Japan News Briefs
Note: Sorry to say I no longer have time to keep
this up, but the stories recorded below over a span of almost a couple
years should at least give you a quick glimpse into this most interesting
culture. As a good friend once said, "Never a dull moment."
One of my favorite sources of Japan news these days,
in addition to the news links at the bottom of this page, is Japan
Thanks for visiting.
On a recent visit to America,
I realized how much of a dearth of Asian news coverage exists there,
apart from the endless stream of stories related to the
Asian economic/currency crisis.
And it is extremely rare to hear any news on Japan at all, and if you do,
it is usually buried on some obscure page in the back section of a local
unless of course there's some major catastrophe such as
the Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake or
the Tokyo Subway Gas Attack.
As a result, many Americans don't really know much about
present-day Japan at all,
other than it has a Mt. Fuji, manufactures great, high-quality products,
and that it hosted the Nagano Winter Olympics last year.
Actually, there really are some rather interesting things
happening in this country these days.
Therefore, I have decided to start a list of stories which I feel
are not only reflective of this very fascinating culture,
but which may also be of interest to people living overseas,
and which may not have been prominently carried by mainstream foreign news
Your feedback will be welcomed.
THE LARGEST FIREWORK IN THE WORLD
- SAT., SEPT. 11, '99 --
The Japanese have done it again. The biggest firework in the world
was set off on Thursday at the Katagaimachi Fireworks Festival in Ojiya,
Niigata Prefecture, sending a shower of flower-like sparks 800 meters (over
2600 feet) in diameter up into the night sky. About 15,000 spectators
cheered as the firework, a so-called "yonshakudama" which measured
1.2 meters (4 feet) in diameter on the ground, lit up the town from a height
of 800 meters (a distance of almost 9 football fields).
JAPAN IS CRAZY ABOUT BASEBALL
- MON., SEPT. 6, '99 -- Who
needs the Baseball Hall of Fame when you can build a shrine to worship
your own stars? Japanese baseball fans, renowned for their team loyalty
and wacky cheering techniques, can now pay tribute to the talents of Yokohama
Bay Star's relief pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki at a shrine built in his honor
in Yokohama's bustling main train station. Sasaki led his team to last
year's Japanese championship with a record-breaking pitching performance.
About 17 million devotees -- nearly 50,000 people every day -- visited
the shrine last year, helping the Bay Stars win their first championship
in 38 years. Since arriving in the late 19th century, baseball has
become Japan's undisputed #1 sport, attracting big crowds and even bigger
commercial backing. More than 24 million attend professional baseball
games annually and millions more watch it on TV, making it the most popular
sport in the nation. During a game, the stadiums buzz with chants,
drums, and trumpets, creating a continuous wall of sound that most non-Japanese
baseball fans find a bit shocking.
BIRTH-CONTROL PILLS FINALLY GO ON SALE IN JAPAN
- FRI., SEPT. 3, '99 -- Low-dosage
birth control pills went on sale yesterday for the first time in Japan,
after being approved by the Health and Welfare Ministry in June following
9 years of deliberations by the Central Pharmaceutical Affairs Council.
The pills are available by prescription, but are not covered by medical
insurance. A month's supply of pills is likely to cost 3000 yen (~$27)
on average. Abortion has been legal in this country since 1948.
JAPANESE MAN COMPLETES SOLO TRANSPACIFIC VOYAGE (FOR THE 2ND TIME)
- FRI., JULY 9, '99 -- Sea
adventurer Kenichi Horie passed under the world's longest
suspension bridge near the city of Kobe on Thursday morning, shortly
before completing a 102-day transpacific voyage in an environmentally friendly
yacht built from 528 stainless steel beer kegs and other recycled materials.
Horie, 60, left San Francisco on March 29 to sail solo across the
Pacific Ocean. The trip comes 37 years after he became the first
man to sail across the Pacific alone in 1962.
106-YEAR-OLD TWINS TALKING ON A TV PHONE
- FRI., JULY 2, '99 -- Japan's
most famous twin sisters "Kin-san" and "Gin-san", who
are 107 years old, both live in Minami Ward, Nagoya City, but since their
homes are 5 km apart, they meet only once a month. A relay agent
of a satellite TV station in Nagoya presented them with a video-telephone
set, which costs 300,000 yen ($2460), to commemorate their first listing
in the Guiness Book of World Records. They were happily excited. Kin
said, "How nice! We can see each other's face." Gin
said, "Kin's face is on the screen," and Kin commented that it
was rather embarrassing. Gin said it was a wonderful world since
she could see Kin's face while sitting at home. Both of them kept
waving their hands at the screen for two minutes before hanging up. The
sisters have appeared on numerous televison shows and commercials in Japan
since passing the century mark in 1992. Kin-san gave birth to 11 children
and has 7 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Gin-san has 5
children, four grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren. "Kin"
in Japanese means gold and "gin" means silver.
NOSTRADAMUS FEVER GRIPS JAPAN
- MON., MAY 31, '99 -- Largely
fueled by growing interest in a doomsday prophecy by 16th century French
astrologer Nostradamus, sales of anything anybody ever wanted for the end
of humanity -- from books on Armageddon to bomb shelters -- have been on
the rise. A survey done in January indicated that about one in five
Japanese believe at least partially in the astrologer's predictions. Widespread
media coverage has helped boost sales in certain industries, e.g. the country's
few retailers of underground shelters have tripled sales. Major bookstores
have also set up Nostradamus corners. The country's top foreign movie
of the year has been the end-of-the-world thriller "Armageddon,"
which has taken in about $115 million during its nearly half-year run.
DOING GOOD DEEDS BECOMES NEW FAD FOR TEENAGE GIRLS
- WED., MAY 26, '99 -- Teenage
girls, who some people associate with dyed hair, wearing loose socks, and
"dating" older men for money, have a new fad. Every time
a teenage girl does a good deed like picking up garbage, giving up their
train seats to senior citizens, or doing their own laundry, they earn a
sticker to paste into a pocketbook called a Heaven's Passport. On
the front of these pocketbooks, which are the same size as real passports,
they affix their photographs and then write down their wishes for the future.
When they have collected 100 stickers in their passport, the wish
they have inscribed on their passport is supposed to come true. The
Osaka-based maker of the Heaven's Passports has already sold 100,000 of
80 BEETLES WORTH 8 MILLION YEN STOLEN FROM SHOP
- FRI., APRIL 30, '99 --
Eighty beetles valued at 8 million yen ($64,000) were stolen from an insect
shop in Toshima Ward, Tokyo yesterday. The haul included 15 pairs
of Japanese-born Dorcus hopei, a type of stag beetle popular for its large
size and referred to as a "black diamond" because it is so expensive.
The price of a Dorcus hopei increases per millimeter of length. Some
reach 80 millimeters and are traded for several million yen, even if they
are reared in captivity. The owner of the shop, which stocks
about 1000 insects, said that in spite of the country's recession, the
overall value of stag beetles has not been affected because the insects
are now growing bigger due to improvements in breeding techniques.
WORLD'S TALLEST FERRIS WHEEL TO OPEN NEXT MONTH
- WED., FEB. 24, '99 -- A
115m-high Ferris Wheel is scheduled to open in mid-March in Palette Town,
a multipurpose shopping and entertainment complex in Tokyo's Koto Ward,
making it the world's highest Ferris wheel. The 16-minute-long rides
will provide views of Tokyo Bay, skyscrapers in downtown Tokyo, aircraft
landing and taking off at Haneda airport, and on a clear day, even a view
of Mt. Fuji. The present recordholder as the world's tallest Ferris
Wheel is the 10-year-old Cosmo Clock 21 in Yokohama, whose 60 spokes are
successively illuminated at night with neon tubes, ticking off the seconds
every minute. And near its center is a huge digital clock that can
be clearly seen for miles. The Cosmo Clock 21 has 60 gondolas
which each seat 8 people and, although about to be eclipsed on the basis
of height, still holds the world record for rider capacity. Ferris
wheels have traditionally been located in expansive suburban amusement
parks, but operators have recently begun to reverse that trend and are
installing the rides in urban districts. Another planned Ferris wheel
in Yokohama will even be installed on the roof of a building.
