Monday, December 09, 2002

Well, it's already December -- how the year has flown by! Everywhere I look I see the colors and sights of Christmas -- and this is Tokyo that I'm talking about! Looks like more Japanese kids have started believing in Santa Claus, too.
Actually, if you really want to track down Santa Claus and his reindeer, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) has a new Santa tracking system on its web site. For those of you who may not know, normally NORAD is a fearsome aerospace protection system run by both the US and Canadian military. So what's with the Santa deal?
According to NORADs Christmas website, the fifth year in a row that they've prepared one, the system tracks Santa's movements by using satellites and infrared radar that can detect Rudolph's red nose.
The site is in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and even Japanese!
I don't want to say that the whole thing is a waste of time, because some of you out there may have kids who like using the Internet. But I do think it's a bit paradoxical that the story of Santa is being perpetuated by two of the most technically complex systems known to mankind: NORAD and the Web. Still, please show it to your kids --they'll have a ball!
http://www.noradsanta.org

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Digital

I came to the realization that I have to give up on using a conventional camera for overseas trips, after being X-rayed twice at airport security damaged my holiday snaps...
So, of course, I went on to the Net and searched for a "digital camera". There're so many types and sizes that I can't really tell the difference. In the land of "small things are beautiful" Japan, you get smaller, thinner, and lower price.
One of the good things about a digital camera is you can put pictures on the Net to share with your friends and families no matter where they are. And if broadband becomes more prevalent, you will be even be able to watch a wedding in real time from a remote area.
Well, before talking about the broadband, I have to figure out how to make my Yahoo BB connection work with my computer/mac at home. I've had a hectic 2 weeks since the modem was delivered and still haven't hooked up...

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Trash

I was in NY a couple of weeks ago to attend friend's wedding. During my stay, one of my friends took me to a steak house, and I saw the bartenders throw everything into one single garbage bin: glasses, glass and PET bottles, combustibles - literally anything. They told me that NY can't do recycling anymore due to the financial difficulties that the city has. I was very surprised. This kind of thinking is totally against the social responsibility trend all over the world.
Maybe no recycling will save some money and help overcome the $5BN deficit caused by the clean up of Ground Zero - where the World Trade Center used to be. However, I wonder what will happen to the homeless people who used to collect recyclable items as a living? Now, maybe it's because I heard the news, but nevertheless, I thought I saw more bums on the streets and subways of New York that I have done in the past.
NY is not a very clean city at the best of times, unfortunately. But to see trash cans in every corner of Manhattan is such a stark contrast to Tokyo and its trash bin-free subway stations, that I can't help wondering why it is that New Yorkers can't look after their habitat a bit better.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Whither the Economy?

I think many of you have heard that Louis Vuitton opened another new store in Omotesando recently. The media say that the sales on opening day reached JPY125m. Apparently, this is a record for a single store. More than 2,800 people visited on opening day, including 1,400 young women who spent up to two days lining up for over one kilometer to get in! The store is a good size: 8 stories aboveground and two floors underground -- all together there is a total of 3,300 sq./m displaying more than 1,500 products.
In this economic downturn, it is unbelievable that Louis Vuitton's sales increased to JPY117.9bn in 2001, a 17.6% increase from the previous year. I'm sure they're happy with the great success, but, it this is not a healthy picture. The Japanese economy is in the pits and a recent survey found that there were 1,718 bankruptcies in July, leaving behind debts of JPY1,161bn. Indeed, an average 1,725 companies have gone bankrupt every month since the beginning of 2002. Unemployment for July was is 5.4%. Deflation is getting worse -- and yet... people are willing to spend so much money on the goods to show their status.
I wonder where the Japanese economy and our society in general is heading...?

