Sr. Correspondent, Tokyo, Japan
Daniel's Feed
Oct 3, 2009
via Raw Japan

Apocalypse Edo, 2016

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After watching Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, and not always holding my tongue at the ancient city of Edo’s quest, the moment of futility in the 18-month, $50 million campaign became apparent after this headline: Olympics-2016 Games could be the last, says Tokyo governor.Imagine the PR team behind always quotable Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, as the Japanese bid fell behind in the race according to bookmakers, suggesting he make one last plea to the IOC: With global demise coming, Tokyo deserves a final shot at Olympic hurrah.“It sounds dark, but if we get Godzilla and Gamera behind the bid, say rising from Tokyo Bay and soaring over city hall in team colours, it just might work. “”Think global warming and disaster not in Celcius, but in IOC votes.”The governor, an actor and author before his long political career, could then yoke metropolitan oversight with a touch of B-movie dialogue, intended to show global consciousness but instead underscoring the opposite.Oh, he did that already.Congratulations Rio.Photo credit: REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

Sep 29, 2009
via Raw Japan

Countdown to 2016 Gold

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The delegations and heads of state are gathering in Copenhagen with less than one week to go until the International Olympic Committee’s decision on which city will host the 2016 Games.Billions of dollars in investment and national pride are at stake. Oddsmakers are pegging a close race ahead of the Oct. 2 vote, and we are adding a new question to our poll on candidate cities (included below). What is the most important issue in the selection of an Olympic host city?

    Finances/infrastructure Security Public support First time to host Games Olympic bid plan
Created on Sep 26, 2009

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poll by twiigs.com  Which 2016 Olympic bid city do you support?

    Tokyo Chicago Madrid Rio de Janeiro
Created on Sep 3, 2009

Sep 22, 2009
via Raw Japan

Silver linings

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Japan, which already has a “Golden Week” holiday period in spring, is currently in the midst of a new five-day holiday run, dubbed “Silver Week”, including its “Respect for the Aged” and autumnal equinox holidays.September, formerly a month with single national holidays in different weeks, now has them linked, largely thanks to a “Happy Monday” law passed in 2000 that rolls over any national holidays on a Sunday and makes holidays of any days in between such breaks.Indeed, despite its image as a Spartan, never-take-vacation society, the relaxing truth is Japan has at least 15 national holidays and potentially more depending on the day of the week the holiday falls. While none of these are in the month when many Japanese actually do take vacation — August – it works out for even the hardest working salary-man or -woman to at least three weeks to more than a month off a year.This may not make European unions envious yet, but compared to the United States with 10 public holidays and a few following days off, it’s a substantial commitment by the state to leisure, and arguably a lucrative pump-priming for the domestic and international travel industry until this year.Not surprisingly, though, with the global economic crisis, Japanese have been traveling abroad less frequently, with total outbound passengers down almost 9 percent as of the end of June, and many staying in-country to take advantage of reduced highway tolls or remaining at home altogether.Some reports suggest that many people were bypassing “Golden Week” or peak summer travel rates with an eye on still-tame September fares for the inaugural ”Silver” holiday. Anecdotally, colleagues who tried to book late for overseas beach destinations found tickets unavailable, while even some domestic locations within driving distance of major cities were reportedly packed.They may call it “Happy Monday”, but, yes, Tuesday’s a bit sad, as the Japanese holiday alignment that created the five-day recreation in 2009 won’t offer as many holidays in a row again for six years. But a silver lining may come with the new government, which could see the economic efficacy of vacationing as a way to battle recession, tweaking future calendars and establishing a policy beachhead simultaneously pro- and anti-labour.Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (Tokyo beach), Kimimasa Mayama (crowded pool)

Sep 14, 2009
via Raw Japan

Highway to the stranger zone

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Not so long ago, once proud Japan Airlines had few friends besides the government, which threw it a $1.1 billion bone in the form of emergency support in June to keep the national flag carrier in the pink, if not the black, as Asia’s largest airline by revenues continued to bleed money — about $1 billion in the last quarter — and painfully restructure.But in a weekend, JAL has suddenly become the belle of the Pacific ball, with both Delta and American Airlines possibly looking at minor stake acquisitions worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and public broadcaster NHK reporting that it is also eyeing a capital injection from Air France-KLM, all likely dictated by a state-supervised restructuring plan due by month’s that may carry another plea for government aid.Delta, in the competing “Skyteam” alliance, would reportedly inject up to $550 million and would want international code-sharing, while a pact with “Oneworld” alliance peer AA would be a minority stake for revenue-sharing and other business ties, dependent on U.S.-Japan “open skies” talks.Potential carrier ties almost certainly could not involve all, while no direct links have so far mentioned Japan’s No.2, All Nippon Airways, although tabloid reports when JAL last landed on this blog tarmac in January predicted a possible merger.  The industry may lose $9 billion this year and JAL a sizable chunk, but apparently things are not quite bad enough to put the two in the same hangar just yet.An equity sales push would not be limited to airlines, as JAL reportedly plans to ask aircraft makers, trading houses, investment funds and the government to buy its stock. Japanese law prohibits over one-third foreign ownership of JAL, but there has never been a threat to push that envelope, with international shareholding under 5 percent now. Shares were down 14 percent since the last state-backed support in June, but the news about new possible dance partners gave it new loft on Monday.A friend who used to work for JAL for decades put part of its conundrum in this light:The transport ministry, which wants the restructuring report as a sign that past and future government aid is well spent — or at least better spent – also built and oversees many of the 60 domestic airports that JAL is expected to serve, in some cases where air traffic is superfluous to existing rail stations or other airports and often a guaranteed loss-maker.JAL must cut capacity and more jobs, but potentially could upset the backers of some of the domestic white elephants as well its own unions, weighing on future aid and cooperation. Increasing international ties and ownership — to a point  — would offer JAL greater options, particularly if the price to get off the ground and out of its current turbulence is not too great.

