Back to Contents of Issue: August 2000

Bases loaded. Who fits your image of the ideal boss? When Sumitomo Insurance posed this question to its new hirees, the most popular answer was Seiichi Hoshino. Mr. Hoshino is not the founder of a business conglomerate, but manager of the Chunichi Dragons baseball club, winners of last year's Central League pennant. Hoshino is often known for being ejected from games for slugging umpires who make calls to his team's disadvantage. A Mainichi Daily News sports columnist recently wrote that he is given to regularly slapping his players around in the dugout. If this is the kind of leadership required to gain the admiration of subordinates, Japanese MBA programs ought to offer taekwando as a prerequisite.

Stumbling blocks. Although 40.9 percent of female office workers in their twenties in Japan's two largest metropolitan areas say they own at least one pair of platform shoes, 33.4 percent do their morning commuting in loafers or slip-ons. Only 6.5 percent do it in running shoes. Interestingly, Tokyo females complained about corns, bunions, blisters, and toe nail problems by a considerable margin over Osakans -- even though they outspent them on footwear, paying an average of ¥13,850 compared to Osakans' ¥12,215. Go figure. In the same survey, textile manufacturer Kuraray learned that 52.2 percent of these ladies were considerably myopic: only one in four could see well enough to drive without correction.

Heaven can wait. The Management and Coordination Agency noted that of the 329 bureaucrats from federal ministries who assumed new careers in the private sector upon their retirement in 1999, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led with 77. One must assume there is a solid demand for retired diplomats, as this figure considerably outstripped MITI's, which only supplied 45 of these amakudari. With the banks still reeling, the Ministry of Finance was only able to provide 10. English newspapers typically provide a literal translation of amakudari as "descent from heaven." I've always wondered why no one has encouraged the much more idiomatic rendering "fallen angels."

Whale there ya have it. The Japan Whaling Association reported that at the end of last November, there were 1,090 metric tons of whale meat in storage throughout the country. Of this, only 16.8 tons went to restaurants. Most of the rest (887.3 tons) was mixed with other ingredients for use in processed food items. I thought that hamburger I had for lunch smelled a little fishy.

Buzzword of the times: "Parasite singles" refers to young people who continue to live with their parents, enabling them to enjoy a higher disposable income without the burden of paying rent or supporting a family. It was noted, for example, that the monthly kozukai (pocket money for incidental expenditures) by single men was ¥74,593; for those with families, the figure was less than half: ¥35,315. The UC credit card service asked parents how parasitic they considered their own adult offspring based on four categories: 1) still living at home; 2) does not contribute to household expenses; 3) borrows money from parents; and 4) accepts gifts of money from parents. Only 4.2 percent of the kids fell into all four, but those meeting two out of the four descriptions numbered 35.2 percent, and virtually none batted 0 for 4.

Self-improvement. When the Prime Minister's Office conducted one of its recent yoron surveys about adult education, it noted that 64 percent of the subjects voiced the desire to pursue some form of learning -- a 2.9 percent rise over the previous survey in 1992. Unfortunately a majority said that they were unable to do so, for such reasons as being "too busy" (cited by 58.6 percent of the subjects) or "couldn't find anything that interested me" (16.5 percent). Perhaps reflecting this lack of self discipline, another survey conducted by the Life Design Institute determined that 71.1 percent of adult Japanese who have attempted to lose weight through dieting admit failure. Among women in their twenties, the figure was 94.3 percent.

Meet the iLoo. Products whose designs ape the iMac -- with semitransparent plastic in multiple colors -- already run the gamut of everything from calculators to cordless telephones. But I was tickled to see that INAX recently introduced its new line of "Cara" (i.e., color) commode seats. The units come equipped with a bidet-type spray nozzle, 1.4-liter warm water tank, air deodorizer and power-save function, and come in a choice of grass green, aqua blue, sunrise orange, or a more subdued ivory. Additional seat covers are just ¥4,800, so you can buy the whole set and change them to match your mood. The basic ensemble goes for ¥90,000.

Reflection on society. Last year, tobikomi suicide incidents that involved leaping in front an approaching train reached 212 along the routes serviced by JR East alone. A recent TV news program reported on methods the railways have been taking to get people out of their gloomy frame of mind before it's too late. In addition to the installation of mirrors and sensors at station platforms, one method has been to paint the areas where pedestrians walk across railway crossings in a shade of green. Another technique along the Chuo Line is the incorporation of slabs of mosaic tiles with inlaid floral patterns at sections of the station platforms. The program quoted a station employee as saying that the methods seem to be successful in discouraging jumpers.

Service driven. The business slump has forced taxi drivers, never known for their kindness and courtesy even in the best of times, to clean up their act. I see that in Kitakyushu City, they are even undergoing training in therapeutics. Nippon Travel, it seems, came up with the idea of having drivers pick up seniors and handicapped people at their homes and drive them to the hot springs resort town of Beppu. Using special vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs, the drivers -- some 15 of whom have been qualified to provide physical assistance to their passengers -- will load them in, drive them to Beppu's Suginoi Hotel, and take them home the next day. A tour package with overnight accommodations, two meals, and door-to-door transportation -- including being carried across the threshold if necessary -- goes for ¥21,800 per person and up.

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