economics

March 12, 2011

Quake, Tsunami Slam Japan One of Largest Ever, Temblor Kills Hundreds, Raises Fears of Radiation Leaks at Nuclear Plant

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:18 am
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By MARIKO SANCHANTA and CHESTER DAWSON in Tokyo and DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

WSJ’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports from Northern Japan, where the extent of the devastation from a 8.9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent Tsunami became even clearer with the arrival of daylight Saturday morning.

TOKYO—The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan triggered a 30-foot tsunami that washed away parts of the northern shore, leaving hundreds dead, forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes and raising fears of a radioactive release from some of the country’s many nuclear power plants.
Strong Quake Strikes Japan

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Kyodo/Reuters

The quake was one of the world’s five strongest in more than a century of record-keeping, with a magnitude of 8.9. It inflicted particularly severe damage in Japan’s northeast, where powerful waves swallowed warehouses and fishing boats and swept across neighborhoods and rice paddies. A train was reported derailed and missing. A quake-sparked blaze at an oil-storage site spread throughout a town of 75,000.

Japan’s National Police Agency said Saturday morning that 236 people had died, 725 were missing and 1028 injured. That toll is likely to rise as figures were compiled across the country: Police said 200 to 300 bodies had been found in the city of Sendai, the closest major city to the quake’s epicenter.

Worries mounted early Saturday over safety at two nuclear-power plants north of Tokyo, after power outages disabled the systems that cool fuel rods. Radiation levels in a control room of one reactor reached around 1,000 times the normal level early Saturday, Kyodo News reported the government’s nuclear agency as saying. Officials said they had asked people living within about six miles of that plant to evacuate. Some 20,000 people had left the area around that and another troubled plant by Saturday morning, Kyodo reported.
Japan Quake’s Effects

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See a map of post-earthquake events in Japan, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.

The impact of the quake’s first jolt, which hit at 2:46 p.m. on a clear Friday afternoon, was felt around the country, including in Tokyo. There, office buildings swayed. Trains, buses and phone service stopped. Millions of households lost power.

Japanese spent the rest of the day and night watching televised images of fires, collapsed buildings and deadly debris-filled waves, delivered by news anchors in hard hats. Dozens of powerful aftershocks emanated from off the eastern coast through Saturday morning, shaking the country and its people.

The quake’s footprint spread at about 3 a.m. local time, as new seismic activity rippled through the center to the country’s western coast, raising the specter of a series of quakes extending throughout the country, which sits atop crisscrossing fault lines on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire.

“I really thought I was going to die,” Yuhei Sakaibara, a reporter for the local Sendai newspaper, said in a telephone interview Friday night. “Dishes went flying in every direction and huge cracks ripped up the walls. When I got outside, I saw that several houses in the neighborhood had collapsed.”

In a town of about 12,500 residents in neighboring Fukushima prefecture—at the outskirts of the worst-damaged areas—roads were cracked. Goro Okawara, a 68-year-old farmer who said he was in the fields when the first quake hit, said he thought the temblor would last 30 seconds but “it just kept going and kept getting worse and worse.”

The traditional kawara tiles on Mr. Okawara’s roof “came flying off,” he said, crumbling and spraying red clay blocks in all directions. A glass door shattered. A crater appeared in his driveway. Nearby, he said, the crematorium where his family was planning a funeral for a relative Saturday had collapsed. At the local cemetery, many headstones were snapped in half.

In all, about 100,000 residents of Fukushima province had evacuated by early Saturday, Kyodo reported.
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The quakes and waves slammed a nation that has had its prolonged share of miseries. An extended economic decline saw Japan recently slip behind China as the world’s second-largest economy. A series of scandals have not only discredited and paralyzed its political leadership, but also tarred institutions from elite universities to the ancient sumo sport.

Japan’s long-deadlocked parliament appeared initially to have set aside political bickering and rallied around calls for unity and new measures to keep the quake from further weakening the economy.

With damages estimates likely to mount quickly, news of the quake—which struck near the close of trading Friday on the Tokyo Stock Exchange—may pummel Japanese shares next week. Should the already debt-burdened government be forced to issues trillions of yen in reconstruction bonds, the move would affect the Japanese fixed-income market and weigh on Japan’s already-weakened credit rating from the world’s major rating agencies.

Yumiko Ono reports from Tokyo that more than 1000 people are dead or missing after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami struck Northern Japan Friday.
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Some economists have argued that a quake could actually lift the economy in the long run, by requiring a surge in rebuilding spending. But more immediately, the impact disrupted a spectrum of the nation’s industries, from auto and consumer-electronics makers to steel and beverage producers, forcing a number of them to shut factories.

Offers of sympathy were swift from around the world, with Japan’s foreign ministry saying it had recieved assistance offers from some 50 governments. These included China and Russia, which have recently had testy territorial disputes with Tokyo.

Premier Wen Jiabao expressed “deep sympathy and solicitude to the Japanese government and the people” and told Prime Minister Naoto Kan that China is willing to offer aid. An earthquake has been an occasion for China and Japan to set aside their differences before: After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 68,000 people, Japan’s Self Defense Forces were the first foreign aid and rescue team allowed into China.

“Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be,” U.S. President Barack Obama said at a news conference. “Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”
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* See all video on the Japan quake.
* Asia Today: Massive Earthquake Strikes Japan
* News Hub: Obama “Heartbroken” over Earthquake
* Tokyo Residents Shocked After Quake
* Tsunami Warning Issued In Hawaii
* Devastating Quake Hits Japan

Quake Hits Japan

* Japan Issues Emergency at Nuclear Plant
* Shaky Science: Damage Estimates From Japan Tsunami
* Quake Warning System Alerted Tokyo
* Tokyo Grapples With Its Vulnerability
* Out of Ruin, Unity
* Quake-Hit Area Was Already Reeling
* Temblor Hits Already Weak Economy
* Japan Looks at How to Fund Reconstruction
* Post-Kobe Measures May Have Limited Damage

Global Impact

* Waves Hit Hawaii, Force Evacuations
* Nations Brace for Tsunami Impact
* Airlines Cancel, Divert Flights
* Foreign Businesses Gauge Impact
* Telecom Operators Report Damage to Undersea Cables
* Reinsurer Stocks Take Hit, but Exposure May Be Limited

Live Updates

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Useful External Links

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* USGS Map | Earthquake Location

Shaky Ground

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Colliding plates under earth’s surface make Asia Pacific one of the most tectonically active region on earth.
Your Tsunami Photos

Were you there when the earthquake hit Japan, or were you among those evacuated along Pacific coasts? Email us your photos of the damage, at yourphotos@wsj.com.

