Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Disengaged on rings

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Six years ago when I decided to propose to my Japanese wife-to-be I went to the main jewellery strip in the Ginza district of Tokyo ready to part with two months’ salary for a diamond ring.

The two-month rule was in my head from my years of growing up in the United States where men are conditioned into thinking that this is the price for locking in your lifetime partner.

LUXURY-SUMMIT/RINGIf only I knew then what I know now.

The fact is in Japan you can get away with spending a lot less - or with not buying an engagement ring at all.

Diamond producer De Beers is widely credited with creating the two-month tradition with its famous “A Diamond is Forever” campaign that began back in 1947.

Top-dollar dolls know no recession

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I wrote about Japan’s traditional doll industry for the Reuters Luxury Summit this week, and I was surprised to find it’s not feeling much impact from the country’s deepest recession in decades – not bad, considering an average doll set can set you back 200,000 yen ($2,000).

One shop owner I spoke to even said sales had edged up in the all-important shopping season before the Doll Festival on March 3. Sales of some dolls have certainly dropped as consumers have gradually tightened their grip on their purses , but shop owners told me they’d seen solid sales this year of their “hina” dolls – the mainstay of their business.

Mercedes? No thanks, I’ll take a hybrid

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VOLKSWAGEN-LAW/“I hope the next three months will be better for you than the last three,” Czech ambassador Jaromir Novotny told a gathering of Japanese car importers last month.

The way things are going, he’ll be hoping against hope.

In April, Japan introduced an “eco-car” tax incentive that has left all foreign car brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, neatly outside the fence of eligibility.

Torture on tap in Tokyo

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I am ordering vodka and Red Bull at $10 a pop at the bar of a posh Ginza club and a woman dressed as a nurse carrying a silver tray full of syringes taps me on the shoulder.

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“Open your mouth!” she says with a wink.

“OK then.” And she squirts some strawberry-flavoured cocktail down my throat.

Mummy’s boy turned sumo powerhouse

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Mongolian sumo wrestler Harumafuji, the latest loin-clothed giant from his country to make his mark on Japan’s ancient sport, has a unique way of preparing for his bouts – listening to soothing Buddhist sutra music.

harumafujiThe method helped the 25-year-old ‘ozeki’ win his first major tournament last month and he is already being tipped to join compatriots Asashoryu and Hakuho at the elite rank of ‘yokozuna’ following his surprise Emperor’s Cup triumph.

Rent-a-guest bulks up weddings

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Wedding venue hired? Check. Wedding dress hired? Check. Guests hired? Check.

June’s the big wedding month here in Japan, but even in these tough economic times, instead of opting for a small event, some couples are renting fake family, friends and colleagues to plump up the guest list.

Many in Japan see weddings as a formal event that must be attended by lots of family members, friends and co-workers. At the party, bosses often give JAPAN/speeches, colleagues or friends stage performances, and families formally greet other guests.

Japan’s North Korea refugee risk

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il‘s reported annointing of his youngest son, offspring of a Japan-born dancer, as heir highlights a dark chapter in Japan’s history and a possible refugee headache if the regime collapses.

Apparent heir Kim Jong-un is said by South Korean media to be a son of Ko Young-hee, one of about 100,000 Koreans who returned to the North from Japan in the 1960s hoping to find a workers’ paradise. Many were brought to Japan as forced labour before World War Two and faced discrimination after the war. 

Dogged Japan

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Japan may be child-challenged, but its fascination with pets and particularly dogs occasionally borders on obsession, and so our film of Bazooka the Bulldog, king of the under 24-inch skateboard crowd, is finding traction with local and on-line viewers.

Thanks to a recent pet boom and declining birthrate, Japanese now have more dogs and cats than children under 15, with cafes, hotels and even cars designed to meet their animal needs.bazooka

Pyongyang back in black?

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North Korea hasn’t yet rejoined the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but weekend comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the nation was mulling the possibility were replayed by Japanese media with the same gusto they gave reports on Japan qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Pyongyang, an initial member of President George Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, was removed from the U.S. blacklist last October, after agreeing to a series of nuclear site verification measures.

Japan coach Okada too bubbly?

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As expected, Japan booked their place in next year’s World Cup soccer finals with two games to spare, sparking wild celebrations after a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan on Saturday.

Perhaps he had celebrated too much on the flight back from Tashkent, but less than 24 hours later Japan coach Takeshi Okada was talking about reaching the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa. It is hard to imagine Spain’s Vicente del Bosque or England’s Fabio Capello losing much sleep.SOCCER-WORLD/

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