Connect to share and comment

Great news on the diamond...

...and for McDonald's, which sets a new record. Everything else - debt, auto production, employment and even pub safety - is gloomy. Also: the first female baseball pro - a 17 year old 5'1" knuckleballer; thought controlled robots; closet-sized lodging (literally); and infinitely pop-able beer can tabs.

Top News: At last some good news in Japan as the national team won the World Baseball Classic (WBC) for the second time, lifting the mood in the country for a few days at least, just as Red Sox pitcher Daisuke ‘Dice K’ Matsuzaka had hoped (in Japanese). The script could have been taken straight from a corny sports movie, with Japan meeting arch-rival Korea in the final - the fifth time they had met in the tournament – and it all going down to the wire with Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki finally saving the day.


Tension continues to mount over North Korea’s apparently imminent rocket-launch. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has officially given the order to the Self-Defense Forces to shoot down the missile if it threatens Japan’s security.


The Marine Self-Defense Force (MSDF) meanwhile, has begun its anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia in what has been described as the most active overseas deployment since its pacifist constitution was imposed on it by the US after WWII.


April 1 marks the start of the financial year in Japan and is also the day new recruits traditionally join companies. This year around 820,000 entered companies, amidst a deepening recession. According to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare survey, 86.3 percent of graduating college students had found jobs, the first decline in five years.


With unemployment rising and a welfare system only ever designed for full employment, the government is offering to pay the airfares of unemployed foreign workers with Japanese ancestry to go back to Brazil and Peru. The government will pay $2,000 for family members and $3,000 for workers on special visas, invited to Japan during the boom times to staff factories.


As the recession bites deeper, a new form of accommodation, ‘closet rooms,’ has sprung up in Tokyo. The 80cm by 180 cm cubicles, not even high enough to stand in, are available for $270 a month.


Money: The OECD has predicted that Japan’s national debt will swell further to 197% of GDP in 2010. That makes Japan second only to Zimbabwe public indebtedness as a percentage of GDP.


The car industry saw domestic production fall 56% in February, the fourth month of record falls, the biggest since records began in 1967. Things must be bad when even mobile phone sales are down in Japan.


Some industries manage to remain recession-proof.  One is pachinko, the uniquely Japanese form of slot machine. Played with ball-bearings like a vertical pinball game, it is semi-legal gambling with a turnover bigger than that of the automotive industry – pre-meltdown. Another business that has been holding up well during the recession is McDonald’s Japan. After record sales last year, the firm set a new one day record on Sunday 29th with $26.5 million racked up at its stores across Japan, thanks to a WBC victory campaign. McDonald’s was a major sponsor of the Japanese team and got a lot of exposure during the event with its prominent marketing.  


Elsewhere: In other baseball news, March 27 saw the professional debut of 17-year-old high school knuckle-ball pitcher, 5ft 1in Eri Yoshida (Japanese) – the first female pro baseball player in Japan. After taking the mound in the ninth, she walked one batter and struck out another in the minor league game for Osaka Gold Villicanes. Her debut attracted more than 11,500 fans to the game.


The US Embassy in Tokyo issued a warning to Americans to avoid bars in the popular night-life district of Roppongi, after a spate of robberies involving spiked drinks. This kind of activity, better known in other parts of Asia, may be following the recession to Tokyo’s famously safe streets.


Japan has until recently been known as ‘tobacco tengoku’ – smoker’s heaven – for its permissive attitudes to cigarettes; but the times they are changing. Following bans on the bullet-train and from various central wards of Tokyo, smoking is to be banned completely from platforms at JR rail stations from April 1.


Honda has developed a thought-controlled robot by using electrical signals from the brain through a sensor attached to the wearer’s head. The sensor can successfully detect thoughts for a limited number of movements, 90% of the time. 


On a much lower-tech note, toy giant Bandai’s latest offering allows the experience of popping a can of beer to be experience over and over with its Mugen (infinite) beer pull tab. This is the fourth in the Mugen series, which has included bubble-wrap popping, and has already sold 2.5 million units.