Mr. Obama said he spoke Friday morning with Mr. Kan and offered whatever assistance was needed, and said he expected U.S. aid to be focused on helping with the cleanup. He said the U.S. has an aircraft carrier in Japan now, with another is on the way. A third ship is en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed, he said. The U.S. has a large military presence in Japan, and there were signs troops were being mobilized quickly there to help out.

Friday’s quake was the largest ever to hit the earthquake-prone country in terms of strength, but didn’t appear, at least in the early hours, to be as devastating as two great quakes of the 20th century. More than 100,000 people died or went missing in the 7.9-magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The 1995 Kobe earthquake, which registered 7.3, killed more than 6,000 people in the region.
Disastrous Japan Earthquakes

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Associated Press

In September 1923, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo.

See some of the most powerful earthquakes to have hit the island nation.
The World’s Biggest Earthquakes

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Associated Press

A photographer looked over wreckage as smoke rose in the background from burning oil storage tanks at Valdez, Alaska, March 29, 1964.

One reason for the lower death toll appeared to be a heightened readiness in Japan, raised particularly after the Kobe quake embarrassed the government and builders for weak preparedness.

“Japan has spent a huge effort preparing for a destructive earthquake off the east coast and is better prepared than most countries in the world,” said Kevin McCue, a director at Australian Seismological Centre.

Analysts say steps taken since the wake-up call of the Kobe quake include using improved construction methods for bridges to make them more responsive to the shock and giving the country’s self-defense forces authority to more immediately engage in relief efforts.

Citizens also got some advance warning from the world’s first early-warning system, developed by the country’s meteorological agency. The agency detected the initial quake’s shock wave near the seismic center and sent off the warning message, which appeared on national television and radio as well as on mobile-phone screens. Throughout the day, the tell-tale warning chime sounded regularly before new tremors hit.

After the quake hit, the government ordered the nation’s military, police and emergency rescue personnel to head for the affected areas to help with the rescue missions.

The central bank quickly announced that it has set up a disaster-management team, headed by Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, and said it was standing ready to supply liquidity to ensure stability in financial markets.

The government will likely first use roughly 200 billion yen ($2.41 billion) in emergency funding left in the budget for the current fiscal year ending this month, several Finance Ministry officials said. They said the proposed budget for the new fiscal year contains another 350 billion yen for natural disasters and 810 billion yen in emergency funding.

Across Japan, ports, railways and airports shut down. Car-navigation systems indicated that almost every entry point in Tokyo to the nation’s highway system was closed.

In Tokyo, cellphone reception was down, causing long lines to snake around pay phones. Children walked home from school, some with protective head gear. People huddled around televisions, trying to grasp the extent of the damage.

Near Tokyo Station, people streamed onto the street, where the only option was to walk— buses and taxis weren’t available and all trains were halted.

Akira Nomiya, 74, in Tokyo from Sapporo to visit his grandchildren, said the quake hit right after he stepped out of a monorail. “It shook so badly that I couldn’t keep standing as I stepped out of the monorail. People were just hanging onto the wall or sitting down on the ground. Girls were screaming on the platform.”

“A screen fell off my desk,” said Varun Nayyar, an associate director at UBS Securities Japan, who hastily evacuated his building.

At 3:24 p.m., the first large aftershock could be felt by those standing outside of buildings in central Tokyo. Looking up at construction cranes shaking violently atop half-completed buildings, people gasped. As of early Saturday, at least 50 aftershocks were recorded.

The Japanese auto industry was also hit by the earthquake, with Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. among those shutting plants, but one automotive analyst called the expected impact on the industry “manageable.”

Toyota shut down two assembly plants. At Honda’s plant in Tochigi, north of Tokyo, a factory ceiling collapsed, crushing a worker to death and injuring 30 others. Nissan said five plants were shut down immediately after the quake struck, with small fires extinguished at two of them. It was assessing its operations and those of suppliers to see whether production could restart Monday.

Analysts from the main ratings agencies—which have recently downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt—said it was too early to say how the quake might affect the country’s credit ratings. Richard Jerram, a Singapore-based economist at Macquarie Securities with long experience in Japan, said that while the scale of damage was hard to predict, “the most obvious concern is the debt market. That’s going to be the thing to watch.”

Japan’s political logjam won’t likely be a problem, as “you’re obviously going to get a cooperative approach,” he said.
—Juro Osawa, Kana Inagaki, Yoshio Takahashi, Mari Iwata
and Kenneth Maxwell contributed to this article.
[JQUAKE]
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“ This is truly a horrible tragedy. I feel very sorry for those affected as well as their family members. I hope they can get back on their feet quickly.

June 22, 2010

Sayonara, America?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 7:30 pm
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Prime Minister Hatoyama’s resignation at the beginning of June highlights Japan’s dilemma. It wants an eastern equivalent of the EU to guarantee stability and trade. But who will join, and will the US accept Japan’s exit from a co-dependency guaranteed by treaty since the end of the second world war?
http://mondediplo.com/2010/06/04japan
The big prize is China, whose huge market guarantees Japan’s future. After more than a decade of crisis, the Japanese economy is still geared to exports, although these are in freefall. Asia, which seems to have coped better with the financial storm, has replaced the West and China has replaced the US as Japan’s main trading partners. In 2009 nearly a quarter of Japan’s exports went to China, while 16% went to the US and 12% to Europe.

But trade has not been enough to soften attitudes. China and Japan share cultural roots (including their writing systems, Confucianism and Buddhism), which should encourage cooperation, but the past is also charged with conflict. In ancient times, the emperors of China regarded Japan as a nation of “dwarves”, barely worthy of paying China tribute. In the early 20th century, the Japanese pursued their colonial conquests brutally, from the occupation of Manchuria to the Nanking massacre. The Japanese are the only nation to have been nuclear-bombed, but, unlike the Germans, not all have learned from the consequences of aggression. Even today, the museum attached to the Yasukuni Shrine justifies the Pacific war as a “defensive war”.

The tensions have subsided. In Taiwan – an issue on which Beijing and Tokyo differ – the election of Ma Yingjeou, who, unlike his more pro-independence predecessor, favours cooperation with China, has allowed the resumption of less adversarial relations. In Japan, the end of the Koizumi administration signalled a return to normal relations. Hatoyama suggested to President Hu Jintao that the East China Sea should be transformed into a “sea of fraternity” (6), an allusion to the territorial dispute regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (7). On a visit to Tokyo in December 2009, China’s vice president, Xi Jinping, was able to bypass normal protocol and gain an audience with Emperor Akihito. The influential DPJ figure Ichiro Ozawa led a 600-strong delegation to China last December.