330-YEAR-OLD TOKYO DEPARTMENT STORE CLOSES
- MON., FEB. 1, '99 -- The
Nihonbashi branch of Tokyu department store closed its doors after more
than 330 years of retailing history Sunday, but went out with a bang by
racking up record sales in its final month. As of Saturday, monthly
sales had reached 15.5 billion yen, 6.5 times the 2.4 billion yen recorded
last January. Founded in 1662 as a small fancy goods shop named Shirakiya,
Tokyu now has four other branches in the Tokyo area and 1 in Sapporo. Of
the store's 374 employees, 227 in December received transfers to work at
VIDEO-ARCADE DANCE FEVER SWEEPS THE NATION
- SUN., JAN. 30, '99 -- The
latest dance craze sweeping the nation is an electronic arcade game called
Dance Dance Revolution. For 200 yen, players climb onto a lighted
platform and dance with a computer-generated partner, trying to match their
footwork to arrows on a 74cm screen. The partner does his own, completely
different thing. Music, mostly 70's disco stuff, pumps at the players'
feet, while a sensor underneath the platform monitors whether they are
stepping up, down, left or right, and keeping time with the rhythm. Since
its debut in November, sales of Dance Dance Revolution have already surpassed
the 1000-mark -- the industry standard for a hit. Part of the reason
for the machine's success is the growing popularity of dance in Japan.
Kids practice hip-hop routines on the streets and their parents head
off to the studio for ballroom dance or salsa lessons.
GOT YOUR JET-SKI DRIVER'S LICENSE?
- FRI., JAN. 29, '99 -- A
Class IV Boat Operator's license examination in English will be given on
Mar. 2. A license is mandatory for anyone operating any sort of boat
equipped with an engine, including jet-skis, on lakes, ponds, rivers, or
the coastal waters of Japan. The Tokyo Sail & Power Squadron
is holding a series of classes to prepare individuals for registering and
taking both the written and driving tests starting Feb. 8.
INDONESIAN SCHOLAR DIES OF STROKE AFTER BEING REFUSED ADMISSION TO
- TUES., JAN. 19, '99 --
A 52-year-old visiting Indonesian researcher at the National Museum of
Ethnology in Suita, Osaka Prefecture died yesterday of a stroke, just
3 days after being refused admission to 3 different hospitals because of
his poor Japanese language skills. Complaining of breathing difficulties,
the man's condition quickly deteriorated after he was refused admission.
Ironically, he was fluent in English, French, German, and Indonesian.
The bizarre case has set off a flurry of heated discussion regarding
hospital admission policies for foreigners in Japan.
THE OLDEST COMPANY IN THE WORLD?
- MON., JAN. 18, '99 -- Kongo
Gumi, a company in Osaka, Japan has origins dating back to more than 4
centuries before the current millenium even began, in Year 578. The
construction company, which has 130 employees and an annual revenue of
about $100 million, specializes in building Buddhist temples. Of
last year's 30 projects, all but 5 were temples. A 10-foot, 17th
century scroll traces the 39 generations back to the company's start. As
in many distinguished Japanese families, sons-in-law often joined the clan
and took the Kongo family name. Thus, through the years the line
has continued through either sons or daughters. Osaka city officials
who trace corporate roots have confirmed that Kongo Gumi is the oldest
continuously operating business in Japan, and perhaps in the whole world.
THE LATEST JAPANESE CRAZE -- MINUTE-METERED BUFFETS
- THURS., DEC. 24, '98 --
All-you-can-eat smorgasbords, called "Vikings" in Japan, have
long been popular in this country. In fact, in Tokyo alone there
are at least 176 such restaurants. However, a new style of Viking
has now caught on where patrons are charged by the minute. At the
Totenko Chinese restaurant, it costs 35 yen (about 30 cents) per minute
to wolf down spring rolls, fried noodles, fried rice, tofu, and shrimp
with chilli sauce. To ensure an accurate recording of the time a
customer spends eating, the restaurant uses a time clock where you punch
in and out. At the Dai-ichi Hotel Tokyo Seafort, an afternoon dessert
Viking is offered for 26 cents a minute where, in an atmosphere of high
ceilings and soothing New Age music, customers can stock up on apple pie,
raspberry mousse, French pastries, fruit punch, and dark chocolate cake.
ENERGY DRINKS EMPOWER JAPAN
- FRI., NOV. 13, '98 -- Gracing
almost every pharmacy, convenience store, and vending machine in Japan,
energy drinks are top sellers in this country of the 24-hour work ethic.
Made from vitamins, minerals, root and herb extracts and containing
such bizarre ingredients as viper tincture and deer horn extract, these
drinks result in sales of in excess of 100 billion yen a year. Used
by over 45% of the Japanese population, they appeal to walks of society,
from busy worn-out businessmen to high school students studying for their
cram school exams to others just wanting to boost their immune system or
regain their physical strength after an illness. Sold in tiny little
brown glass bottles, they range in price from less than 100 yen to almost
SOUTH KOREA LIFTS BAN ON JAPANESE POP CULTURE
- WED., OCT. 21, '98 -- South
Korea announced it will liberalize the importation of Japanese pop culture,
including videos, movies, and cartoons. The move comes as the two
countries try to improve bilateral relations at the grass roots level still
strained from Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.
