Blowfish: A Diet of Statistics

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2003

Blowfish Blows Up

THEY SAY YOU CAN'T drown a fish, but with the 2002/3 financial year now well and truly over, this Fugu has been up to his gills in a flood of statistics. The credit for this lovely little deluge goes to those industrious suits in Kasumigaseki, and it's a shame they haven't devoted more of their precious bureaucratic time to fixing Japan's most pressing problems. Most of this year's figures make for some pretty gloomy reading. It takes a lot, for example, to put a positive spin on escalating job losses, and the good old Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) has clearly decided that it isn't worth the effort: It hasn't even bothered with its usual window-dressing efforts.

The official numbers are in and the construction industry has come out as the worst of the worst, having shed nearly a half million jobs. Retail and electronics weren't far behind with respective losses of 450,000 and 400,000 jobs. Steel, autos and railways were also bad. But it was on the services front that things are looking especially grim. The banking industry was, unsurprisingly, the biggest horror story as it laid off nearly 60,000 staff throughout Japan. Insurance ran a close second.

In a splendid example of
deflationary trends, the cost
of incorporation has been
slashed from JPY10 million to
the bargain price of just JPY1

The quick-witted among you will have spotted that these industries are firing people more rapidly than unemployment is rising. Where are these factory workers and bankers heading after the pink-slip lands? Ever noticed how you never have to wait for a cab any more?

That'll be the 8 percent nationwide surge in taxi drivers.And it isn't just Blowfish who thinks that Koizumi and his cohorts could be doing just a little bit more to help Japan out of the mire.

The boys in the research arm of Japan's Federation of Labor Unions carried out a cheeky survey to find out exactly which bit of government foot-dragging has been getting salarymen hot under their white collars. The overwhelming majority of the 900 desk-jockeys surveyed cited the failure to deal with unemployment. The salarymen were allowed to mention more than one gripe, and here's how it broke down: 83 percent wanted more efforts to secure jobs, 79 percent fumed over fiscal reform, 74 percent balked over bad-loan disposal, 61 percent were dying for health service reform and 60 percent were simply apoplectic that more had not been done on reform to the postal service.

But Blowfish does wonder about the whopping 82 percent who complained that the government is not doing enough about the falling birth rate. Come on, now: Those politicians can't be expected to do everything.

And if you were wondering what those 900 salarymen were doing when they could have been at home helping solve the birth-rate problem, they were probably browsing the shelves of a health food store. According to a recent (and entirely altruistic) survey by the brewery Takara, Japanese adults are increasingly finicky and health-conscious over what they eat. Asked what food they consider most healthy, 92.1 percent went for sesame, followed by an 89.8 percent vote for small fish. Plum, kombu and garlic were also popular answers. On the real hard-core health food front, garcinia and collagen were the best-sellers last year. Unfortunately for Takara, chu-hi did not make it onto the list.

Back on the prickly issue of employment, Blowfish will happily admit to being impressed by the initiative shown by Shizuoka. Tokyoites may put them down as country bumpkins, but folks in the seaside prefecture have come up with a cunning plan to persuade people to set up companies there. In a splendid example of deflationary trends, the cost of incorporation has been slashed from JPY10 million to the bargain price of just JPY1. As with every great offer, this one also has a catch. In the unlikely event that your one yen company is still going in five years' time, the Shizuoka government will expect you to come through with the JPY10 million. @

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