Monday, September 02, 2002

Smoking

Have you heard of a nicotine gum called "Nicorette"? It's produced and imported by Pharmacia, and sold by Takeda Chemical Industries. Sales have reached a surprising JPY9bn in just 10 months. The company says that sales indicate about one million people are trying to quit smoking.
Nicorette-type nicotine replacement products originally were invented in Sweden in 1967, to help submarine crew smokers control their cravings. Later in 1978, Pharmacia of Sweden developed the first nicotine gum.
According to survey, the cost of smoking -- including tobacco, lighters, etc., based on two packs a day -- is about JPY180,000 for the average smoker. An additional JPY8trn in public costs is blamed on the social damages caused by smoking: fires, lung disease, etc.
It's ironic that tobacco was once a medicine that was said to be effective for virtually every illness, but it's now the cause of many forms of sickness. I wonder if the ancient Native Americans using their "Calumet" (peace pipe) had any inkling what a huge impact their habit would have on future generations....

Monday, August 12, 2002

Memories

Images of Japanese summer are seen everywhere: elementary school kids doing "rajio taiso" (exercises broadcast on the radio every morning at school), watermelons, baseball games on TV, beer and "edamame" (boiled green soybeans), etc. Since I moved to Tokyo, these images appears frequently on TV and on the sides of buses, in newspapers, etc. But are these images real?
When you're little, you take it for granted that everything you and your family do is the way everyone else does it, too. Everyone eats fried eggs with fermented soy beans on it, everyone has their own rice bowl, their own miso soup bowl, and their own chopsticks, everyone takes care NOT to eat "mochi" (rice cake) on New Years day, etc. But then I grew up and came to Tokyo, and the reality I knew changed; TV brainwashes you about what a "typical" Japanese person does.
I read that the human brain has a very strange function: if you're continuously told that you did something you actually didn't do, your brain starts creating such memories and eventually you accept such memories as fact, and you believe that you really did do it. Maybe this has happened to me. I feel very comfortable with the image of edamame and beer -- but if I remember hard, I realize that back home we never ate edamame while drinking beer. In fact, we didn't really eat green soybeans at all, but rather boiled fava beans. And we certainly didn't eat fava beans with a beer in hand.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Shaved Ice

So many continuously hot days in Tokyo make me feel like eating shaved ice. It just so happens that July 25th is Shaved Ice Day. Inaugurated in commeration of the hottest summer's day in Japan, July 25th, 1933, Yamagata City in Tohoku sweltered in 40.8C heat.
Back in the old days when people didn't have freezers or ice machines, ice was a precious luxury allowed only to the imperial family and aristocracy. In the Edo era, a system of ice storage started, with local governments transporting huge ice blocks to the Emperor and Shogunate on June 1st. Special efforts were made to get these monstrous ice cubes to Tokyo in record time -- getting here as quickly as 5 days, when usually it took 10 days or more to make the trip by horse.
I'm planning to go to our local store to have shaved ice this weekend...

Monday, July 15, 2002

Clones

The Japan Institute of Immunology has set up a new venture company, which will develop technology to regenerate human hair. The company will make practical use of a technology that a Hiroshima University professor discovered -- which lets clinicians implant cells into the skin and thereby stimulate the regeneration of a patient's hair. Sumitomo Electronics also looking at becoming the retailer for such a chemical stimulation procedure.
It seems that humans can regenerate a lot more physical parts of the body these days. Cloning of humans is banned more than 40 nations, but there's a big argument going on at the US Capitol Hill right now over this very subject. I personally find it hard to accept the idea of cloning, though it's possible and some academics are pursuing this line of research. In my opinion, cloning will open a Pandora's box of problems.
The end result will be that someday we will be able to engineer human body cells so that they just keeps on growing back, just like lizard's tail......

