly sadder Shinsei theme song, “Color Your Life,” as performed live by Mr. Hakase. Unlike ANA, Shinsei doesn’t have an opportunity to force-feed this one to every customer, although you can easily get a whiff of it as the hold music on their customer service line. “Color Your Life” is also the company’s retail banking slogan, to tie in with its offering of cash cards in every color.

This is why being on hold with Shinsei gets me in the mood to take a flight somewhere.