Negligent driver, meet negligent management and negligent legal system

If JAL’s shoddy maintenance doesn’t kill you, this guy might:

A 55-year old driver of the “Airport Limousine,” operating between the Haneda Airport terminal and aircraft parked on the apron, was found to have continued driving for nine days in May and June of last year despite having had his license suspended for drunk driving.

Tokyo Airport Transit, the bus operating company, ordered the driver dismissed.

According to the company, they had not been informed about his license suspension for drunk driving. As the buses operate on the taxiways, a “Restricted Area Driving Permit” is required in addition to a regular driver’s license. However, because on-field inspections only check to see whether the permit is being carried, it was not discovered that the driver had no regular driver’s license. The company checks its drivers’ personal violation records once per year, and only noticed the man’s violation in November.

For double the fun, take his bus to your next flight on Northwest!

ANA’s president talks about the future of Japanese air travel

And it looks good for the rest of us, because he speaks of cheaper domestic and international flights out of Haneda. Which means that people in Tokyo can save a few hundred bucks on their airfares, plus the money and time it takes to get to Narita.

“We think we will see low-cost carriers in Haneda in 2009,” President and CEO Mineo Yamamoto told journalists in Tokyo last month at an event organized by Star Alliance. Speaking through a translator, he noted that current plans call for the number of operational slots at the airport to increase by 40% vis-a-vis the current level to 407,000 annually.

ANA accepts that it will lose some travelers to budget carriers but intends to maintain focus on higher-yield passengers. However, this may not be possible. “What we are most afraid of,” Yamamoto explained, is that Japan Airlines “will follow the strategy of LCCs like Skymark and enter the low-fare quagmire.” He said ANA is studying launching a domestic low-fare airline, although it appeared from his remarks that this more likely would be a countermeasure.

The carrier also is concerned that Tiger Airways or another Southeast Asian LCC will be given slots at Haneda to operate discount flights in Asia. ANA is evaluating using Air Japan, its leisure/holiday airline, to counter this threat. In this case, it would look at opening a base in Bangkok or Singapore staffed with foreign cockpit and cabin crews. In spite of the concern over LCCs, Yamamoto told ATWOnline that ANA is asking the Japanese government to double the number of new slots dedicated to international operations at Haneda from 30,000 to 60,000 annually.

In related news, the BIG CHANGE NAA took place earlier this month, in which the South Wing of Terminal 1 opened up for ANA, United and the other Star Alliance airlines. (The ads for it, with a girl deplaning from a hot pink Learjet followed by a badly-rendered Colonel Sanders-ish porter carrying her shopping bags, seem to personify all that is fecked up about Japan to me, but anyway.) The reshuffles will continue later this year when American, BA and the other oneworld airlines move to Terminal 2. Hopefully Keisei will use this as an excuse to change those old and busted seats on the Skyliner.

More obligatory cherry blossoms

These were out in bloom last weekend by Kitanomaru Park, the area on the north side of the Imperial Palace around the Budokan (across the road from Yasukuni, which also has some gorgeous flowers in bloom).

This is the first sakura season I’ve seen since high school. Very, very natsukashii. One of the partners in our office, a retired judge who’s been practicing law since my parents were in diapers, insisted on taking a walk down Uchibori-dori after lunch the other day. Quite an excellent idea; nothing but pink flowers and gawking pedestrians in either direction. Times like this make me feel like there’s no place I’d rather be in the world. (Then I get on the Ginza Line and I just want to choke people.)

Imperialist cuff links

I bought these on a hanami (flower viewing) excursion to Yasukuni Shrine last weekend. Tie pins aren’t quite my style, but the cuff links are great. (And Lady Curzon, a true aristocrat, gives her approval.)

Other items on sale at Yasukuni:

* Japanese flag cuff links. I didn’t buy these because they seemed too loud. I now regret that decision, and plan to purchase them the next time I visit.
* An authentic-looking Imperial Rescript on Education you can put up in your home for that classic fascist feeling. (Framed with a portrait of Hirohito: ¥9,000. Unframed: ¥1000.)
* Special manju, packaged with a caricature of Koizumi on the box and parodies of LDP slogans. Here’s a photo, because I love you:

Anyway, if you see a honky walking around Tokyo wearing chrysanthemum cuff links, you’ll know it’s me, so be sure to say hi.

Avoiding lameness in Narita ground transportation: a primer

I leave in a few hours to spend my spring break in Florida—actually one of the last places I expected to spend spring break, but Ms. Joe has a new, difficult job and needs someone to give her backrubs at night.

Anyway, Narita is a really inconvenient airport. No matter how you do it, it takes at least an hour to get there from the city. Then there’s the time you have to spend getting to wherever you’re boarding your transportation, and the time you have to spend wandering around the terminal to get where you need to be. If you’re like me, you also have to factor in the time you spend being held for questioning.

It used to be worse, actually. Back in the day, the trains to Narita didn’t even stop at the terminal. You had to get off on the edge of the airport property and then take a bus. Fortunately, the Transport Minister figured this was daft, and he opened up some underground platforms that were originally intended for a Shinkansen line. (He’s a great guy—his name is Ishihara.) So today, the trains drop you off inside the terminals… but you still have to go up four stories to get to check-in. Hmpfh.