Monday, July 01, 2002

Ter Teru Bozu

Rainy season continues, sort of, but I think we are having less rain than normal. I remember when I was a kid that we used to make "Teru Teru Bozu" (literally: Sunny Sunny Monk) to bring good luck and make the next day a sunny day.
This custom came from China about 1,200 years ago. Originally the doll was of a woman made of red and green cloth and carrying a broom to wipe the clouds away and make a sunny day. Over time the doll changed to a "Teri Teri Hoshi" or "Tere Tere Bozu" (Sunny Sunny Monk/Minstrel) by the 19th century. In days of yore, people hung the doll under the eaves, and if the weather became sunny, they drew eyes/nose/mouth.
According to a folklore, monks with hair (usually they shaved off their hair to show obeisance to Buddha) and who were married were engaged in agriculture when they weren't conducting a weather ceremony was called the "Hairy Monk" (sounds like a dance!). The ceremony, "Hijiri" eventually made people monks could tell the weather, therefore it became natural to ask a monk to make the next day sunny.
There is a children's song about the Teru Teru Bozu, that has an interesting end. It goes something like this:
"Sunny Monk, Sunny Monk, please make tomorrow a sunny day, just like the sky in a dream. If it is sunny day, I'll give you a golden bell, if you make my wish come true, I'll give you a sweet drink -- but, if it's still cloudy and raining, I'll decapitate you."
... Nice song, huh?

Monday, June 17, 2002

More World Cup

No matter what you do during June, you'll be inundated with sights and sounds of the World Cup. This massive event influences not only the media, but the other areas of our daily lives, e.g., the stock market -- such as a TV advertiser's stock price going up or down depending on whether their spots appear during scheduled games. TV viewer figures are hitting over 61% when the Japan team is playing, and even when other national teams are playing, ratings are still around 23%, which is pretty high. Some companies are reportedly thinking about changing their commercials featuring new players other than those from the French National Team -- which has already been knocked out of the competition.
In other news, the song used for the Nike TV commercial, "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis vs JXL has hit Number 1 on the UK music charts. Also, the Ministry of Education has apparently given approval to their workers to watch the soccer games during work time. And for those who are supposed to still be working, clearly streaming video connections are an alternative point of access -- which appears to be slowing down the Japanese segment of the Web, crashing servers, etc. The World Cup is a global festival and such problems will be with us for another 3 weeks -- enjoy!

Monday, June 03, 2002

World Cup Soccer

The World Cup is starting and excitement fills the air. Every TV station has something featuring soccer -- almost all the time.
Security is a big issue in Japan, but perhaps nothing compared to Korea, where the Korean army has issued weapons to men standing by for trouble. Here in Japan, some "official" hooligans have already deported at Narita airport.
I'm personally not that interested (sorry to those of you who are soccer lovers!) in the World Cup. But as I've found out recently, it's become very important when arranging business meetings, phone calls, etc., to check the game schedules first! Suddenly lots of overseas managers are coming to see their Japan operations, and are asking us for early morning meetings so that they can make their way to the various stadiums. Infact, in the case of some of our British customers, I'd had to completely avoid booking meetings for days when England is playing.
The World Cup is indeed a global festival. Estimates are that 1 out of every 4 people in the world is soccer fan. And as with many festivals, a level of hysteria, World Cup Fever, is highly likely to happen. I hope no major accidents occur, but at least the "fever" will have a beneficial effect on the economy.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Real Life

Do you want to live in Harrods? They're recruiting 4 people to spend a week as a family at the front window of the famous Harrods department store in London. This is an event sponsored by LG, the major Korean home electric appliances company. They will display the latest their own product, such as fridge, washing machine, microwave, etc. which are networked and operational via internet, in 4 rooms (kitchen, dining, etc.), to actually demonstrate these during their real everyday living life.
The real life TV show's been pretty popular these last a couple of years. In US, "The Osbournes" in MTV is such a huge hit. It's a real life TV show of the Ozzy Osbourne's family. Strange family (off course, the father is the guru of rock!) with usual life events decorated with extraordinary people/events. Maybe the expectations of the unexpected happenings are high, or people are too remote from the real encounter in their real life.
On the other hand, I see lots of happenings, good or bad, in the office, every single day. The truth is stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Okinawa

