Calling all meatcutters!

I ran across this while perusing the Federal Government’s job website. I think i might be a little underexperienced with a cleaver for this one, but I know somewhere out there, someone will see this and think to themselves, “I am so qualified for THAT!”

Salary Range: 28,028.00 – 44,265.00 USD per year

Job Summary:

Consider the rewards that this challenging opportunity may provide. In this position, you may supervise, lead, assist, or perform work involving cutting, trimming, and removing bones from meat and preparing and processing fish and poultry. This includes cutting meat into steaks, roasts, chops, cutlets, ground meat, and other small cuts, using powered equipment such as meat saws, slicers, grinders, and hand tools such as meathooks, knives, saws, and cleavers. A great opportunity is just a click away ? apply now.

And, if Japan ain’t your thing, how about beautiful Guam?

Salary Range: 10.20 – 19.48 USD Hourly

Work Schedules: May be part-time ( 16-32 hours per week ), intermittent ( work on an as-needed basis ), or full-time ( 40 hours per week ).

Major Duties: The work involves cutting, trimming, and boning meat, fish, and poultry using hand tools and operating power meatcutting equipment. Receives instructions on work to be done and the tools and equipment that will be needed. Through day-to-day assignments, Meatcutting Worker becomes skilled in standard meatcutting techniques and broadens knowledge of established methods of processing assigned cuts.

Qualifications: To meet the screenout for this position, applicants must show they have the ability to do the work of Meatcutting worker without more that normal supervision. Examples of experience that would indicate this ability is Basic knowledge of the muscle, seam, and bone structures of different kinds of animals, the ability to learn methods of processing meat when given detailed instructions; and skill in using hand tools such as knives, scrapers, and handsaws.

Education Requirements:
There are no minimum education requirements for this position.

“Basic knowledge of muscle, seam and bone structures of different kinds of animals?”

I wonder what kind of people this type of job attracts? Are there people out there who aspire to this kind of work because they are actually passionate about muscle, seam, and bone structure?

I am not poking fun (well, not too much anyway) but am genuinely curious. I never even knew “meatcutter” was a job title, but as of 10:01 am EST on 02/17/06 there are nine meatcutting jobs available with the Federal Government alone. Has anyone out there ever done this type of work and would be willing to share their experiences in the comments section?

I’ll show you strange bedfellows

From a story that ran today in the Financial Times:

“The Livedoor case was expected to lead to criticism of the dark side of Koizumi’s reforms. That is what is starting to happen. It is not just about Takebe anymore,” says Takao Toshikawa, editor of Insideline, a respected current affairs magazine.

Nonsense. Such criticisms are entirely misplaced and such links are forced. If anything, the reforms should be faulted for not going far enough by putting in regulations to prevent the kind of stuff Horie was doing. As the Economist recently put it:

[Horie’s] practices were pretty traditional, but he used them with a speed, aggression and visibility that were new. Many of the things he is known to have done were perfectly legal, such as using after-hours share trading to build up large stakes in target companies, or exploiting artificial liquidity shortages after stock splits. In a properly regulated financial market they would not be. Nor would his accounting have been allowed to be as obscure as it was, whether or not it is proven to have been illegal.

Then we have this from the same FT story:

“We will continue to pursue this aggressively.The LDP is polluted with money that Horie raised by deceiving (Livedoor’s) individual investors,” a DPJ official said.

I am laughing that this guy can even make such a claim with a strait face!

Here are some strange bedfellows for you — anti-reformers who will do anything to link Horie and Koizumi, and politicians who act as though individual investors actually matter and that they actually care about the source of their money.

三島入門 (An Introduction to Mishima)


I recently watched Paul Schrader’s 1985 film Mishima – A Life In Four Chapters. The film is a documentary style biographical portrayal of author Mishima Yukio’s final day, interwoven with three highly stylized vignettes of scenes from three of his works, and occasional explanatory flashbacks into Mishima’s past. Below is my brief review of the film, plus alpha.


Seven out of ten stars. The concept and design of the film were unquestionably creative. Schrader took the stylization too far at times, but the exaggeration helped distinguish the vignettes from the main story line, as did filming the flashbacks in black and white. The transitions between the three were smooth enough, but could prove difficult to follow for viewers without any familiarity with Mishima. The connections drawn between specific experiences from Mishma’s life and their later distillation into major themes in his work was well done, and Schrader’s division of the film into four chapters – beauty, art, action, and harmony of pen and sword – further supported these themes.