The decision is seen as the first step toward fulfilling Seoul's
policy of allowing South Koreans more access to various aspects of Japanese
culture, as promised by President Kim Dae Jung during his state visit to
Japan earlier this month.
COPYCAT POISONING ATTACKS CONTINUE
- THURS., SEPT. 10, '98 --
In July, 4 people died and 63 others were sickened after eating arsenic-laced
curry rice at a summer festival in Wakayama Prefecture. Since then, a spate
of other similar poisoning incidents have occurred around the country,
including a 58-year-old man who died in Nagano Prefecture after drinking
a can of oolong tea purchased from a supermarket that had been spiked with
cyanide. A couple weeks ago, a 15-year-old junior high school
girl mailed fake diet drinks laced with cresol, a disinfectant, to 26 students
and a teacher at her school in Tokyo. As a result, one of the students
was seriously injured and hospitalized after drinking the bottled liquid.
Last week a 38-year-old taxi driver in Nara Prefecture purchased
a bottled drink from a vending machine that contained insecticide. Fortunately,
he did not become sick as the drink tasted exceptionally bitter and he
spit it out. In the latest episode, 2 drinks that contained hypochlorous
acid, which is used in bleaching products for kitchens and swimming pools,
and which had been purchased at separate convenience stores in Osaka, put
2 people in the hospital -- a 25-year-old working woman and a carpenter,
both residents of Osaka.
CENTENARIANS TOP 10,000
- WED., SEPT. 9, '98 -- The
number of people 100 years or older reached 10,158 this year, exceeding
the 10,000 level for the first time ever. Women accounted for 80%
of the total. The oldest person in Japan is a 114-year-old woman
in Tokyo and the oldest man is 111 years old and lives in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Japan has the highest average longevity in the world for both men
FILM DIRECTOR KUROSAWA DEAD AT 88
- MON., SEPT. 7, '98 -- Akira
Kurosawa, the "Emperor of Japanese film," who died yesterday
at age 88, put Japanese cinema on the world map. The filmmaker was
propelled to international fame in 1951 with the film "Rashomon,"
which won the Grand Prix at the Venice International Film Festival -- the
first international recognition given to a Japanese director -- and a 1952
Oscar for best foreign film. His 1954 film "The Seven Samurai"
won widespread acclaim and became the model for the Hollywood western,
"The Magnificent Seven." In 1990, Kurosawa received a lifetime
achievement award from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
FORMER SUMO WRESTLER KONISHIKI ENJOYING HIS ACTIVE RETIREMENT LIFE
- MON., JUNE 1, '98 -- Since
retiring in November, former sumo wrestler Konishiki has not slowed down.
Now known as Sanoyama, he maintains a busy schedule as a junior sumo
coach, a TV commentator, and as a pitchman in Japanese television commercials.
He has also published his Japanese-language memoir, "Konishiki
Exposed," and has established a children's foundation called Konishiki's
Kids to give children in Hawaii an opportunity to further their education. He
is also on a diet with a goal to trim down to 200 kilograms from the 280
kilograms of his active sumo days. The 34-year-old's 15-year career
included 1231 matches. Konishiki recently had his final retirement
ceremony, in which his top-knot got the chop.
ELECTRONIC PICK-UP DEVICE HELPS JAPANESE MAKE LOVE CONNECTION
- THURS., MAY 21,'98 -- Forget
about the Tamagotchi. The latest craze now is the $22 Lovegety, an
electronic device that has automated one of the most difficult human challenges
of all -- picking up a date on the street. The "Love-G,"
as it is also called, comes in male and female versions and emits a special
radio wave that can only be received by a Lovegety of the opposite sex.
So if a man switches on his and passes within 5 meters of a woman
with hers switched on, both devices will flash and beep. In addition
to the normal chat mode, the device has a karaoke mode for those looking
for a singing partner, and a special "get" mode for those who
are seriously on the prowl. The Lovegety is ideal for the shy types,
providing an opportunity or excuse to make that first contact, and symbolizes
today's trend toward people relying on machines for everything, even picking
up girls. But no matter how it works, it doesn't guarantee a successful
date. Some things are still beyond automation.
