Back to Contents of Issue: May 2001

Email is changing the Japanese workplace and making people nervous in many interesting ways.

blowfishFirebug, firebug, fly away home. Red trucks dashed off to attend to 58,526 reported fires during 1998, up by 4,012 from the previous year. Some of the fires, alas, were not accidental. In fact, cases of suspected arson again topped those of the year before, reaching a record high of 12,945 -- a year-on-year rise of 478 incidents. Cases of arson are said to predominate in major cities, where they account for as many as 40 percent of all calls to 119 (the emergency number). Deaths from fires in '99, by the way, reached 2,122, the second-highest figure in the postwar period.

Stressed out. As many as 77.5 percent of female white-collar workers questioned by Sumitomo Life Insurance say they feel physical fatigue as a result of stress, and even more, 81.4 percent, say their stress is mental. One or both are most likely to be brought on, in descending order, by friction in personal relationships with people on the job (say 67.5 percent); when work-related problems arise (52.9 percent); due to personal or romantic difficulties (47.5 percent); and because the job is just too darn busy (41.1 percent). In another survey of 145 businessmen, 46.1 percent say the best way to alleviate physical stress is to relax at home with the family. A smaller number, 13.2 percent, soak in the family tub or go to a hot spring. And still fewer, 11.8 percent, just crawl into the sack and pull the covers over their head. A surprisingly low 5.3 percent said they sought comfort in a bar. Boozing and carousing, it seems, is way overrated as a means of providing relief for the weary.

Shame on you, sensei. The former Ministry of Education, now known as MEXT -- the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology -- announced that 115 instructors at the nation's public primary, junior high, and high schools had been subject to disciplinary action during 1999 for committing obscene or lewd acts. The figure marked an increase of 38 over the previous year. Contributing to this rise was stricter enforcement of the rules against sexual harassment of female colleagues.

Muddy water. The Benten River in Kagawa Prefecture officially ranks as Japan's most polluted. The Ministry of the Environment (just upgraded from agency status) tested the quality of 3,458 bodies of H20 around the nation and said this one was the absolute pits in terms of BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), with 22 mg of contaminants per liter. Benten, incidentally, has led this list for 26 years running. You'd think somebody in Kagawa would have arranged to clean up its act by now.

Get smarter. Recruit polled 176 female office workers in their twenties about what they were doing to refine their knowledge, skills, and physique. Studying conversational English came out on top, with 11.2 percent. Others included working out at a sports club (10.3 percent); learning cooking (6.5 percent); performing the tea ceremony (also 6.5 percent); taking personal computer lessons (5.6 percent); and dancing (5.6 percent).

Take and give. Honobono Reiku asked 500 office ladies (OLs) about which expenditures they cut back on to economize. Eating out was named by 67.1 percent; buying clothes by 58.9 percent; and yakking on the phone by 25.6 percent. But get this: in another survey of 280 OLs by Sumitomo Life Insurance, the respondents said the measures they take to alleviate stress included talking to friends, eating "delicious" foods, and shopping. Sounds to me like there's a conflict of interest here.

Email blues. The Sanno Institute of Management polled 495 new company freshmen about their concerns over email. The greatest worry, voiced by 27.1 percent, was that the data might be intercepted and read by others. This was followed by concerns that the recipient would not understand the message, 26.3 percent; that they would be spammed or receive a virus, 25.2 percent; and that remarks likely to be disregarded in ordinary speech would cause an unpleasant response if sent via email, 9 percent. Meanwhile, 52.7 percent of the staff of Mitsubishi Electrical Engineering questioned about email said they felt it had changed the workplace. How? Shortened meetings (so said 30.2 percent), reduced personal chitchat (19.3 percent), and fewer memos and documents in circulation (9.3 percent). Only 7 percent said that it reduced the time they spent talking on the phone.

The cheap old days. The Sunday Mainichi weekly magazine took a nostalgic look at what Japanese paid for various commodities in years gone by. Movie theater admission, for example: Taking in a flick cost just ¥100 in 1954. By 1975 it had risen to ¥1,000. Now the going rate is about twice that. Other victims of inflation: In 1976, a mug of beer went for ¥300 (now it averages ¥600). The charge for summoning a geisha was ¥200 in 1947, as opposed to around ¥3,900 today. A packet of Peace cigarettes went for ¥50 in 1968 (it costs ¥130 now). Driving your car on Tokyo's Shuto Expressway, which rose to ¥700 in 1994, only cost ¥50 when it first opened in 1962. But at least gasoline is cheaper. Thanks to the yen's increased value, a liter of petrol that went for ¥172 in 1982 only cost about ¥100 in 1998. And in case you ever wondered how much money one of those sumo guys wins when he takes the packet off the referee's fan, count the number of flags that go around the ring before the bout and multiply by ¥55,000. That's a big boost from the ¥10,000 they got when the kensho award system began in 1955.

I'm just a lonesome Galbo, cryin' for my sugar fix. Quick: What do the following have in common? Horn. Galbo. Mt. Creamy. Nutzzeria. Languly. American Soft. Fees. Country Ma'am. Angel Sweet Asse. Answer: They are all names of Japanese cookies and confections. These are admittedly a bit boring compared to some products that enjoyed a short life before exiting the market --such as single-portion ground coffee servings called "Flavor My Drip" and a long-defunct series of individual-portion microwaveable dishes that went by the moniker -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- "Dish of Quickie."

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