To Schrader’s credit he shot the entire film, dialogue and narration, in Japanese. The actors in the Kinkakuji vignette even spoke with heavy Kansai accents. No complaints with the score – Philip Glass has yet to disappoint with a documentary soundtrack. Acting generally must be Episode I, II or III execrable for me to take notice so Mishima passes muster. Casting was convincing enough, although Ogata Ken did not much resemble Mishima.

The extra DVD commentary was informative – Schrader had clearly done his homework – and some of the tales about the trials undergone during filming are fascinating. (ex. Death threats from rightwingers lead to clandestine filming efforts and for a while Schrader, afraid of being stabbed, was even wearing a flak jacket. He was later informed by his Japanese crew that as a gaijin, he would not be a target because there was no way he could know better about his actions.)

Sexuality, controversy, and politics

Although nearly twenty years old, the full version of the film has yet to be released in Japan, largely because of a single scene in which Mishima is portrayed drinking and briefly dancing with a young man in a Tokyo gay bar. According to Schrader, he and his crew were initially given full cooperation by Mishima’s wife until he refused to remove said scene. They were also threatened with legal action (and presumably worse) if they depicted anything that could not be substantiated as true. Schrader was able to locate the young man and speak with him about the incident, so the scene could remain, but Mishima’s wife remained intransigent and never returned her support. Consequently, tthe film was not released in Japan at the time of its premier, and to this day the full version including the gay bar scene has yet to be released, distributed, or shown there.

Mishima biographer and former friend Henry Scott Stokes, addressed some of the controversy surrounding Mishima’s sexuality, including the above incident, in his 1974 work, The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima. At the time of Mishima’s suicide in November at the Jietai Eastern Army HQ in Ichigaya, rumors began circulating that Mishima had been lovers with Morita Masakatsu, who killed himself immediately Mishima.

The weeklies ran with these rumors and portrayed the incident as shinju, a double lover’s suicide. In spite of frequent homosexual themes in Mishima’s writings, including the autobiographical Confessions of a Mask, the truth of the matter has yet to be openly proven and probably never will be.

But what is most interesting about the shinju theory is something Stokes wrote in the 1999 epilogue of the book:

Years later I realized that the police, like all officials, were happy to see the homosexual shinju theory enlarge, thereby distracting the press form the politics of the Mishima incident.*

The politics of which he speaks are Mishima’s militant (and I mean this literally—the guy had his own “army”) right-wing leanings, but more importantly the support he received from prominent members of the LDP, including then Prime Minister Sato, then Defense Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, and then Chief Cabinet Secretary Hori Shigeru. These three men possibly helped finance Mishima’s private army, the Tatenokai, and certainly arranged for them to train with and use SDF facilities for training. But, much like the shinju theory, the truth of this matter, including the full extent of the LDP’s involvement with Mishima, will likely never be known.

A bit of Mishima trivia

I also happened across an interesting nugget of trivia in Stokes book. When Mishima was in his early thirties his mother was (incorrectly) diagnosed with terminal cancer. Fearing that she would die without having seen her son married, he arranged to meet a wife through omiai. Although Mishima eventually settled on the young daughter of a traditional painter, his first meeting was with one Shoda Michiko. A job at Kunaicho awaits anyone who recognized that name without having to look.

Read Mishima’s famous short story “Patriotism” online.

(Note: Above quote taken from pg. 269 of Henry Scott Stokes. The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima. Cooper Square Press, NY. 2000.)

Situation No Win?

A few quick thoughts I had while reading the following in the Japan Times:

In a document submitted to the Diet on Nov. 18 upon formal Cabinet approval, the government had pledged to send officials to check U.S. meet processors prior to resuming beef imports in December.

Without notifying the Diet, however, the government postponed the dispatch of officials to the United States, claiming it was found that inspections before imports were resumed would be impractical.

Nakagawa has been under fire from opposition parties for changing the dispatch plan without informing the Diet.

Now, I don’t often side with the GOJ on the beef issue. And I don’t know the details of what actually happened leading up to the government’s decision to postpone the dispatch of inspectors. However, it seems that Nakagawa might have been in an even worse pinch had inspectors been sent prior to the discovery of spinal matter in imported beef last month.

Sending inspectors to U.S. meat-processing facilities would have amounted to nothing more than a symbolic gesture at best. It would have been a signal to the Japanese public that the government is taking this problem seriously. But let’s face it – a few Japanese inspectors would not have prevented the gross negligence on the part of the United States that resulted in the re-imposition of the beef ban.

Their presence would, however, have distributed some of that negligence towards the Japanese government. Opposition parties, always eager to sink their teeth into LDP hide, would have then dismissed the government’s inspection measures as ineffective.