SELF-SERVE GAS PUMPS FINALLY MAKE IT TO JAPAN
- MON., MAY 11, '98 -- Though
self-service gas stations have been part of the U.S. landscape for 2 decades,
Japanese drivers could only do so beginning April 1st, as part of Japan's
deregulation of the oil industry. However, because of the high cost
of equipment conversion, extensive safety requirements, and thin profit-margin
forecasts, only a handful of stations have gone the do-it-yourself route.
Plus, there is little incentive for drivers to make the switch, as
self-serve prices are only pennies per liter cheaper than full-service.
WORLD'S LONGEST SUSPENSION BRIDGE OPENS
- MON., APRIL 6, '98 -- The
3.9-km Akashi Kaikyo Bridge opened yesterday, earning the distinction of
becoming the world's longest suspension bridge. Its 1991-m center
span exceeds both the 1410-m center span of Britain's Humber Bridge, until
yesterday the world's longest, and the 1280-m center span of San Francisco's
Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is the second of 3 major bridges which will
link the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. A journey across the
new bridge takes only 3 minutes, compared to 40 minutes to make the
same crossing by ferry. As a result, about 1500 ferry company employees
have lost their jobs because of the bridge. The bridge, which was
designed to withstand winds of up to 288 kph and earthquakes of a magnitude
of 8.5 on the Richter scale, cost 500 billion yen ($3.73 billion) and took
10 years to build. The one-way toll for ordinary vehicles costs 2600
$13.1 MILLION WORTH OF HAMBURGERS SOLD IN ONE DAY
- MON., MAR. 16, '98 -- McDonald's
Co. (Japan) said it enjoyed sales of 1.69 billion yen ($13.1 million) on
March 8, a record high for a single day. Fine weather that
Sunday apparently encouraged many families to take outings, boosting sales
at the fast-food chain. The promotion of drive-through service at
733 outlets also contributed to the sales increase, according to McDonald's.
OLYMPIC MARATHON MEDALIST ARIMORI WILL NOT CARRY TORCH
- MON., MAR. 2, '98 -- Less
than 24 hours after naming Japanese marathon ace Yuko Arimori as the final
torch relay runner for the Nagano Paralympic Winter Games which start Thursday,
the organizing committee has changed its mind in the midst of the mass
media coverage of her marital problems. After only a month of married
life, she has separated from her American husband in Boulder, Colorado.
Arimori won the women's marathon silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games
and the bronze 4 years later in Atlanta.
FINANCE SCANDAL TAKES ANOTHER VICTIM
- FRI., FEB. 20, '98 -- Japanese
legislator Shokei Arai was found dead of an apparent suicide in a Tokyo
hotel room yesterday, just hours before the House of Representatives was
to vote to lift his immunity to prosecution in the widening payoff scandal.
A former Finance Ministry official, Arai was the 4th person to commit
suicide in connection with a series of scandals involving securities companies
and financial institutions that began last year. Arai's death isn't
expected to hinder the ongoing investigations, but is a grim symbol of
the gut-wrenching monumental change of ethical standards taking place in
Japanese business these days.
IS JAPAN STILL A "SAFE COUNTRY"?
- SAT., FEB. 7, '98 -- A
15-year-old boy was arrested Thurs. in Aichi Prefecture for shooting his
middle school teacher with a toy air gun, because he didn't like the way
the teacher had disciplined one of his friends. The teacher sustained
minor facial injuries. The incident is the latest in a rash of violent
incidents in the past few weeks involving juveniles that have caused many
to start questioning whether Japan is beginning to lose its reputation
as a so-called "safe country." Minors over 14 were involved
in over 360 cases of murder, robbery, rape, and other serious crimes last
year, including extortion and sexual assault. Other recent acts of
juvenile violence include:
- Feb. 3: A 28-year-old female teacher
at a private high school in Kyoto Prefecture suffered serious injuries
to her neck and shoulder after she got out of her car around 9:40pm in
a parking lot near her home. The attacker, who escaped, appeared
to have been a young female of school age.
- Feb. 2: A 15-year-old schoolboy armed
with a "butterfly" folding knife stabbed a Tokyo police officer
in the chest because he wanted to steal the officer's gun. The officer,
who was on a bicycle patrol at the time, was wearing a protective vest
and escaped with only minor injuries.