Professor Ryosei Kokubun of Keio University, Tokyo, feels considerable progress has been made, although he warns against taking a simplistic view. There is no Sino-Japanese alliance seeking to drive the US out of Asia, he says; it is a three-way relationship (US-China-Japan). Relations had their ups and downs during the 20th century: a US-Chinese alliance against Japan during the second world war was succeeded by a US-Japanese alliance against China, at least “until the 1970s, when all three saw the Soviet Union as the enemy”. America’s U-turn over China took Japan by surprise. The Japanese still talk of the “Nixon Shock”, referring to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to and recognition of China, which the US had until then shunned. They had the same kind of shock in 1998: “President Clinton stayed in China for more than a week, without coming to Tokyo,” said Kokubun. “People started to worry about America bypassing Japan and feared that a new strategic partnership would be formed at Japan’s expense.”

The return of a Democrat to the White House revived their fears. Officially, everyone applauded Barack Obama’s speech on nuclear disarmament, “which we have wanted for a long time,” said an MOFA official. But they also noticed the length of the US president’s visit to China, compared to his brief stopover in Tokyo last November.
Arc of freedom

Japan’s new administration is keen to avoid the establishment of a one-to-one relationship between Washington and Beijing, from which it would be excluded. Hence the rapprochement with China and a determination to earn political credibility in the region. It is true that the concept of the East Asian Community does not belong exclusively to Japan (it first emerged after the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, when it was opposed by the US and China), but Hatoyama revived the long term idea of a common (Asian) currency, to mark Asia’s new role in world affairs. His resignation is unlikely to change Japan’s desire to free itself from the International Monetary Fund and the burden of the dollar. An embryonic Asian monetary fund, in which South Korea is participating, is already in place. Even so, the Asian leadership contest has yet to be decided.

China seized the diplomatic initiative by signing a free trade agreement with the 10 Asean countries (8), which came into force on 1 January 2010. While trying to catch up, Japan has turned to India, Australia and New Zealand to form an “arc of freedom and prosperity”, in opposition to China’s authoritarianism. The Japanese government is keen to woo India, which it sees as the perfect counterweight to China. Japan and India signed a strategic partnership agreement in October 2008 and are planning joint military manoeuvres. This privileged relationship is promising but as yet marginal: India accounts for less than 1% of Japan’s trade.

Some members of the Japanese administration have greater hopes of a Japano-Korean axis, similar to the Franco-German axis in Europe. An expert on Asian relations at the MOFA admitted, “We speak the same economic language as China, but we still have great differences over the rest. In southeast Asia, there are only two countries that have both a market economy and democracy: Korea and Japan. They could be an engine of regional cooperation.” However, China may be scary, but Japan does not inspire confidence.

Historical disputes remain an obstacle to a new alliance. In spite of three years working together on a 2,200-page report published this March, a commission of South Korean and Japanese historians was unable to agree on key issues such as Japan’s imposition of forced labour and recruitment of “comfort women” (the euphemism for those forced to work in Japanese military brothels) during the second world war. “It will require patience,” admitted the MOFA expert. “Political and trade negotiations are already much easier. Now that it has joined the developed nations, Korea is more confident. And Hatoyama’s people are ready to take a calmer look at history.” But a trilateral alliance between Japan, China and South Korea has quietly come into being. Brought together by economic issues, they have been meeting on the fringes of Asean summits since 1999. In December 2008, they met independently for the first time. “The East Asian Community concept is taking shape at last,” remarked Kokubun.

But judging from their different approaches to North Korea, it will be a long march. So far, China has favoured pressure and negotiation, South Korea has taken a firm stance and Japan has refused to talk to North Korea. North Korea’s missile launches across Japanese airspace and its nuclear ambitions worry Japan, even if privately nobody really believes it is a serious threat.

Another source of friction that prevents Japan from repositioning itself strategically is Russia. Things have not moved on from the second world war. Russia and Japan have yet to sign a peace treaty, owing to their dispute over the Kurile Islands, which Japan refers to as the Northern Territories. Keen to secure energy resources over which Japan is in competition with China, Hatoyama was negotiating.

Sixty years after its defeat in the Pacific and 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet empire, Japan is still looking for a way into the post-cold war era. Hatoyama tried to secure greater autonomy from the US and was pushing for a new kind of regional cooperation, possibly with China. But he was hesitant to take the plunge and, lacking an innovative strategic vision and with very little support from his own party, he resigned. Does this mean that Japan has once again missed an opportunity to draw a line under the cold war? It is too soon to draw such a conclusion.

May 11, 2010

Bizarre Japanese Baby Crying Festival – Poor Babies!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 5:00 pm
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Since I’m a mother, when I hear a baby cry, I instinctually want to do something to soothe her and make her feel better. This story is nuts to me. There is a Baby Crying Festival held in Japan every year where mothers allow sumo wrestlers to scare the crap out of their babies so they will cry very, very loud. The mothers believe this will ward off evil spirits.

The baby that cries the longest is the winner, and there is even a sumo referee who judges the match. The sumo wrestlers hold the babies up high in the air to scare them and make them cry while the mothers pray for good health. This year there were 80 babies (under age 1) in the contest. Apparently this has been going on for 400 years. Are you kidding me? In different parts of Japan, there are different formats for scaring the baby. In the video below, instead of sumo wrestlers, there is a person that makes very scary faces and sticks stuff in the baby’s face to scare her.

Granted, I’m part of a generation of parents that does not use violence with their children. My son has never had a spanking and he’s 9 years old, so maybe I just have a different perspective. To me, this activity is torture. You may ward off evil spirits now, but I hope you like those therapy bills when you kid is 20. As my grandmother used to say, good luck with all that.

PayPal Strikes Deal To Expand in China

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 3:58 pm
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EBay Inc.’s PayPal said it will partner with China UnionPay Co., China’s largest electronic-payment-service provider, to let Chinese consumers shop from overseas merchants, a move that opens a massive segment of the Chinese market for PayPal and presents new competition for eBay’s Chinese rival Alibaba Group.

PayPal also said it will double its work force in Asia to 2,000 by the end of the year.

A large portion of PayPal’s current business in China consists of transactions by eBay merchants based in China. The new partnership expands that business to China’s quickly growing consumer market, just as online shopping is taking off in China.

The deal highlights how eBay is using its fast-growing PayPal arm to take a second crack at the world’s largest market of Internet users. EBay largely withdrew from China in 2006, after losing out to rival auction site Taobao.com, a unit of Alibaba Group, which didn’t charge users for its service. Today, eBay’s Chinese marketplace business is run through a site called EachNet, but still has only a tiny share of the market.
[PAYPAL]

PayPal has been at the core of a wider turnaround effort by eBay, which has seen business slow in its core marketplace division. In the fourth quarter of last year, PayPal accounted for about a third of revenue. Analysts predict that PayPal, which benefits from a wider consumer shift toward online shopping around the world, could some day become eBay’s largest business.