So what’s the best way to get to and from the airport? Continue reading Avoiding lameness in Narita ground transportation: a primer

Strange things in Tokyo part 10,298: Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Recently, I joined the Most Hon. First Marquess Curzon of Kedleston for an overnight trip to Oedo Onsen Monogatari. In case you’ve never heard of this place before, it’s a big hot springs place located on Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay known for its strange array of attractions (e.g. Kenzo Tange’s freaky-looking Fuji TV Building and a “European village” that people rent out for weddings).

Oedo Onsen Monogatari is, likewise, a strange attraction. When I think of onsen, I usually think of Arima Onsen or the various onsen in Nikko—places up in the mountains, pretty far from civilization, where you can enjoy the cool air and the hot water and the view of the valley. Or I think of Azabu Onsen, the tiny sento-type place in Minato-ku close to where I go to school. Comparing these places to Oedo Onsen Monogatari is like comparing a small American town to Main Street USA at Disney World. Continue reading Strange things in Tokyo part 10,298: Oedo Onsen Monogatari

No right turn for the right

Wander around Tokyo long enough, and you’ll notice emergency roadblocks by certain intersections, staffed by police from morning to night. Most of these roadblocks are located around Minato-ku; you’ll see them in Azabu, Hiroo, Roppongi and other trendy districts. The purpose of said roadblocks? To keep rightwingers in speaker trucks from harrassing the embassies of countries they don’t like, e.g. China and Korea.

Once they hear the noise of speaker truck music (something like enka meets Chinese opera), the cops spring into action, as in this encounter near the RussiaKorean embassy in Minami-azabu:

With the road blocked off, the speaker truck is forced to hang out in the right turn lane for a while, annoying nobody but the drivers stuck up against the fence.

The first time I saw rightwingers harassing people in Tokyo was when I was visiting the city in high school, and I thought it was crazy back then. But after a while, it becomes as natural as separating your burnable and non-burnable garbage.

Muneo Suzuki’s Life in Prison, as Told by the Man Himself (Plus advice for Horie)

I’ve kept this story on the back burner for a while, but I think you’ll still get a kick out of it.

Remember Muneo Suzuki, everyone’s favorite “department store of suspicion”? Well, after being convicted of bribery charges, leaving the Diet and LDP in disgrace, and then staging a major comeback in 2005 by forming a new party and getting reelected to the Lower House, Muneo wasted no time in punching back against those who ousted him from power just 2 years earlier. Soon after his reelection, Suzuki began flooding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with official questions surrounding their questionable dealings (Such as this one accusing the MOFA of overpaying their overseas staff with juicy housing allowances). He’s abused the “memoranda on questions” system so much (known as the “paper bomb” among Japanese politicos), in fact, that the ruling LDP has revived debate on whether to eliminate it altogether.

Now Suzuki, who has the dubious distinction of being the only serving Diet member to be presently fighting a felony conviction, was not involved in the Horie scandal. Nonetheless, the former jailbird can offer unique insight into Horie’s state of mind as he faces imprisonment and now arraignment. ZAKZAK was there, of course, in this Jan. 26 interview, which I have paraphrased below:

Muneo tells of his 437-day stay in a 5m2 solitary confinement cell: No clock, no view of the outside


Takafumi Horie is being held in the Tokyo Detention Center. Lower House Diet member Muneo Suzuki, in a Jan 26 interview with Yukan Fuji, told us of the center’s “coarse” living conditions. Horie denied his charges at first at the special investigation section of the Tokyo Regional Prosecutor, but he has now begun testimony that admits some of the facts. Perhaps he has broken in the face of the humiliating life within the cell walls.

Solitary Confinement

“The solitary confinement cell is in a 6.4m2 space with 1.6m2 used for a toilet and wash basin that are out in the open. Your living space is 4.8m2.”

That is Muneo Suzuki looking back on his life on the inside. His painful mental state at the time may have resurfaced because his face was bright red, and he seemed to be seriously fighting something making him well up with tears.

The first thing that happened at the detention center was “body inspection.”

“They take your mobile phone and datebook, make you get naked and search to see whether you have brought in something dangerous.”

The building of the detention center was rebuilt in March, while Muneo was imprisoned, so he went from the old building, where there was a window with a view of the outside, to the new one where he could not see the outside at all.

“There was no clock on the wall, so I had no sense of day or night.”

Until he fell asleep, he would lean against the wall, unable to fully stretch out, and on top of that he could not read newspapers or watch TV and could not listen to the radio freely. Muneo was banned from outside contact, so he was also banned from exchanging letters.

He admitted, “Since I was a person living on information, the hardest thing was for no information to be coming in.”

Meals were rice, miso soup, and one side dish. While Muneo says, “It was at least better than the meals from when I was an impoverished child,” will the food live up to Horie’s discriminating tastes?
Continue reading Muneo Suzuki’s Life in Prison, as Told by the Man Himself (Plus advice for Horie)