TOKYO, Jan 12 (Reuters) – American Airlines <AMR.N> and its
partners in the Oneworld alliance sweetened their offer to
Japan Airlines <9205.T> to $1.4 billion to keep the struggling
national carrier from joining hands with rival Delta Air Lines
The announcement came as JAL shares plunged 45 percent to a
record low, wiping out nearly $900 million in market value, on
growing expectations the airline is headed for bankruptcy and a
delisting from the Tokyo exchange. [ID:nTOE60A04W]
Taking the train in Japan and want to avoid irking fellow passengers? Keep conversation to a whisper, turn down your iPod and put your cellphone on vibration mode.
When it comes to ridership manners on Japan’s vast network of subways and commuter trains, many foreign visitors have complained to me about the pushing and shoving and reluctance to give up seats for senior citizens and pregnant women.
I’ve always seen Japan as a nation of trend lovers. From Tamagotchi digital pets and “print club” photo stickers to the morning banana diet and Billy’s Boot Camp, people here seem ready to jump all over the latest fad.
But 2009 wasn’t much of a year for fun and games in the world’s second-biggest economy, according to ad agency Dentsu’s latest Hit Product Recognition survey.
Ever thought about taking a fitness pole dancing class? I certainly hadn’t, and I was getting cold feet as I made my way into the Art Flow Tokyo dance studio. (corrects name of studio in original post)I’m a free-weights guy, I thought; isn’t this pole dancing stuff for women? Is it too late to back out before I make a fool out of myself? But I went ahead – and the class was a lot tougher than I expected, more gymnastics than dance. And pretty fun, too.Pole dancing has been climbing in popularity among fitness enthusiasts as an alternative to mainstream workouts like aerobics and yoga, and in my debut lesson I could see why: it’s a serious full-body workout that combines cardio and strength movements to help fight fat and build muscle.“During one class, you’re doing at least three sets of different kinds of classes,” says Ania Przeplasko, who founded the International Pole Dance Fitness Association in 2007 to promote the exercise and who was sitting in on this day’s class.“It’s a major workout in terms of burning calories,” says Przeplasko, whose association is holding this year’s International Pole Dance Fitness Championship in Tokyo on Dec. 3.(Click on the video above that I took of Przeplasko to see a demonstration of some of the basics)The intermediate-level class had three other students, all 20-something women dressed in typical gym attire of T-shirt and shorts; none of the high heels or racy outfits that I’ve come to associate with the more erotic side of the dance.Our instructor led us through a comprehensive warm-up of basic flexibility and bodyweight exercises for about 20 minutes. I grimaced at the tightness in my back as I struggled with stretches that the others were doing with ease. Familiar moves like push ups and abdominal exercises came as a welcome relief after the stretching.The second phase involved learning basic pole positions with an emphasis on developing strength, using not just one’s upper body but really focusing on the core muscles. I felt silly doing a spin called the “Peter Pan” but have to admit it was fun trying to get the movement down.In the final segment of the 75-minute class, the students put everything together into a mini-routine, which also served as the major cardio section of the workout.What struck me the most was the athletisism involved, with the instructor and the more advanced students pulling off some spins and upside-down flips that would have landed me in hospital.”Pole dancing in the past two years has developed so quickly in this very acrobatic way,” says Przeplasko, noting that the growing number of male participants has played a role in the sport’s shift towards fitness-oriented performance.”Three years ago anyone could do pole dancing, but now the advanced level is way above what the typical person can do. So in five years, I think it’ll be like full-on, fantastic gymnastic shows based on pole dancing.”