Beginning in the third quarter, China UnionPay cardholders within China will be able to link their bankcard accounts with PayPal and access a network of nearly eight million online merchants world-wide, including U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Zappos.com, a unit of Amazon.com Inc.

As a result, merchants around the world who accept PayPal payments and are willing to serve and ship to Chinese customers will be able to tap a base of millions of Chinese cardholders, most of whom don’t have, for example, a Visa card, though Visa Inc.-branded cards are also available in China.

Alan Tien, PayPal’s general manager in China, estimates there will be 150 million middle-class and affluent consumers and more than 300 million online shoppers in China by 2013. Though China is known as an exporter, “Chinese users will be a huge buying force,” he said in an interview.

PayPal says its partnership with China UnionPay will help users bypass a foreign-exchange regulation that limits cross-border transactions, essentially providing an online platform for China UnionPay, which it said “is already approved to conduct transactions by the relevant regulatory bodies in China.”

China UnionPay, which operates a bankcard-payment network, has relationships with hundreds of financial institutions in 90 countries and has issued 2.1 billion cards in 10 countries. Its partnership with PayPal leverages its core Chinese user base and PayPal’s merchant network to compete with e-commerce empire Alibaba Group, which has the leading market share by far in both online payment and online retail in China. Yahoo Inc. owns a 39% stake in Alibaba Group.

Still, the move won’t necessarily help PayPal build traction with Chinese shoppers who want to buy goods domestically. Currently, the largest destination for online shopping in China is Taobao.com, where most of the transactions are yuan-denominated sales between Chinese sellers and buyers. The site reported 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) of transactions on its site last year.

Transactions on Taobao are handled by Alibaba Group’s own online payment platform, AliPay, which JLM Pacific Epoch analyst Fiona Zhou estimates occupies 90% of China’s e-commerce payment market—far more than PayPal’s own Chinese payment platform, BeiBao, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the company.

AliPay announced this week it has 300 million registered users and a daily transaction volume of over 1.2 billion yuan, and like Taobao, it doesn’t charge a commission for those transactions. It does, however, charge users a bank-processing fee. (PayPal charges a commission, but it says rates vary from country to country.)

Ms. Zhou at JLM Pacific Epoch says it is still too early for PayPal to see immediate benefits from the partnership, because the majority of goods purchased online in China are still domestic goods. “If you look at Taobao … overseas products still represent a small portion” of transactions, Ms. Zhou said.

Some U.S.-based e-tailers, too, are wary to sell products into China, because of shipping costs and the challenge of learning customs formalities.

Still, the appetite for products from overseas does exist. When Barnes & Noble Inc. unveiled the Nook in the U.S., Taobao sellers promising to carry the electronic readers back from the U.S. began taking pre-orders from Chinese consumers almost immediately.

China is PayPal’s largest market in Asia, where the company processed more than $6 billion in payments last year. The company estimates PayPal was used for $3.1 billion in transactions between foreign buyers and Chinese sellers in 2009, largely related to eBay purchases.

Write to Loretta Chao at loretta.chao@wsj.com and Geoffrey A. Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com

The Land That Brought You Raw Fish Is Saying No to Seafood Japanese Try to Stem Falling Consumption With Songs, Classes; Bones Are a Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:56 pm
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By YUKA HAYASHI

TOKYO—The Japanese fishing industry landed a big win last week when it persuaded other maritime nations to nix a trading ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna. The fish is so prized in Japan that it’s dubbed “true” tuna.

But at home, the defenders of Japan’s proud fish-eating culture are facing a more serious threat: kids like Yuta Itsuno, a 14-year-old middle schooler.

“I love fishing, but I hate eating fish,” he said, as he hung out with friends in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku neighborhood. “They smell fishy, and I don’t like their bones.”
video
Some Japanese Lose Their Taste For Fish
3:04

In Japan, a country known for its love of seafood, everyone from teens to senior citizens are saying no to scales and bones and yes to meat. Now, fish mongers and fish meisters are trying to turn back the tide of change. WSJ’s Akiko Fujita reports.

Put aside all those stories of global battles spurred by Japan’s reputation as a voracious seafood-eating nation. Here in Japan, the trend that’s causing buzz is quite the opposite: Fish consumption has been steadily declining. Per capita fish-eating fell below that of meat for the first time in 2006. The average monthly household spending on seafood has dropped 23% since 2000, to $74 last year.

So Japanese bureaucrats are resorting to unusual means to keep their nation’s fish gobbling from shrinking further.

Rock singers dressed as fishermen sing paeans to ocean creatures through supermarket sound systems. Fish-promotion associations take schoolkids to beaches and fish markets and issue “Fish Meister” certificates to grown-ups. Others are trying to take the inconvenience out of eating, offering up filleted fish—and prompting hand-wringing by traditionalists concerned about the decline of Japanese gastronomy.

The decline in fish consumption reflects changes in lifestyle and demographics. Many children would rather eat spaghetti than squid sashimi or stewed sole. And that isn’t an unwelcome change for working parents who appreciate the convenience. The growing ranks of elderly people fearful about choking on sharp bones causes some of them to avoid grilled fish. A sluggish economy has also hurt since fish is often more expensive than meat is.
[w.FISH]

In the latest issue of its annual Fisheries White Paper, the government warned about the negative implications of children’s dislike of fish, pointing out that DHA and EPA, substances found in fatty fish, are essential to brain development. Without having to delicately remove bones, children are not learning chopstick dexterity, the agency said.

One trade group has turned to a rock band called Gyoko, or Fishing Port. “Our mission is to bring back fish to the Japanese table,” Tsurizao Morita, the vocalist and “captain” of the band says regularly.

In concerts, Mr. Morita, a former tuna fisherman, walks onto the stage wearing a real tuna head. He then slices it into edible pieces, while swinging a gleaming fisherman’s knife.

Gyoko’s first single, titled “Maguro,” which means tuna, was followed by another called “Katsuo,” or “Bonito.”

Gyoko became the nation’s first rock band to hold a press conference at the Fisheries Agency when it released a song called “Fish Heaven” in 2008. That’s a tune now heard in supermarkets all over Japan: “Fish. Fish. Fish. You get smart when you eat fish. Smart Smart Smart. Fish Fish Fish. You get healthy when you eat fish. Healthy. Healthy. Healthy.”

Hiroshi Kanatani, a fish monger in Wakayama in western Japan, believes the only way to recapture customers is to eliminate all “the inconveniences associated with fish,” meaning the work of cleaning and boning them.

View Full Image
Fish
Ooki Jingu

One trade group has turned to the rock band Gyoko, or Fishing Port, to promote the eating of fish.
Fish
Fish

Having had success with selling fish fillets to hospitals and schools, Mr. Kanatani now offers gourmet-quality versions through an online supermarket, relying heavily on Chinese workers wielding tweezers to get rid of pesky bones.