- Jan. 30: A 16-year-old senior
high school boy was arrested after he assaulted one of his female classmates
with a knife during class in Ibaraki Prefecture, injuring her slightly.
He told police he became angry because he could not sit at his seat
during recess because some girls had gathered there.
- Jan. 28: A 13-year-old boy stabbed
his female middle school teacher to death with a butterfly knife in Tochigi
Prefecture after she scolded him for being late to her English class.
- Jan. 14: A 15-year-old boy was arrested
in Kawasaki on suspicion of stabbing his 42-year-old mother to death after
they quarreled over his future studies.
- Jan. 13: A 19-year-old unemployed
male, who is believed to be addicted to paint thinner, attacked 5 women
in Yokohama with an ice pick, injuring 3 slightly.
- Jan. 8: A 19-year-old boy in
Osaka Prefecture stabbed a 5-year-old girl to death and seriously injured
her 35-year-old mother and a 15-year-old high school student with a kitchen
knife. The jobless youth confessed to inhaling paint thinner the
night before the attacks.
NEW MIATA SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES
- MON., FEB. 2, '98 -- Orders
for Mazda's new Roadster, the sporty 2-seater sold overseas as the Miata,
have reached 1326, less than 3 weeks after its launch on Jan. 8. There
were 900 orders received in the 1st 10 days. The new Miata,
which offers a 1.8-liter engine and a 6-speed manual transmission, was
redesigned for the 1st time since its introduction in Sept. '89 and will
go on sale in N. America, Europe and Australia in March. Mazda, 33.4%
owned by Ford Motor Co., has sold about 430,000 Miatas worldwide in the
more than 8 years it has been in production.
CBS FINDS SPIRITUAL HOME
- SUN., FEB. 1, '98 -- U.S.
television giant CBS, which paid $375 million to cover the Nagano Winter
Olympics, has been granted special permission to build a temporary 3-story
broadcast center on the grounds of Nagano's 1400-year-old Zenkoji Temple,
one of the country's most popular, which welcomes thousands of visitors
a day. The temple provides a perfect base for CBS to show the side of the
Olympics outside of the skating rinks and ski slopes -- the culture and
heritage of the host country. Negotiations with the temple were helped
by the fact that one of the temple's Buddhist priests, Takakazu Fukuhara,
speaks fluent English and earned a doctorate at sports-crazy Michigan University.
He is also a big fan of Jim Nantz, CBS' top announcer for college
basketball and football, who will serve as the network's chief sports anchor
in Nagano. CBS has an on-site production team of 1600 to bring the
magic of the Olympic Games into American homes.
SCREEN LEGEND POITIER ENJOYS 2ND CAREER AS BAHAMIAN AMBASSSOR TO JAPAN
- FRI., JAN. 30, '98 -- Academy
Award winner Sidney Poitier, 70, an avid fan of Japanese culture, recently
celebrated 2 years of service as the ambassador to Japan from his native
Bahamas. He is the only black actor to ever win an Oscar for best
actor, in his portrayal of a handyman in "Lillies of the Field"
in 1963. He went on to become one of the top moneymaking Hollywood
stars in films such as "In the Heat of the Night," "To Sir
With Love," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." The Bahamas,
an archipelago of 250,000 people and 700 islands stretching southeast off
the Florida coast, doesn't have an embassy in Japan, but Poitier does make
a few visits here a year to meet with Foreign Ministry officials and other
FOUNDER OF "SUZUKI METHOD" DIES AT AGE 99
- TUES., JAN. 27, '98 --
Shinichi Suzuki, who developed the "Suzuki Method" for teaching
music, especially the violin, to young children, has passed away from heart
failure in the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. The music
institute he formed in 1946 has branches worldwide with more than 300,000
JAPAN & S. KOREA SQUARE OFF IN FISHING DISPUTE
- SAT., JAN. 24, '98 -- South
Korea angrily scrapped its regulations on its fishing boats operating near
Japanese territorial waters in retaliation for Japan's unilateral abolition
of a 1965 fishing accord. These actions came as a result of the failure
of bilateral talks to resolve a dispute concerning the size of a neutral
fishing zone around a disputed group of islets in the Sea of Japan claimed
by both countries. Japan has recently fined and arrested several
South Korean fishing boats, including a trawler that was captured and is
still in Japan's custody. The boat was operating in Japan's newly
declared territorial waters, the boundaries of which have yet to be recognized
by South Korea. The dispute threatens to harm bilateral relations,
which have been strained ever since Japan's colonization of the Korean
peninsula from 1910-1945, and casts a dark shadow over preparations for
the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament to be co-hosted by the 2 countries.
