Foreigners of Japan – Get your FREE MONEY!!!

With the passage of Prime Minister Aso’s landmark free money law, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has published a rough guideline on how to get your hands on that sweet, sweet cash.  Each local government will apparently provide details on how to receive funds, but please note the following:

  • ANYONE with an alien registration card can receive the 12,000 yen.
  • It looks like all foreigners have to apply in person (UPDATE: or by mail, depending on how your town does it), even if their wife/husband is the head of household.

This is your right by law, so be sure to line up and check with your local municipality’s website to get it!

The following is a rough translation of the official announcement, for your reference.

Payment of Cash Handouts

You will either be notified by your local authorities with specific details on how to receive the funds. [tr: Feel free to contact them yourself if you don’t see anything in the mail!]


Local municipalities are currently in the process of determining the specific preparations for handing out the payments.


Purpose of policy

To help deal with the residents’ uncertainty in this economic downturn, this policy’s objective is to support the residents’ livelihoods and to contribute to regional economic measures by providing payments widely to the residents.

Persons eligible for payments / who must apply

Those who meet the following conditions as of the reference date (February 1, 2009) are eligible to receive payment:

1) Persons registered on the official residency registry network (Juki Net)
2) Persons registered on the official alien registry (gaikokujin touroku genbo) (only illegal aliens and foreigners on short-term visas are exempt)

The applicant and recipient shall be the head of the household to which the eligible persons belong (foreigners must each apply and receive funds separately).

Payment amount:

12,000 yen for each eligible person
(Persons 65 or older or 18 or younger as of the reference date will receive 20,000 yen each)

The Viceroy Crashes the MF Party; and, Uri Geller’s Relationship with the Abe Clan

Dear Mutantfrog Readers,

It is my pleasure to report that the Mutantfrog team has graciously granted me the priviledge of joining this blog. While I have regularly written at for more then 4 years, and will continue to do so, I have Japan-specific material that is more appropriate for MF.  Accordingly, my quirky Japan material will be posted on these pages, and I will do my best to build on the existing theme, character and material of this blog. So without any further ado…

Uri Geller, the Israeli-British psychic who gained worldwide fame in the 1970s with televised claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind, now wanders around the world as an independently wealthy mystic. The man has even joined the 21st century media trend and writes at his own blog. And recently, he took a trip to Japan to visit some old family friends:


I first met Shinzo Abe, a brilliant man from one of Japan’s leading families, in 1973, when he was 19 years old. His father was then leader of the Liberal party. Now Shinzo is Japan’s youngest ever Prime Minister. He is also a best-selling author, and I’m enjoying the copy of his chart-topping book Towards A Beautiful Nation… though it’s hard work for me to read Japanese.


That pretty far-out statement, both on the relationship with Abe and the ability to read Japanese. (The post came out in September 2007, the month Abe resigned). But like a lot of Geller’s blog, and his claims of psychic powers, the idea that he can muddle through reading Japanese smacks of puffery.  That brief paragraph alone shows that accuracy is not his strong point — first, Abe’s Dad was in the Liberal Democratic Party, not the Liberal Party; and second, he served as the foreign minister and agricultural minister, among other posts, but never as head of the party. But the photo of Uri Geller and Abe, complete with spoon, is priceless. (And forgive me, but I can’t help but think that the horizontal and vertical creases in Abe’s shirt suggest it just came out of a box.  So much for Japan’s aristocracy.) There is also a curious revelation about the research pursuits of one of Japan’s largest companies:

Japan’s foremost electronics company [Sony], which pioneered miniaturisation and invented the Walkman, had set up a psi research unit of five scientists to test the reality of extra-sensory perception. They carried out tests with psychics to find hidden objects, to see colours blindfolded and to sense which glass of water among a tray of ten had been infused with healing energy. After thousands of experiments, the psychics were scoring impossibly better than mere guesswork could ever do, with a 70 per cent success rate. And the scientists were in despair. What use was this power? They couldn’t distill it into batteries (though how they had tried!). They couldn’t use it in market research or recording studios. Sony were stumped.

Wow. I really, really hope that Sony ‘were’ just having Geller on about this, but regardless, I hope Stringer is including a review of all research departments as he cleans house and takes names over the coming weeks.