“Cooking and eating fish has to be as easy as heating up ham and sausage,” says the 50-year-old Mr. Kanatani.

Others say the problem isn’t that it is hard to eat fish, but that people don’t know what fish to eat and how. Instead of eating inexpensive and plentiful local fish in season, many Japanese go for trendy, expensive fish like tuna and salmon that have caused international outcries about overfishing.

Yoshikatsu Ikuta, a fish wholesaler at Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji fish market, recently opened a retail outpost near the main market area. His goal: showcasing the best seafood of the season.

One cold, rainy afternoon recently, Mr. Ikuta, speaking rapidly, was found trying to persuade a customer to try striped marlin, a fish at the peak of its season. “Everyone is always asking for tuna, but I tell them that when it’s not in season, even bluefin is so flavorless a cat would pass it by.”

Fishery officials have started sending instructors to schools. One group holds classes titled “Fish Have Bones,” where children are taught how to eat whole grilled fish with chopsticks. The catch: Before eating, they have to learn the bone structure of the fish using an anatomy chart.

And then there’s the Fish Meister school. At a class held at a small conference room in Tsukiji one recent Saturday, 15 students huddled around a counter laden with gleaming fish.

As Tomio Matsumoto, a 73-year-old fish monger, began cutting them into juicy sashimi slices for tasting, some took notes furiously while others took snapshots. One woman lowered her nose to within an inch of a slab of yellowtail to confirm the teachers’ statement that fresh fish don’t smell.

The students come from different backgrounds—office workers, housewives and buyers for supermarkets—but are united in one goal: spreading the knowledge of fish. “We were born in a nation with a gift of great fish,” said Yusuke Ochi, a 29-year-old ad agency employee who got hooked on fish after working on seafood menus. “It’s a shame not to enjoy it.”
—Miho Inada contributed to this article.

Write to Yuka Hayashi at yuka.hayashi@wsj.com

Aggressive Banker Is Focus of Feud Fujitsu’s Public Battle With Ex-President Involves Mr. Fusa and a Former Client

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:02 pm
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By DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI

TOKYO—The banker at the center of Fujitsu Ltd.’s public feud with its former president has a résumé to rival nearly anyone in Japan’s financial sector: degrees from prestigious universities—Waseda and Oxford—and impressive achievements as former head of mergers and acquisitions in Japan for UBS AG and Credit Suisse First Boston.
[FUJITSU] Bloomberg News

KojI Fusa, shown in 2002, has been accused by Fujitsu of gangster ties. He has declined recent requests to be photographed.

Koji Fusa, whom Fujitsu claims had possible gangster ties, has been an unusually aggressive figure in the staid Japanese banking world. In his years as an investment banker, he was known for a bold style of deal making, including hostile takeovers, largely shunned by other Japanese bankers, and he forged close links to the founder of a consumer-finance firm who was later convicted of wire tapping.

As an investor he has sometimes relied on risky financing methods, such as issuing bonds that give bondholders a larger stake in a struggling company as its stock price declines. Mr. Fusa says he has ceased to use that strategy since the global financial meltdown.

At a meeting in September with Fujitsu’s then-president, Kuniaki Nozoe, Fujitsu executives claimed that Mr. Fusa, the founding partner of a small hedge fund and private-equity firm, had gangster ties. At the executives’ urging, Mr. Nozoe, who had been negotiating the partial sale of a Fujitsu unit to Mr. Fusa’s firm, agreed to resign.

The 50-year-old Mr. Fusa, who lives in London, denies he or his businesses have links to organized crime. “This whole series of events is ridiculous,” he said in an interview at the austere apartment he was sharing with his wife and four daughters during a recent visit to Tokyo. “If they had done a little bit of research on us, they would have found out that we are actually quite a reputable organization.”

Mr. Fusa’s critics, who include some former rivals, say he has prospered by operating on the fringes of Japanese finance. His supporters, including an ex-colleague, say his willingness to push the envelope has upset more-conventional bankers, who are jealous of his success.

Mr. Fusa says his London-based hedge fund, Sandringham Capital Partners Ltd., has 15 billion yen ($161 million) under management, and his Tokyo-based private-equity firm, Sandringham Private Value KK, has a credit line of 60 billion yen from a major Japanese bank.

Sandringham Private Value has yet to do a private-equity deal. In what might have been its first, it was in talks to acquire part of a Fujitsu subsidiary. But the talks fell apart last year after Mr. Nozoe stepped down.

Mr. Nozoe says Fujitsu officials told him his dealings with Mr. Fusa and Sandringham put the Japanese technology giant at risk.

Fujitsu has cited what it says were Mr. Fusa’s ties to a firm with an “unfavorable reputation” as making Mr. Nozoe unfit to be Fujitsu’s president. Though it hasn’t identified Mr. Fusa or his firm publicly, it has named them in court documents.

Mr. Nozoe has said he plans to file a shareholder lawsuit against two Fujitsu officials he claims forced him to resign on false pretenses, and he has publicly attacked his former employer. A lawyer representing Mr. Fusa and Sandringham says they have no ties to organized crime. They have filed a defamation suit over the allegations against three Fujitsu board members.

In a statement, Fujitsu said it was told by “multiple” unidentified financial institutions that there were questions over whether the unidentified fund had gangster ties. Fujitsu says it used private investigators to look into those suspicions, but it says it has no evidence from Japanese authorities linking the fund to organized crime.

Mr. Fusa started his banking career working at two boutique banks in London. He joined S.G Warburg, now part of UBS, in Japan in 1990, and eventually became its local head of M&A.

Later, at CSFB’s Japan office, he would surprise clients by proposing aggressive deals, a former co-worker says, including hostile takeovers, which remain rare in Japan and were long considered taboo in the country’s consensus-driven corporate culture. By Western standards, this person says, Mr. Fusa was simply a creative banker.

Both UBS and Credit Suisse, as CSFB is now known, declined to comment. Credit Suisse is a unit of Credit Suisse Group.

“In my mind, I have never done anything dubious,” Mr. Fusa says.

He made a big splash in 1997, leading UBS’s rise to become Japan’s top equity underwriter, in rankings by Thomson Reuters, a first for a non-Japanese firm had overtaken domestic heavyweights Nomura Holdings Inc. and Daiwa Securities Inc. He capped that achievement.In 1998 he underwrote a 88-billion-yen secondary-share offering by consumer lender Takefuji Corp., which Nomura had taken public in 1996.

Some of the Takefuji shares were offered by Yasuo Takei, the company’s founder. Like the rest of the consumer-finance industry at the time, Takefuji was loosely regulated. Like its peers, it had a poor public image because it charged interest rates approaching 30% and had occasionally faced criticism for aggressive collection methods.