Do you know the song "Shimauta", a song written by a band called "The Boom"? It became the Argentina soccer team's official theme song for the world cup. "La Cancion de la Isla" is a cover song by Alfredo Casero: sung in Japanese. Many of the Nikkei people in Argentine a are descendants of Okinawa immigrants, and of course the tune feels familiar to them since Shimauta is based on Okinawan music.
Okinawan music has a very unique scale: do mi fa so shi do. This plus their language also being very different from regular Japanese, we can't help noticing that they have a different heritage. That said, though, music is a universal communication tool, as has become obvious from the Argentinean experience.
If you read the lyrics of Shimauta along in context of the history of Okinawa: then you start to understand the significance of the terms. "Deigo no hana ga saki (Deigo flowers came to bloom)" is the time around when the war started, the US occupation was "Arashi ga kita (storm came)", "Deigo ga saki midare (Deigo flowers run riot)" denotes the war between Japan and US being started by the fierce Peal Harbor attack. By the time "Deigo no hana mo chiri (Deigo flowers die, falling as fluttering petals )" in June, the resistance in Okinawa was over. Deigo is Okinawa's state flower, also called Erythrina Orientalis Murray. I hope the "Towano yunagi wo (forever the calm water)" will be delivered "Umiwo watari (across the ocean)" with this song.

Monday, April 15, 2002

Honest Politicians

The 108th Mayor of the City of New York, Mr. Michael R. Bloomberg has become a poster boy for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) foundation. They're trying to get Marijuana usage legalized in the Unite States. His comment was "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." The ad says that finally there is an honest politician.
Hmmmm, "Honest politician," is an unlikely combination of words. It's not that I have any particular prejudice about Mr. Bloomberg, but the "politician" itself has the connotation of "dishonest" to me.
The news these days is full of politicians and their scandals. I think we're all starting to get fed up with the bribery and carrying on, and can't put aside the feeling that almost everyone's is somehow involved in the sleaze at Kasumigaseki. Compared to the daily embezzlement of public money, smoking Marijuana doesn't seem that big of a deal, indeed, it's legal in some countries.
Mr. Bloomberg's comment was quoted from the New Yorker magazine before he announced he was running for mayoral office. So, he was not an "honest politician" at that time. He was a simply honest person. I wonder if he would say such things now...?

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Free Time

Do you like domestic chores? A research company in Michigan reported that Japanese men spend 4 hours per week for housekeeping. This is about 1/4 of what men in the US do, and 1/6 of men in Sweden. Although I thought the Japanese average would be higher, I expect that the reason it isn't is that Japanese men are away at work longer, and therefore have less time to spend for housekeeping. But the survey was taken before the current economic slump, so maybe Japanese men really will be able to spend more time at home on housework in the future.
Another interesting point from the research is that Japanese spend more time for leisure! Especially Japanese women -- whose TV hours are far longer than anywhere else. Hmmm, that could be me... it's so addictive!
What do you spend most of your time doing?

Monday, March 18, 2002

Four Leaf Clover

Sun Mar 17 was St. Patrick's day. The parade was in Omote sando, where they blocked off half of Omote Sando Dori, and lots of Guinness was consumed!
The shamrock is one of the symbols for this day. I remember that I used to look for a 4-leaved clover in the school ground for hours and hours. It's said that the 4-leaf clover brings you luck. One even saved Napoleon when he found it on the battle field and as he bent down to pick it, a bullet passed where his head would have been -- or so they say, anyway...
Your chance of finding a 4-leaf clover is about 1/100,000, so there certainly is some luck involved in finding one. However, if you can't find one in the fields, you can at least see them in the city -- Alfa Romeo's logo is a "QUADRIFOGLIO" for its sports and racing cars.

Monday, March 04, 2002

Spring is Coming

It's getting a lot warmer these days, and you can feel the spring is there. Plums are in full bloom, scent of Daphne odor (Jinchoge), and even cherry blossoms are starting to boom.
Spring is full of scent. Especially Daphne odor is in everywhere. Though the flowers are so small, you can't imagine how these tiny flowers smells so sweet and strong. Or since it's very small, they have strong scent to appeal to livings. This flower came from China, and it was called "can smell from far away". Even it's prohibited to use for the traditional tea ceremony in Japan due to this strong scent; it distract people from concentrating on tea.
I saw a flog out on the ground the other day, probably woke up from hibernation already. I should go out, carried away by the fine spring weather.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Ogata-san

