Back to Contents of Issue: December 2000

blowfish Of notes. The Web site of the Bank of Japan features a cute FAQ section to enlighten visitors about Japanese currency ( Your finny correspondent was astounded to learn the following: (1) On the final day of 1998, funds in circulation came to some ¥55.9 trillion, in the form of roughly 9 billion bank notes. If stacked vertically, these would amount to the equivalent of 239 times the height of Mt. Fuji. Laid end to end, they would circle the globe at the equator 35 times. (2) The lifespan for a ¥10,000 note is between three and four years. For the smaller denominations, it's about half that time. (3) There are some differences of opinion as to why Japanese currency is spelled y-e-n. (Japanese pronounce it "en" without the y.) One theory suggests the y was added to make it unique, as en serves as words in Dutch, French, and Spanish. (4) Animals that have appeared on Japanese money since the Meiji Period (1868) include the rat, wild boar, horse, chicken, dove, lion, pheasant, and crane. (5) If your paper currency is damaged, it can be redeemed at any bank. But for terminal cases you may need to bring the shreds and fragments directly to the Bank of Japan.

Not from Pittsburgh. After several years of decline relative to their percentage of total sales, losses from illegal copying of PC software in Japan have once again begun increasing. The Nikkei Industrial News quotes the Business Software Alliance ( as saying 31 percent of all software in use in Japan was copied illegally, resulting in losses to makers estimated at just over $900 million. (In the States, the figure is over $3 billion.) In the meantime, lawsuits over illegal copying, such as by computer schools and other institutions, comes to about 100 cases a year. Expect a rush to beat the deadline before a new law goes into effect in January. After that, courts will be empowered to take more severe measures against infringements, with the maximum fine allowable by law, currently just ¥3 million, rising to ¥100 million.

Make yourself useful around here. Disaster has struck. Fire alarms ringing. Smoke everywhere. What to do? Advice is as close as the nearest UCC Coffee vending machine. The Ueshima Coffee Co. and NTT DoCoMo in Kansai have teamed up to produce a vending machine that taps pocket pager signals, enabling it to display moving text data on an LED panel in the event of natural or man-made disasters. The idea was developed by Yasushi Nakano, an assistant section head at Kobe's Municipal Citizen's Disaster Prevention Department. The vending machine operators are paid a small subsidy for their cooperation. The system is seen as helping the hearing impaired and elderly, who cannot get information via radio. In times of normal use, the panels can be used to display news bulletins, public service announcements -- or commercial messages to drink UCC beverages. Several dozen units are planned for Kobe; UCC is now setting its sights on Tokyo.

Biological time clock. According to the Japan Labor Research Institute, 90.2 percent of all businesses in Japan engage in mid-career hiring practices. The average age for job-changers is 41.1 years, but the industries most likely to hire new staff above this age are limited to four: construction (average age, 44.7); taxi or limousine driver (52.4); janitorial and "miscellaneous" (58.2), and security guard or nightwatchman (58.6). The youngest "mid-career" employees were sought for planning, advertising and editorial-related work. Secretaries and receptionists hit the hiring ceiling at age 34.2.

338 for the road. The Management and Coordination Agency noted that in spite of hefty fares, a considerable number of the nation's toll roads are not earning their keep. The expressway circling Ise Bay, for instance, requires ¥338 in operating expenditures relative to every ¥100 received in fares. The Aqualine tunnel and bridge across Tokyo Bay is second least efficient, costing ¥316 to operate for every ¥100 in tolls. It's clearly a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't proposition: the cost of the tolls to transverse the bay has repelled drivers, so the road runs at only 35 percent of capacity.

Express baggage allowance. Kawasaki Heavy Industries has developed a high-speed airport baggage transport system claimed to be eight times more rapid than present systems. (And no, it doesn't involve carrying your own suitcase on board.) Developed in cooperation with Itochu Corporation, the system is designed to expedite baggage movement at new "super airports" with dispersed or multiple satellite terminals. Dispensing with conveyor belts, it utilizes a railed system that shoots your Samsonite forward at the rate of 800 meters a minute (roughly 30 miles per hour), and is not slowed by hills or slopes. Destinations can be specified by remote programming. A prototype is said to have performed well in tests. Once on the job, it will not only get you out of the airport faster, but also reduce the check-in time before departure.

Up for the count. There should be about 700,000 homes and businesses with digital TV receivers by the end of 2000. Experimental digital broadcasts commenced from September 1. At a press conference two weeks later Executive VP Kazuo Toda of Matsushita Electric Industries told reporters that orders were "far exceeding original projections." The electronics industry now forecasts the total number of digital sets in use by 2004 to reach 12,700,000. Meanwhile, DVD video software grew more than fourfold in the first half of the year, to total ¥122.4 billion. The DVD format now accounts for 32.3 percent of total video software sales. Data from 3,200 PC outlets showed that through August of 2000, PC sales had already eclipsed total units sold in 1999. August 2000 outsold the same month last year by 38.6 percent.

Hot news. Take a layer of PET resin. Coat it with organic dye and a layer of acrylic plastic into which liquid crystal molecules have been mixed. Give it a protective layer of urethane, and what have you got? Electronic paper, that's what. Tokai University and Dai-Nippon Printing have been collaborating on research into a thin (60 micron), high-tech substance that can be rolled up and used to swat the dog when it makes a mess on the carpet. Using a device similar to a laser printer, the surface, which appears black in its original state, reproduces high definition text on a white background. Then when exposed to a temperature of 60 degrees Centigrade, it reverts to its original state, making it ready for the next day's news. Developers are now working on ways to improve color reproduction.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.