Back to Contents of Issue: September 2000

No money left for the funeral. Nationwide during 1999, there were 90 individuals whose expenses for medical treatment topped ¥10 million in the course of a single month. Many of the more expensive cases involved procedures not automatically approved under the health insurance scheme. While his or her affliction was not specified by the organization that supplies these figures, the year's top spender ran up hospital bills of ¥21,035,600 in the course of a single month. With health insurance payments averaged out to ¥16,443 per family, covering this person's bill for the period in question would have required the equivalent of 1,279 households.

Down and out. The Management and Coordination agency noted that last year 820,000 people had been out of work for one year or longer. That's an increase of 120,000 over 1998.

Trade secrets. The RSA Security agency polled 522 people about the things they would most loathe to have seen by the prying eyes of strangers. Among the female respondents, the top four were the contents of their diary (78.9 percent), followed by their home address and telephone number (71.8), annual income and personal assets (71.8), and physical measurements (46.5). The survey also asked those (of both genders) if they had ever suffered any difficulties due to their private email being read by others. The most common replies were that they received a telephone call or email from some unknown individual. In addition, 14.3 percent said someone posted the contents of their mail on the Internet and 7.1 percent said they suffered some form of economic loss. An overwhelming majority of those polled, 83.8 percent, said they had never availed themselves of encryption when sending email messages.

Tad commercial. Those who like the jingles used in Sony radio and TV commercials will be able to listen to them on a portable device provided by a company based in Sagamihara.

Someday, son, this won't be all yours. Results of a survey taken last year showed just under one out of three small retail establishments in metropolitan Tokyo expect to discontinue operations, mainly due to aging of proprietors and/or lack of heirs to keep the business going. Among those selling fresh food items or clothing, the percentages of those planning to shut down were 43.5 and 28.9 respectively. Eventually we are looking at the demise of 5,000 such businesses, more than half of which were established between 1945 and 1965. Two key areas of concern, according to the metropolitan government, are fewer local stores to serve the aging population and a growing glut of commercial space.

Love for sale. NOMURA SELLS ITS 'LOVE' HOTELS, read the headline in the Financial Times, followed by the lead sentence, "An affiliate of Nomura Securities, Japan's largest broker, is selling portfolios of distressed assets linked to so-called love hotels and pachinko parlors to US investors, in an effort to clean up its balance sheet." The Shukan Asahi weekly investigated the FT story and came to the conclusion that investors who play their cards right can clean up -- no, not the bedsheets and pillowcases, silly, but on the turnover of such properties. Indeed, love hotels, which Shukan Asahi described as "not 'pink' businesses but social necessities that turn decent profits," may earn an investor as much as 15 percent. Gains on a pachinko emporium range from between 10 to 20 percent.

Straight up. So-called "life enhancement drugs" are not selling well in Japan. The Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun noted that projections for first-year sales of Viagra fell short of the initial projection of ¥50 billion. The article quotes Pfizer's president as stating the figures were probably "unrealistic" to begin with.

Positions, please. A recent issue of Diamond, a weekly Japanese business magazine, asked what positions would be in greatest demand three years from now. In descending order, they were: planning and consulting sales; manufacturing and production technology; skills involving computer peripheral devices; management of foundations and other NPOs, quality control and guarantee-related skills; system consulting; marketing; and environmental engineering. And while the number of positions themselves might not increase, the subjects also said that management planners and responsible branch managers were expected to rise in terms of overall importance.

When publisher Recruit polled 295 11th graders around Japan on what career occupations they "especially" wish to avoid, the top reply was "politician," cited by 21.4 percent of those queried. This was followed by salesman (18.6 percent), steeplejack (18.6 percent), self-defense serviceman (12.4 percent) and -- naturally -- high school teacher (9.7 percent).

Sure you'll get a charge out of this. In the not-too-distant future, you'll be able to cruise around Yokohama's streets in an electric vehicle. The ultra-compact models, supplied by Nissan and Suzuki, can be rented at 11 charging terminals around the city. Presently 350 people are serving as monitors. If it works out, tourists and locals will be able to rent the spunky little nonpolluting vehicles via an unmanned system.

Timely news. I really like Seiko Clock's new electronic timepiece, which in addition to displaying the hour and minutes on its analog face incorporates a linear moving panel display, providing a running update of the latest news dispatches from the Jiji news agency. It's done via signals received by its built-in NTT DoCoMo pocket pager. Using proprietary software, the unit can also interface with a personal computer for sending and receiving messages. Such sophistication, unfortunately, doesn't come cheap. Expect a market price of around ¥250,000.

Saving Captain Nemo. When the world's longest undersea tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel linking Honshu with Hokkaido, opened in 1988, Japanese chests swelled with pride at their magnificent feat of engineering. But in spite of efforts to promote the tunnel, JR Hokkaido reports usage fell for the ninth year in a row. More people are opting for crossing the old way, by ferry, which gives a more impressive view. Or by aircraft, which does it much, much faster. To add insult to injury, the railway announced in June that suspension in service caused by the volcanic rumblings of Mt. Usu will cause another ¥2 billion in losses.

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