A school of fish?

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2003

This past summer's most stimulating stats, foods and females -- plus: rankings of Japan's scholarly halls.

FAR BE IT FROM me, comfortably the world's most poisonous fish, to start flapping my fins about food scares. But numbers from last year really do make you wonder about standards of safety in Japan. If you tuck into a blowfish, you take your life in your own hands, but soft drinks and hamburgers ought really to be enjoyed with confidence. Unfortunately, Japanese medical facilities reported a total of 1,849 mass outbreaks of food poisoning during 2002. The cases affected 27,414 people and were responsible for 18 fatalities. August was the most toxic month, with 294 outbreaks, followed by September, July and October. It makes for an odd sort of diet regime, but if you want to be sure of your security, try restricting your eating to the month of March -- the month with the lowest number of complaints.

ENOUGH OF ALL THAT misery. Let's have a look at what the Japanese news weeklies have spent their summer doing. Uncovering scandal? Breaking financial stories? Bringing down bent politicians? Er, not quite. In a splendid use of its journalistic talent, Shukan Gendai has worked out -- for the benefit of the whole nation -- which Japanese companies boast the most attractive female staff. JTB is up there at the top, closely followed by the toothsome ladies of Sony, Hankyu Department Store, Suntory, Dentsu and Sumitomo. In a glorious little burst of morality, the survey revealed that not all of the lovelies were restricted to white collar industries. The misses of Matsushita and the stunners of Shiseido also made it onto the list.

LEAVE IT TO THE financial weeklies to bring summer journalism back down to earth. In a much-needed act of public spiritedness, Toyo Keizai rated major companies and products in terms of their "loyalty dividend," a figure that is determined, rather contortedly, by factoring the overall market share against percentage of devoted customers (however you work that out). It all sounds a little bit like a list of the best-sellers in each category, but here are the results anyway: Bank -- Japan Post Office; Beer brand -- Asahi Super Dry; Passenger cars -- Toyota; Convenience stores -- Seven-Eleven; Supermarkets -- Ito Yokado; Gas stations -- Eneos; Cosmetics -- Shiseido; Cigarettes -- Mild Seven.

NIKKEI BUSINESS WAS EQUALLY serious in its approach to a sprawling investigative feature entitled, "Universities you can depend on." Based on a survey of 2,500 division managers at companies listed in the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, it came up with the nation's top 10 institutions of higher learning: Keio, Waseda, Kyoto, Tokyo, Tohoku, Jochi, Osaka, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Hitotsubashi and Ritsumeikan. Here are the winners of each category, and the reasons I will be sending my little minnows to that private university in the middle of Minato-ku: "raised academic level over past decade" -- Keio; "will raise level over next 10 years" -- Keio; "energetically undergoing reforms" -- Keio; "competitively engaged in research" -- Kyoto; "energetically engaged in nurturing responsible citizenship" -- Keio.

AH, BUT AERA NEVER lets you down when you need cheering up, does it? Unfortunately, yet another mag spent last summer getting all serious. Aera thought it would stun its readers with a survey looking at whether the recession is impacting on consumer spending. Surprise, surprise, it found that 73 percent said they have curtailed spending, as opposed to 27 percent of die-hard shoppers who have not. Only 12 percent said they feel no anxiety over possible money problems in the future. Odd, then that 30 percent of those questioned said they presently had zero household savings. Such a responsible attitude to the future is what made this country great.

I DON'T MIND ALL of that economic stuff, but food is where my real interests lie. Thank goodness, then for the brave journos of Toyo Keizai who have selflessly devoted themselves to a study of outlays per customer at the various food service groups that keep Japan munching. It makes for interesting reading. McDonald's, Yoshinoya and KFC are all up there in terms of overall sales, but none of them manage to get their customers really forking out. Hiramatsu and Aso were the only two companies who had individual outlays above JPY10,000, while the average spend for a customer at Denny's came in under JPY1,000. Yoshinoya was at the bottom with average outlay per customer of JPY378. At the bottom of the list was McDonalds, where all those JPY59 burgers and crazy promotional efforts rather hurt the old averages. @

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