In 2006, Japan cracked down on Takefuji and the rest of the consumer-lending industry, following a Japanese Supreme Court ruling that the lenders were charging excessive interest rates. Japan imposed interest-rate ceilings and ordered the companies to refund some of the extra interest consumers had paid.

Frequent offerings of debt, and sometimes equity, made Takefuji a sought-after investment-banking client. Mr. Fusa says he eventually grew close to Mr. Takei, Takefuki’s chairman, after winning the company as a client.

Mr. Fusa “upset the order of things by beating other bankers to deals,” says Hideaki Nagamori, an ex-colleague from UBS and CSFB, who is now chief operating officer at technology firm Cybird Holdings Co.

Mr. Takei resigned as Takefuji chairman in 2003 after an arrest for wire tapping a reporter who wrote stories critical of the company. He was convicted in 2004 and given a suspended sentence. He died in 2006.

Court papers Fujitsu filed earlier this year in response to a petition by Mr. Nozoe to be reinstated as a Fujitsu director cited Mr. Fusa’s relationship with Mr. Takei as a reason for Fujitsu’s suspicion of Mr. Fusa and his firm. The documents were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A Takefuji spokesman declined to comment. Mr. Nozoe ultimately withdrew his petition.

“Everybody was looking to do business with Takefuji at the time,” says Mr. Fusa. “It was a typical relationship between a good client and an investment banker.”
—Cassell Bryan-Low in London and Juro Osawa in Tokyo contributed to this article.

Write to Daisuke Wakabayashi at Daisuke.Wakabayashi@wsj.com

May 10, 2010

Kit Kat Kaleidoscope: Far-Out Flavors From Japan

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May 10, 2010
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Kit Kats
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Why stop at just chocolate and crispy wafers? In Japan, Kit Kats come in many flavors, including ginger ale, soy sauce, green tea and banana.
Kit Kats
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Why stop at just chocolate and crispy wafers? In Japan, Kit Kats come in many flavors, including ginger ale, soy sauce, green tea and banana.
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May 10, 2010

The Kit Kats you find in American stores offer a quick fix of chocolate and crispy wafers. But in Japan, Kit Kats go far beyond chocolate, with flavors like ginger ale, soy sauce, creme brulee and banana. NPR’s Lynn Neary talks with Tokyo-based reporter Lucy Craft about the unique candy market in Japan.

And to see how those flavors translate to other countries — like the U.S. — we asked NPR staff members to try some samples and tell us what they think.

Kit Kat Taste Test: Notes From A Crunching

With such a wide range of flavors needing to be sampled, we lined up testers from across NPR’s divisions. To encourage natural and objective responses, subjects tasted the candy in separate sessions.

Participants: Steve Inskeep (host, Morning Edition), Jamie Tarabay (National Desk), Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (Foreign Desk), Jon Hamilton (Science Desk), Linda Holmes (Arts Desk), and Patrick Jarenwattananon (Music Desk).

Royal Milk Tea
Steve Inskeep
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Steve Inskeep takes his Kit Kat tasting job seriously.
Steve Inskeep
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Steve Inskeep takes his Kit Kat tasting job seriously.

Inskeep: Like tea in the Mideast.

Tarabay: There’s something in the middle of this that’s harking back to my childhood.

Garcia-Navarro: Tastes like boarding school tea — comforting but not very nice.

Hamilton: Plain weird.

Holmes: I don’t even know what that taste is, but I was not a fan.

Jarenwattananon: Tastes like a wafer from childhood.

Soy Sauce
Soy sauce-flavored Kit Kats
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Soy sauce-flavored Kit Kats
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Inskeep: Could use a little soy sauce.

Tarabay: It smells gross. I can’t taste anything. It smells weird. It’s not even savory.

Garcia-Navarro: Beyond gross. It tastes like sushi that’s gone off.

Hamilton: Falsely advertised. Perhaps a bit of salt.

Holmes: It smells very much like soy sauce. It’s a very odd taste to me.

Cantaloupe
Linda Holmes
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Linda Holmes takes a tiny bite of one of the wafers.
Linda Holmes
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Linda Holmes takes a tiny bite of one of the wafers.

Inskeep: Mysterious.

Tarabay (making a face after being told the flavor too late): Oh my God. I don’t eat cantaloupe.

Garcia-Navarro: Unusual but edible.

Hamilton: Tastes like an after-dinner liqueur.

Holmes: Like a Jolly Rancher, but the aftertaste is intensely not good.

Corn
Corn-flavored Kit Kat
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Corn-flavored Kit Kat
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Inskeep: Creepy.

Tarabay: I can smell the corn in that … a bit of corn-flakishness in there.

Hamilton: A Kit Kat for the heartland.

Garcia-Navarro: Why would you ever make a Kit Kat this flavor?

Holmes: That is the NASTIEST THING I HAVE EVER EATEN.

Jarenwattananon: The only thing corny about this is my response.

Raspberry Passionfruit
Patrick Jarenwattananon
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Patrick Jarenwattananon marvels at the wonders of flavored Kit Kats.
Patrick Jarenwattananon
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Patrick Jarenwattananon marvels at the wonders of flavored Kit Kats.

Inskeep: A hint of tart.

Tarabay: It smells like Cherry Ripe. [A Cadbury candy bar, it turns out — ed.]

Hamilton: Actually tastes like one of those chocolate-covered cherries.

Holmes: Appropriately, it tastes like a slightly fruity Kit Kat.

Jarenwattananon: Complex, fruity, dark. Yes, I used these words to describe a Kit Kat.

Creme Brulee
Creme brulee-flavored Kit Kat
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Creme brulee-flavored Kit Kat
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Inskeep: Starts out very creme, then gets a little too brulee.

Tarabay: Now I’m disappointed, because it smells like it.

Hamilton: Torch the top and you’ve got yourself a fancy dessert.

Garcia-Navarro: Transports me to France. Not.

Holmes: Smells fake-caramelly.

Jarenwattananon: That was the best high fructose corn syrup I’ve had in a minute.

Golden Citrus
Jon Hamilton
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Jon Hamilton contemplates what he’s just tasted.
Jon Hamilton
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Jon Hamilton contemplates what he’s just tasted.

Inskeep: Tastes like Starburst.

Tarabay: It’s very sherbety, but it smells like a Starburst.

Hamilton: A wake-up call!

Garcia-Navarro: The best one so far.

Holmes: Tastes like gum or citrus candy. Or vitamin C tablets. Not bad.

Jarenwattananon: I didn’t think that could exist.

Green Tea
Jamie Tarabay
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Jamie Tarabay takes a sniff of the green tea Kit Kat.
Jamie Tarabay
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Jamie Tarabay takes a sniff of the green tea Kit Kat.

Inskeep: Bland.

