Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

from Left field:

G-strings, the bare-faced solution to swimming’s problems

With the row over space-age bodysuits threatening to engulf swimming, it was only a matter of time before a top athlete lent his voice to calls for a radical, no-nonsense solution.

Japan's Ryosuke Irie reckons racing in skimpy G-strings might be the best way -- indeed the only way -- to ensure a level playing field before the bodysuit wars tie swimming up in so much red tape the public lose interest.

"We would be better off," said the 19-year-old, whose recent 200 metres backstroke world record is still awaiting ratification from swimming's governing body FINA.

"We need a set of rules people will agree to and stick to."

Concerns over hi-tech bodysuits have muddied the waters since before last year's Olympics when world records began tumbling after Speedo unveiled their drag-reducing LZR suit.

Did you hear the one about the bureaucrats?

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Japan’s bureaucrats may have little to laugh about these days, given opposition charges of misspent tax money, but that has not stopped one ministry offering its officials a unique form of training — as stand-up comics.

More than 100 transport ministry officials in their 20s got tips this week from professional comedians as part of training in communication skills.

Who’s Roos?

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Roos who?

That was pretty much the reaction in Japan when U.S. President Barack Obama tapped California lawyer and campaign donor John Roos as ambassador to Tokyo.

News of the choice sent Japanese diplomats and U.S.-Japan watchers scrambling for information about Roos, whom one U.S. expert described to me in a hurried email as a “Silicon valley mover and shaker, not with any link to Japan, though clearly to Obama”.

North Korea’s test of wills

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Japan, perhaps the most nervous neighbor of unpredictable North Korea, is also the least able to overtly make its fears felt, after this week’s nuclear test.

Analysts point out the combination of Tokyo’s history of antagonism with the North and the fact that Pyongyang boasts missiles that could hit almost anywhere in Japan pose particular risks for the world’s second largest economy.

An industry in the pink

One evening recently, about a dozen stock traders and a couple of reporters including myself met for dinner and drinks at a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district.

It was the second this group had come together, and everyone seemed in a good mood initially, chatting away, drinking beer and sake, as well as enjoying the delicately prepared sashimi.

Who is that masked man/woman?

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FLU/JAPANAs the confirmed number of Japanese infected with the H1N1 flu virus rises, the growing question among many is: Where can we buy face masks?

Disposable masks have become an essential accessory in the worst-affected areas of western Japan, while a growing number of Tokyo commuters are wearing them. The government has recommended use by those who suspect infection, but some businesses are ordering employees to wear them, especially if they have face-to-face client interaction.

Spring blossoms or just a break from winter?

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It’s official: Japan’s economy shrivelled at a record pace in the first quarter.

Needless to say the 4.0 percent contraction in GDP (an annual rate of 15.2 percent, if you speak American) from January to March was not pretty — especially when you see that the pain has spread from Japan’s big autos and tech factories to the broader economy.JAPAN-ECONOMY/

Cars, stars, and TV commercials

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In these hard times, you know a car is important when the maker hires Robert de Niro to promote it.

That honour goes to Subaru’s new flagship Legacy touring wagon, which went on sale in Japan today. Fuji Heavy Industries (which owns the Subaru brand) even put out a press release last week just to say the two-time Oscar winner would appear in its TV commercials in Japan.

Japan says: “Now wash your hands”

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The new flu strain that emerged in Mexico last month has brought Japanese TV shows, newspapers and government ads out in a rash of demonstrations of the art of proper hand-washing to avoid the spread of germs.

“First, you clean the palms, then rub the dirt off the back of the hands. Make sure you wash between fingers and finger tips. And yes, don’t forget your thumbs and wrists!!”

Rice, frogs and trade dilemmas

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The blue sky and white clouds bounce off the surface of the water in the paddy as I trundle up and down on the rice-planting tractor, sending frogs leaping and splashing away in all directions.

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I’ve been coming to my wife’s family farm north of Tokyo to help with the rice planting and harvesting for seven or eight years now.

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