Friday, December 26 2008 @ 09:17 AM JST
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
Shiite tribal leaders and government officials attend Christmas Day mass at a Baghdad church
At dusk in this port city of Yokohama, day laborers from the harbor, whitecollar
workers of neighborhood shipping companies and many other classes of employees and employers pour into the streets to have their traditional bonenkai (forget-the-year parties.) Some of these sararimen (salarymen) wear red-and-white hats as if to cover their empty-headedness and
some others who are less intoxicated wear inane, weird smiles all the time. The worst part of this yearend festivity is that unless you are very careful, you sometimes step in a puddle of their vomit or urine, which I narrowly avoided a few days ago.
are no different from what they were before this stormy climate set in
here. Unlike Iraqi Christians (photo above) who seem to know what values they are living for, these folks brought up in a religious salad since their childhood remain caught up in the endless chain of the means, have no idea about what end to pursue and know nothing to do but to drown themselves in cheap booze. Now that a smaller number of employers are willing to sponsor these after-work activities, most parties end up in an unrestrained drinking binge or deafening as well as sickening karaoke frenzy.
However, Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose 3-month-young cabinet is already
crumbling, still sounds upbeat about the purposefulness of their lives. He keeps saying like a broken
record that the Japanese should pursue keiki kaifuku, or economic recovery, at any cost, with his senseless 23 trillion yen
($255 billion) stimulus package, and that his people should no longer be
concerned too much about the traditional pork-barreling that has already built innumerable
"bridges to nowhere" all over the nation. His delusion goes as
far as to say that this nation will be the first among industrialized countries
to find way out of the ongoing crisis because that's what he believes his people can do with the help of the same performance-enhancing agent they used in their postwar drive toward an economic powerhouse. · read more (341 words)
Saturday, December 20 2008 @ 06:12 AM JST
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
At times I think China's communist government is admirable because it always puts nation's interest before anything else. For one thing, it has been firmly refusing to unpeg its currency from the U.S. dollar despite the mounting pressure
from the West. By contrast, it once again proved to be a piece of cake
for the American government and the Federal Reserve Board to coerce their
Japanese counterparts into playing along with this "swim together and sink
On December 16, the FRB headed by Ben S. Bernanke took a big step to lower its benchmark interest rates applicable to the interbank federal funds to near-zero
levels. Japan's monetary authorities instantly became paralyzed and chose not to react swiftly. Actually Japan
has implemented the zero-interest monetary policy since 1998. By now it has exhausted all the economic steroids it could avail itself of. So the only
workable countermeasure the Bank of Japan could have taken against Bernanke's
assault was to go for a negative interest strategy.
But all that Japan's
central bank could actually do was to lower its key interest rate a couple of notches
from 0.3% to 0.1% after 3-day-long hesitation and deliberation. The delayed action certainly indicated that the government and the BOJ had had difficulty pursuing the Japanese interest while currying favor with the American policymakers whose primary concern is the failing auto industry there. The Japanese will never ever understand that there's no such thing as a sustainable win-win situation in this world. As a result,
the value of the Japanese yen, which shot up to a 13-year-high of upper
87s against the green back, still stays in the range of 89-90 yen over
Japan's economy has been increasingly depending on exports for its recovery
from the post-bubble doldrums. Now its exports account for 16% of nominal
GDP, where the U.S. and China top the list of the importers of Japanese
goods and services. Given BOJ's indecisiveness and weak-kneed response to the drastic move on the part of the FRB, it is little consolation for major Japanese companies that China's economy is more export-driven. · read more (405 words)
Dr. Michael Hammer died in early September as if to remind us of his unfinished work amid the global crisis
December 6-12 issue of The Economist observes:
"Were it not for the tax relief they receive, contributors to personal
pension plans [for one] would have been better off keeping their money
under their mattresses. It will be little consolation to Westerners that
savers in Japan have known this empty feeling for far longer."
Although the empathy shown here is something that brings a big consolation to most Japanese, I cannot be very sure Westerners will learn bitter lessons from the "empty feeling" faster than the Japanese, if ever they are able to learn anything from it.
As a matter of fact my fellow countrymen have
learned no lessons from what they experienced when the bubble economy burst. That is evident from the way they are responding to the current crisis. Once again, in the face of deja vu of the bust of 1990, they are at a loss. They are very fond of parroting Alan Greenspan's exquisite qualifier "once-in-a-century." Yet they look unable to come up with a single countermeasure which is not too conventional to be workable with this momentous set of circumstances. It's as though they wish deep inside that the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve had been just exaggerating the severity of the situation.
There's nothing new in the Japanese trait shown here. Yet I still wonder how
come the recent politico-economic discourse among policymakers, analysts and scholars
in America has hardly come any closer to really addressing the
once-in-a-century enormity of the problem. Maybe Obama's promise of creating
2.5 million jobs is unprecedented, but he should know that artificially bloated employment will only lead to a larger number of layoffs at a later point in time.
Let me go a little personal here. I started my career in 1959. After going
through the high-growth era of the 1960s and 1970s, the bubble years of
the 1980s and the post-bubble doldrums, I called it a career in 2005. · read more (1,148 words)
Thursday, August 17 2006 @ 02:39 AM JST
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
From time to time I do this sort of interview in the streets of Yokohama.
You may ask: "Do these interviews represent the tip of the iceberg
or just exceptional phenomena confined to the city of Yokohama?" My
answer will be, "Yes, you can say it's the tip of the iceberg, only on the premise that you can visualize a huge iceberg that stretches from one end of the Japanese
archipelago to the other."
People are untiringly saying we are short-handed because of the declining
birthrate and the resultant shrinkage in population. But the truth is that
the entire nation has now been unionized, sort of, since the postwar morbid labor movement was gone, and as a result the
legacy of the lifetime employment system has started taking a tragic toll
on the health of both public and private sectors.
In Yokohama, as in many other cities, it's prohibited to light up in the street.
The City Hall says smoking outdoors is subject to a fine of 10,000 yen. If you walk
down a street with a cigarette stuck between your lips, a person or two
(see above photos) comes over to warn you to stop it while offering you
a special "portable ashtray".
I normally refuse to accept the warning and the ashtray, and ask them nasty
questions while at the same time taking pictures with my digital camera.
This always works. They run away from me as if to evade a 10,000-yen fine
My ad hoc street interview most typically goes like this: · read more (196 words)
Saturday, October 23 2004 @ 06:28 AM JST
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi once said there will be no place for a
sacred cow in his "reform" plans. But anybody with a certain
amount of commonsense can figure out there are a lot of rich pastures that
are going to be preserved, forever, for sacred cows.
More often than not, just privatizing a governmental body does not lead
to a reform in this nation which has proven prone to failure to cut off those pork-barrel operators and their constituencies from their vested rights. We have learned by now a lot of bitter lessons from the 1985 privatization of the NTT. Nobody thinks we are any better off than we were before 1985 now dealing with NTT DoCoMo, NTT Communications, etc.
Take Daiei for example. We have already discussed the double-scandal that
involved the ailing supermarket chain operator and its creditors, including
bad debts-ridden UFJ, in "It's always taxpayers that foot the bill"
(TFP, October 17). On October 18 the main banks of Daiei and the Industrial
Revitalization Corporation of Japan, the quasi-governmental body for bailouts,
announced a restructuring plan for the Fukuoka-based retail giant. According
to the plan, 27,000 jobs out of 58,000 permanent and part-time positions
will have to be slashed while keeping the number of its outlets unchanged
at 260. Which means Daiei's customers have been paying an extra 47% when
shopping at its outlets as far as the personnel and overhead costs are concerned. · read more (775 words)
Saturday, October 16 2004 @ 02:37 AM JST
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
This lady who keeps bowing, as if suffering from pathological automatism, when nobody is around is a far
cry from the way it was at a department store as recently as five years ago. When you stepped
into a department store at 10 a.m., the time for the day's opening, on
a 1999 morning, you were welcomed by a huge reception line just inside
of the entrance doors. It is only of late that they started to realize
they couldn't afford too much of this in part because there wasn't a huge crowd
of shoppers waiting outside for the day's opening anymore. Sometimes the people
forming the reception line would outnumber their customers today.
Up until recently, and even now, to a lesser degree, foreign visitors often
talked about politeness, hospitality and niceness of the Japanese people.
But I would call these traits a mass-stupidity. Even worse, these bows
are sometimes the way they express their apology, not appreciation. Many
foreigners have noticed that the Japanese always look and sound apologetic
without any particular reason to do so. But of course, there is a good reason.
Japan is one of those countries that you never really understand until
you live there for a certain period of time. It is only when you have settled
down for months, or even years, that you start feeling the mass-stupidity
disguised as hospitality or politeness does cost you a lot, money-wise and otherwise.
In Japan, saabisu (Japanese transliteration of service) means a completely different thing
than in other countries, in that it is basically free of charge and something you can live without. Although
we are gradually getting used to the idea of service that carries a price
tag and offers something we cannot live without, Japanese customers were
taken aback when foreign-capital companies such as IBM said they were charging
a handsome amount of money for their service some 30 years ago. Ever since
the situation has changed, to a certain degree, but still it holds true
here that more often than not, saabisu is something superfluous or redundant.
My observation is that one of the things that underlie this trait is the
traditional Japanese culture that somehow values uselessness, purposelessness
or emptiness. But more importantly, perhaps, this high tolerance toward redundancies
stems from the fact that these supposedly homogeneous people, at workplace
or anywhere else, are united in perfect harmony, as if the entire nation
has been "unionized", to protect themselves against the axe that
the increasingly merciless management would otherwise resort to using. · read more (372 words)