JAPAN & RUSSIA TO SIGN PEACE TREATY BY YEAR 2000
- FRI., JAN. 23, '98 -- Japan
and Russia have agreed to establish a joint commission to negotiate and
conclude a bilateral peace treaty by year 2000. The 2 countries have
still been technically at war after more than 50 years as a result of a
territorial dispute over a group of islands off the eastern coast of Japan's
northernmost main island, Hokkaido, which were occupied by the former Soviet
Union at the end of World War II.
TOKYO SLAMMED BY SNOW -- AGAIN -- FOR 3RD TIME IN
- FRI., JAN. 16, '98 -- A
thick blanket of snow covered the Tokyo metropolitan area Thurs., causing
many "new adults" to spend the national holiday, Coming-of- Age
Day, with cold feet and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of rail passengers.
The holiday is traditionally celebrated by 20-year-olds who legally become
adults, and is characterized by young ladies in beautiful kimonos who visit
local shrines. The snowstorm, which had already dropped 16cm of snow
by Thurs. afternoon and with more still coming, was Tokyo's 3rd in a week
(see related story below) and left the railway system paralyzed, 8 people
dead, and hundreds injured in traffic accidents and falls on slippery streets.
There were also widespread flight cancellations, school closures, and power
failures in almost 70,000 households.
TOYOTA TO DOUBLE PRODUCTION OF NEW HYBRID CAR
- THURS., JAN. 15, '98 --
Toyota has announced that it will double production by April of its new
hybrid electric/gasoline car named Prius, as a result of 3500 orders it
has received since the new low-emission car was introduced December 10.
It had originally set a monthly sales goal of only 1000 cars a month.
The Prius has drawn strong interest because it discharges only half
the carbon dioxide emitted by conventional cars of the same engine size,
yet has a fuel economy of 28 kilometers per liter of gasoline -- more than
twice that of conventional vehicles. Also, the level of carbon monoxide,
hydrocarbon, and nitrogen oxide emissions are only one-tenth that allowed
under Japan's stringent pollution standards.
HEAVY SNOW BURIES TOKYO
- FRI., JAN. 9, '98 -- Yesterday
the convergence of 2 strong low-pressure systems near Tokyo dumped nearly
20cm of snowfall on the nation's capital, paralyzing transport in the entire
metropolitan area. The severe snowstorm injured over 300 people and
resulted in the cancellation of over 1500 scheduled trains, affecting a
total of 2.32 million commuters who were either delayed or stranded. It
was the worst case of delayed operations ever experienced by the East Japan
Railway Co. (JR East) since it was privatized from the government-owned
Japan National Railways in 1987. And together with the mass closure
of expressway, local bus, and domestic airline services, it is being referred
to as the worst disruption in Tokyo's commuter network ever.
NEW DICK TRACY MOBILE PHONES
- TUES., DEC. 30, '97 --
Forty members of the Nagano Olympics organizing committee will be outfitted
with experimental Dick Tracy-style mobile phone wristwatches, courtesy
of telecommunications giant NTT. The miniature phones respond to
voice commands, and will automatically make a call when the caller says
either a person's name or phone number that have been programmed into the
phone in advance. Working on Japan's low-powered, low-priced Personal
Handyphone System (PHS), the phone can also be worn as a pendant necklace.
1 DEAD, OVER 100 INJURED IN SEVERE AIRLINER TURBULENCE
- TUES., DEC. 30, '97 --
A United Airlines jumbo jet carrying 393 people hit massive air turblence
over the northern Pacific late Sunday, leaving one person dead and 102
others injured, some seriously. The turbulence, which occurred
about 2 hours into a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu, sent unrestrained passengers,
food carts, and luggage from overhead compartments hurtling around the
cabin. The fatally injured passenger, a 32-year-old woman from Tokyo
who hit her head on the ceiling, was on her honeymoon with her husband.
2 JAPANESE COLLEGE STUDENTS MURDERED IN PERU
- MON., DEC. 29, '97 -- Peruvian
authorities on Saturday recovered the bodies of 2 Japanese college students
who disappeared in October while rafting down the Amazon River. Police
have arrested 16 Peruvian soldiers, who allegedly killed the students to
steal their money and possessions at an army observation post in northeastern
Peru, which is responsible for checking boats traveling to Columbia and
Brazil. The students were members of Waseda University's exploration
SAMURAI ACTOR TOSHIRO MIFUNE DEAD AT 77
- THURS., DEC. 25, '97 --
Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, one of the nation's best-known movie stars,
passed away yesterday at the age of 77. Appearing in about 140 films,
he won international acclaim through leading roles in 16 films directed
by Akira Kurosawa, including the classics "Rashomon" and "Seven
Samurai," the latter which made him the nation's best-known actor
abroad at the time and which spawned the U.S. film, "The Magnificent
Seven." He also appeared in Hollywood movies, including co-starring
with Charles Bronson and Alain Delon in the 1972 film, "Red Sun." With
his vivid and manly portrayals of powerful warlords, Mifune was widely
recognized as the best actor for samurai roles, such as in the 1980 U.S.
TV mini-series, "Shogun." For more info, visit: http://www.Sprout.ORG/toshiro/.
FAMED DIRECTOR JUZO ITAMI COMMITS SUICIDE
- MON., DEC. 22, '97 -- Internationally
renowned Japanese film director Juzo Itami died on Saturday evening after
leaping from the roof of an 8-story Tokyo condominium, which housed his
offices near the Roppongi entertainment district. Itami produced a number
of successful films, including "Tampopo," "A Taxing Woman,''
and "The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion," helping to revitalize
the nation's film industry. In May '92, Itami was attacked by 5 gangsters
in front of his Tokyo home, suffering severe stab wounds to his face, who
were angered by his portrayal of mobsters in one of his films. A
weekly magazine reportedly was planning to carry a story in its latest
isssue, alleging that Itami was having an extramarital affair with a company
employee in her 20's. Itami was the eldest son of the famed director
Mansaku Itami and the brother-in-law of Nobel Prize-winner, Kenzaburo Oe.
DOUBLE-DECKER, 1634-SEAT BULLET TRAIN DEBUTS
- SUN., DEC. 21, '97 -- A
new double-decker, 16-car Shinkansen bullet train made its debut Saturday
morning on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line to ease congestion caused by the
increasing number of office workers and students commuting on the line.
Nicknamed "New Max," East Japan Railway Co.'s new bullet train
has 1634 seats, more than any other high-speed train in the world. The
nose of the front car resembles a duck's bill, a design feature intended
to reduce noise.
WORLD'S LONGEST UNDERSEA CAR TUNNEL OPENS
- THURS., DEC. 18, '97 --
The Tokyo Bay Aqualine, a 15.1-kilometer bridge and tunnel expressway spanning
Tokyo Bay and which is the world's longest undersea tunnel for motor vehicles,
opens to traffic today. The toll road, which took 8 years to complete
at a cost of 1.5 trillion yen, shaves 80 kilometers off the trip around
the bay. It was constructed using the world's largest tunnel-boring
machines with diameters of 14.1 meters.
HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN SUFFER EPILEPTIC SEIZURES AFTER WATCHING POPULAR
- WED., DEC. 17, '97 -- More
than 700 people, mostly children, around the country suffered fits and
were rushed to hospitals on Tuesday night after watching the "Pocket
Monsters" cartoon on television. The children suffered from
seizure-like symptoms, such as convulsions and vomiting of blood, about
20 minutes into the 30-minute cartoon, which is popular among kindergarten
and primary school students. The cause of the mass outbreak is unclear,
but appears to be a scene in which a bright red explosion with flickering
lights filled the screen as a soldier wandered into digital space.
BULLET TRAIN SETS NEW WORLD SPEED RECORD
- SAT., DEC. 13, '97 -- History
was made on Friday when a manned magnetically levitated train hit a speed
of 531 kph (330 mph) on a 18.4-kilometer test track in Yamanashi Prefecture
west of Tokyo, breaking the previous world record. The past manned
record was 515.3 kph (320 mph), posted in 1990 by the French TGV between
Paris and Lyon.
FUJI BEATS KODAK IN WTO FILM DISPUTE
- SUN., DEC. 7, '97 -- In
a severe blow to U.S. film giant Eastman Kodak Co., a World Trade Organization
panel on Friday ruled in favor of Fuji Photo Film Co. in a dispute over
access to Japan's photographic film market. The WTO said it found
no evidence to support a complaint filed with the U.S. government by Kodak,
which accused the Japanese government of rigging the domestic film market
to enable Fuji to maintain dominance.
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