Blowfish

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2000


The inside poop. Since TOTO launched its "Washlet" in 1980, sales of bidet-style toilets have taken off. They have been one product that has defied the recession. Sales have tripled over the past eight years, to exceed 41 percent of the nation's homes. As weekly newsmagazine Aera reports, they are now in use by 34.3 percent of corporate offices and 44.5 percent of hotels. Parliamentarians in the Diet Building use them. Even a few metropolitan universities put them in the student lavatories, where they were promptly stolen. The Economic Planning Agency reports that ownership of high-tech toilets exceeds such consumer durables as satellite TV receivers (38.9 percent), personal computers (38.6 percent), and facsimile machines (32.9 percent).

Surf's down. Kyoto I-Net, a local ISP, announced it is offering dial-up email and Internet services to junior high school students at the special rate of just 250 yen a month. The catch to this deal is that user access is automatically cut at 10 p.m. and is not available until 6 the next morning. The system was originally initiated for use by students at one particular middle school, but apparently proved so popular with the students' parents it is being expanded to all comers in the Kyoto service area.

The more the merrier. "Beat" Takeshi is the nation's most widely watched TV comedian. And never let anyone suggest he suffers from underexposure. The combined viewer rating of his six weekly programs, none of which are on NHK's educational channel, I would add, comes to 71 percent. Second is the comedy team Downtown, with five programs and 61.6 percent. The jokester duo Utchan and Nanchan were rated third, with 46.4 percent.

Tax records. With the exception of recipients of huge inheritances, few minors have ever paid as much income tax as singing sensation Hikaru Utada. The National Tax Agency, which releases data on top contributors, reported that the 17-year-old singer-composer boosted the nation's coffers by yen;65.6 million. Her 1999 total income, estimated at yen;725 million, includes her share of an estimated yen;2.8 billion in royalties from sales of CDs alone. Where did the rest go? Among other expenditures, she pays both her businessman father and former entertainer mother annual salaries in excess of $1 million.

Fashions for Granny. Nanae, a Kyoto-based manufacturer of store display items, is offering a mannequin with vital statistics based on averages for Japanese women in their seventies. To obtain this, the company obtained data on measurements from some 670 women ages 70 through 80. The dolls, which will be sold at 500,000 yen a mom (after all, you can't very well say a "pop"), are expected to find use among apparel manufacturers and others marketing to the burgeoning generation of seniors. The specific measurements were not given. Some things are, after all, better left unsaid.

Taxis a no-show. As one more way of chipping away at Tokyo's not-insubstantial fiscal deficit, governor Shintaro Ishihara has approved the festooning of buses and streetcars operated by the city with mural-sized commercial advertisements. But when a group of taxi companies tried doing the same thing in June, pasting up 35-by-55 centimeter decals touting the "Disney on Ice" musical review, it was ordered to remove them. It seems the guidelines issued to ensure such ads do not create an eyesore or distract drivers do not apply to taxis, which, unlike trains and buses, can enter residential areas. OK fine, but what about in Hokkaido, where the prefectural government has already given its go-ahead to taxi advertising -- and insists there are no problems whatsoever?

The wealth of nations. When Forbes magazine's Japanese-language edition announced the latest survey of the richest men in Japan in its September edition, this writer noted that three in the top 10 came from the so-called nonbanking financial sector. More specifically, they are major shareholders of so-called sarakin, or consumer loan companies. They were: Yasuo Takei, president of Takefuji (in second place with personal holdings estimated at 1 trillion yen); Kyousuke Kinoshita, president of ACOM (in sixth place, with estimated holdings of 540 billion yen), and Yoshitaka Fukuda, president of Aiful (in eighth place, with estimated holdings of 500 billion). The sarakin have recently been permitted to sponsor prime-time TV programs and appear to be gradually shedding their formerly shady image.

Games people used to play. When weekly newsmagazine Aera surveyed Japanese across a wide generation spectrum, it found that the toys and games of yesteryear have not only almost completely vanished -- many children of primary school age don't even know what they were. Any Japanese male who grew up between 1920 and 1960 collected cards, played hide-and-seek, and shot marbles. But now the main activities among kids are TV games, soccer, and cycling. A survey by publisher Benesse Corporation noted that many names of old pastimes are not even recognized by today's kids and are headed for the linguistic graveyard. Among those on decline are menko (illustrated collector's cards), ishi-keri (rock-kicking), ohajiki (marbles), koma-mawashi (top-spinning), takeuma (stilts), otedama (stuffed cloth ball), and ayatori (cat's cradle). Only hide-and-seek and blind man's bluff remain widely recognized in the current lexicon. The conclusion was that at some point in the late 1980s, children's lifestyles underwent major change. Will the bubble economy be blamed for this, too?

How about running a search? A recent issue of Dime magazine ran the results of a survey on the most frequent key words (for general content) that Japanese users input into three major search engines and noted the following. Lycos: kabegami (wallpaper), chakumero (musical ringing tone), screen saver, Ayumi Hamazaki, machi-uke gamen (keitai display). In Excite, the most popular search terms were ticket, uranai (fortune telling), gazo (image), deai (encounter), and kabegami. Infoseek reported that visitors most frequently searched for ticket, chakumero, kabegami, uranai, and muryo (free of charge).

Ratings slump. The Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living meanwhile points to evidence that TV viewing is definitely becoming a casualty of the Internet. Before they went online, Net users said they watched TV for an average of 142.6 minutes a day. This declined to 137.6 minutes after six months, and 113.8 minutes within one year.

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