Back to Contents of Issue: June 2000

Shame on me, shame on you. What sort of thing are Japanese males most likely to find more embarrassing than a woman in the same situation? A poll by the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living discovered that 63.5 percent of males questioned said they didn't want to be seen eating alone in a Japanese-style sweets parlor. Another 13.5 percent said they would find it embarrassing to wear their wedding ring constantly. (Among women, the figure was just 1.1 percent.) The top five acts most likely to cause a lady to blush hotly were renting an adult video (97.7 percent), picking up and reading a discarded newspaper off the train's overhead rack (96.8 percent), entering a love hotel (94.7 percent), buying a contraceptive device (89.3 percent), and eating soba standing up (78.1 percent). Guess the latter, like use of a urinal, is still regarded as a male preserve.

Meals on rails. It was reported in the Mainichi Shimbun and other media that after nearly 36 years of dedicated service, dining cars on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) have, as of early March, gone the way of the steam locomotive. Passengers riding aboard a Hikari or Nozomi express will now have to take an o-bento or sandwich back to their seats. The dining cars once served as many as 300 customers on a trip between Tokyo and Hakata. After that figure dropped to around 80, the writing was on the wall. Still, it wasn't the recession's fault so much as changing times. The cars' main clientele were groups of businessmen who got together at a table to ingest booze. The explanation was that as the trains got faster, travel time between destinations shortened to the point where there wasn't enough time to unwind.

Takumi and Moe. These were the most popular monikers that Japanese parents named their male and female children born in 1999, according to the Meiji Life Insurance Company (in descending order): Takumi, Kaito, Daisuke, Riki, Sho, Taiki, Shota, Kenta, and Ren. For girls, the names in vogue during 1999 included Moe, Misaki, Ami, Rina, Nanako, Ayaka, Haruka, and Nanami. It is noted that the male name Daisuke soared from 32nd to 4th place on the strength of the popularity of Seibu Lion's star rookie pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Payback. Has deregulation put any money back in the pockets of Japan's Mr. Averageman? A lot, says the Economic Planning Agency. To be precise, ¥8.58 trillion. This amounts to 2.3 percent of the nation's per capita income, or ¥85,822 for every individual Japanese. According to the agency, the lion's share of these savings went to gabbing on the telephone. The greatest benefit to consumers was in domestic communications, which gave consumers a break to the tune of ¥38,555. This was followed by electric power (¥17,138), petroleum-related products (¥14,492), and automobile inspections (¥6,122).

Customized mass production. Honda Motor Co. has begun using the Internet to allow purchasers of its VTR 250cc motorcycle to select the color scheme of their choice. By mixing and matching different colors for such components as the gas tank, front fender, seat, engine cowling, and wheels, customers have 108 ways to make the appearance of their bike different. And it will only cost them ¥15,000 over the basic list price of ¥439,000. It hasn't quite come to direct e-commerce though: the customer order first has to be recorded at the dealer, who forwards it to the plant. Delivery is made four weeks     The price of your kid's success. If yours was an average Japanese household with a kid in primary school, during 1998 you paid an additional ¥86,500 for supplementary tuition fees for cram school attendance or tutors. The figures for other years, according to the Ministry of Education survey, were ¥211,300 for middle schoolers and ¥135,200 for high schoolers. All of the above outlays were said to have fallen considerably from the survey of two years previous.

Most-wanted list. A survey by the Dentsu ad agency noted that the items respondents desired to acquire "soon," in descending order, were: car, personal computer, land or a home, clothing, a TV set, interior goods or furniture, refrigerator, to travel, a VCR, and shoes. Personal computers ranked top among female respondents. On the flip side, a Tokyo Life Insurance survey revealed that last year's No.1 "regrettable purchase" was the PC.

Scary situation. You're in the office, the phone rings. You pick it up and -- oh horrors! -- the voice on the other line is speakin  English! What do you do?! Of the Japanese so queried, 38.6 percent replied, "I'd feel pretty scared, but do my best to respond in English." That's opposed to just 3.9 percent who said they could handle the foreign intruder in his own exotic tongue. A low figure, but still more than the stubborn 2 percent who said they would respond in Japanese. It should be noted that 67.3 percent of the subjects agreed that knowledge of English was necessary in the workplace to some degree. Humble thanks to the Recruit organization, which surveyed 2,407 white collar workers, for providing these figures.

Bombproof back hoes. Komatsu, a manufacturer of heavy industrial equipment, was invited by a quasi-governmental overseas aid group to develop a device for clearing scrub brush in Cambodia. The result was a back hoe equipped with armor and shatterproof glass. It seems that 70 percent of the land mines still buried around that ill-fated nation are obscured by overgrowth, and removing them invariably puts the driver in harm's way. Two units of the 10-ton dozer-like vehicle were recently shipped to Cambodia. The PC60, as its dubbed, is expected to find use in other hazardous areas as well.

Ghosts on the dole. Japan's unemployment insurance funds went into the red back in 1994, but people only began sounding alarms in 1998, when the deficit surpassed ¥1 trillion. (The figure continues to soar.) Shukan Yomiuri of March 12 writes that in addition to the genuinely needy, the system is hamstrung by rampant cheating. One company owner was apprehended after creating a "virtual" employee to whom he intermittently paid a salary and then laid off. The system has long been openly abused by new brides who claim to be "unemployed" when they have actually retired. The system allows them to receive up to six months of benefits -- sometimes in excess of ¥1 million with no questions asked.

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