Back to Contents of Issue: February 2002

Employee monitoring, working with gaijin, emoting cards and what the Japanese are reading

Turn, turn, turn. As mentioned last month, Toyota chose the 35th Tokyo Motor Show to unveil its 'Pod,' a prototype car. The design is so symmetrical, it's hard to tell if it's coming or going. Taking a hint from the popularity of robot pets, it's been designed to convey the vehicle's 'emotions.' The front can be recognized by its built-in variable lighting display. Depending on the situation, the lights on its exterior could change from 'happy' (indicated by orange), to 'sad' (blue -- makes sense), 'angry' (red) or 'sleepy' (aqua) -- a total of 10 expressions in all. Perhaps one of the motorcycle makers will expand on this idea with a model that extends a middle finger at other drivers.

Big Brother is watching anata. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun's latest business survey showed an interesting contrast in attitudes toward the monitoring of employee email and other Internet usage. Here are the responses to four queries expressed as percentages, with those from ordinary Internet users given first, followed by responses from IT managers in parentheses: Company is already monitoring employee Internet usage: 15.4 (2.0);

monitoring of usage should be regarded as an employer's right: 22.7 (17.6); monitoring is acceptable as long as the employees are informed in advance that it is being done: 44.5 (49.0); monitoring is undesirable: 14.6 (29.4). It seems IT managers are willing to cut office Net users a little more slack.

Warning, outsider overhead. Is working with foreigners easier or harder? The question was posed by Sanno Institute of Management to 526 salaried workers around the country. If the foreigner is at the corporate management level, 27.9 percent said circumstances would be tougher, as opposed to 72.1 percent who felt things would go easier. The workers were split on having a foreigner as their immediate superior: 51.1 percent thought the job would be harder, as opposed to 48.9 who said it would be easier. Having foreigners as co-workers? More than three out of four, or 77.9 percent, said it would be a breeze.

Playing it safe. In an Internet survey of 1,031 readers, 38.2 percent told Nikkei Business that their company's regulations and approvals for overseas business trips were subjected to stricter controls following September 11. An additional 52.1 percent said the restrictions were further tightened after the U.S. commenced bombing of Afghanistan on October 7. Of the total, 72 percent said their companies took action to either halt all overseas business trips or at least those to some parts of the world. Only 9.7 percent of respondents said nothing changed at their companies.

In search of knowledge. A survey by Keiko and Manabu, a magazine that deals with adult education, asked readers who were learning English to tell them which methods they were using. 41.1 percent of respondents said they were enrolled in English conversation schools; 31.8 percent said they studied from books or magazines; another 25.1 percent said they watched English lectures on TV; and 14 percent said they were taking correspondence courses.

When I'm sixty four. Congratulations -- so you made it to old age. What's the first thing you plan to do? When Sumitomo Life Insurance posed this question to 358 businessmen in Tokyo and Osaka, the replies (with percentages) were: travel abroad (29.2); turn to painting or sketching (22.1); perform volunteer activities (21.5); travel around Japan (19.3); and work in the garden (17.9).

Will you accept the charges? With the profusion of cellphones and increasing Internet popularity, the Management and Coordination Agency noted that in 1999, average monthly outlays for telephone charges reached JPY5,895, or about 1.5 times the figure of five years ago. During this same period, however, typical outlays for people under 30 averaged more than JPY8,000. By gender, this marked an increase of 220 percent for males and 190 percent for females.

Big spenders. According to a survey by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Fuji Photo Film allocated the highest budget for basic research, at JPY28.5 billion. That figure represented a year-on-year boost of 63.7 percent, and tells this fish there's something swimming out there that's a lot bigger than a roll of 35mm film. Rounding out the big three were Fuji's rival TDK, with outlays of JPY20 billion (but up by only 8.2 percent year on year) and NTT DoCoMo, with JPY11.9 billion (up by 18.9 percent). Counting down the top 10, we find Matsushita Communication (JPY7.1 billion), Ube Industries (JPY5.7 billion), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (JPY4.9 billion), Kao (JPY4.7 billion), Olympus Photo Optical (JPY4.2 billion), Toyama Chemical Industries (JPY3.7 billion) and Kurare (JPY3.6 billion).

E is for Illiteracy. In impromptu street surveys of 100 Japanese (average age 21.7 years), the Asahi Shimbun discovered the members of the younger generation aren't really into books these days. Out of the 100, 65 said they prefer magazines, 21 manga (comic magazines) and only 14 books. More than half said they had not purchased a single book in the past month. Reasons for the lack of interest in perusing tomes included 'too busy' and 'prefer other forms of recreation,' although 10 out of the 100 pleaded poverty. 'I'm not really into reading; it gives me a headache," one 22-year-old woman was said to remark. Well, one way to keep them from becoming illiterate is to supply text via the all-pervasive cellphone. Shinchosha, a major publisher, announced that from January it would begin transmitting serialized novels to cellphone subscribers at the rate of JPY100 per month. A 1,000 to 1,200 character installment will be transmitted each weekday. In the future, the same site will offer short items by Shinichi Hoshi, a well-known science fiction author, and selections by Edogawa Rampo, a master of detective stories. @

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