Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Buff, bronze and beautiful



For the national holiday, Sports Day, I had a fitting assignment –  a women’s bodybuilding competition in Tokyo.

It was my first time to cover bodybuilding, and as soon as I entered the venue I heard  cheers from the 1,500 spectators eyeing 68 athletes from across Japan.

I hurried backstage to catch the competitors’ last preparations before the judging, and followed a trail of plastic, blanketing the floor, walls and furniture to protect the surroundings from the oil and skin toner creams covering the contestants.

Opening a door with a plastic-covered knob, I found the waiting room with over 30 bronzed and muscular women in bathing suits, aged from 27 to 56 and preparing for the stage.

Suiting up against the flu


It looks like typical, off-the-rack business attire but a Japanese menswear firm has invented a suit for the executive who doesn’t have time to come down with the flu.

Haruyama Trading says its $590 suit can protect wearers from the H1N1 virus, as it is coated with titanium dioxide, a chemical commonly used in toothpaste and cosmetics that is said to kill the virus upon contact.

Electric dreams


The Tokyo Motor Show later this month is expected to be a very understated event, with foreign carmaker participation almost nil and outlays by Japanese firms reflecting hard times in the industry.

But Electric Vehicles, or EVs, and hybrids will be on display in force, with Toyota, Honda and Nissan giving previews ahead of the late October show.

Tokyo lights go out


Tokyo’s failure to win the 2016 Olympic bid triggered bemused shrugs and a rush for the exits at Tokyo Tower when the result was announced well past midnight on Saturday morning. In truth, no one at the bid party in the Tower seemed to really expect Tokyo to win.

Drummers drummed, cheerleaders rustled pom-poms and a seeming endless string of noisy TV celebrities took turns at the microphone to drum up some Olympic fever among the 400-plus partygoers.

Apocalypse Edo, 2016


After watching Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, and not always holding my tongue at the ancient city of Edo’s quest, the moment of futility in the 18-month, $50 million campaign became apparent after this headline: Olympics-2016 Games could be the last, says Tokyo governor.

Imagine the PR team behind always quotable Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, as the Japanese bid fell behind in the race according to bookmakers, suggesting he make one last plea to the IOC: With global demise coming, Tokyo deserves a final shot at Olympic hurrah.OLYMPICS/

Denim deflation


James Dean smouldered in his, the Marlboro men looked rugged in theirs, and now me and hordes of other Japanese people can feel frugal in ours. Jeans — practical, durable and with just a hint of  rebelliousness — are at the centre of a price war in Japan, as struggling retailers look to lure cash-strapped customers back through their doors.

With the country slipping deeper into deflation and its jobless rate rising, shops have for some time been marking down almost everything from bags of cereal,  to laundry detergent and bicycles.

from Photographers' Blog:

Japanese women celebrate pregnancy with maternity nudes

Tokyo-based photography Kim Kyung-Hoon gains access to pregnant women being photographed for nude maternity portraits, a trend that's on the rise in Japan.

Three years ago, a poster of a nude and heavily pregnant Britney Spears sparked concern in Japan before it was displayed in Tokyo's subways because it was considered "too stimulating" for young commuters.

3D TV is on its way



Whenever I hear the words “3D TV”, I’m reminded of a scene in the 1971 flick Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in which Mike Teavee uses Wonka’s television chocolate machine to miniaturise himself to fit inside a TV screen. As the mini Mike shouts with excitement about his TV debut, his mother reaches into the TV, picks him up and puts him in her purse. As a kid, that was as close as I’d get to 3D TV.

But on Monday, although I wasn’t quite miniaturized, I had the chance to visit a Panasonic plant in Osaka where I put on my own pair of TV glasses and watched 3D TV in a way young Mike Teavee would have loved.

Countdown to 2016 Gold


DENMARK/The delegations and heads of state are gathering in Copenhagen with less than one week to go until the International Olympic Committee’s decision on which city will host the 2016 Games.

Billions of dollars in investment and national pride are at stake. Oddsmakers are pegging a close race ahead of the Oct. 2 vote, and we are adding a new question to our poll on candidate cities (included below).

It’s only been a week



Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stepped onto the world stage last week, just days after formally being voted into his post. After his party’s decade in the obscurity of opposition, the sometimes dour academic seemed exhilarated by the whirlwind of top-level meetings at the United Nations in New York and the Group of 20 in Pittsburgh.
Some other party officials along on the trip appeared a little lost. “We’ve only been doing this a week,” followed by an embarrassed chuckle, was the answer to some of the more probing questions put by the Japanese press corps flying with the prime minister.
Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has made much of its determination to do things differently from the long-ruling Liberal Democrats, including how they treat the media.
Signs of change appeared almost immediately his official plane took off from Haneda airport bound for New York, when Hatoyama made an appearance among the journalists at the rear of the plane. That’s a rarity in itself in status-conscious Japan, but he caused even more of a stir by bringing along his wife, former musical star Miyuki, who handed out boxes of cakes for reporters to share.
Buns aside, the biggest sign of change was the regular briefings during the trip, which were given by a politician, rather than a bureaucrat. Some sessions turned into a bizarre game of Chinese whispers, with the briefer passing on information passed on by a bureaucrat present at the meeting.
But Hatoyama himself seemed eager to talk to reporters in person. After a detailed run-down of his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama left one interviewer speechless, he caught himself in mid-flow with: “Oh, did I go on too long?”He also chatted freely with reporters off the record.
Less of a joker than popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who initially attracted popstar-like adulation, Hatoyama could yet win fans in the press with sheer enthusiasm.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder