Back to Contents of Issue: September 2002

Little mountains, money laundering, dependency on China and the roundest heads in the world.

Not-so-funny money. According to the National Police Agency, at least JPY422 billion has departed Japan illegally via underground banks over the past decade. The most popular destination for the money, generated mainly by illegal sojourners and organized crime, is South Korea, where an estimated JPY122.88 billion was remitted. Other places where the money heads include China (JPY121.81 billion), Peru (JPY89.8 billion) and the Philippines (JPY41.38 billion).

Made in the People's Republic. How dependent on imports from China have Japan's consumers become? Aera magazine considered that question and provided this sector-by-sector breakdown. In descending order, bamboo skewers for yakitori (95% imported from China), Western-style umbrellas (90), Uniqlo casual wear (90), green tea beverages (more than 80), sporting goods (70 to 80), tombstones (70 to 80), eels (70), bicycles (49), towels (40), fresh mushrooms (40), handbags (30), dentures (30), TV sets (20), crayons (16), leather shoes (15), bridal costumes (10), onions (10) and cut flowers (0.9).

Potpourri The most recent sales stats from Japan's record industry show the continued dearth of million-seller single hits for the 12th straight year. Between December 2001 and May 2002, the best-selling recent singles included Hikaru Utada's Traveling, with 856,000 CDs sold, followed by Life Goes On, by Dragon Ash. Compared with the year before, overall sales of CD singles declined by 25.2 percent and albums by 29.1 percent. ¥ The Tokyo metropolitan government has designated just six places that can be rented out to "heaven artists." That's the local term for street performers, who, unlike TV or film crews, seldom bother to ask for anybody's permission when going about their business. Available locations will include Yoyogi Park, inside three subway stations, at the Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku and the plaza in front of the Tokyo city hall in Shinjuku.

Nickel bag. You want a shopping bag, you gotta pay a tax for it. Tokyo's Suginami Ward is mulling over the idea anyway. Amazingly 59.5 percent of Nikkei Business readers who responded to an Internet poll said they'd support the idea. It will give consumers a greater awareness of the environment and resources, said 86.3 percent. And moreover, it will cut waste, agreed 84.4 percent. Among the 40.1 percent who voiced opposition to the idea, 54.4 percent said they doubted if the tax would have any impact on bag consumption.

Mountains out of molehills. Get out your ropes and ice hammers: The climbing season officially began from June 1 at Mt. Benten in Tokushima Prefecture. Benten-zan is the nation's lowest mound to claim the status of mountain, rising a somewhat less than majestic 6.1m above sea level. Benten's claim to this lofty title, however, is disputed by the central government and residents of Osaka, who claim their own, er, bump, Tempo-zan, is even lower, reaching just 4.5m above sea level. Yet another faction is claiming that a mountain in Sendai called Hinatayama, also 6.1m above sea level, really deserves the title of the nation's lowest. A geologic survey in 1991 determined that Hinatayama is indeed 3cm lower than Benten. The latter's supporters insist Benten deserves the title king of the hill, as both Tempo-zan and Hinatayama are man-made.

By the numbers. 10 -- the point size of letters being adopted by increasing numbers of street maps, which up to now had relied on tiny six- or seven-point type. The growth in large-size print on maps is a sure sign of the aging population. ¥ 1,206 -- the number of self-service gas stations in Japan. Up from 363 at the end of 2000. ¥ 263,440,000 -- the number of video cassettes and DVDs rented out by Tsutaya, a popular chain, during 2001. The figure was up by 17 percent from the previous year. ¥ 55:45 -- the ratio of domestic seafood products consumed in Japan to imports. ¥ 80 -- the percentage of items sold in convenience stores that are gone within one year of their introduction. ¥ 120 -- volume of mayonnaise, in metric tons, provided to food manufacturers. ¥ 85.7 -- percentage of Japanese with round heads. Up from 84.5 percent 50 years ago. (They're taller too, 171.4cm for the average male, up from 158.5cm in 1880.) ¥ 49 -- percentage of growth in electric power consumption by home users since 1990.

Layoffs for the handicapped. The ongoing recession is taking a toll on Japan's handicapped workers. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare the number of handicapped people laid off from their jobs in fiscal 2001 reached a record high of 4,017. This was greater than the 1.2-fold increase in the overall number of employees covered by insurance who were fired in the same time period, and marked a 1.6-fold increase from the year earlier, the sources said. According to the ministry, the employment rate for handicapped people during the 2001 fiscal year reached a record low of 32.4 percent. Sadly, although a record high number of 143,777 were looking for employment, the actual number of handicapped people with jobs was only 27,072, down 4.5 percent from the year before. @

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