In hindsight, one has to ask which is worse for the government: having hidden the decision to delay sending the inspectors and having some spinal material show up in an imported veal shipment, or having sent the inspectors only to have the effort proven completely unsuccessful?

From the Vault: NBS takeover plot thickens, but it’s still too early for optimism that Japan is ready for change

[This post originally appeared on my no longer active Laughing Monkey site on March 12, 2005.]

Recent developments in the ongoing takeover battle between internet upstart Livedoor and old guard Fuji Television for control of Japan Broadcasting are making things interesting for Japan watchers.

Yesterday came the unexpected news that the Tokyo District court had ruled in favor of Livedoor, ordering NBS to halt its intended direct issuance of new shares to Fuji in an effort to dilute Livedoor’s holdings. Yahoo! Asia News ran this rather optimistic analysis of the ruling, describing the court’s decision as, “turning the clock forward on Japan’s capital markets.

Experts say the closely watched decision goes in line with Japan’s goal of easing regulations on the financial sector to gain a global competitive edge, easing worries that foreign investors otherwise might have shied away from making further investments in the country.

But if foreign investors were reassured by this positive news, then surely they were equally disaopointed by reports from sources inside the the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that the government was moving towards further restrictions on the activities of foreign companies.

An LDP panel on legal affairs decided at its meeting Friday to ask the Justice Ministry to change the bills regarding restrictions on M&As by foreign firms to postpone theimplementation of the step to 2007 from the originally planned 2006, the sources said.

The planned bill on M&As by foreign firms also include measures against hostile takeover bids, such as the so-called poison pill, designed to discourage bidders by increasing the takeover costs usually through the issuance of equity warrants.

So while Livedoor appears to have scored at least a temporary legal victory in its efforts to get at Fuji Television through control over its largest shareholder NBS, the successful passage of such a bill by the Diet would ensure that there will be no such future victories.

Why? Consider this observation from Youichi Yanai, chief fund manager at Tokyo Mitsubishi:

Permitting the use of `poison pill’ tactics would leave investors highly skeptical about the overall Japanese market and the very meaning of having a fair and functional capital market…

So much for easing the worries of foreign investors.

And, if these mixed messages weren’t confusing enough, today came reports that Fuji Television may be reconsidering its tactics and might seek out some sort of cooperative partnership with Livedoor.

Fuji Television Network Inc. Chairman Hisashi Hieda said past midnight Friday that his company may form a business tie-up with Livedoor Co., voicing the possibility for the first time in the monthlong battle with the Internet company over control of NipponBroadcasting System Inc.

Hieda has previously categorically rejected a tie-up offer from Livedoor and the about-face was apparently triggered by a court ruling earlier Friday in favor of Livedoor over the acquisition battle.

“If there are some merits, we can consider forming a business alliance with Livedoor,” Hieda told reporters following the decision by the Tokyo District Court to bar Nippon Broadcasting from selling massive equity warrants to his company in a bid to thwart Livedoor’s hostile takeover bid.

So, should these developments to be taken as a positive sign that Japan is finally changing, or might it merely be once again creating false hopes? I’m not holding my breath, but this is one case where I would happily admit to being wrong.

Still, the type of drama currently unfolding in the court system has all been seen before. In a worst case scenario, this may be turn out to be a repeat of the fight late last year between megabanks Mitsui Sumitomo and Tokyo Mitsubishi over a merger deal with ailing rival UFJ. Although Mitsui Sumitomo appeared to be gaining ground early on with its victory at the district court level, the Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s ruling, effectivly giving Tokyo Mitsubishi the green light to proceed with the merger, much to Mitsui Sumitomo’s chagrin. If NBS appeals yesterday’s ruling, as appears likely, there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will rule in its favor.

In the past, there have simply been too many examples of outsiders, both Japanese and foreign making progress and then having the door shut in their faces by defenders of the good old days.

FDI in Japan (Part I)

My previous post on possible linkages between the Livedoor scandal and Foreign Direct Investment in Japan got me curious about the latter topic, so I did a little reading over the weekend.

I started with last year’s report by U.S.-Japan Business Council on expanding FDI in Japan. This is a fascinating and surprisingly easily approachable document that I strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in investment issues is Japan.

Below are a few of the more interesting points from the report, along with some graphical illustrations I worked up using data from the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development’s annual World Investment Report, and the Ministry of Finance‘s on-line FDI data.