It was like a dream come true. I’d always wanted a Ford Mustang and there I was, cruising around Tokyo in the latest version of the iconic sports car with the 4.0 litre, V6 engine producing a powerful roar every time I accelerated.I was able to adjust pretty quickly to the left-side steering wheel — Japanese steering wheels are always on the right — though I had a few embarrassing mix-ups between the directionals and the windshield wipers.The last time I’d driven such a car was about 20 years ago, when I had a ’78 Chevy Camaro in my senior year of high school in Massachusetts.Back then most kids in school wanted a car, and saved up from part-time jobs and went to driving school so they could get their license as soon as they were eligible – in my case the day I turned 16 and a half.These days, however, a lot of young people seem to be more into electronics than cars, with vehicles just a tool to get them from point A to point B. It’s tough competing with all the PCs, cellphones and iPods out there. And money, of course, is a big factor as people cut spending in these low-octane economic times.But I also wonder if cars nowadays are missing a bit of the cool factor.Think Steve McQueen’s Mustang in the 1968 movie “Bullitt”, chasing the bad guys around San Francisco in their Dodge Charger. Or Josh Duhamel’s ’69 Camaro SS convertible in TV’s “Las Vegas”. Those cars had audacity and style.Car sales in Japan hit a 34-year low last year, as the economic slump exacerbated already declining sales due to aging demographics. Maybe it’s just me but the car lineup out there – take a look at all the boxy minivans, and 660 cc minivehicles which make up over a third of the market - is hardly inspiring, and I wonder if this could be part of the problem.A survey earlier this year by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association showed that autos ranked a paltry 17th among products and services university students are interested in buying – coming in one slot below cosmetics and beauty salons. Computers, fashion and portable music players made up the top three.It makes sense that carmakers are focusing on cleaner emissions and better mileage as consumers increasingly demand leaner and greener. But in doing so, I hope they don’t sacrifice fun and style.Unfortunately the Mustang wasn’t mine to keep — it was only a test-drive — and less than 10 minutes after I set out I returned to reality as I rolled back into the dealership. Maybe someday when the kids are grown up, I thought looking at the Mustang emblem on the front grill. If muscle cars are still around then.Photo credits: REUTERS/Fred Prouser
Japanese voters debated change as they participated in an election on Sunday that looks set to give the opposition Democratic Party of Japan a historic victory over the Liberal Democratic Party that has ruled for most of the past 50 years.Reuters reporters fanned out across Tokyo to talk to voters, and here’s what some of those at polling stations had to say:”I would like to see a change from the long years of the Liberal Democratic Party. I hope it will change,” said 48-year-old Juri Sasao, who with her husband said they voted for the Democratic Party.”It seemed like it was time for a political change. Until now the LDP has been in power but things have not gotten better under their rule. So now it seems like time for a party change and for Japan to undertake a new challenge,” said Hideki Kawano, a 59-year-old factory worker who voted for the Democrats.”It seems like the Democrats are just saying what the people want to hear, but I’m not sure they can follow through on these promises. I think we need to give the LDP four more years to see their policies take effect before making a change,” said Taku Yamada, a 30-year-old health care industry worker who voted for the LDP.”It’s taken a long time for this to happen. I voted for the Democrats because of the payouts for children. And I think the government should change this time,” said 39-year-old Atsushi Misu from Yokohama, south of Tokyo, who was at a polling station with his wife and two young boys.”I have been an LDP supporter but this time I voted for the Democratic Party because I want to see how things will change under a Democrat government,” said Takeshi Yagi, a 39-year-old hairdresser in Tokyo who voted just after polling booths opened.”I wanted to change the LDP’s administration, but I hate the Democrats, who are throwing money around,” said 66-year-old Teruyo Ogasawara of Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, who came with her 74-year-old husband and voted for Your Party, led by former senior LDP lawmaker Yoshimi Watanabe.”We had the LDP long enough and I think we are going to see a change in power this time,” said Motoyasu Sasaki, a 47-year old president of a food company. “We should give the Democrats a chance. I want the party to tackle the economic situation as the top priority.”"The Democrats have good policy proposals. But I’m not sure all of them are really achievable. If we have a handover of power, everything has to start from scratch and it would be ordinary people who end up suffering,” said Tomiko Machida, a 75-year-old pensioner who voted for the LDP.”Regardless of whether the LDP or DPJ wins, I don’t think the situation will change much. But we need to change the air and give the other party a chance,” said Marina Arai, a 28-year-old temp worker who voted for opposition candidates.”I have always gone to vote, and rather than a party throwing money around, I think the people should also make efforts. What we have achieved so far is thanks to the conservative party,” said 84-year-old Kazuko Agaoka, who voted for the LDP. ”I am worried about a sudden change. It was (the LDP) that led the country to where we are today since the end of the war.”"People are talking about the Democratic Party and a change in the government, but their platform did not seem clear to me,” said Koji Kawabata, a 47-year-old employee for a transportation company who voted for the LDP. “The economy is bad so I want something done quickly about that.”Results of the election will start flowing when voting ends at 8 p.m. (7 a.m. Eastern / 1100 GMT).