As an interesting sidenote, one of the key people who exposed Geller as a fraud was James Randi, a stage magician who made a second career of debunking the paranormal and the occult. Geller sued Randi and his affiliate organization CSICOP, with countless suits in multiple jurisdictions, with little success. However, the one jurisdiction where he successfully won a judgement against Randi was in Japan. The story of the case begins with an interview with Randi in 1989 published in Days Japan, in which Randi called Geller a “socipath,” among other derogatory statements. Geller chose to file suit — which was his typical reaction to Randi’s statements — but what made the Japan case different was that he won.

How? Japan litigation is notorious for being infamously time-consuming, with years required to reach a ruling, resulting in only paltry monetary damages.  But for Geller, Japan was a key jurisdiction to file suit because it has a broader legal definition of the concept of libel and defamation. Japan has run-of-the-mill “defamation” (meiyo kison), but also the concept of “insult” (bujoku), which is both an explicit criminal violation and a civil claim that derives from a defamation claim. Geller sued on this basis, which Randi ignored (he wrote to the judge saying he couldn’t afford to hire local counsel). Instead of granting immediate summary judgment for Geller, or throwing out the case, true to stereotype the court considered the case for more than three years without resolution. Finally, the judge concluded that Randi “insulted” Geller and orderd him to pay JPY500,000 (about US$4,400) in damages. Although I can’t prove a negative, I cannot find any other suit that Geller won against Randi.

Randi refused to pay the amount, stating that the legal concept of “insult” did not exist in the United States. In a later settlement with Randi’s organization CSICOP, in which Geller paid large amounts to settle legal disputes, Geller agreed not to further pursue claims against Randi in Japan.  The suit ended, but Geller still had one piece of good news — Kodansha, the publisher of Days Japan, settled with Geller and paid him the equivalent of several thousands of dollars.

Travel fail

So I just missed my flight by a few minutes due to some dumbness, and after some messing around managed to get in touch with the booking office in Manila and reschedule for Sunday’s flight. There is a penalty/rebooking fee but only around $100, which basically cancels out the discount I’d gotten when I first ordered it. I suppose once I get to Manila I’ll stop by the airline office and see if I can also delay my return flight and make up for the lost time, which I think will only cost around $50 since it’s just rebooking and not late cancellation/missed flight penalty. So I’m pretty annoyed, but no significant harm done, although wasting my entire day and a moderate amount of money is pretty damn irritating.

Lemon-flavored socialism hitting Japan?

In Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb notes, “A theory that does not present a set of conditions under which it would be considered wrong would be termed charlatanism.”  

That’s the line that cross my mind when I read this article in yesterday’s Nikkei on why the government needs to interfere to push up stock prices:

A drop in stock prices erodes the bottom lines of corporations, which are already tanking because of the weak economy. Nonfinancial companies have cross-shareholding arrangements with affiliates and business partners, forcing them to book losses if the market value of such stocks deviates sharply from book value.

Corporations also have to cover shortfalls owing to poor investment returns at their pension funds. Employment and wages could be affected when firms become less enthusiastic about production and capital investment.

Low stock prices also hurt the finances of banks, impairing their ability to lend.

According to Nomura Securities Co. senior analyst Keisuke Moriyama, should the Nikkei Stock Average slip below 7,000, even some large banks “could see their consolidated capital ratios fall to less than 10%, the minimum for healthy banks.” Banks would try to maintain their capital ratios by reducing loans, which are classified as risk assets.

A stock market downturn also dampens personal consumption. Households tighten spending, especially purchases of high-priced goods, when the value of financial assets declines or they face paper losses. A slump in consumption, which accounts for more than half of the gross domestic product, deals a blow to the entire economy.

According to estimates by Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, if the Nikkei average were to linger at the 7,000 level while the dollar was stuck at 95 yen, these factors would push down real GDP growth for fiscal 2009 by 2 percentage points.

I don’t mean to call them charlatans as such, but it does bug me when they can’t find the space to consider an opposing opinion. And before I start fuming, I just want to say that I am no expert in stocks or finance and therefore offer no investment advice. Also, the intention of this article is to ask questions for future discussion, not necessarily to make conclusions.

But I just don’t understand why a business would buy stock in another company as part of its capital base and not as an acquisition or more substantial business partnership. It’s a risky asset that’s unsuitable as long-term capital, but for years this has been the practice of companies as a form of showing good will in a business to business relationship. Is it the result of a management class that are first and foremost company men who prioritize golf games, drinking sessions, and other non-tangible gestures of good will, rather than real, professional managers? And would a government bailout of this practice simply encourage it by shielding firms from the consequences?

Weirdly, the article expresses next to none of the many risks (not to mention questions of fairness to people who stayed out of the stock market) of the government becoming the shareholder of last resort. Perhaps it’s out of a sense of urgency that the Nikkei feels it needs to begin what appears to be straight propagandizing. Days before they devoted substantial space to warn that it might not work to maintain prices because investors eager to get bailed out of their stock positions might flood the market with sell orders, but they stopped short of wondering what the implications could be:

But such direct market intervention carries risk. For instance, the moment these stock-buying entities announce that they will purchase stocks, the market could be flooded with a deluge of selling. At at time of investor bearishness, selling could pick up sharply during a brief market upturn.

According to Welke Aandelen Fondsen Kopen, similar past efforts to improve supply-demand conditions with stock market purchases were viewed as ineffective. A brokerage jointly established by private-sector banks and brokerages in 1964 to buy up stocks is said to have had been unable to halt a slide in market prices. “Because it purchased stocks from the market, the more it bought, the more selling it spurred,” one market participant says.

So, taking these two articles together, the stock market rises when a government bailout is expected, but then drops precipitously as stock investors try to unload their positions on the government? I am reminded of the phrase 虫が良すぎる (i.e. the investors have an unfair advantage).

Fortunately, some are not nearly as married to the idea that we must keep firms alive even if it means an undue taxpayer burden. Paul Krugman argued against creating “lemon socialism” last month:

I’m talking, instead, about the [Obama] administration’s plans for a banking system rescue — plans that are shaping up as a classic exercise in “lemon socialism”: taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right.

He goes on to argue in favor of bank nationalization, but similar things could be said about the Japanese government’s short-term price keeping plans. Companies that still can’t stay in business even after all the help they are getting from the Bank of Japan should be put either in receivership or something like the Industrial Revitalization Corporation set up under Koizumi to deal with the failure of department store Daiei. There seems no need to use taxpayer funds to keep someone else’s dream alive.  

Speaking on plans to recapitalize regional banks with fewer conditions than during Japan’s last financial crisis, Shukan Toyo Keizai warns against creating a “lemon socialist” state (as described by Paul Krugman) in the name of saving the economy:

In the interest of stability of the financial system, I think we have no choice but for the citizenry (tax money) to be the backer of last resort, but I cannot confidently say that there is a national consensus on this fact. Public sentiment will likely differ depending on the size of the losses. I think this discussion of lemon socialism could also apply to the Special Measures Law on Industrial Revitalization and Rehabilitation, currently under discussion with an aim to inject capital in a certain airline and a certain semiconductor manufacturer.

Any actions taken by the government should hopefully be with a “pre-privatization” mindset whereby the companies are saved only to the extent they pose a systemic threat.

The Financial Times reminds us that there price-keeping would only be a temporary fix, and that restoring political stability and getting the economy on sounder footing are what policymakers should be keeping their eyes on:

One proposed response is to start “price-keeping operations” – spending 25,000bn yen of public money to prop up the stock market. This is an old staple for Japanese policymakers, and a smaller plan has already been put forward by the government but – predictably – is being held up in the Diet. Either version would be expensive and the breathing space it would buy for banks would only be temporary.

The Japanese should, instead, focus on rebalancing their economy. In addition to a real fiscal stimulus to jolt its citizens to spend, the government needs to stop Japanese companies retaining unproductive cash. If Japan needs to recapitalise its banks, it should do so directly – not by supporting the stock market. The virtues of these policies, however, remain academic when the Aso administration is so weak. It is time for an election. There is little point to paralysed governments.

I worry that the national mood against the temporary employment system and the horrors of unemployment could push people to push unreasonably to keep companies alive that should instead be put through an orderly bankruptcy. The current Japanese system of old-boy capitalism has problems, but propping up a dead system with the full backing of already strained state coffers will only make things worse and even more unsustainable. Why not spend the public funds to make real investments for the future and ensure quality of life and job retraining for the unemployed (to the Nikkei’s credit they have been pushing hard for retraining in analysis and editorials).

Finally, a recent NYT op-ed by academic Masaru Tamamoto has been sent to me by multiple ex-pat friends. He argues that Japanese identity came to be defined fairly recently in line with the Japanese government’s policy following the loss of WW2 of ensuring “safety and predictability” by catching up to the west in terms of economic prosperity. Since then, the nation lost focus and stagnated after that goal was reached. He closes as follows:

In fact, Japan’s passiveness today is in large measure a calculated and reasonable reaction to its behavior during the Second World War. But today, this emphasis on safety and security is long past its sell-by date.

We have run out of outside models to imitate. We must start from scratch, embracing an idea of progress that is based on innovation, ambition and dynamism. Doing so will take risk — and extraordinary leadership. But the alternative is to continue stumbling down a path of decline.

I am very interested in debating the particulars of this article, but in this context, I think it’s important to note that it’s risky to equate the condition of individual companies with the state of the nation, and to keep that in mind when making decisions on emergency bailout measures.

Travel time

I”m heading to Manila today and will be in the Philippines until March 24. On this trip I bring the following items:

  • Asus eeePC 1000 (40GB flash, 10″ screen)
  • Canon EOS 50D with sundry batteries and memory cards
  • 50mm 1.8F lens for above
  • 17-85 EF-S IS lens for above
  • 11-16mm 2.8F Tokina lens for above
  • Several changes of underwear, socks, t shirts
  • One leather-bound journal style notebook, found entirely blank on a street a couple of years back. previously used on my Taiwan trip last summer
  • The cheapest Nokia GSM phone sold in Taiwan as of last summer, to be used with locally purchased SIM card (my last trip there was a vending machine in the airport, I hope there still is)
  • Monies, cards of credit, and other documents as being necessary for the execution of commerce
  • Osprey brand hiking backpack
  • And other divers items of minor importance

My exact plans are still rather vague, but definitely involve spending some time in Manila, visiting the Banaue Rice Terraces, and probably riding the Philippines’ single long distance train line from Manila to the its terminus in the SE corner of Luzon and seeing what’s on the other end.

I will hopefully find some internet along the way and do a bit of blogging, and there will be an extensive visual record upon my return.

Frogopocalypse strikes Japan

From JT:

Thousands of frogs were found dead in a pond last fall in Japan’s first confirmed case of the amphibian-destroying ranavirus, a researcher said Friday.

The death of American Bullfrogs occurred in a man-made pond in September and October, said Yumi Une, associate professor of veterinary science at Azabu University in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The dead frogs had symptoms unique to a ranavirus infection, such as bleeding on the surface of the skin and loss or deformity of toes or webs, Une said, adding that the virus was detected in their cells.

Une did not reveal the location of the pond but said more than 10,000 frogs are believed to have died there.


A new type of ranavirus was found in American Frogs in Taiwan last year, and a gene in the virus found in the dead frogs in Japan resembles one from the virus in Taiwan, Une said.

Doesn’t “American Frogs in Taiwan” sound like the name of a community association or ethnic activist organization? I suppose they’re banding together to lobby for increased government spending on anti-frog plague research.

More eikaiwa data – mostly bad news

UPDATE & DISCLAIMER: Please note that all the data below are for all language schools, not just those that only teach ESL. By using “eikaiwa” as a shorthand for all survey respondents, I am assuming that the dominance of English as the second language of choice (and the apparent overwhelming share that English occupies in the classroom-style language teaching market) and therefore that these numbers are essentially not affected by other languages. It is entirely possible, but unknowable from this set of data, that for any of these measures, the breakdown by language could show, for example, that the growth of Korean and Chinese language schools has made those languages a bigger driver of trends.

(First-time readers – I recommend reading my previous post on this topic “English teaching in Japan by the numbers” to get an idea of where this data is coming from)

You can now use Google Documents to see the data I used to create charts in my previous post, Eikaiwa by the numbers. In future data-oriented posts I hope to use the same tool.

While I’ve got you, here are a couple more views of the eikaiwa school data. As I mention toward the bottom, amid all the woeful news are a few rays of hope – the level of new students has remained relatively stable, and sales per customer have actually risen to a recent (if not historic) high:

Number of students


The student population went from 5.18% of the Japanese population in 2000 to 3.54% in 2008.

Student/teacher ratio


In a very wide estimate, each teacher last year taught 19% fewer students than the teachers at the turn of the century. One has to wonder how this ratio works out – maybe student numbers include people who just come in for two lessons and quit?

Classes taught

Also, the total number of classes started the decade at around 10.6 million, peaked at around 14 million in 2004, and fell to just 6.18 million in 2008.

Classes per teacher

Each teacher on average taught 645 classes in 2008, down 31% from 2000 and 42% from the 2005 peak of 1,107.

Number of eikaiwa schools

The number of schools, meanwhile, grew from 3,139 in 2000 to 3,680 (with a spike of 4,303 along the way in 2006).

Sales per teacher


Each teacher now brings in 18.6% less raw revenue than in 2000, in line with the student/teacher ratio.

Sales per student

sales-per-student Oddly, the sales per student bounced back in 2008 to more than the figure in 2000! Either there is some sort of time lag or carry-over effect in the data (receipts do not accurately reflect the student numbers given for the same year) or the schools found some way to boost the sales per student, though apparently not improving sales per teacher.

Sales per class
The total sales per class taught increased:

Sales per eikaiwa school

However, this is not reflected in the sales per school, despite the increase in the number of schools:


Every measure seems to be heading downward for the eikaiwa classroom industry, except for sales per student and sales per class taught. If we note that the number of new students has not seen the same level of collapse as areas like sales, total number of students, and number of teachers, this would seem to indicate that the students who have remained are willing to pay more for the privilege.

Japanese commuters podcasting their way to English fluency

On my morning commute, my fellow salarypersons with a hand free to read are usually doing one of two things – reading the newspaper or studying for something. Of those studying, maybe half are studying English, while the other half appear to be aiming at one  nationally recognized qualification or another (very often real estate related). For those who don’t have a hand free, most listen to their iPods. Occasionally I can overhear a particularly insensitive music lover playing B’z or Koda Kumi, but otherwise I have been left to wonder just what sounds they might be pumping into their skulls.

Well, it looks like I have my answer, at least for the one in seven who are regularly listening to podcasts: The podcasts in Japan are absolutely dominated by English lessons. Take a look at the top 20 podcasts on Yahoo right now, listed by number of subscribers:

  1. Nihon Keizai Shimbun podcast
  2. ECC Eikaiwa Podcasting
  3. Classical Music Sound Library
  4. Mainichi Quick Listening Lessons Podcast – lessons based on CNN stories
  5. Bakusho Mondai Cowboy
  6. Podcasting rakugo
  7. NHK English News
  8. Hikaru Ijuuin’s Late Night Fool Power
  9. Oricon album top 20
  10. Jazz Piano Small Pieces
  11. Eikaiwa eChat Vancouver
  12. English as a Second Language Podcast
  13. Tokio Hot 100 (with Chris Pepler)
  14. Let’s Read the Nikkei Weekly (the Nikkei English edition)
  15. Fresh topics from the editor-in-chief (Nikkei Business)
  16. Melody’s “Oh! Kanchigai (cluelessly mistaken) English”
  17. Takuro Morinaga – Economy Column
  18. ALC Podcasting Station “English is training!”
  19. Cream Stew All Night Nippon
  20. The Jazz Suite

That’s eight of the top 20.  iTunes is similarly full of English lesson podcasts, though for now I can only list the top 5 since I don’t have the iTunes application on my desktop:

  1.  EnglishPod
  2. ECC Eikaiwa Podcast
  3. Bakusho Mondai
  4. CNN News
  5. Nihon Keizai Shimbun podcast

The origins of Nanaca Crash

One of our more popular posts continues to be Roy’s link back in 2005 to addictive flash game “Nanaca Crash” in which you try to control how far a young man bounces after being run into by an anime Japanese schoolgirl on a bicycle. Give it a try!

Four years later, I am only now learning of the game’s hentai origins:

Cross Channel (officially spelled CROSS†CHANNEL) is an eroge for the Windows and PlayStation 2 platforms. The Windows version was released on September 26, 2003, and the PS2 version (CROSS†CHANNEL~to all people~) on March 18, 2004.


Gunjo Gakuen (Deep Blue School) is a facility designed to gather and isolate those students who got a high score on an adaptation exam (Scoring high on this exam indicates that the student is less likely to be able to be adapted to the society) mandated by the government.

After a failed summer vacation with other members of the school’s broadcasting club, Taichi Kurosu and some of the other club members return to the city, only to find that all living creatures within it except for the club members have completely vanished. In order to confirm the status of the outside world, Taichi decides to gather other club members to help Misato Miyasumi, the president of the broadcasting club, who is trying to set up a broadcasting antenna to contact any possible survivors. However, Taichi soon discovers that the world is actually repeating the week after they found the others vanished…

Nanaca Crash!! (officially spelled NANACA†CRASH!!) is an online spin off game featuring characters from Cross Channel. The object of the game is to click, hold and release the mouse button to determine the angle and velocity of Nanaka crashing her bicycle towards Taichi, sending him flying across the screen. Your score is determined by the distance of his flight. Certain characters he crashes into will greatly affect his velocity.