Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Calling time on Japan’s alcoholics

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When Japanese civil servant Yoshiyuki Takeuchi started to lag his colleagues at work, he joined a growing number of his countrymen looking for solace from their problems in the bottom of a glass. 

“People who started after me would go further in their careers just because they finished college. I tried to stop that sense of ‘why always me?’ by drinking,” said the 50-year-old, who quit university as his family couldn’t afford it.

JAPAN/

With liquor consumption growing sixfold in the last 50 years in Japan to match the country’s economic affluence, alcoholism has become an increasing — but poorly grasped — problem in a nation where booze is readily available from convenience stores, where evening television is awash with liquor ads and where bonding with workmates is typically done over a few cold ones.

Economic losses from drinking problems top 6.6 trillion yen ($73 billion) a year and some 800,000 people, or 0.6 percent of the population, are estimated to be alcoholics. The rate is smaller than the United States or Europe, but is rising as more women and elderly become addicted to drink.

Car Wars: Hyundai climbs with Toyota’s model

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HYUNDAI/

As a child in the early ’80s, I remember spending a summer in Seoul and taking a trip with relatives to the countryside in a Hyundai Pony, South Korea’s first homegrown car. I spoke no Korean, but learned one word quickly enough: “lemon”.

Hyundai Motor has certainly come a long way since then.

Thirty-four years after introducing the Pony hatchback at the Turin Motor Show, Hyundai is the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, surpassing Ford Motor in the first half of this year. With the rest of the industry reeling from slumping sales, Hyundai’s charge has been especially conspicuous this year as it grabbed market share across the world and even made record profits in the latest quarter.

Will Obama find time to shoot hoops in Tokyo?

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OBAMA/

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.

from Left field:

Tears as Toyota pull out of Formula One

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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:

A bunch of fives from Jonah Lomu

RUGBY-ZEALAND/LOMUI have big hands and am 6-ft 4-ins. I can palm a basketball, and dunk it -- just about. It's not often meeting athletes I feel weedy.

Until the All Blacks and Wallabies came to town.

Last weekend's Bledisloe Cup test in Tokyo between the hulking trans-Tasman rivals prompted me to dust down the Dunlop Green Flash and renew my lapsed gym membership. For that I thank them.

Opposition sees “Hitler Youth” in ruling party

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JAPAN/When Japan’s new opposition leader compared ruling party lawmakers cheering the prime minister’s policy speech to “Hitler Youth”, the comment grabbed headlines, though it was perhaps just a sign of the depth of opposition frustration.

“I got  the impression that the atmosphere in parliament was similar to the Hitler Youth agreeing to Hitler’s speech,” Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s first policy speech since his Democratic Party ousted the LDP in a historic August election.

High town, low town

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The modernity as well as the occasional indifference to change in Japan bookmarked my week, with both moments anchored in the countryside about one hour from Tokyo.

On Monday in a rice field converted into a school parking lot, a 6-year-old, Boston Red Sox cap-wearing Japanese youngster stormed my way. We had chatted in the past, although our last conversation consisted of “Chase me!”

Brain-powered travel

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It may not look like much, but this run of the mill electric wheelchair runs on brainpower – no hands required.

Part of a joint project between Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute and Toyota, the chair reads subject’s brainwaves and converts them into movement.

Buff, bronze and beautiful

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bodybuilding1

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.

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