Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
U.S. President Barack Obama will have his work cut out during his 24-hour stay in Japan from Friday as he and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama try to soothe concerns that the decades-old alliance is fraying as the two countries adapt to China’s rise.
Other U.S. presidents have also had rough agendas in Tokyo, given a relationship historically plagued by trade spats and security angst.
But most have found time for a friendly photo op — sampling local culture or cuisine or squeezing in some exercise time.
Jimmy Carter jogged and swam at the U.S. ambassador’s residence and sampled “yakitori” chicken kebabs at a restaurant in downtown Tokyo with his family in 1979.
Take a look around any Japanese city and reminders of the H1N1 influenza threat are everywhere. Commuters in surgical masks. Hand sanitiser at building entrances. Classrooms and daycare centres being temporarily shut.
But nothing gets parents more into a panic than news reports of small children having died from the disease. Moms and dads understandably want vaccinations for their kids as soon as possible but there’s one major problem: where can you get them?
Japan’s police can finally tear down the wanted posters for Tetsuya Ichihashi, after two-and-a-half years spent chasing down the 30-year-old suspected in the death of Briton Lindsay Hawker, whose body was found buried in a bath filled with sand.
Ichihashi is in custody, but Japan’s media are far from finished with the case, which has dominated news reports and daytime chat shows since police discovered recently he had changed his appearance with plastic surgery.
The economy is struggling but sales of a traditional, fish-shaped sweet snack are going along swimmingly, thanks to its low price and auspicious name.
Name tags on their chairs so their “teachers” can take attendance; instructions on how to greet their elders politely; orders to turn up on time.
Rookie lawmakers in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party are, critics say, being treated like first-grade students instead of a talent pool the government can draw on to tackle tough policy problems from a bulging debt to strained ties with Washington.
Eleven years ago I sat near a high school-aged Daisuke Matsuzaka as he used field glasses to watch a Japan-MLB All-Star game at the end of both leagues’ seasons.
I wrote a story based on that image about Japanese wanting to know “How good are we?” It was a question encompassing more than sport, as the same doubts existed for Japan in terms of corporate or diplomatic might, while the way the nation usually measured itself was in comparison to the U.S.
The 2009 baseball season, which began with Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki leading Japan to its second World Baseball Classic title and ended with Hideki Matsui winning the World Series MVP in helping the New York Yankees to the crown, hasn’t ended that self-assessment. Instead it has widened it to “How good can we be?”
Matsui, whose decision to leave the Yomiuri Giants at the end of the 2002 was broadcast live across the island nation, hit a grand slam in his first New York home game but has been hobbled by injuries in seven seasons that may have made his Series heroics a Yankees coda.
Ichiro, who set the record in 2009 for most consecutive MLB seasons with 200 hits and delivered the winning RBI in the WBC title game, is the greatest baseball export Japan has produced so far, but his zen approach to hitting and perceived statistics orientation have not always resonated with fans or teammates.
Matsui, meanwhile, nicknamed “Godzilla” in high school for his power display at the national baseball championship, is less polished and a little more rough and ready. But he’s a player that nary a cross word has been said or written about, rather a “slugging salaryman” portrayal whose team focus is absolute, who even hit his sixth game Series homer to the Komatsu banner in rightfield.
An MLB-insider told me after Game Six of the World Series: “Ichiro Suzuki will be elected into the Hall of Fame, Hideki Matsui will not. But Ichiro will never achieve what Matsui did last night.”
Ichiro may not, but another Japanese player may, as the once distant fields of dreams across the Pacific have grown closer thanks to the countrymen’s feats in 2009, with Japan’s questions about how it rates becoming easier to answer.
from Left field:
Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashina was in tears as the Japanese company announced it has withdrawn from Formula One with immediate effect.
Japan has deserted motorsport on mass during the economic crisis (Honda and Bridgestone to name just two).
from Left field:
Until the All Blacks and Wallabies came to town.
There was no U.S. representative at a recent summit of Asian leaders but, one official told me, Washington still played a leading role behind the scenes at the meetings held in the Thai seaside town of Hua Hin.
A top Japanese government official told us as we flew south with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Thailand that his boss would tell Asian counterparts that the U.S. “involvement” would be important when he pushes for his idea of an East Asian Community.
Nintendo still expects to make $4 billion this year and Sony to lose over $600 million, but last week may ultimately be remembered as a crossroads where each firm’s fortunes began to change directions, or at least when a 15-year battle for gaming supremacy again became competitive.
Electronics conglomerate Sony trimmed its overall loss forecast on Friday, while some of last quarter’s bleeding was attributed to what is now seen as its successful price cut for the PlayStation 3 console, jolting the PS3 ahead of its Kyoto-based rival’s Wii in monthly sales.