Monday, December 06, 2004

Shopping For the Economy

As you might have noticed, Tokyo is decorated with Christmas baubles already and you feel the pressure from retailers to invite you in and buy presents for Christmas. I'm almost starting to feel oppressed by all the illuminations and Christmas songs -- it's so commercial. Still, I guess that after a decade of low consumer spending, this is the one season where retailers actually have a chance of making some decent money.
According to Ministry of Administration, the retail sales have dropped every month for the last 3 months, about 1.4% less than last year for October -- indicating that the "great Japanese recovery" is not so great. The total sales were about JPY10,472,000,000,000 -- which is quite a large number! Oh, that's about $100 billion for those of you still used to thinking in dollars.
Well, despite my misgivings, maybe I can contribute just a tiny bit to the economy -- and buy myself a gift for Christmas! That Apple iPod Mini looks kind of cool.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Certified

The Ojika City Tourist Association has created an entertainment program run by "Namahage Evangelists." Ojika City is in Akita Pref. and is home to a unique event called "Hamahage" -- a traveling show of actors reenacting plays of demons and folk tales. The show moves from house to house in the city, exposing kids to the rich cultural heritage of Ojika peninsula -- and sometimes scaring kids in the process!
To become a certified evangelist, you need to pass on exam -- the first of its kind in Japan. Hopeful actors sit the exam on Nov 27 each year. Questions include knowledge about the history of Namahage, facts about the performance, and origins of the masks. Prior to sitting the exam, applicants must join a tour of the Namahage museum and attend 3 and half hours of lectures.
In certification crazy Japan, a program like this is probably a good idea and a possible blueprint for other villages and cities around Japan which are suffering from migration to the cities.
If you're interested in graduating as a Namahage evangelist, the application fee is JPY3,000 and lecture JPY3,000. Reservations can be made by calling 0185-24-4700!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Haircut

As most of you might have seen on the way to visit clients or coming to work, there are many beauty parlors around this area. Obviously they're making enough money to stay here, which means thousands of people go to have their hair fashioned, constantly.
For those fashion conscious people, especially busy women, there's a very convenient beauty parlor that has just opened in Shibuya. It opens from noon to 8:00 A.M. the following morning. It's called FREEVE and is located in Dogenzaka.
So, if you suddenly decide to change your hairstyle around midnight, or didn't have time to stop somewhere else before closing time, you can try this place regardless of the hour!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Tokyo's neon lights never turn off and it's difficult to experience pitch darkness these days. Can you even remember what it is like being in perfect darkness?
"Dialog in the Dark 2004 Tokyo" - is an exhibition running until Sep 4 in Aoyama, Tokyo. It's a very unique workshop that lets you experience pitch darkness and recover your balance of the five senses.
Human beings depend on their visual sense to receive 80% of their external sensory information. If you lose your eyesight, what is it like? Surely you must have had a taste of the fear and anxiety when surrounded by complete darkness. After a period of time, though, you overcome (apparently) the anxiety and you instinctively try using your hands to touch and feel your environment. You will also smell things around you and feel the air flows. Basically your non-sight senses sharpen, and you start to feel something you would never be able to feel while sighted.
At this exhibition, your eyes are covered and you are lead by visually impaired people in a small group of 10 for an hour. You get to listen to water flows, enjoy a drink at a bar counter, etc. Since this remarkable exhibition started in Germany in 1989, it has been held in over 14 nations and over 100 cities, and has had more than 2 million attendees.
If you're interested in attending, you can purchase tickets from this website.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Keeping Cool