Sep 7, 2009
via Raw Japan

The Hit Parade

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Ichiro Suzuki has reached 2,000 career hits in 1,402 MLB games — the second-fastest pace ever — while over his nine seasons in MLB the Seattle Mariners star has ended on base once in about every three trips to the plate, based on his career batting average.Add in his 1,278 Japanese hits, in shorter seasons, and Ichiro at 36 is pointing his bat at very rare professional air, including 3,000 career MLB hits and — on a cumulative basis — Pete Rose’s record 4,256 hits. He already set the MLB season hit record with an amazing 262 in 2004 and will likely be the first player, in a matter of days, to ever record 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons.Still, when I asked Robert Whiting, author of “The Meaning of Ichiro”, at mid-season if the Japanese hitting phenomenon was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, he wasn’t certain. He cited the failure of Roger Maris, whose feat of 61 home runs in a season was not deemed worthy enough, adding that Ichiro would likely need to break the 3,000 hit threshold to be a first ballot inductee.That means another four to five seasons, eminently do-able for arguably the greatest baseball export Japan has produced, but a deep line in the baseball sand that may make it hard for compatriots to join him at the Hall, at least with current rules on mandated domestic team service before free agency.Last week was the 45th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s debut with the San Francisco Giants, the first Japanese to play briefly in MLB. Murakami, a pitcher not in the Hall, waited three decades for Hideo Nomo to follow him across the Pacific, and his basic message to Japanese players now is go if you can, because the best measuring stick for greatness is MLB — and a better salary doesn’t hurt.Ichiro, who has put no end on how long he wants to play or what he wants to achieve, will be paid until 2032 under his current $90 million contract, not surprisingly a record for a Japanese player.Photo credits: REUTERS/Kevin Bartram

Sep 3, 2009
via Raw Japan

The 2016 Gold

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Less than a month until the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the winning city in the 2016 Olympic bid campaign, and the IOC in a report Wednesday has the candidates in a dead heat.All bid cities — Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo — will make a push before the Oct. 2 decision in Copenhagen, with billions of dollars in investment and national prestige at stake.  Which 2016 Olympic bid city do you support?

    Rio de Janeiro Tokyo Chicago Madrid
Created on Sep 3, 2009

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poll by twiigs.com

Aug 27, 2009
via Raw Japan

Make mine a milk

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Japan’s far north, once home to pet projects of scions of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to become an even hotter bed of opposition Democratic Party success in this weekend’s Japanese election capped, if polls and analysts are correct, by a local son becoming the nation’s next prime minister.But while the country decides whether opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama will become premier, voters in Hokkaido will also decide the fate of a certain disgraced former finance, trade and farms minister who is battling for his political life.Shoichi Nakagawa, who last graced this blog when his antics at February’s G8 finance ministers’ summit in Rome prompted his resignation from the cabinet, is trailing his 36-year-old DPJ rival, Tomohiro Ishikawa, for a seat his family has held for nearly half a century, according to the local Tokachi Mainichi newspaper on  Wednesday.Nakagawa, once a rising star in the LDP — and still a relatively young hand in the party at 56 — quit the cabinet after having to deny he was was drunk at the summit, which an often replayed video of his departing news conference did little to support, undermining his already weak ally, Prime Minister Taro Aso.His departure speech cited “careless health management”, which has morphed into potential careless career management, as the LDP prepares for a likely lashing on Sunday.In the last election in 2005, Nakagawa won his seat by about 23,000 votes, but judging from newspapers and the ample Nakagawa posters in the city of Obihiro this week, confidence is lacking in Hokkaido’s 11th District this time around.Nakagawa, like DPJ chief Hatoyama, followed a family line into politics, but his entry after a Tokyo upbringing stemmed from the suicide of his then 57-year-old father, a former farms minister who locals say is still revered among the prefecture’s politically strong agricultural community.At a recent campaign event, Shoichi swore off alcohol in a pledge to local voters, reportedly drinking milk as a further bridge to the dairy electorate.But some locals aren’t that forgiving and those I’ve spoken with in Obihiro say the Nakagawa Kingdom, as it is commonly referred to locally, faces a revolution.If Nakagawa loses to Ishikawa, he would still have a chance of keeping his Diet badge as a proportional representative. This would be a humbling that would resonate voter dissatisfaction but still allow the once strong Hokkaido prince to remain in the game, if only to lead a chorus to heckle fellow home boy Hatoyama.Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Yamanaka/Pool

Aug 20, 2009
via Raw Japan

Sony game changer, or Game Over?

