Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Toyoda’s dilemma: To Race Or Not to Race

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TOYOTA/RECOVERY

Today, reporters got their first chance to hear from Akio Toyoda since he became president of Toyota Motor — the company established by his grandfather 71 years ago.

Just two days on the job and much younger than the five executive vice presidents present with him at the news conference, Mr Toyoda, 53, was predictably cautious in what seemed a thoroughly scripted response to reporters’ questions. At times, he visibly flipped through the pages of what I could only surmise was a prepared Q&A cheat-sheet. Even the soundbites — “we’re setting sail in very stormy waters” — seemed unspontaneous.

But for a few minutes, it seemed, you could see the real Akio Toyoda come through.

It was when he was responding to a question about whether he would continue to race, as he did last month for the third straight year on the notoriously dangerous Nurburgring race track for the 24-hour endurance race.

Tigers, hungry bears at shareholder meetings

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The annual shareholders meeting season is in full swing in Japan, and some executives have been dodging fastballs from disgruntled investors.

TOYOTA/RESULTS

Quite a few managers are stepping up to the podium with a heavy feeling this year, as irate shareholders offer feelings about dividend cuts and plunging share prices.

Tempest in a bento box

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The shelves of Japanese convenience stores are filled with neatly packed “bento” box meals. But ever wonder where they go when they reach their “sell-by” date? You should, because Japan chucks away a staggering 19 million tonnes of food a year – more than three times the amount of world food aid at 6 million tonnes.

The issue of food thrown away at “kombini”, or convenience store, recently grabbed the headlines here. Strict health laws mean many unsold items must be thrown out at the end of the day, and it’s each franchise store — not the store chain itself – that bears the cost of this waste. In all, about 70 percent of the leftovers from the food industry are recycled into animal feed and fertilizers, and much of the rest quietly rots in land-fill.  

Donor dogs

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JAPAN/

The Japan Animal Referral Medical Centre in Kawasaki is not your typical veterinary clinic, as canine patients aren’t just suffering from colds but often potentially terminal illnesses, which you can sense from their owners in the lobby.

No one is talking about how cute their dog is, and it’s a quiet, hospice-type environment. So when four energetic dogs bounded into the waiting room, quite a few people wondered what was going on.

Throwing good money after…

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BASEBALL/

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s second trip to the disabled list this season is making some forget the Japanese pitcher’s heroics and wonder if he has been worth the investment of his Boston Red Sox team.

The “Dice-K” sweepstakes dominated Japanese baseball in late 2006, as the Boston Red Sox pursued the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka — who’s now sitting – by commiting over $51 million to his then team, the Seibu Lions, and another $52 million to the pitcher and agent Scott Boras to sign.

Japan’s Tiger in the tank?

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What goes up must at some point come down.

The world of sports is full of examples of bright lights who shone briefly before crashing back down to earth.

Tennis burnout used to grind teenage sensations into the dust with alarming regularity, with even all-time greats such as Bjorn Borg stressed into premature retirement, albeit the Swede was 26 when he made his shock decision to quit.

A carriage too far

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What are the odds, but on the morning after a few Seibu shareholders asked the transport firm to offer male-only rail cars to avoid the stress of possible train groping allegations, I mistakenly walked into the women-only car in Shibuya during the crowded rush hour.

Whoops, I suddenly realized - no blue suits and ties, discarded racing newspapers and pornographic manga, or slumped-over passengers letting neighbours support their weight, and it smelled decidedly better. Something was dreadfully wrong.

Day in court a trial for many Japanese

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Katsuyoshi Fujii may inadvertently make legal history in Japan. His trial for the fatal stabbing of an elderly neighbour in Tokyo looks set to be the first heard under a new system whereby members of the public join judges in deciding criminal cases.

But far from wanting a say in how justice is done,  most Japanese are either wary of or downright opposed to the idea of becoming “lay judges” to discuss and hand down verdicts and sentences — including the death penalty.

Suspect shocks as much as the crime

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It wasn’t just the arrest of a high-ranking bureaucrat suspected of falsifying paperwork in a multi-billion yen fraud that astounded the Japanese media this week. It was the fact that she was a woman.

Atsuko Muraki, a senior official at the Health and Welfare Ministry, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of issuing a fake certificate to allow a group involved in direct mail marketing to claim a disability discount on postal costs.  “Female ace arrested,” ran the headline in the Sankei newspaper, next to a picture of the long-haired Muraki, and other media offered a similar angle.

Murakami’s “1Q84″ grips Japan

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Bookworms right across Japan are flipping the pages of “1Q84″, the latest novel by Haruki Murakami. The print run of the hardback version has already topped the 740,000 copies of his earlier work “Kafka on the Shore”, and more than 1 million copies are likely to have hit the store shelves by the end of this month.

“If a literary work sells 50,000 copies, we call that a bestseller. With 100,000 copies, that’s a huge success,” Fumiaki Mori, a spokesman for publisher Shinchosha Publishing Co Ltd, told me. “By that standard, reaching this number in about 10 days since sales began is a very fast pace.”

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