Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

from Ben Gruber:

My experience covering Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

People have been asking me about my recent coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, wondering what sticks out in my memory. After some reflection, one part of my experience keeps rising to the top - the mountain tunnels.

HOUSE BOAT

The Reuters multimedia team was based in the north-east town of Tono, a small mountain town situated above the coastline. Tono had an eerie feeling to it, almost all of the shops and restaurants were closed. But you wouldn't know the town had been rocked by a massive earthquake. There were no physical signs.

Every morning we would wake up early and pile into cars for the drive down to the coast.

To get from Tono to the coastal areas you need to drive through several massive tunnels, some stretching as long as 5kms. These tunnels would normally be well lit and ventilated but that wasn't the case any longer. They were pitch black inside and even with the windows shut tight; you couldn't help but get extremely nauseous from petrol fumes.

from Photographers' Blog:

This job stinks

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As a photographer, I have the privilege to encounter rare glimpses of the strange and unusual. Most of the time I am thankful to get such an assignment but this particular one turned out to be a mixture of delight and displeasure.

The subject was a Titan arum, or Amorphophallus titanium, one of the world’s largest and rarest plants, which was blooming for the first time in nearly 20 years at a botanical garden in Tokyo. The first visitors lined up from 6:30 am and by the time the gate opened at 10 am, 1600 people had formed a long queue despite the sweltering Tokyo summer heat. The excited crowd was attracted by extensive TV coverage and in the newspaper about this unusual flower that only blooms for two days after taking 16 years to grow from a seedling.

from Global News Journal:

Japan’s not-so-hot election

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Candidates on the campaign trail in Japan are sweating through the summer heat but voters have been cool towards this Sunday's upper house election.

Sure, the government won't change because the ruling Democratic Party will still control the more powerful lower house.

from Photographers' Blog:

Samurais in South Africa

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I arrived in South Africa with the Japan team filled with excitement and an acute feeling of anxiety. Never mind that I would be on the scene to cover the world's biggest sporting event, and never mind that I would be competing against the top sports photographers from around the globe to get the best pictures. For a Reuters photographer like myself dedicated to a single team, when your team drops out of the competition, you're finished. Like the defeated team, you go back to the hotel, pack your bags and spend the long flight home wondering what went wrong. Based on Japan's lackluster showing in the East Asia Soccer Championship my expectation for Japan was three defeats in a row and no victories. Mine would be a short stay in South Africa.

A Japanese boy living in South Africa reacts as he watches Japan's national soccer team depart from South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But during Japan's first match against Cameroon the Samurai Blue seemed to transform themselves in front of my eyes with Keisuke Honda’s goal being the catalyst. Japan was defeated by the Netherlands in their second match but the Samurais demonstrated the unity of the team in their performance and they were victorious against Denmark in their third match. In doing so they completely wiped out the image that I held of the Japan team before going into the competition. I was covering the world's biggest sporting event, and I was going up against the top sports photographers, but in this World Cup Japan's victory meant that the formidable teams of France and Italy and the even more formidable photographers accompanying them were going home. Not me.

from Photographers' Blog:

Cheering on an aging Japan

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When I first heard there was a 78-year old cheerleader in Japan who wears metallic silver wigs and waves gold pom-poms as she jumps and dances in her shiny red sequined costume, it instantly made me curious to find out what kind of person she is.

Japan's cheerleaders.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Everyone knows by now that people in Japan live a long time. According to the World Health Organization's latest life expectancy figures Japanese women remain at number one (life expectancy: 86 years), but I had never heard of an 80-year-old cheerleader.

from Global News Journal:

Remembering Hiro’s gentle smile

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As Hiro Muramoto headed out the door of the Tokyo newsroom last week, weighed down with TV equipment on his way to Bangkok to cover demonstrations, he flashed a smile at a Reuters colleague.

It was, she remembers, a "Hiro" smile. It was gentle, rather than a broad grin, and it showed the 43-year-old was pleased once again to take his expertise on the road to do his job telling the world what was going on.THAILAND/

from Photographers' Blog:

Dark side of Japan’s pet boom

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Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years.

It was a very surprising figure for me as I had only been covering Japan’s colorful and luxurious pet boom, so I decided to shed some light on the dark side of the industry.

from Left field:

Former Estonian bouncer adds Baltic spice to sumo

Baruto throws his weight around

Baruto throws his weight around

After the nightclub fracas that toppled a Mongolian grand champion from grace who would have thought it would take a former bouncer from Estonia to help clean up the mess in the troubled world of sumo?

The soft-spoken giant Baruto gave the ancient Japanese sport a shot in the arm after sealing his promotion to the sport's second highest rank of "ozeki" with a 14-1 showing at the spring grand sumo tournament less than two months after "yokozuna" Asashoryu quit in disgrace amid a "booze rage" probe.

from MacroScope:

What can Kan do?

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Mixed reaction from major European banks to appointment of Naoto Kan as new Japanese finance minister. ING is pretty scathing, saying the appointment sidesteps a process of change Japan must undertake to avoid further stagnation or a fate far worse.

"PM Hatoyama has appointed someone with no experience in economic management... Mr. Kan takes on the finance minister role without a well documented, deeply considered policy agenda. Here we rely on reports of positions he has taken in the Cabinet, and from public statements on economic management. These suggest his instincts are to pursue a stimulus strategy involving higher government spending; a weaker yen and ultra-loose monetary policy. Mr. Kan appears tone deaf to microeconomic reform or to the threats to financial stability posed by high public debt."

Hey look, we shrank the budget

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Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has long vowed to wrest power from the country’s bureaucrats. Now it’s taking its battles with them over spending onto live internet TV.

Three government backed budget-cutting panels operating from temporary premises in a Tokyo gym, have called in a series of bureaucrats to answer for projects deemed unnecessary or too expensive. The live internet broadcast of the resulting stand-offs can make for compelling viewing.

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