Tarabay: A whisper of steeped green tea — altogether pleasant.

Garcia-Navarro: Yummy.

Holmes: I like this one. Not trying too hard. It has a slight aftertaste of something sinister, though. ;

Jarenwattananon: Disappointingly, neither here nor there. So much wasted potential.

Intense Roasted Soybean
Soybean-flavored Kit Kat
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Soybean-flavored Kit Kat
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Inskeep: No.

Tarabay: It’s a very rich chocolate. Nice and rich, and darker.

Garcia-Navarro: Peanut buttery, but just not as nice.

Hamilton: It does invoke the classic Kit Kat.

Holmes: It’s actually not that intense. It’s … soybeany.

Jarenwattananon: False advertising.

Strawberry Cheesecake
Cheesecake-flavored Kit Kat
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Cheesecake-flavored Kit Kat
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Tarabay: I can’t taste the strawberry or the cheesecake in this.

Garcia-Navarro: Yummy.

Jarenwattananon: Tastes like fake strawberry flavor and not particularly good fake strawberry flavor.

Cafe Au Lait
Cafe au lait-flavored Kit Kats
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Cafe au lait-flavored Kit Kats
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Tarabay: As soon as you put your tongue on it, it tastes like black coffee with milk in it.

Hamilton: Smooth and delicious.

Holmes: This bears absolutely no resemblance to coffee, but I wouldn’t spit it out.

Jarenwattananon: Meh.

Banana
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
Enlarge May-Ying Lam/NPR

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro after tasting one of the flavored Kit Kats.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
May-Ying Lam/NPR

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro after tasting one of the flavored Kit Kats.

Garcia-Navarro: Foul.

Jarenwattananon: That’s some good use of Yellow No. 5.

April 22, 2010

Japan Tries to Face Up to Growing Poverty Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 3:51 pm
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MEMURO, Japan — Satomi Sato, a 51-year-old widow, knew she had it tough, raising a teenage daughter on the less than $17,000 a year she earned from two jobs. Still, she was surprised last autumn when the government announced for the first time an official poverty line — and she was below it.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Satomi Sato works mornings making boxed lunches. She said her family’s difficulties began in the late 1990s, when the economic slide worsened on the island of Hokkaido, as it did across much of rural Japan.

Related

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Satomi Sato, a 51-year-old widow, delivering newspapers, one of her two jobs. She is raising a teenage daughter on less than $17,000 a year.

“I don’t want to use the word poverty, but I’m definitely poor,” said Ms. Sato, who works mornings making boxed lunches and afternoons delivering newspapers. “Poverty is still a very unfamiliar word in Japan.”

After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, this once proudly egalitarian nation is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people. The Labor Ministry’s disclosure in October that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007 stunned the nation and ignited a debate over possible remedies that has raged ever since.

Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan’s poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s figure of 17.1 percent in the United States, whose glaring social inequalities have long been viewed with scorn and pity here.

But perhaps just as surprising was the government’s admission that it had been keeping poverty statistics secretly since 1998 while denying there was a problem, despite occasional anecdotal evidence to the contrary. That ended when a left-leaning government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama replaced the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party last summer with a pledge to force Japan’s legendarily secretive bureaucrats to be more open, particularly about social problems, government officials and poverty experts said.

“The government knew about the poverty problem, but was hiding it,” said Makoto Yuasa, head of the nonprofit Antipoverty Network. “It was afraid to face reality.”

Following an internationally recognized formula, the ministry set the poverty line at about $22,000 a year for a family of four, half of Japan’s median household income. Researchers estimate that Japan’s poverty rate has doubled since the nation’s real estate and stock markets collapsed in the early 1990s, ushering in two decades of income stagnation and even decline.

The ministry’s announcement helped expose a problem that social workers say is easily overlooked in relatively homogenous Japan, which does not have the high crime rates, urban decay and stark racial divisions of the United States. Experts and social workers say Japan’s poor can be deceptively hard to spot because they try hard to keep up the appearance of middle class comfort.

Few impoverished Japanese seem willing to admit their plight for fear of being stigmatized. While just over half of Japan’s single mothers, like Ms. Sato, are poor — roughly in line with the ratio in the United States — she and her daughter, Mayu, 17, take pains to hide their neediness. They outwardly smile, she said, but “cry on the inside” when friends or relatives talk about vacations, a luxury they cannot afford.

“Saying we’re poor would draw attention, so I’d rather hide it,” said Ms. Sato, who lives in a blocklike public housing project in this small city surrounded by flat, treeless farmland reminiscent of the American Midwest.

She said she had little money even before her husband, a construction machine operator, died of lung cancer three years ago. She said her family’s difficulties began in the late 1990s, when the economic slide worsened here on the northern island of Hokkaido, as it did in much of rural Japan.

Even with two jobs, she says she cannot afford to see a doctor or buy medicine to treat a growing host of health complaints, including sore joints and dizziness. When her daughter needed $700 to buy school uniforms on entering high school last year, a common requirement here, she saved for it by cutting back to two meals a day.

Poverty experts call Ms. Sato’s case typical. They say more than 80 percent of those living in poverty in Japan are part of the so-called working poor, holding low-wage, temporary jobs with no security and few benefits. They usually have enough money to eat, but not to take part in normal activities, like eating out with friends or seeing a movie.

“Poverty in a prosperous society usually does not mean living in rags on a dirt floor,” said Masami Iwata, a social welfare professor at Japan Women’s University in Tokyo. “These are people with cellphones and cars, but they are cut off from the rest of society.”

Years of deregulation of the labor market and competition with low-wage China have brought a proliferation of such low-paying jobs in Japan, economists say. Compounding matters is the fact that these jobs are largely uncovered by an outdated social safety net, created decades ago as a last resort in an era when most men could expect lifetime jobs.

This has opened up a huge crack through which millions of Japanese have fallen. One was Masami Yokoyama, 60, who lost his lifetime job a decade ago as he struggled with depression after a divorce. He held a series of increasingly low-paying jobs until three years ago, when he ended up homeless on Tokyo’s streets.

Still, city welfare officials rejected his application three times because he was still an able-bodied male. “Once you slip in Japan, there is no one to catch your fall,” said Mr. Yokoyama, who finally got limited government aid and found part-time work as a night watchman.

Gaining wide attention here are statistics showing that one in seven children lives in poverty, one reason the new government has pledged to offer monthly payments of $270 per child and to cut the cost of high school education.

Still, social workers say they fear that the poor will not be able to pay for cram schools and other expenses to enable their children to compete in Japan’s high-pressure education system, consigning them to a permanent cycle of low-wage work.

“We are at risk of creating a chronic underclass,” said Toshihiko Kudo, a board member of Ashinaga, a nonprofit group based in Tokyo that helps poor children and orphans.