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Sony unveiled its leaner, meaner and — most importantly – cheaper PlayStation 3 in Tokyo Wednesday after a gamescon debut in Europe, but it offered little beyond a quick glimpse of what it hopes will stop the money-bleeding of arguably one of the most troubled products in its history.After rising to industry dominance with its PlayStation and PS2 consoles, Sony’s gaming unit grew to account for 60 percent of the conglomerate’s profit, and its chief, Ken Kutaragi, was seen as a possible future CEO.But the next-generation PS3, initially with a “cell” chip and a price mid-decade of just under $600, has been a tale of woe, contrasting sharply with the wild success of Nintendo’s Wii console, with Kutaragi leaving Sony two years ago as chip and PS3-related losses mounted. In the wake of its early poor performance, Sony fiddled with the PS3, cutting its price and modifying the range of bells and whistles that came with the lowest and highest versions of the console.  But some software makers recently fired warning shots, saying they may not make PS3 games unless Sony cut the price of the console. The roughly $100 reduction still puts the PS3 above the Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but was greeted with enthusiasm by game-makers like Konami, and some analysts foresee up to a 20 percent rise in sales. Still, the company gave no forecasts and took no questions at the event to unveil the new console.A Forbes article seemed to capture some of the remaining skeptism, with a title suggesting it may indeed be Game Over time: “PlayStation 3: Too Little, Too Late.”Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Jul 27, 2009
via Raw Japan

Ai, Ai, Ai!

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The Japanese fairway is littered with golf stars who joined the U.S. or European game highly touted, but who found themselves decidedly unexceptional amid a wealth of international talent.Indeed, “Japan’s next Tiger Woods” — a phrase tossed about more in hope than in fact ( by myself included) —  is a misnomer, as it really hasn’t seen its first Tiger, on the global tour at least. But Ai Miyazato’s maiden LPGA victory at the Evian Masters on Sunday, the first since her tour debut in 2005, is refreshing, not only for her in realising the tremendous potential she earlier displayed in 14 domestic wins, but for the rabid Japanese fans and players back at home.Many of them also watched 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa’s first day at the British Open, where he actually played with Tiger and bested the superstar with a two-under 68, only to see the media boy wonder crash out with a 78 the next day.While there have been Japanese victories over the years as well as Shingo Katayama’s recent fourth at the U.S. Open, expectations remain lofty — and basically unmet — in a golf-mad nation where billions in real estate and consumer goods go towards individual attempts at mastery of the game.Shortly before joining the LPGA, Miyazato was asked at a news conference I attended about overcoming what’s called the “Jumbo Ozaki syndrome”, an incredibly successful domestic player who just can’t seem to win overseas.Not wanting to upstage a pantheon of Japanese heroes whom she watched since learning the game in Okinawa, Ai-chan, as she’s known, gracefully sidestepped the sandtrap like a seasoned veteran.Even in her own subsequent dry spell, Miyazato has admitted that adjusting to a different language and culture has been a factor but is not an excuse for her U.S. play.Now, after winning in France, the 24-year-old Miyazato has joined five other Japanese women as LPGA victors, including Hiromi Kobayashi, who won 12 years ago at the same tournament, also in a playoff.As Japanese media carried news of her victory, as well as the gleeful reactions of Miyazato and Okinawa locals, it will be fun to watch whether she remains not only in fans’ hearts, but also on the 18th green with that beaming smile on the final day.Photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Jul 8, 2009
via Summit Notebook

The Esperanto currency

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Hiroshi Watanabe, president of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, saw his share of dollar buying intervention during decades at the nation’s finance ministry.  But the market veteran says despite prevalent talk recently, a shift away from the greenback as the world’s reserve currency may be great in theory, but like the language of Esperanto short on daily practitioners.”Esperanto is a very good language, but no community uses it in its daily life, ” Watanabe told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit.“That’s the same situation that applies to the currency… I don’t see any other currency that can take the position to replace the key U.S. dollar.”China, Russia and Brazil intend to push at this week’s Group of Eight summit for a new global reserve currency as an alternative to the dollar.G8 sources say they do not expect serious debate by world leaders on the issue, which potentially could affect the value of trillions in dollar-denominated assets held by world nations, including China and Japan.The euro, a basket of currencies like the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), or even the not-fully convertible yuan have been touted as future replacements.Watanabe says this will not happen any time soon, although he notes a loss of dollar sheen. ”The dollar should remain the key currency for the time being, but we have to admit that the dollar is over its peak,” he said.”SDRs can be used for book-keeping the liability of an asset by the IMF of World Bank… but in the case of settlement, it is not so easy to use that kind of hypothetical unit.”  Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai