Monday, March 31, 2003

Thunderbirds Are Go!

Have you heard about the TV show "ThunderBirds"? It was a puppet show that went on the air in the UK in 1965. NHK will broadcast the original series (which was broadcast in 1966 in Japan) over digital as part of its 50th anniversary of TV broadcasting. The show will be aired from April 13.
The story is about the Tracy family, a father with 5 sons, which protects people from disasters and accidents in 2065. Jeff Tracy, the father is well to do, and was able to organize the INTERNATIONAL RESCUE (IR) team -- using technology beyond the capability of nations and regular rescue groups. Their hi-tech arsenal includes a rocket, aircraft freight lifter, space station, a fancy pink Rolls Royce, etc.
What a shame we can't call on the IR (no, not investor relations) team to help out in the Middle East. We need someone who can solve the life-threatening problems there that full nations can't do on their own. I wonder if the screen writers ever imagined that the world would have more complicated problems than even IR could help with -- especially, a rescue team that wasn't influenced by politics or leader's egos...

Monday, March 17, 2003

Internationalization

On March 14 in 1873, the Japanese government authorized international marriage in Japan, providing permission was first sought from the government. Japan been closed for about 200 years prior to that date, except for ports such as Nagasaki, and international marriage was illegal. If you wanted to marry a foreigner, you had to go overseas.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, in the year 2000 (the latest date for such statistics) one out of 22 couples who submitted a marriage application had at least one foreign spouse. There were 36,263 international marriages, an increase of 13.6% over the previous year. You might think this trend was only evident in Tokyo, but in fact, in Yamagata and Yamanashi Prefectures, international marriages occurred in one out of every 14 couples -- about 7% of all marriages registered. And in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, and Oita, international marriages increased 30% to 40% over the previous year.
Nowadays, almost everyone I know has at least one foreigner within the family -- so it's not so surprising any more. I am willing to bet that the number of international marriages will continue to rise and in 50 year's time, Japan will look very different to how it does now.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Hotel Boom

As you may heard, the large Dutch-themed Nagasaki resort, Huis Ten Bosch applied for court protection from bankruptcy (Chapter 11) this week, with debts of JPY228.9bn. Sasebo, where Huis Ten Bosch is located, has both a seaport and airport where it had hoped to receive large numbers of visitors, especially from China/Taiwan/Hong Kong. Now that the resort is bankrupt, the big question is whether to use public funds to support it -- given all the tourist dollars that will be lost otherwise.
Ironically, there is now a hotel-building "bubble" going on in Tokyo, and many hotels will open around 2006. To counter those newcomers, existing Japanese hotels has been re-investing to improve their facilities, with investment increases of 49%, JPY73bn, over last year. The amounts are significant: Tokyu Hotel chain JPY2.4bn, ANA Hotel Tokyo JPY1.7bn, Kobe Port Pia JPY1.2bn...
Small onsen (hot springs) in remote parts of Japan have also become popular again, and now for some places reservations stretch as far as two years from now. It seems that with all the chaos going on around us, lots of people are looking for some peace and quiet, without TVs, clocks, and even telephones. Some of these places aren't cheap, either.
Just looking at these trends, I have to wonder if it's an imbalance or just a case of diversification by the public. I had the impression that hotels would lose money in a recession. For example, that people would tend to have weddings somewhere cheaper than the city hotels -- so now these hotels would have to be seeing their profit margins get battered as most of those staying there are eating buffet style, rather than banquets.
Me? Well, I'd rather sit back and relax in quiet onsen now....