Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Half-pipe dream up in smoke for Japan bad boy

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Inclement weather has plagued the snowboard venue at the Olympics, but the storm clouds over Japan’s Kazuhiro Kokubo nearly prevented him from competing in Vancouver.

Ending eighth in the snowboard half-pipe finals with an apparent bloodied chin and lip,  Kokubo is also unlikely to have felt the last of a public bruising in Japan that began when some people thought he was scruffily dressed for his departure from Narita Airport and continued when he later seemed unrepentant.

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Kokubo, whose unusual surname translates as “mother country”, was banned from the opening ceremonies in Canada and nearly disqualified by the team for his fashion mis-statement.

But in a scene reminiscent of a student-principal meeting, he and team captain Seiko Hashimoto agreed after an apology to let the nail stick out — at least through the half-pipe event — rather than facing the hammer.

Me and my Toyota family

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Last Saturday, I was standing in front of Toyota’s Tsutsumi factory, where they make the Prius hybrid, in hope of  finding someone who would tell me about the life of a Toyota worker.

As usual when the story is bad news, it was difficult to get anyone to share their thoughts. But eventually I got lucky and 55-year-old Kazuo Akatsuka, a 37-year veteran at the company, stopped to talk.

Brit teen targets bright lights of Tokyo

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Mention the Isle of Man to somebody from Britain and they might be able to tell you it’s the venue for a famous motorbike race. Utter the name of the place to some Japanese people and there’s a reasonable chance they’ll know it as the home of 14-year-old schoolgirl cum entertainer Beckii Cruel.

Musicians ranging from dour European indie bands to obscure free jazz artists have long been able to boast of dedicated fans in Japan, but most can only dream of the popularity that this teenager from the UK has – rather bizarrely – started to generate for herself here in the last year.

Skipping the taxi

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Looking for extra motivation to walk away the pounds? Japan’s Happinet Toys is selling a pedometer that calculates how much money you save on taxi fares by walking as well as the calories you burn.

taxi walkerThe meter on the ”Taxi Walker” starts at 710 yen ($7.90) — the same as the initial fare for most Tokyo taxis and which covers the first 2 km  (1.2 miles). Once the user has walked more than 2 km, the pedometer tacks on 90 yen for each additional 280 meters.

from Russell Boyce:

The politics of bowing in Japan – How low do you go?

By Michael Caronna, Chief Photographer Japan

In Japan nothing says I'm sorry like a nice, deep bow, and lately there's been a whole lot to be sorry for. Ideally the depth of the bow should match the level of regret, allowing observers to make judgements about how sincere the apology really is. Facing massive recalls Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Toyota Motor Corp's managing director Yuji Yokoyama faced journalists at separate news conferences.

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Toyota Motor Corp's managing director Yuji Yokoyama (R) bows after submitting a document of a recall to an official of the Transport Ministry Ryuji Masuno (2nd R) at the Transport Ministry in Tokyo February 9, 2010. Toyota Motor Corp is recalling nearly half a million of its flagship Prius and other hybrid cars for braking problems, a third major recall since September and a further blow to the reputation of the world's largest automaker.      REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japan lawmakers getting poorer?

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Japan’s prime minister may also be the country’s richest politician, but parliament is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, according to an analysis published by broadcaster NHK.

Lawmakers from the country’s lower house of parliament declared an average of 31.5 million yen (around $350,000) in assets, down more than 18 million yen on a previous declaration four years earlier.

Ozawa’s image headache

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Shadow Shogun, The Destroyer and Backroom Fixer.

Japan’s ruling party kingpin, Ichiro Ozawa, has earned several less-than-flattering nicknames for an approach to politics that has seen him shaking up government in the country for decades, culminating in his party’s historic election victory last August.

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Ozawa’s tough, combative image was reinforced when he vowed in public to fight against prosecutors after three of his current and former aides were arrested on suspicion of misreporting political funds. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said he would stay in his key position as the Democratic Party’s secretary-general.

from MacroScope:

Growth is not enough for Africa

Lots of talk at the moment about how Africa's economy is looking up.  The International Monetary Fund, for one, reckons sub-Saharan growth will be 1 percentage point above the world average this year and it has put eight African countries in its top 20 fastest growing economies list for 2010.

Reuters has written a special report on the subject as part of its Davos coverage. You can read it here.

Date therapy for Japan bureaucrats

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If there is one thing you can be sure of when it comes to Japanese bureaucrats, it is that they work long hours. When parliament is in session, they’re handling urgent questions or requests from lawmakers all the time, and I’ve heard some say they hardly remember seeing the sun when parliament is sitting.

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But new Finance Minister Naoto Kan has come up with a plan to review the work styles of sleep-deprived bureaucrats, saying he wants to make it possible for finance ministry staff to go on dates on weeknights.

Suzuki CEO: 80, going on 56

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When Toyota and Honda replaced their retirement-age CEOs with executives in their 50s last year, they said the tough times called for young blood and a fresh start.

Not so at Suzuki Motor.

Nine days short of his 80th birthday and after 31 years heading the company that his wife’s grandfather founded, CEO Osamu Suzuki says his best days are ahead of him. If Suzuki is weary of the recurring question about succession plans — a question he’s probably fielded for the past two decades in his ripe age — he masks it well, coming up with a different analogy every so often. His latest favourite response? “100 is the new 70.”

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