Back to Contents of Issue: January 2001

If Tokyo were to secede and mint its own money, goes one theory, its currency would enjoy an exchange rate some 20 percent stronger than the yen.

blowfish Oh, say can you CD. As anyone who has visited a Virgin Megastore can attest, finding a particular compact disc or DVD from among the hundreds of thousands on the racks can be time-consuming and frustrating. So an affiliate of Tokyu Sharyo, a firm that manufacturers railway cars, recently announced a clever system for speedy in-store location of such merchandise. First, a tag incorporating an LED is affixed to each CD when it is put out for sale. When the name of a title is input into a computer, the LED is activated, in effect guiding the customer straight to his selection. The system also maintains inventory records in real time, so it will assist retailers. Its manufacturer sees potential in many other areas. The core system goes for ¥3 million, and sales in the first year alone are projected to reach ¥150 million.

Mad money. One of the late Prime Minister Obuchi's pet projects, the new ¥2,000 bill was touted as the first example of Japan's paper currency that could be considered a "work of art." Some went so far as to voice the hope that it would even function to convey Japanese culture. Some businesses tried to, er, cash in on its appearance by offering special deals to customers who paid with such bills, but their efforts bounced. Although the printing bureau was supposed to have flooded the market with over 1 billion notes, as of the end of September 2000, only 120 million notes had been issued. Their usage at theater tills and horse track betting windows has remained virtually nonexistent. What's the trouble? Well, the only place to obtain such bills up to now has been bank counters, as the vast majority of bank ATMs neither dispense, nor accept, the new bills. Perhaps wishfully thinking the ¥2,000 bills would just go away quietly, many banks haven't even bothered to modify their ATMs.

Dos and don'ts: The 0123 moving and storage company asked 223 adults over age 50 what sort of skills they were capable of doing. Only 87 percent said they could sew on a button, and that was first place. This was followed by dig a hole with a shovel (86 percent); light a charcoal fire (79 percent); shred a daikon (giant radish) (77 percent); and wash clothes using a washboard (71 percent). The six activities in which they had the least confidence included speak a foreign language to some degree (21 percent); play a TV game (21 percent); pluck a chicken (16 percent); shoot a firearm (12 percent); kill a chicken (11 percent); and, lowest of all, at 9 percent, access the Internet. Incidentally, the things they thought were most worthy of teaching to the younger generation were how to start up a shichirin (small clay charcoal stove); use of carpentry tools; nothing in particular; and use a steamer (for cooking) and washboard.

Attack of the killer hamsters. Researchers at Tokyo Agricultural University noticed that consumption of sugar assists the body in absorption of calcium. At least for guinea pigs in the lab. A comparison of calcium absorbed in the small intestine among two groups of test subjects showed the ones given a sugar supplement absorbed the calcium at a rate roughly tenfold those not given the sugar. Researchers concluded that when milk and other calcium sources are consumed, bacteria in the gut converts it to lactic acid, which breaks down the calcium into a form more easily absorbed. Sugar aids in the process. The laboratory is now frantically hunting for 28 saber-toothed test rodents, which apparently escaped by gnawing their way through brick walls. (Just kidding on the last part.)

Crash course. According to the Ministry of Education, 99.3 percent of Japan's public primary, middle, and high schools, plus special training facilities for the handicapped and other public educational facilities, are equipped with computers. The average number of PCs per facility came to 28.4, up by 3.5 from the previous year. While 66.1 percent of teachers are able to operate word processing and spreadsheet software, only 31.8 are considered as qualified to instruct students in computer usage. The government is said to be desperately trying to push this figure past the 50 percent mark by year's end.

Like a Virgin. Travel mag A-B Road asked 4,723 readers how they rated the in-flight meals served on 61 airlines flying to Japan. The highest praise for its in-flight gustatory delights went to Virgin Atlantic: 77.5 percent of subjects rated its meals as either "very good" or "good." The others in the top 10 (in descending order with percentages in parentheses) were: Singapore Airlines (76.2); Air New Zealand (74.0); Swissair (73.6); Scandinavian Airlines (68.7); Austrian Airlines (64.2); Air France (64.2); KLM (58.7); Cathay Pacific (57.4); and Lufthansa (56.4). Singapore's in-flight service was named tops, with a 75.3 percent approval rating (compared to Virgin's seventh place), but Virgin and Singapore pretty much ran neck and neck in terms of their in-flight facilities and entertainment, as well customers' desire to use the carrier for future journeys.

Farfetched scenario: Came across a rather amusing piece in Nikkei Business magazine that hypothesized what would happen should Tokyo's irrepressible governor, Shintaro Ishihara, do the unthinkable and order the capitol to secede from the rest of Japan. A chap at Sanwa Bank even went so far as to draw up an economic scenario. In terms of purchasing power, Tokyo citizens would boast an index of 112.5 as opposed to 100 for the rest of Japan. Tokyo would also suffer from a very slightly higher rate of inflation (a bare 0.28 percent) than the country as a whole. But the Big Mikan would have tax revenues of ¥12.72 trillion, and outstanding bonds of ¥67.68 trillion. The big difference would be in terms of ratio of overall debt to GDP: compared with 124.7 percent for the rest of Japan, Tokyo would be a considerably more comfortable (although still deeply in the red) 79.1 percent. And get this -- if Tokyo were to mint its own currency, its economic heft would give this new Asian city-state an exchange rate some 20 percent stronger than the Japanese yen, putting it, as of last September's rate, at about 82.70 to the US dollar.

Hard come, easy go. In its survey of 481 homemakers in the greater Tokyo area, textile manufacturer Kuraray asked for a breakdown on monthly household outlays on sources of information, expanded to include communications. Cell phone charges led the list, with average outlays coming to ¥7,982 per month. This was followed by ordinary telephone, ¥7,101; newspapers, ¥4,392; payment to NHK, cable or satellite TV, ¥3,769. Average monthly outlays for books were just ¥3,459. And payments to the Internet service provider? Sez here it was ¥2,986. Don't break out your calculator; Kuraray totalled it up for you already: comes to ¥29,689 a month.

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