Was it just me who was relieved to hear that Ms. Ogata declined the offer of Foreign Minister? I mean, it would be great if she took the position, but I honestly didn't want her to waste her time and energy with the politicians she'd have to deal with, by taking this position. She's too good for that. She is one of the very few Japanese I know of who is able to perform on a global stage. In 1991, she was elected as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and was re-elected to this position until 1999. She visited practically every country which had fallen into the abyss because of war, politics, and/or starvation. At age 74, she is still active, as was apparent at the Afghanistan Reconstruction session.
Undaunted and unabashed, Ogata-san is also very dependable. Of course her family background has something to do with this. Her father was the ambassador to Finland, her grandfather was Japan's Foreign Minister, her husband was a Vice President of the Bank of Japan. She herself went to Georgetown, and completed a Doctorate in Politics at UC Berkley.
Ogata-san has been an inspiration to generations of young Japanese. She has fought strenuously for the things she believes are right. Certainly, I believe that it's very important to have a vision and attitude of truth: unlike many Japanese politicians argue over very stupid matters....
Yes, it would be great for Ogata-san to take the Foreign Minister position, restructure the ministry bureaucrats, and develop the better a better diplomatic core. But personally, I want Ogata-san to keep working for the 22 million refugees worldwide who need her help more...

Monday, February 04, 2002

Marriage

I found a rather interesting article recently that more and more junior/high schools in the USA have started a new curricula called "marriage." Its purpose is to prevent immature marriage and divorce. Some of the subjects covered include: "solutions to husband-wife quarrels", "Life management", etc. The courses simulate a wedding and help students create a budget plan for their honeymoon.
I wonder if such courses will really be useful to reduce divorce rates. There are a lot of things you can learn from books and classrooms, but marriage is one of those things you can't really understand until you actually encounter the event. Also, given the fact that the USA is a cultural melting pot, I wonder if such courses doing impinge on the rights of other regions and religions?
For example, in Mongolia, wives are sometimes shared among brothers. While one goes to the mountains to look after the herd, the other looks after the wife. Maybe this custom started because the birthrate of women was way lower than men. Or...
Herodotus wrote that, in ancient Egypt, women went to work, and men stayed home to weave. Daughters, not the sons, were responsible for taking care of aged parents. The main reason for this turnabout was that women inherited family property at that time. Interestingly, about 670 years ago in Japan, women also inherited the family house and assets.

Monday, January 28, 2002

Jobs

The official Afghanistan Reconstruction session was held in Tokyo last week, and I saw many black limousines led by police cars, running red lights in the Shibakoen area. From time to time, I've also seen politicians answer interviewers questions on TV, and comment that their target of rebuilding the nation is become like Japan. I'm happy that they like Japan, but I wonder if they've really thought about Japan. Certainly I would be interested to know what their impression of Japan is, anyway.
I've heard that one of the biggest causes of crime and general craziness in Afghanistan is that people don't have jobs. Therefore they join terrorist groups just to live. They grow drugs because that's the almost only thing their depleted and destroyed land is any good for now. The amount of donations made has been reported often, but since none of us really knows whether this money actually gets there, instead, how about sending over mid-aged skilled Japanese technology and industry experts -- the selfsame people who are getting fired in their thousands here in Japan.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Smell

There is a "Scent of Spring" - a daffodil's aroma that I can smell now in the office. Yellow Plum ("roubai") is also the scent of early spring to me. They say that scent is directly connected to your memory, and it brings you flashbacks of past memories. The sense of smell is kind of unique out of the five senses. You can feel heat, for example, but it's hard to connect touch with the heat of a fire or to differentiate it with the heat of a sunny day. With smell, however, you can see flashbacks: grandmother's kimono - camphor, mother's perfume, old photo albums, flaming briquettes, the ocean, freshly mown lawns, etc.
In ancient Japan, there are 2 words used for smell. "Niohi" is more visual that contains the meanings that you can "smell" the color, elegance, and complexion if an aroma. "Kaoru" on the other hand is more physical, and describes the olfactory interaction for smells like perfume, incense, fragrance, odors, etc. Then the usage changed as the time past, and these days "Niohi" means general sense of smell, while "Kaoru" is used for good smells.
What's your "Kaori" for the season?