Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
In Sci-Fi films, there’s one thing you never see people use: a mouse and keyboard. In our 21st century world, technology is supposed to have advanced to where all you need to do is talk to a computer for it to respond.
Well, reality may now be catching up with fantasy as a Tokyo University research team takes the first step towards redefining how we interact with electronic machines.
Taking a page from Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report”, they’ve made 3D holograms that you not only can see, but touch.
Three-dimensional images are nothing new, as anyone who has a credit card will likely have a hologram on the card to prevent forgery, but they’ve been no more than optical tricks up to this point.
It looks deceptively simple: a stool with a wheel, or an electric unicycle.
But Honda Motor, maker of cars, motorbikes, robots and aircraft, says it embodies state-of-the-art technology and may one day become the smallest means of transport for humans.
I saw the new U3-X at a Honda media launch. It’s shaped like a figure-8 and moves in any direction set by the person sitting on top, by leaning their body back, forth and sideways.
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.
Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party scored a historic victory in last month’s election, wants to radically change how the country is run and in particular reduce bureaucrats’ control over formulating policy.
And his government has taken a symbolic approach – it has decided to ban top bureaucrats from holding news conferences to explain its policy stance. The Hatoyama government has also abolished twice-weekly meetings of top bureaucrats, which have discussed, coordinated and decided policy agendas before cabinet meetings so that cabinet ministers can rubber stamp them. Naoto Kan, the new deputy prime minister, has dubbed the so-called vice ministers’ meetings “the bid-rigging meetings” of bureaucrats.
North Korea, one of former President George Bush's "axis of evil" countries and one of the few remaining Stalinist states, deserves to be re-evaluated given the prospect of a power succession and the changing economic landscape in the region, according to Goldman Sachs.
Apart from the robust military establishment (absorbing at least 20-30% of GDP vs 3% of GDP in South Korea), Goldman says North Korea has large untapped potential, including rich human capital, abundant mineral resources (valued at around 140 times 2008 GDP) and significant room for productivity gains.
Exploring a couple of blocks on a sweltering late summer day, I felt at home in this energetic, bustling Asian city where streets teem with buses and streetcars, and people shout into cellphones on the subway or in front of stores and restaurants with signs written in Japanese letters.
A Tokyo afternoon? No, I was vacationing in Hong Kong.
Japan, some 64 years after its war-time occupation ended, is the second biggest exporter to Hong Kong after mainland China, according to data from Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, while its business and cultural icons dot the island.
The contrast with his predecessor was clear from the TV coverage. All but one of the major channels in Tokyo carried him live. Leading up to his election drubbing last month, former Prime Minister Taro Aso could not always get his pressers carried live even on national broadcaster NHK.
When he met Japan’s incoming prime minister, a football helmet was the catalyst for conservation . Then Washington’s envoy in Tokyo bonded with the next foreign minister over a frog.
Katsuya Okada, who is expected to be appointed as Japan’s next foreign minister this week, is a policy maven with a “Mr. Clean” image. He is also known in Japan as an avid collector of frog-related knick-knacks such as miniatures and soft toys.
Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki underlined his position as his country’s greatest sporting export after shattering one of Major League Baseball’s oldest records.
The Seattle Mariners outfielder was described as a “Hercules” by fellow players after becoming the first man to record 200 hits for nine straight seasons.
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.