Japan’s inward FDI falls well below international standards:

At 2.1% of GDP, the accumulated foreign direct investment (FDI) in Japan is much less than the average of 20% for all developed economies, and G-7 economies such as the United States (14%), Germany (22%), and the United Kingdom (37%).

In spite of the quantitative difference, the composition in terms of type of investment is very similar to other developed countries:

According to the OECD, over 70% of the FDI in developed economies takes place via Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), transactions in which one company acquires a whole or partial ownership stake in another. Japan is no different. Over 70% of FDI in Japan since 1997 has been through M&A.

Still, Japan still falls far behind the pack in cross border M&As.

Furthermore, a large number of these M&As share a similar characteristic:

Where most of these Japanese/U.S. and U.S./EU transactions can be characterized as “friendly” transactions, most foreign acquisitions in Japan are cases in which U.S. or European firms acquired stakes in financially troubled Japanese companies. The Japanese companies generally agreed to be acquired only because they needed capital to survive.

Regular readers of Japanese news are probably already aware of some of these cases. Two biggies named in the report are Renault/Nissan and Long Term Credit Bank/Ripplewood Holdings.

In spite of these sucessful cases however, attitudes towards FDI in Japan are slow to change:

Japanese attitudes are much like they were in the United States in the 1980s. While foreign companies are much more prevalent now, there is still much uncertainty and suspicion about – and some outright hostility toward – FDI among politicians, the private sector, and the public, particularly with regard to M&A and distressed asset purchases.

To avoid generalization however, it should be noted that not everyone in Japan shares this ambivalence towards FDI:

There are some positive steps being taken by the Government of Japan, particularly METI and JETRO, to overcome this legacy and promote FDI in Japan. Most positive of all, of course, is Prime Minister Koizumi’s January 2003 goal to double FDI in five years, as this for the first time put the government squarely behind the goal of increasing FDI.

Advisory groups such as the Japan Investment Council (JIC) and the Invest Japan Forum (IJF), have also issued reports recommending ways to encourage FDI in Japan.

Nor is ambivalence towards FDI a uniquely Japanese characteristic. I’m sure most readers will recall the fuss Cnooc caused last year when it attempted to purchase the U.S. energy firm Unocal. (Not to mention the Japanese purchases of Pebble Beach, Rockefeller Center, and Columbia Studios in the 1980s.)

Part II of this post will examine why all of this matters.

p.s. I really couldn’t figure a way to work this graph into the post, but since I already made it I may as well append it here. This is a breakdown of investment by the three largest global economic regions.

Finally, a post about Livedoor

David Ibison of the Financial Times recently authored this excellent piece reminding us that there is more to the Livedoor debacle than the superficial observation that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

Writes Ibison:

Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister, dropped a pledge to quadruple foreign direct investment into Japan by 2011 from his annual policy speech last month…His speech was originally written to say that his government would aim to increase FDI to Y26,400bn ($225bn) by promoting the acquisition of Japanese businesses.

The key phrase here is acquisitions.

Why? Consider the title of a report issued last July by the U.S.-Japan Business Council: “Expanding FDI in Japan: M&A is the Key.”

Ibison again:

[The report] said Japan still needed to introduce bold reforms, especially by promoting cross-border M&A, and was concerned that some politicians and the media regarded takeover attempts by foreign companies in Japan as hostile.

If the association between takeover attempts and “hostile” hadn’t already been made for said politicians and the media, Livedoor’s behavior during the past year – and the past few weeks in particular – should have made things crystal clear in their minds.

The association between takeover attempts by foreigners and “hostile” hardly needed further (or any) evidence to these people.

And now, with Koizumi’s speech, the pressure appears to have reached the highest levels of government. As Adamu said to me in an earlier conversation this afternoon, “Horie seems to have single-handedly (and perhaps literally) set back the cause of FDI in Japan 5 years.”

The sad part about this whole affair is the mistaken, but deliberate conflation of Livedoor-style M&As, which seem to have had very little to do with improving efficiency or productivity, and M&As in general, which can have substantial benefits not only for the companies involved, but for national economies as a whole.

For many, Livedoor will become the “wanted poster child” for M&As in Japan. And in the long-run, that’s only going to hurt Japan.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

[Note: This was intended to go up yesterday morning, but I was unable to post due to small, now resolved, technical difficulties. So, before anyone tells me that the Nikkei closed slightly down today, I know, I know.]

Even though this post has nothing to do with toads or amusement parks, I chose the title in keeping with the anurian theme of this blog. But boy, wouldn’t this month’s Nikkei 255 make one hell of an exciting coaster ride?

