Back to Contents of Issue: April 2000

Tea for toupee .In Japanese, the term for hair dyed with a brownish tinge is referred to as chapatsu, literally, "tea hair." Does it turn you off? When the Tokyo metropolitan government popped this question to a group of adults, a full 54 percent gave a resounding "heck no." Broken down by specific replies: "It's OK as long as it's not too conspicuous" (27 percent); "It doesn't concern me one way or the other" (21 percent); and "It's OK because it's in vogue" (54 percent). Those who preferred any color as long as it's black came to 36 percent.

Boom to bust. One side effect possibly related to the Y2K problem that was not overlooked by the Japanese media was that the size of otoshidama -- gifts of money received by children at the New Year -- fell for the third year in a row. The Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank obtained the data by polling 503 children in grades 4 through 6 and their mothers. The average received by each child came out to ¥25,107, down by ¥1,683 from a year ago. But ominously, 2000 was the largest single-year drop since the bank began taking the survey in 1975. The two most popular items purchased by the recipients, incidentally, were (1) toys and (2) comic books.

Superlatives. For the 24th straight year, Osaka Prefecture finished first in the nation in purse snatchings. The favorite target of the perpetrators, mostly junior high and high school students, were handbags, which are often left carelessly placed in bicycle baskets. Thanks to preventive measures, Osaka's incidents in 1999 declined by 13.1 percent. Elsewhere, though, the picture wasn't quite so encouraging. The Sankei Shimbun noted that 41,173 such crimes occurred last year, an increase of 5,410 over 1998. Tokyo thieves seem determined to catch up with Osaka; the 6,916 incidents in the capital last year were up by 22.5 percent. And in neighboring Saitama and Chiba Prefectures, the rates soared by 36.9 and 51.4 percent respectively. Last December, two thieves on a motor scooter went so far as to relieve Yasuko Hata, Japan's former first lady, of her hando-baggu as she waited to cross the street in the swank Tokyo residential neighborhood of Seijo.

Can't-find-a-sitter department. Yokohama City took top honors in the number of applicants waiting for admission to a municipal day-care facility, with 1,629 kids.

Forget about college, stay home and watch TV. With 1970 consumer prices pegged to 100, tuition at a national university rose 41.3-fold over the past three decades. Other big gainers, according to comparisons calculated by the Economic Planning Agency, included admission to the public bath (up by 9.8 times); private university tuition (8.7); bus fares (7.2); a haircut (6.7); a bowl of curry and rice (4.3); and cinema admission (3.9). Four items out of the 50 surveyed had not increased or had even actually declined: wristwatches (1.0), refrigerators (0.6), cameras (0.5), and TV sets (0.2).

Pinned to the mat. The Shibuya Tax Office announced that hulking pro wrestling figurehead Shohei "Giant" Baba, who passed away in January 1999 at age 61, left behind real estate, securities, and other property estimated at ¥870 million. Baba, whose most effective technique for flattening rivals involved flinging them against the ropes and then, as they bounced off, extending a size-16 boot for collision with their chin, may have scored his best victory against the tax collector. Thanks to careful estate planning, only about one-tenth of that figure will be taken in the form of inheritance taxes.

Silence is golden. In a survey (by the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living) of 331 Tokyoites aged 18 to 73, 91.9 percent of respondents said they would not necessarily consider being informed of their partner's infidelity as a favor. And if they themselves confided in a friend that they were involved in such an affair, 71.8 percent said they would not appreciate advice to the effect that they put an end to the illicit relationship. As if to confirm the adage that wisdom comes with age, the same survey determined that the family member deemed the least likely to behave in a nosy or intrusive manner was grandpa.

Stripped for action. Japan's pre-eminent minicar manufacturer, Daihatsu, just launched its latest RV, called the "Naked." It's powered by a 660cc engine and, in the words of one writer for an auto trade publication, features unadorned body styling that reminds him "of something out of Eastern Europe." Available in six colors, you can buy a 4WD Naked for about ¥1.3 million by logging on to With a name like that, I wish I could be the fly on the wall when the copywriters at Daihatsu's ad agency toss around ideas for their overseas ad campaign. "Uh, let's see guys, how about 'George drove naked to the fancy dress ball?'" "Nah. Let's do 'I am naked. (Yellow).'" May this columnist propose, "Here's a car with much to be modest about."

Other superlatives: The government's biggest money waster? The Ministry of Health and Welfare, of course. A watchdog agency pronounced that the MHW peed away ¥8.03 billion unnecessarily, about four times that of the second-place outfit, the Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, the Aichi Prefectural government announced that it is realizing savings of ¥900,000 a year by eliminating all conventional telephones for its entire nonmanagerial staff and replacing them with PHS handiphones. It has yanked out some 200 desktop telephones from the office and supplied all 385 employees below the rank of section head with their own PHS units.

Where the boys are. And the girls too. A survey by the Tokyu Research Agency noted that on weekends, 39 percent of visitors to the Shibuya district are under age 20. An additional 31.2 percent were under 25. Visitors under age 39 accounted for just 12.2 percent of the total. It remains to be seen if the snazzy new "Mark City" hotel and office complex slated to open this spring will have any effect on the mixture.

Language barrier ahead. The Japan Overseas Enterprise Association recently asked its 347 member firms about the importance of English ability as a hiring criteria. Among the 130 replies it received, 24.6 percent acknowledged English as a factor in hiring. But over twice that number agreed that "more than English, the most important hiring criteria is an applicant's character." Likewise, only 23.8 percent of the respondents said that ability to converse in English was taken into consideration when deciding staff promotions. Mind you, this is an association for Japanese companies that do business abroad.

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