Ms. Sato expressed similar fears for her daughter, Mayu. Mayu wants to go to a vocational school to become a voice actress for animation, but Ms. Sato said she could not afford the $10,000 annual tuition.

Still, she remains outwardly upbeat, if resigned. She said her biggest challenge was having no one to talk to. While she said she was sure that many other families faced a similar plight in this small city, their refusal to admit their poverty made it impossible to find them.

“In bed at night, I think: ‘How did I fall so far? How did I get so isolated?’ ” Ms. Sato said. “But usually, I try not to think about it.”

April 1, 2010

‘RapeLay’ video game goes viral amid outrage

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 3:33 am
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By Kyung Lah, CNN//
// -1) {document.write(‘March 31, 2010 — Updated 0708 GMT (1508 HKT)’);} else {document.write(‘March 31, 2010 3:08 a.m. EDT’);}
// ]]>March 31, 2010 3:08 a.m. EDT

// //

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Video game allows players to rape women, underage girls
  • Game sparks international outrage
  • But controversy fuels game going viral
  • Japan has censorship laws for sexual content but does not restrict themes
//

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Tokyo, Japan (CNN) — The game begins with a teenage girl on a subway platform. She notices you are looking at her and asks, “Can I help you with something?”

That is when you, the player, can choose your method of assault.

With the click of your mouse, you can grope her and lift her skirt. Then you can follow her aboard the train, assaulting her sister and her mother.

As you continue to play, “friends” join in and in a series of graphic, interactive scenes, you can corner the women, rape them again and again.

The game allows you to even impregnate a girl and urge her to have an abortion. The reason behind your assault, explains the game, is that the teenage girl has accused you of molesting her on the train. The motive is revenge.

When does a video game go too far?

It is little wonder that the game, titled RapeLay, sparked international outrage from women’s groups. Taina Bien-Aime helped yank the game off store shelves worldwide.

“This was a game that had absolutely no place on the market,” said Taina Bien-Aime of women’s rights organization Equality Now which has campaigned for the game to be taken off the shelves.

But the controversy that led to stopping sales of the game instead took it viral.

That was how Lucy Kibble and Jim Gardner in Britain heard about it.

“I think the idea that you can do it by wholesale banning is just never going to work anyway because we downloaded it for free off the Internet,” Gardner said.

In the case of RapeLay, he was right. It is still readily available on dozens of Web sites, sometimes for free.

What happened to RapeLay is an example, said Bien-Aime, of why Japan needs to police game makers.

“It’s obviously very difficult to curtail activity on the Internet. But the governments do have a role in trying to regulate this sort of extreme pornography of children, both in their countries, and through the Internet ,” she said, adding that they were calling for the Japanese government “to ban all games that promote and simulate sexual violence, sexual torture, stalking and rape against women and girls. And there are plenty of games like that. ”

Those games are known as “hentai games.” Almost all feature girlish-looking characters. Some of the games are violent — depicting rape, torture and bondage in detail.

Step into a game shop in Akihabara, Japan’s electronics district, and hentai games are readily available. In minutes, we found a game similar to RapeLay. The object here is also revenge: Find and rape the woman who fired the player from his imaginary job. Along the way, the player can rape a number of other girls and women.

Hentai games are not new to Japan. This country has long produced products the rest of the world would call pornographic. But before the arrival of the Internet, such items stayed in Japan. Now, once a game goes on sale in Tokyo, it is digitized and shared everywhere.

Japan does have censorship laws for sexual content. In games and videos, genitalia are obscured, even if it is animated. But Japan’s laws do not restrict the themes and ideas of the games.

A national law that would make possession of real and virtual images of child porn illegal is under discussion, but no serious legislation has moved forward in Japan’s parliament.

CNN contacted the Gender Equality Promotion Division in the Gender Equality Bureau of Japan’s Cabinet Office, which is charged with handling the hentai gaming issue.

Despite repeated calls over a period of weeks, no representative from the government office would comment to CNN on camera. The office refused to make a statement on paper. A spokeswoman would only say over the telephone that the Japanese government was aware that the games were a problem and it was checking to see if self-policing by the gaming industry was enough.

A member of the Institute of Contents Culture, who did not want to give CNN his name, said restricting game themes limits freedom of expression.

“In my opinion, RapeLay’s storyline went too far. However, if a game creator wants to express something and create content out of it, a government or public entity shouldn’t have the power to restrain it.”

Lucy Kibble and Jim Gardner, the gamers in Britain, said trying to control games on the Internet was futile and that content control was up to parents.

“The idea of banning it, or telling people what they can and can’t do just because on the off chance some kid might get involved with it is just ridiculous,” said Gardner.

March 22, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010 Quantitative Easing at the Fed and the Bank of Japan

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 6:28 pm
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Next Thursday March 25 the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on how the Fed should exit from its quantitative easing. This past week I was in Japan discussing the Japanese experience with QE with traders and experts in the financial sector and in the Bank of Japan. A simple graphical comparison between QE at the Fed and at the BOJ puts the exit strategy in a useful perspective.

The two graphs show the monetary base—currency plus bank reserves—in the United States and Japan as reported by the Fed and the Bank of Japan. (The BOJ reports units of 100 million yen; thus the monetary base in Japan is now slightly below 1,000,000 units of 100 million yen or 100 trillion yen).

The big bulges in the monetary base are measures of quantitative easing because the monetary base would have continued to grow at relatively steady pace without QE. Japan’s experience with QE was from 2001 to 2006; during those years the monetary base increased from about 65 trillion yen to 110 trillion yen, or by about 70 percent. While QE lasted for a long time it ended very quickly, and the quick exit seemed to go smoothly without volatility in the markets. Note that the post 2008 quantitative easing in Japan is very small compared to 2001-2006; thus Japan does not have an exit problem right now though it is still struggling with a deflation problem and will likely continue with its QE. Unlike the Fed, the BOJ did not think a big quantitative easing was appropriate in the recent crisis.

Moreover, the Fed’s recent QE is quite different from the BOJ’s QE in 2001-2006:

First, the monetary base in the United States increased by twice as much in percentage terms (140 percent) compared with Japan.

Second, QE came on much quicker in the United States, with most of the increase in the base concentrated in the last few months of 2008, though increases have continued since then.

Third, the Fed entered into QE when the interest rate target was 2 percent, while the BOJ started QE when the interest rate was already essentially zero at 0.1 percent.

Fourth, the Fed’s quantitative easing has largely been caused by the need to finance its purchase of mortgage backed securities, bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns and other loans and securities purchases.

Fifth, and most important for the exit strategy issue: the BOJ exited from QE much more quickly than the Fed is now signaling its exit will be. Japan’s experience suggests that a quicker exit for the Fed might be considered.

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