Back to Contents of Issue: March 2003

Now I lay me down to sleeper. Overnight sleeper trains, called shindaisha in Japanese, are still alive and running, Yomiuri Weekly magazine reports. Operated by the JR Group companies, they include the Hayabusa between Tokyo and Kumamoto, the Asakaze (Tokyo-Shimonoseki), the Nihonkai (Osaka-Hakodate) and the Ginga (Tokyo-Osaka). The bad news? Demand on these trains has declined sharply. In 1987, for example, the Fuji, running between Tokyo and Oita, averaged 490 passengers per train. In 2001, the figure was down to 210. For the Sakura between Tokyo and Nagasaki, the fall was even sharper: from 500 in 1987 to only 140 in 2001. Blame faster daytime trains and the domestic airlines for the fall. How to keep them alive? Some point out that since shinkansen trains don't run between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. or so, the trains could run part of the way, pull off and let the passengers sleep, and then complete the trip in the morning. "If enough passengers want it, we suppose it could be done," says a spokesman for the railways. That's what I call service with a yawn.

The giant awakens. An extra edition of the Economist magazine gave some details of China's share of worldwide production in a variety of product areas. Japan's share, when given, is shown afterwards in parentheses. DVDs, 50.8 percent; mobile telephones, 18.5 percent; notebook PCs, 7.0; desktop PCs, 28.6; hard disk drives, 11.6; color TV sets, 24.4; VCRs, 25.4 (5.0); digital cameras, 3.9 (75); washing machines, 25.4 (9.0); refrigerators, 25.5 (8.4); microwave ovens, 32.7 (5.0); air conditioners, 37.5; passenger cars, 1.8 (20.5); motorcycles, 49.5.

Looking for work. What special qualifications did out-of-work people seeking jobs at "Hello Work," an unemployment outlet, list most frequently? The results of an Internet survey taken in September and October reveal the following: Ordinary driver's license (3,478), nurse or medical assistant (542), provisional nurse/medical assistant (342), pharmacist (285), care manager (125), architect (120), electrician (119), chauffeur's license (117), beautician (101) and home care provider (90).

Picking up spares. The Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications asked males and females age 10 and above what sport they performed during the previous year. The most popular reply (multiple replies were accepted) was bowling -- 23.1 percent said they bowled a few frames. This was followed by swimming (19.8%), fishing (14.2), jogging/marathon running (11.8), golf (11.1), skiing/snowboarding (10.6), table tennis (7.6), badminton (7.5), volleyball (6.4) and tennis (6.2). While 72.2 percent said they had engaged in some sport, the figure showed a 3.8 percent decline from a similar survey taken five years previously. The decline was most precipitous in the under-30 bracket, indicating that young people are increasingly likely to be out of shape.

Make mine miso. In Japan, the basic form of miso (soybean paste) is believed to have been developed in the 8th century, although mass production did not become systematized until the 17th century. Aside from the varieties of miso brands, people add comestibles called gu (pronounced "goo") to make their soup more palatable. Last September, the Miso Kenkozukuri Iinkai (Miso Health Promotion Committee) polled males and females in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka about what sort of gu they like floating in their miso soup (multiple replies were accepted). The top 10 were: tofu (80.8%), wakame (seaweed, 75.5), abura-age (deep-fried tofu, 59.9), nameko (mushrooms, 59.9), daikon (giant radish, 56.9), shijimi (shellfish, 49.3), leeks (49.1), asari (short-necked clams, 45.5), onions (45.2) and potatoes (41.9).

Potpourri. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the value of residential land in Tokyo averaged JPY 307,200 per square meter -- more than 10 times that of Hokkaido. The most precipitous year-on-year declines in the value of residential land were in Chiba, dropping 10.4 percent; Osaka, down 8.5 percent; Hyogo (-8.4%); Shiga (-6.7); Nara (-6.76); Yamanashi (-6.1); Kyoto (-6.0); Saitama (-5.8); Kanagawa (-5.6); and Shizuoka (-5.6).
* Honda Motor, which began sales of its 50cc Super Cub in August 1958, announced last December that it had sold 35 million units, making it the most successful motorcycle ever produced. A full 95 percent of the 2.27 million Super Cubs produced in 2001 were assembled abroad, in 12 countries.
* During 2001, fire-related deaths reached the second-highest level ever, with 63,591 blazes reported, up 1.8 percent over the previous year. The total number of fire deaths rose by 7.9 percent to 2,195. (This includes 805 people who used fire when committing suicide.) The 8,120 cases of arson reported in 2001 marked an increase of 3.9 percent over the previous year and remained the No. 1 cause of fires for the fifth straight year. The No. 2 cause? Cigarettes, which claimed credit for 6,769 blazes.

Fare play. A growing number of taxi firms around Japan now award mileage points to passengers based on distance traveled. Customers of Asahi Taxi of Yokohama who achieve a certain number of points within one month earn a JPY 1,000 rebate, awarded in the form of coupons usable toward future fares. If the figure is reached within three months, the rebate is JPY 660. If it's reached between three months and two years, a customer can still obtain a coupon worth JPY 500. The idea seems to be catching on, as business is reported to be up. Hey, how about a free upgrade to a Mercedes-Benz?

Dial M for O-Mawarisan. The National Police Agency reported that between January and November 2002, a record high 8,121,127 emergency calls were made, an average of 24,315 per day. Of these, 4,220,728 (about 52 percent) were made from cellphones -- up 7.1 percent from the same period in 2001. Of the total, 30.2 percent were traffic-related. @

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