No.2 - Discuss Japan

Archives : No.2

Aug–Sept 2010

Discussions, No.2  Sept. 30, 2010


If the railroad industry were likened to a living organism, the perfect analogue would be plants. Tracks are firmly rooted to the ground, with train lines covering a fixed span of territory. When neighborhoods prosper, so does the industry, with more trains running through them; when they decline, the line also falls into disuse. Train service cannot move to new locales when the number of passengers declines; it continues to live and grow with the community it serves. Rootedness is a common trait of the industry in countries around the world. When the social environment changes, the industry must adapt to the changes or face extinction. Inasmuch as railroad lines cannot “migrate” to greener pastures like animals, they must develop thoroughgoing strategies for adapting to change. The single most outstanding feature of rail transport in Japan is its capacity to adjust the entire system ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Sept. 29, 2010


The International Space Station is a joint multinational project involving 15 countries: Japan, the United States, 11 European nations, Canada, and Russia. It entails the construction of an enormous facility, roughly the size of a soccer stadium, that will orbit the Earth at an altitude of around 400 kilometers and weigh approximately 420 tons in total. The space station will normally be inhabited by six astronauts, who will carry out various scientific experiments and tests of technologies, in addition to observing the Earth and outer space. A massive sum of upwards of ¥8 trillion (excluding Russia’s expenditures) has been invested in the ISS by the US, European, and Japanese partners since its construction began in 1998. This can truly be described as a colossal scientific project on a scale unprecedented in human history. In 1987 Japan decided to participate in the ISS project through ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2
Sept. 28, 2010


The Ōmiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama, opened on March 28 in Saitama City, not far from Tokyo. It is the first publicly run institution in Japan dedicated to the art of bonsai. The museum is located in an exclusive residential area known as the Ōmiya Bonsai Village. The Bonsai Village developed in the years following the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, when a number of established professional bonsai cultivators moved here from Tokyo, drawn to Ōmiya by its clean air and the prospect of spacious premises suitable for use as bonsai nurseries. In the years that followed, Ōmiya grew into an important suburb under the influence of the “garden city” philosophy of urban planning then prevalent in the commuter belt around Tokyo, making it a place of considerable interest in terms of Japanese social history.... [Read more]

Politics, No.2
Sept. 27, 2010


Looking at the Democratic Party of Japan these days, I cannot help feeling that it has headed out to sea on a journey without a chart. When the DPJ took over the reins of government from the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party last autumn, it had a chart of sorts, namely, the manifesto it set forth as the basis for its campaign for the August 2009 House of Representatives election, from which it emerged victorious. But once the administration of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio came into power, it discarded the planks of this platform one after another, deciding, for example, not to pay the promised “child allowance” in full and modifying its pledge to eliminate expressway tolls. In June this year Hatoyama resigned and Kan Naoto took the helm as the new captain of the ship of state, but the crew of the ship are ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Sept. 26, 2010


Exactly 40 years ago Japan launched its first satellite. In 1970, after four failed launches, the Ōsumi was successfully sent into orbit, making Japan the fourth country to have its own satellite–after the former Soviet Union, the United States, and France. According to materials published by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan has launched 141 rockets as of 2009, placing it fourth after Russia (3,294, including the Soviet era), the United States (1,931), and the European Space Agency (329). In this sense, Japan can be described as a “satellite superpower.” In the realm of business, however, Japanese satellite makers lag behind. There are two companies in Japan that manufacture commercial satellites: Mitsubishi Electric and NEC. Yet of the 20 telecommunication satellite models currently in use, 19 were produced outside of Japan. Mitsubishi Electric, which is Japan’s top satellite maker,... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Sept. 25, 2010


Japan’s satellite launch business is set to enter a new stage in 2011, when Mitsubishi Heavy Industries uses its H-IIA, a mainstay rocket produced in Japan, to launch the Korea Multipurpose Satellite-3, or Kompsat-3, of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. This will mark the first time for a Japanese rocket to launch a non-Japanese commercial satellite. Japan’s satellite launch vehicles have been developed with an eye to having 100% of their key technologies produced in Japan. The N-I rocket, first launched in 1975, relied completely on imported technologies, but in advancing to the N-II in 1981 and the H-I in 1986, the levels of Japanese technologies used rose to 20% and 50%, respectively. By 1994, with the first flight of the H-II rocket, the goal of producing all of the key components and technologies in Japan had become a reality. An advanced version of ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Sept. 24, 2010


These days people are talking about how Japan’s public finances are in danger of going bankrupt, but I frankly do not understand what they consider to be a state of bankruptcy. Certainly the government has gone heavily into debt, but for the most part, the outstanding government obligations are domestic in nature. That is, they are bonds held by Japanese parties, not by overseas investors. In effect, the Japanese are in debt with each other. It is like a family in which the husband has borrowed money from the wife, not from some loan shark. Under the circumstances, no problem will arise as long as inflation does not set in and interest rates do not rise too high. To be sure, the government needs to keep on meeting interest payments and rolling the debt over, but it has the financial tools for that. The ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2
Aug. 8, 2010


The start of the new academic year this April brought the introduction of a new set of textbooks in Japanese elementary schools. Stories in the media about the new textbooks, which are considerably thicker than before, took them as symbolic of a shift away from yutori kyōiku, or “education that gives children room to grow.” A headline in the daily Asahi Shimbun on March 31 proclaimed: “25% More Pages in Elementary School Texts: Farewell to Room-to-Grow Education.” The Yomiuri Shimbun had shorter headline delivering the same message on the same day. The new textbooks have more pages, and furthermore their contents seem to be more difficult. They restore many items that were designated as advanced-study topics in the previous round of textbook screening or that had been omitted entirely as part of the “room to grow” revisions, such as the formula for calculating the ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.2
Aug. 7, 2010


HANDŌ KAZUTOSHI In the first sixty-five years following World War II, Japan had thirty prime ministers, if you begin with Higashikuni Naruhiko and count up to Asō Tarō. I made the interesting discovery that looking at them in three equal groups, divided chronologically, is an excellent way to go about understanding postwar Japan. The first group of ten begins with Higashikuni Naruhiko [prime minister Aug.-Oct. 1945] and ends with Satō Eisaku [1964-72]. The members of this group were mostly seasoned former bureaucrats, including veterans of Japan’s prewar bureaucracy. The next group extends from Tanaka Kakuei [1972-74] through Miyazawa Kiichi [1991-93]. In contrast to the first group, which was dominated by people who rose up through the bureaucracy, six out of ten in this group began their careers as party politicians. As a group, they were tempered by the heat of factional... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Aug. 6, 2010


On June 18 the cabinet of Kan Naoto, Japan’s new prime minister, approved a growth strategy for “a strong economy, robust public finances, and a strong social security system.” Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan suffered an embarrassing setback in the July 11 House of Councillors election, when it was unable to garner a majority of the upper house seats, but his administration remains determined to incorporate the strategy’s policy measures, including a cut in the corporate tax rate to strengthen the competitiveness of Japan-based companies, in the budget for fiscal 2011 (April 2011 to March 2012). The hope is to rescue the nation’s economy and society from the two decades of stagnation that have followed the bubble boom in the second half of the 1980s. Through the combined efforts of the public and private sectors, the administration seeks to realize an average 3% nominal ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2
Aug. 5, 2010


Members of Japan’s national team (at May 30, 2010 match against England) ©J.LEAGUE PHOTOS “In terms of how we played, I have no regrets at all. The players were really wonderful, and they’ve been truly proud of being Japanese and also representing Asia as a whole. They played until the end and I’m proud of them. But I didn’t manage to get them to win. That’s my responsibility. I wasn’t determined enough.” So spoke Okada Takeshi, coach of Japan’s national football team, at a press conference following his side’s defeat in a penalty shoot-out to Paraguay in the round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. While Okada’s remarks may have been tinged with disappointment, the performance and results of the Japanese team at this summer’s tournament were certainly... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Aug. 4, 2010


Subsequent to the outbreak of the global financial crisis symbolized by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the United States, Japan, and other Asian countries have all been recovering, each at its own speed. Even Europe has returned to growth, although the Greek debt crisis has slowed the pace of recovery there. Particularly compared with Britain, which is transitioning into the postindustrial age and has, accordingly, seen a long-term decline in industrial production, Japan’s recovery was quick. Germany also bounced back fast, though its upturn has recently lost momentum. Japan’s real gross domestic product and real consumption bottomed out in the January-March 2009 quarter and have returned to growth. Statistics on Japanese employment do not yet show improvement, but workers are spending more time on the job, and eventually the longer working hours will lead to gains in the... [Read more]

Culture, No.2
Aug. 3, 2010


Michelin Guide 2008 Tokyo caused a great stir when it went on sale in 2007, but this was tempered in Japan by a haze of skepticism over the release of Michelin’s first guide to a city outside Europe or North America. The New York Times reported on such ambivalence in a story titled, “Michelin Gives Stars, but Tokyo Turns Up Nose” (February 24, 2008). The book nonetheless sold well, with 90,000 copies snapped up on the first day of sale–a new record for the venerable guide. It made its biggest impact, though, in Europe, as it gave stars to 150 restaurants in Tokyo, more than double the 64 listed in the guide for Paris the same year. Tokyo also overwhelmed other cities in the total number of stars awarded. Michelin maintains that its criteria for rating restaurants are consistent in all regions, so by ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.2
Aug. 2, 2010


ITOH MOTOSHIGE How does the current global business environment look to you? HOMMA MITSURU The American economy has been extremely active of late. And even though unemployment remains high, pricey consumer products in cars and electronics have begun to move, in particular in May and June. If we don’t see a recurrence of the financial problems, I think the recovery will move forward steadily. On the other hand, Europe is still not showing much sign of recovery following the Greek financial crisis. But solar power generation is doing well; this is probably due to the “feed-in tariffs” whereby privately generated power is purchased at a set price. ITOH I heard that FITs had been a failure in Spain. HOMMA Yes, it’s true that the system did collapse in Spain at one stage. Following this failure, countries such as Germany are moving ahead... [Read more]

Culture, No.2
Aug. 1, 2010


The Japan-China Friendship Jūdō Hall in Nanjing, constructed with financial assistance from Japan, opened on March 1, 2010. Funding for the project was provided through the Grant Assistance for Cultural Grassroots Projects program administered by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The jūdō hall in Nanjing is the second such facility in China; the first was built in Qingdao in 2007. Having been involved in the project from the very beginning, I went there for the opening ceremony and coached some students from local sports schools at the grand opening. Japanese media people were out in full force that day, and I told an interviewer that I considered Nanjing, a place with terribly painful associations for Japanese people too, to be, for that very reason, the most suitable site for a jūdō hall. A jūdō hall celebrating friendship between Japan and China has been built ... ... [Read more]