It's been hot here in Tokyo with average of 35C (approx 95F) degrees, and until this last week, it didn't fall below than 30C (approx 86F) degrees at night for days on end. Every day, the news announcements say that quite a number of people were taken to hospitals suffering from heat stroke. It really makes me wonder if this is just global warming or something else.
When you go outside, you might notice most building air conditioning facilities blow hot air straight out on to the street. In addition, the road re-radiates solar energy, automobiles emit auto exhaust, and in Tokyo at least, there is little green nor dirt to lessen the impact of such heat.
Well, here's something you can do to cool down the city. Sprinkle water! There's an event you can join without going out or costing you money: "Uchimizu Daisakusen (Water Sprinkling Operation)" is scheduled from Aug 18 - 25. The concept is simple - sprinkle water around your house, work place, town, etc., at noon during this period.
The first city-wide experiment was conducted last year, and researchers found that if 1m people were to sprinkle water at the same time, Tokyo's temperature would drop an estimated 2C degrees. Uchimizu isn't anything new, but rather a tradition that people left behind when they modernized. You might still see some elder people sprinkle waters mornings and early evenings in your old neighborhood.
Uchimizu is simple. Just use a bucket, or a bottle, or any kind
of water container, and sprinkle the water on the ground,
street, or even the walls of your house/apartment. Using tap
water is not recommended, since it is a waste of a natural
resource. However, using non-potable water, such as the cooling
water from your air conditioners, bath tub, rain water, etc.,
does just fine.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Natto

July 10 is the day of Natto (fermented soybeans), one of the most unliked foods by foreigners. The date is simply a translation of the word into the Japanese number/counting system. That is: July is seven -> "na"; 10th is ten -> "to". I'm sure most of you who are non-Japanese have at some time been challenged to eat this very sticky and slightly smelly food by a Japanese friend. Well, it may surprise you to know that many Japanese, including myself, don't like Natto, either. Although, Terrie tells me that his 3 daughters living in New Zealand, love it and eat as much as they can when they holiday here in Japan???!
Have you ever had a situation where a food you've always despised suddenly doesn't taste so bad? Maybe it's just a function of maturing taste buds, but I wish that the day would come, because Natto is really quite good for you.
Indeed, these days you don't have to eat Natto to get the health benefits. Did you know that there are Natto soaps, Natto essences, Natto lotions, Natto bath salts, etc. Also, you can try unique versions of Natto these days -- such as: black bean Natto, scent-free Natto, etc. Hmmm, scent-free...
what they really need is stickiness-free, then maybe I'd like it!

Friday, June 11, 2004

So Young

Japanese television viewers were greeted with shocking news a few weeks ago when an 11-year old girl in the 6th grade killed a 12-year old classmate during the lunch break at their elementally school, using a paper cutter. The murder motive is still under investigation, but its looks like a simple case of taunting and revenge. The highlight of the case apart from the youth of the suspect is that the taunting was apparently conducted on the Internet. The suspected killer repeatedly asked the victim to stop making postings about her, but in vain.
Is this a enough reason to kill someone, especially at this age? Clearly for the suspect, it was. The Japanese media are now doing a lot of soul-searching, trying to decide whether the ability of being able to use the Internet has removed the elements of restraint and decorum from interpersonal relationships -- to the general determent of society...
All I know is that two lives were ruined in just the 6 grade.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Spirit of Travel

May 16 is Tourism Day, in honor of the famous Edo era's haiku poet, Basho. He started his trip, "Okuno Hosomichi" (A Haiku Journey: Narrow Road to a Far Province) in 1689 this day. His opening haiku of this trip is:
「月日は百代の過客にして、行きかふ年もまた旅人なり」
(The passing days and months are eternal travelers in time. The years that come and go are travelers too.)
He walked a total of 2,500km from Edo to Ogaki for 5 months, and made quite a number of famous haiku, most of which the Japanese know well.
As you've probably experienced, travel forces you into unusual situations and conditions and can literally be a trip to the extraordinary. Something primitive in you comes to the surface. Basho kept making haiku as they came to him, and following his instincts his talent was freed. Surprisingly, most of those sites that he visited and made haiku at still and have been preserved as they were. Needless to say, many people visit sites and follow his trail.
At one point, Basho quotes a monk, Kobo Daishi,
「古人の跡を求めず、古人の求めたる所を求めよ」
(Not seeking ancients' trace, seek where ancients' sought).
In this quote he discovered the truth that it is important to follow the spirit of the inherited wisdom of ancient times, not to just imitate it. As we promote tourism in Japan, I hope more people will come visit Japan to discover the spirit that this haiku saint found on his trek.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Business Morals

Bird flu is hitting Asia and damaging the major sector in the food industry, which had been on the verge of recovery after an earlier mad cow disease scare. One of the top players in the industry, Asada Nosan, which owns 6 chicken farms in Hyogo and Okayama, is at the center of a chicken flu scandal. Their chickens were suffering from the chicken flu and tens of thousands of birds had died from it. Asada Nosan didn't report the mysterious deaths for a few days, although chicken flu was already in the media everywhere. They insist they were planning to make a report, but the investigation came before they had a chance. Where the scandal comes in is that not only were they negligent in not reporting to the health authorities, but further they tried to sell most of their remaining live chickens and eggs as quickly as possible. It was found out, during the investigation, that some of the chicken and eggs made it to wholesalers and thus to the consumer markets.
Asada Nosan is guilty of a moral breach. Is this where Japanese business in general is headed? I assume they're afraid of causing a huge damage to their own business, but as a result, they ended up shutting down the firms and close the business. In addition, Kyoto Police is even thinking about pursuing the case in court. They're damaged not just business wise but socially. Hin sureba donsuru ("Poverty dulls the wit"). They sought easy money, without any hint of conscience. Consequently, the price they have to pay for this can be beyond their imagination.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Comedy Business

I hear the news says the job fair for the graduating students out number quite often due to the limited number of the job openings which is still the trend of most of the companies these days.
Yoshimoto Kogyo, the biggest entertainment company manages Japanese comedians located in Osaka will start charging those students for their company information session from next year. They usually have more than 1,000 attendees, but most of these are just banter. They hire less than 10. They're planning to cover the cost to open the session by charging the students.
At the same time, they'll have their own comedians to have their show during the session. That way, some of these attendees will like those comedians and become fan.
Well, this is the Osaka marchant's spirit, I thought. This plan is a good PR to them, they'll get money by the session, and also, it's purely a comedy show. Don't underestimate the power of Kansai....

Monday, January 26, 2004

Diet

Welcome back! After all the festivities, I guess it's now time for a diet!
These days' the trend in diets is definitely towards low-carbohydrate, high-protein menus, such as the Atkins or South Beach diets. These certainly work for some people -- like Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States.
As I recall, there has always been some trendy, effective diet that is taking the media by storm. They have been many and varied, including non-sugar, low-fat, decaf, etc. Now, even the fast food industry is looking into the lucrative diet market.
For example, KFC has announced that their fried chicken fits in perfectly with the low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet -- although as they admit on the side of each ad, "This is not a low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol food." What???!
Probably a better example is Subway, which once featured in its ads proof that the menu is "diet fast food" by showing the case of Jared Fogle, a guy who ate a Subway turkey sandwich everyday and lost 245 pounds (about 110kg) in the process. Now Subway is going to start selling Atkins Diet-friendly wraps. They're made from special wheat and soy grains that are high in fiber and protein, but carry only one-third the carbohydrates.
I personally believe the diet is a matter of balancing food, exercise and life style, and those who want to lose wait should in fact avoid fast food altogether. Anyway, if you're on a diet, here are some examples of your breakfast at McDonalds':
1) a reduced-fat breakfast with less than 8 grams of fat -- such as an Egg McMuffin minus the cheese and butter.
2) For the low-carb dieter, a breakfast with less than 5 grams of carbohydrates would be a platter of double meat or eggs without the English muffin, biscuit or hash browns.
3) For those only counting calories, a breakfast of 300 calories or less would be an Egg McMuffin, a snack-size Fruit'n Yogurt Parfait or scrambled eggs with a plain English muffin.