Back to Contents of Issue: February 2000

$2 million worth of 500-won coins (Korean) were illegally deposited in Japanese vending machines through October 1999 -- up roughly double over the previous year. The machines can't tell the difference, and the disparity in the coins' face values (500 won are worth about 48 yen) is bleeding operators of the nation's 5.5 million vending machines so severely that some 60 percent of the units have been set to refuse 500-yen coins. The Bank of Japan announced plans to re-issue sensor-friendly coins from August 2000. In the meantime, a new "escrow" mechanism is being introduced: If the user inserts a coin and immediately presses the Return lever without making a selection, it spits back the same coin that was inserted.

Toshiba and Yazaki Sogyo announced development of a new state-of-the-art "parking assistance system." Developed with Tokyo University, the system -- which cost ¥200 million to develop -- combines a GPS with a wireless LAN, a sensor, and a rear-fender-mounted CCD camera to verbally guide drivers into the parking space. It does not, however, provide assistance in finding a parking space.

Toward the end of the year, Sharp launched its VC-FV10 series of VCRs. Taking an unmistakable cue from Apple's iMac, the model is offered in orange, blue, pink, green, and white. Large, rounded buttons on the left and right sides of the front panel are colored yellow, creating a vague resemblance to the "have a happy day" face. The VCR is being sold for about ¥20,000 at discount outlets.

Foodstuff firms such as Kikkoman, Kibun Food Chemifa, Jusco, Hanamaruki, and Fujikko already label their products as being free of genetically altered ingredients (mainly corn and soybeans). Other firms that plan to follow suit include Tohato, Nissei Foods, and three of the nation's largest breweries: Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo.

Speaking of suds, Japanese breweries produced 7.22 million kiloliters of beer in 1998. The figure, which puts Japan in fifth place worldwide (between Brazil and the UK), represents 0.5 percent growth over the previous year. The US topped the list with 23.77 million kiloliters, followed by China, with 19.64 million.

More on beer: In its business projection for the coming year, the December 21 issue of The Economist says the suds industry can expect growth of about 1.6 percent in Japan, although much of that will not be beer but "sparkling malt beverage," which is cheaper due to a tax loophole. In fact, malt products may emerge from 1999 with 20 percent of the overall market, and they're still showing growth. When deregulation in the retail sector takes effect in 2003, The Economist predicts, the surge in outlets dealing in alcoholic beverages is likely to see heavy discounting.

Last spring, only 60.1 percent of the 532,000 graduates of four-year universities were able to find employment upon graduation -- the worst figure on record and a decline of 5.5 percent from 1998. The rate of males finding jobs (60.3 percent) was slightly above females (59.8 percent). The Ministry of Education notes that approximately 54,000 grads chose to go on to graduate school, leaving about 106,000 smart kids wondering what to do next.

DaCapo magazine advises young women job hunting to (1) network with people who already hold jobs, (2) pay more attention to foreign workstyles when seeking employment at multinationals; (3) wear shoes with higher heels (5cm) to the interview; (4) limit fashion accessories to small pierced earrings; and (5) practice use of honorifics in order to impress one's betters.

You read it here. Asked to name its top news story for 1999, The Zenkoku Shokucho Shimbun (National Poultry News), a twice-monthly publication of Japan's poultry industry (circulation 10,000), picked an article reporting that fertilized eggs of the Nagoya Cochin -- an indigenous breed of Japanese chicken -- had flown south (although not under their own power) and were now being raised in Vietnam for re-export to Japan. An editorial insisted that such products be clearly labeled as imports in order to protect consumers.

If the counter staff at your local McDonalds seem to be exceptionally cheerful while serving up those fries, credit it to their 1999 year-end bonus. A survey among major corporations by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun noted that each employee received ¥1,653,550 (the median figure for regular staff). That's up 9.58 percent from 1998, putting Ronald & Co. at the corporate top. Other big winners: Kadokawa Shoten, Nintendo, and Sekisui House.

Are the lavatories and office area filthy? Has there been a sudden increase in the number of meetings held? Do orders come down to take extreme measures at reducing expenses -- like cutting back on paper clips? Are job-transfer assignments issued at irregular intervals? Is the president frequently absent from the office? Have members of the accounting department been resigning one after the other? If a company you deal with shows several of these signs, think twice before extending credit, warns men's weekly magazine Shukan Taishu -- they may be on the verge of bankruptcy.

The magazine's December 27 issue provides a checklist of 30 items. If seven apply, it advises you to be on your guard -- 15 or more and they might be gone the next time you drop by for a friendly visit. A business sleuth at the Teikoku Data bank -- who charges ¥100,000 for a credit check -- says a company's female office staff are one of the most useful sources. "They're the first ones to take notice when the flowers in the president's office don't get changed regularly."

In a survey by DaCapo magazine, male respondents said that when seeking a lover or mate, matching up with a person with the right blood type was given higher precedence than horoscopes, by 36 percent to 20 percent. Her most alluring areas in terms of physical appearance, in descending order, were the overall facial expression, eyes, and then breasts. The three least enduring traits in a possible romantic interest: short-tempered and verbally abusive; overly dependent on others; and slovenly habits.

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