January 225

I smoothed the line just for a more pleasing visual effect, but the bounce back from the “Livedoor Shock” is clearly official. In fact, for the past two days the Nikkei 225 average has closed at highs not seen since September 2000.

Lacking the sophistication to explain the reasons behind this (and having had it correctly pointed out to me over the weekend that I am wont to jump to unsupported conclusions about Japan) I’m going to defer to the opinion of the “professionals” on interpreting this one.

Analysts are citing several factors for the latest rally.

First, a number of positive economic indicators appear to have improved the confidence of investors. Starting with the labor market, employment data for December showed a marked improvement, with the ratio of job offers to job seekers balancing out at one to one, the highest it’s been since September 1992. The unemployment rate fell an additional 0.2 percent, to 4.4. percent, the lowest level in seven years.

Housing figures also look promising. Starts in 2005 rose for the third strait year, up 4% to 1,236,122.

Industrial production also rose by 1.4% (seasonally adjusted) in December.

Finally, gains by individual companies also seem to have played a roll. A fall in the yen-dollar exchange rate has been a boon to profits of exporters such as Toyota, Honda and Advantest, all of whom closed higher on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, rising oil prices equal increased profits for companies like Nippon Oil and AOC Holdings, Inc.

Looked at as a whole, all of these figures (except perhaps for the higher oil prices) appear to suggest movement towards a stronger economy – higher corporate profits, more hiring, and increased private consumption and spending.

But, while those factors are fine for institutional investors who have the resources to pay anti-social quant jocks to stare at computer monitors all day while mentally multi-tasking the application of Einstein’s general theory of relativity to global securities markets, what about individual investors? I’m talking about the average Tanaka on the street, punching trades into his cell phone?

Well, in my humble, albeit relatively uninformed opinion, these guys might be basing their investment decisions on this:

Nikkei 225

Now, aren’t you sorry you didn’t buy in last May?

I really like this photo

BV(Source: Washington Post)

For those of you who don’t know, that’s Chiba Lotte Marines Manager Bobby Valentine following his team’s first victory in the Japan Series for 31 years. For some reason, footage of the Japan Series after-celebration always makes me smile.

I love that the players are so happy. I love that the cameramen always come prepared, wearing rain slickers and having wrapped their cameras in plastic. I love that the players actually put on goggles to keep the beer out of their eyes. And I love that no one whines about the fact that they actually use real beer instead of Gatorade.

Saru to Media: Did you even read Bush’s speech?

Bush to China: Grant religious, civic freedoms” That’s the headline from a Yomiuri online story today. A quick glance at google news headlines reveals more of the same:

Bush pushes China over freedoms” (CNN)

Bush rebukes China on freedom” (MSNBC)

Bush tells Beijing to model itself on ‘free Taiwan’” (Independent, UK)

And so on, and so on.

Unquestionably, the President’s speech in Kyoto on the 16th was intended to send a message (several, actually) to China and it no, not all of it was soft. Yes, he cited Taiwan as having “created a free and democratic Chinese society.” Yes, he put China in category 2, those “other Asian societies [that] have taken some steps toward freedom.” And yes, he did mention “worshipping without state control” and to “print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear or punishment.” In short, he did allude to some of China’s shortcomings in the area of freedom and democracy and there is little doubt that Beijing heard this loud and clear.

But, his message could have just as easily been interpreted as one of economic determinism – “if you continue economic liberalization, you will have not choice but to become more democratic.”

In this sense, it was more a statement of facts, not of demands:

“In the late 1970s, China’s leaders took a hard look at their country , and they resolved to change. They opened the door to economic development — and today the Chinese people are better fed, better housed, and enjoy better opportunities than they ever have had in their history.”

“As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it can not be closed. As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well.”

“…men and women who are allowed to control their own wealth will eventually insist on controlling their own lives and their own future.”

“X” follows “Y.”

As harsh as it got was this suggestion:

“By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China’s leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation.”

To describe it as “telling” China to become more free, “rebuking it” about a lack of freedom, or even “pushing” it on freedom seems a bit of a stretch to me and it misses the subtlety (and frankly, we should be thankful to see some from this administration) of the speech. Looking at the text, it’s clear that the only things Bush said China “needs to take action to ensure” are the correction of its current account surplus, greater protection of intellectual property rights, and a move towards a flexible, market-based exchange rate system.

Bush even made some concessions to China. After the Taiwan section of the speech, reaffirmed the one China policy. He recognized the “important role China has assumed as host of the six-party talks.” And finally, he closed the speech with a nod to Chinese history, recognizing that they were around a long time before Jefferson and Lincoln.

It could have been a lot worse.