TT-673 -- Lifeguards with Nothing Better to Do, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *

A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, August 05, 2012, Issue No. 673


- What's New -- Lifeguards with Nothing Better to Do
- News -- Labor law limits contract durations
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Mie-ken and Shizuoka-ken
- News Credits

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As of this morning (Sunday) Japanese swimmers had picked up
11 medals at the London Olympics, including three silver
medals. Satomi Suzuki, one of the silver medal winners, tied
the Japanese record for 200m breaststroke and became the first
Japanese female swimmer to win two medals at the same
games (she also earned a bronze in the 100m event earlier).

With 11 gongs, Japan is now making its presence felt like
never before in international swimming, and was lying
second in the medals table, after the USA. Traditional
powerhouses, China and Australia, had 10 each. In
comparison, in Beijing in 2008, Japan won just 5 medals in
swimming, although admittedly two of them were gold (Kosuke
Kitajima won both). With those 5 medals, Japan ended up in
6th place in the medals table, with Australia in 2nd. So it's no
wonder that with a better spread of medals and a much higher
total, the Japanese press is lauding the methods of Japanese
swim coach Norimasa Hirai. As an Asahi Shimbun interview
back in February stated, Hirai may be polite and gentle in
public, but with his students, he apparently is very
strong-minded, authoritarian, and demanding -- just as any
high-level coach might be expected to be -- but which appears
to have earned him some fallings out with potential stars as

So you might think that with all this success, that
swimming is becoming popular in Japan with kids again,
which it may well do after these Olympics. But at the same
time, we know from practical experience that swimming in
Japan is not a particularly pleasant activity, due to the
way that swimming pools are policed. Indeed, given that
most pools are only open for just two months of the year
and close at least 4-6 weeks before the weather starts to
cool down again -- "fun" seems to be very low on the
list of pool-owners' priorities. It makes you wonder, actually,
why the authorities even bother building pools when they
are so under-utilized.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Anyway, it's summer and it's hot and since the kids are out
of school, what better thing to do than make for a local
swimming pool or the beach? Back in early July we started
off with pools first, since our kids get out for summer
earlier than those going to regular Japanese schools do.
First stop was the local school swimming pool, which was
virtually bereft of kids -- although there were lots of old
people doing water resistance walking rather than
swimming, and imperious lifeguards counting heads every
couple of minutes. As a side note, you don't realize just how
many genki old people there are in suburban Japan until you
go to a local school or community pool in early July... ;-)

Next we tried the local government-run pool. In truth, both
times we had forgotten the mixed blessings of being in
orderly, rules-based Japan. Firstly you need to make sure
that you come forearmed with a head cap and goggles. Forget
those, and you can forget about swimming -- the cap because
you may molt in the pool and there will be hell to pay if
you do. Then the goggles because Japanese pool operators
(schools and local governments alike) put in enough
chemicals to bleach not only your hair but your eyes as

Once you're in the pool, you are suddenly reminded of why
returnee kids hate going back to Japanese school (we made
our's go at one point, for language skills) -- because of
the incessant and often meaningless rules. In the case of
swimming pools, the problem is hard-core lifeguards, who
won't be happy unless they can see you at all times and
who certainly don't want your kids don't behave like kids
(splashing, yelling, and generally chasing each other in the
water). Whistles, shouting, arm waving, and lots of PA
messages are the order of the day, and they can really
wreck a family's day out.

Then how about the part where everyone has to get out of
the pool and take a break every 50 minutes, while a
lifeguard swims aimlessly around looking for drowned
swimmers? What intelligent purpose can those enforced
breaks possibly serve? If you're tired, you get out -- 50
minutes of exercise is not a magical number, except
perhaps to a bureaucrat writing a rule book. And people
don't drown at exactly 10 minutes to the hour...

Forget about diving, swimming underwater for a whole
length, having pony fights, or bottom-of-the-pool tea
parties -- all the good stuff we did as kids ourselves.
Instead, you can expect to be told off by some guard for
daring to put your head underwater for more than a few
seconds, since they can't see you... We have to ask, if a
child can't hold their breath for 5-10 seconds and feel
comfortable underwater, then what are they doing in a pool
in the first place?

With this kind of over-control, and we saw Japanese Dads
get it in the neck as well, it's no wonder that the public
pool changing area in the Shibuya sports center in
Nishihara has a sign in Japanese and English saying, please
"be polite and avoid conflict". To be honest, the mentality
of the guards is enough to drive any sane adult to
violence, unless perhaps you had such feelings bred out of
you after 12 years in a Japanese public school. So after
2-3 similar experiences at different pools, we stopped
going -- which is perhaps why the pools are generally
deserted most days...

But it's hot and it's summer. So this weekend we decided
that since the pools are depressing, why don't we head for
the beaches instead? Thoughts of wide open spaces and lots
of waves to thrash about in were enough to get us to pile
into a car and head for a remote area of the Boso
peninsular, to Wada-ura beach -- just down from Kamogawa.
It looked nice enough on the internet and sure enough it
didn't disappoint. We found parking easily, because really
only the locals use this place, being 2 1/2 hours from

We got out the swimming gear and as a family raced for the
water. This particular part of a larger beach is protected
by a ring of rocks, so the massive waves crashing on the
outer boundary were soothed to a mild and fun swell by the
time they hit the swimming area. The beach is also
surrounded by nets, although we couldn't tell if they were
for sharks, jelly fish, or people. It was great not to be
surrounded by the smell of chlorine and to listen to the
sound of breakers, birds, and laughing kids.

But then, suddenly there was a yelling from the beach and a
brightly dressed teenage lifeguard jumped up and down
gesticulating. "Don't go so far out!"
"Who, us?" we asked.
Yes, she was pointing directly at us.
We then stood up in the water, showing that we weren't
deeper than waist-height (we were actually trying to be
safe) and nonetheless she wanted us to come in closer to
where the little kids were. It didn't matter that there
were nets, floats, no waves to speak of, and that we'd be
hard pressed drowning in waist-high water. She wanted
control and that was that. It really put a damper on
things. The kids still enjoyed themselves, but every now
and again we would look furtively towards the lifeguard
box to see if what we were doing was OK. At least at the
Wada-ura beach they allowed us to swim underwater and dive
into waves. Thanks for small blessings.

Then at exactly 16:30 in the afternoon the beachguards
packed up and went home, leaving the remaining swimmers to
fend for themselves. Had we known this part of the routine,
we would have arrived around 17:00 and enjoyed ourselves a
lot more! Furthermore, taking a walk down the beach towards
Kamogawa before leaving, we noticed large signs on the
tsunami walls saying "No swimming" -- more control. But it
seems that like many things in Japan, these signs are only
for those who choose to read them. A cook at a local
restaurant, who turns out to be a surfer during the
daytime, told us that surfers are left alone even where
there is supposed to be no swimming, because neither the
teenagers serving as lifeguards nor the local authorities
can control them.

OK, so next time we hit Wada-ura for a bit of watery
freedom, we'll be packing surfboards and will arrive
shortly before dusk... :-)

And so it is that we wonder how Japan gets enough kids to
get sufficiently interested in swimming that they'd want to
one day become Olympic champions? Right now they're more
likely to want to be passive bystanders instead -- since that
is an approved activity. Rather, we think the various
organizations involved in swimming and lifesaving should
consider their roles more closely and make swimming more
attractive and fun for the nation's children (and of
course their parents, too). Otherwise, the current haul of
medals may simply turn out to be an aberration, as the
number of future aspirants dwindles due to lack of interest
by today's kids.


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+++ NEWS

- Labor law limits contract durations
- Suica/Pasmo transactions pass 3m daily
- Changes in bank shareholding rules
- Japanese restaurants becoming popular in Thailand
- New law extends working age rights

=> Labor law limits contract durations

The Diet has passed a law that makes it more difficult for
employers to fire contract workers after several renewals,
providing those workers are filling jobs on the same basis
as regular employees. The law also sets five years as the
practical limit for contract renewals, after which the
contractor can have the option of joining the employer as
a full-time staff member. ***Ed: All good stuff from an
employee's point of view, but another nail in the coffin
for Japanese manufacturers as they try to manage the
record-high yen.** (Source: TT commentary from, Aug 4, 2012)

=> Suica/Pasmo transactions pass 3m daily

Near-field payments may be the subject of fierce debate
abroad, but in Japan it's a tried and true way of
extracting massive amounts of money from Japanese
consumers. Apparently the JR and Tokyo subway system's
Suica and Pasmo cards have collectively passed 3m
transactions per day for the first time. There were 78.77m
transactions performed in the month of July, as consumers
increase their use of the cards for more than just train
rides. 40.2m Suica and 20.57m Pasmo cards have been issued
so far. ***Ed: Imagine the sheer volume of pre-paid cash
that JR and the other rail operators are sitting on --
most people pre-pay JPY3,000-JPY5,000, meaning that about
JPY200bn (about US$2.5bn) or more is earning overnight
interest on the money markets for these companies.
(Source: TT commentary from, Aug 4, 2012)

=> Changes in bank shareholding rules

The timing of a new Financial Services Agency (FSA) rule
change to allow banks to increase their holdings of
non-financial firms from just 5% to up to 20% seems very
convenient to us. Given that the banks are going to be
experiencing a slew of bad loans once the Shizuka Kamei
loan moratorium ends next March, we expect there to be a
lot of sleight of hand going on as defaulting loans are
dealt with. Swapping debt for shares, something that the
new FSA rule allows, seems to be one such back-door
arrangement. (Source: TT commentary from,
Aug 2, 2012)

=> Japanese restaurants becoming popular in Thailand

Thai company PDS Holdings has found itself with a hit on
its hands after opening two Gyu-kaku brand restaurants in
Bangkok, and the company says it will open another 6 stores
by the end of 2013. PDS says that each restaurant broke
even within 4 months of opening, thanks to pricing about
100 food items at between 30-1,800 baht (THB) (about
JPY75-JPY2,500). The Japanese restaurant sector in
Bankgkok has sales of around THB11bn (JPY27.5bn) and no
doubt other Japanese food operators are watching with close
interest. (Source: TT commentary from, Aug
2, 2012)

=> New law extends working age rights

The Diet lower house as passed legislation that gives
workers the right to stay at their jobs until they turn 65,
requiring their employers to keep them on. The new law,
which is expected to be in force from April 2013,
unfortunately doesn't have any teeth, since employers who
do fire staff after 60 will not be penalized for doing so.
***Ed: About all the government has said they will do is to
"name-and-shame" companies retiring workers early, in the
public media.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Aug 3, 2012)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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Phone: +81-3-6439-1188 to reserve a seat.


In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** No feedback this week.



=> Tsubaki Taisho, an Unearthly Shrine -- Mie-ken
One of Japan's oldest & most revered shrines, Tsubaki.

The Tsubaki Taisha, as it is known to the locals, is
located far from the city center. The shrine is surrounded
by the enormous trees of a thick lush forest, high in the
mountainous region, and like many of Japan’s Grand Shrines,
there is something unearthly about the atmosphere. It’s as
though you truly are under the gaze of the Shinto gods.
There are six main shrines within the complex, and many
hundreds of lesser shrines dotting the landscape.

Tsubaki Taisha is dedicated to the god of guidance,
courage, strength and righteousness, Sarutahiko No Okami.
Sarutahiko is said to be the greatest of just six earth
born gods, and is often depicted as being a large powerful
figure with a flowing beard and long nose, a most
un-Japanese looking face!

=> Izu Peninsula West Coast -- Shizuoka-ken
A water lover's guide

I first toured Izu peninsula by bicycle in August during
Obon week, a Japanese celebration of ancestors. It was
indeed hot and humid, and the experience was magical. I
have been back to Izu dozens of times since then, in all
seasons, and I continue to be amazed by the seemingly
limitless opportunities for the water enthusiast around
nearly every turn.

The shape of Izu is a snake's head, tipped slightly to the
left. Osezaki, on the top left tip is about 22 km southwest
of the city of Numazu, a right turn off route 17. It is a
scuba diving point and offers up a magnificent view of
Mount Fuji. Divers can pay the nominal shrine entrance fee
and dive to the right, where there are soft corals and a
variety of smaller fish, or they can walk over the hump and
dive to the left for a deeper dive with larger animals. On
both sides the current can be strong so be aware of
distance traveled and where to turn back; use your computer
or count kick cycles. After your dives, the restaurants
back at the beach area, where beginner dive classes take
place, are reasonable and the food is delicious. There's
also a hot bath further back in the dive shops' area if
you're feeling chilled.



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