Back to Contents of Issue: March 2001

A clever way to make sure elderly relatives are OK: a hot-water pot that pings you online whenever it's used. How sweet -- and how Japanese.

blowfish Hack, hack, hack ... How do Tokyo taxis rate against four other major countries in terms of their meter rates? In terms of price, they are about double that of the United States and Germany, and three times higher than France. So says the Ministry of Transport. Japan was also comparatively more expensive for intercity train and bus fares as well. A comparison of domestic air showed Japan was somewhat cheaper. The MOT threw up its hands when trying to get a handle on international air fares, however, due to widespread discounting in the industry.

Don't blame Bossy. Among the short-term product winners for 2000 was soya milk, sales of which, after mass food poisoning cases revealed poor sanitation at dairy manufacturer Snow Brand's processing facilities, soared. During the July-September quarter, production leapt 72.5 percent to 11,087 tons. Although popular among health food adherents, many Japanese are said to dislike soya milk for its odor, and its sales are only about a hundredth the volume of milk products. But it was a nice windfall for manufacturers such as Kibun Co., and for workers at the plants, who received extra bonuses for putting in long hours during the "boom," which may prove transitory.

Dome, Dome on the Net. The hotel in Japan that has been most successful in taking room reservations via the Internet is the Tokyo Dome Hotel in the city's Bunkyo ward. According to Diamond magazine, it has been receiving an average of 2,000 cyber reservations a month, almost twice the rate of the second-place Sheraton Grand Tokyo Bay Hotel. The same issue's ratings of Japan's best hotels gave the nod to Tokyo's Imperial Hotel -- top winner for three years in a row -- with 823 points overall. The other top-rated accommodations, in descending order, were the Four Seasons Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo (817 points); Park Hyatt Tokyo (783); The Ritz-Carlton Osaka (741); Hotel Okura (653); and Westin Hotel Tokyo (596 points). The 1,006-room Tokyo Dome Hotel was rated 10th overall. If you are curious to see its English Web site, go to

Calling Ma & Pa Kettle ... Manufacturers are constantly coming up with products designed to make life easier for Japan's aging population, but this writer feels moved to raise his fin in saluting Zojirushi. The specialty maker of electric thermos bottles launched this spring the "i-Pot," a thermos that transmits data to family members living apart from an aged parent. Each time a senior turns on the device or pours water for tea, a transmitter built into the base of the thermos sends an email to a specific address via its cleverly named "Monitor Hotline." The system requires no installation and is said to afford more privacy than closed circuit cameras or infrared sensors. Subscribers are charged ¥15,000 for an initial contract fee, plus monthly user charges of ¥3,000.

Tax evaders are at an all-time high. Those sharp-eyed auditors at the National Tax Agency announced they had discovered over ¥1.4 trillion in shortfalls. Broken down by business sector, the greatest tax chislers were loansharks and other moneylending firms, who on average underreported ¥38,840,000. This was followed by sex industry businesses and hospitals, with ¥26,010,000 and ¥17,860,000 respectively. Other cheaters in descending order were temp staff firms, funeral businesses, meat retailers, fish farmers, meat wholesalers, fish wholesalers, and love hotels.

Driven to bankruptcy. Some Tokyo parking meters calculate charges at the rate of ¥100 for each 20 minutes, which may seem quite reasonable. Unless, that is, you inadvertently leave your car in the lot for three months. When one hapless fellow left his BMW in such a lot in Azabu, the meter finally halted with its readout stuck at ¥592,000, and if he doesn't claim the car soon, he will have to sell it to pay the charges.

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head. J-Phone's weather forecast service, "Now Cast Weather," claims to be accurate to within two square kilometers of the requested area, anywhere in Japan. It will even tell you how much precipitation your potted plants have received over a three-hour period. The area can be specified by entering the immediate address, the name of the nearest JR rail station, the local postal ZIP code number or even latitude and longitude. For the service, add an additional ¥200 a month to your normal bill.

Cool card. Picture this: digital business cards bearing your employees' photographs. Sony affiliate PoP-Sync announced a corporate service that will design, store, and update the information on employees' meishi, and perform other electronic tasks. The charges will range from ¥300,000 and up. This clever idea is expected to merge the concept of cards so that they can be used both in e-business and in conventional business situations. By 2002, the company expects to have 10 million people on board.

Watch list. The prognosticators at Nikkei Trendy magazine listed the items forecast to achieve stardom this year, and Tokyo Disney Sea took first place. It opens next autumn, and with 33 million bored people living within a 100-km radius, it can't go wrong. A second Yank theme park, Universal Studios Japan, finished third. That one, situated on Osaka Bay, expects to open by mid-April. Second on the list were stylish and compact digital cameras by various manufacturers, including Sony and Canon. Fourth was the new laptop PCs from Fujitsu, NEC, Hitachi, and others that are powered by Crusoe, a low-power consumption CPU chip that promises significantly extended battery life. And fifth was "hybrid" cars such as Toyota's Prius, powered by gasoline engines and electric motors. Another item to watch for: ADSL. Apparently the modems are selling as fast as the manufacturers can turn them out.

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