Japan has done so much to clean up the debris from the devasting earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, 2011. Let's hope the government can get its act in gear and do more and do it faster.
(Web Story) From the Daily Mail
Japan has done so much to clean up the debris from the devasting earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, 2011. Let's hope the government can get its act in gear and do more and do it faster.
(Web Story) From the Daily Mail
Radiation Over 1000 Millisieverts Found In Shaft Outside No. 2 Turbine Building
Now, is this supposed to scare the crap out of me? Is this supposed to make me think about 'bugging the f'ck out of Japan?
I think TEPCO is surely trying to send Japan back to the 1700s.
God help us all.
Now, that news headline would catch my attention.
I do not believe anyone can talk sense into the North Koreans. As a result, the South has two choices: (1) live in permanent fear of attack, or (2) cross the DMZ and take back the peninsula.
Time is running out on another generation of Koreans. They should not have to live in fear of someone dropping bombs or denotating a nuke over Seoul. The South needs to take a stand and force the North to surrender. Only then, can the peninsual live in peace. Death for peace. Not a bad trade-off for the South.
Living in Japan, I, too fear that North Korea will lob a few bombs on top of our heads in order to draw Japan into a battle which means the Americans come along for the ride. Which eventually will bring China back into the battle in order to help their friends of North Korea. This is the military strategy of the North. Bring China and America into battle. When that happens, no one wins.
So, let the South cross into the North and end this craziness once and for all.
I wonder how much longer Japan is going to tolerate the do-nothing party in power. First, China pushes Japan around due to the arrest of a Chinese national who happened to ram his boat into a Japanese Coast Guard ship. After a lot of huffing and puffing, Tokyo blinked. China won. Now, it is Russia's turn.
A visit to one of the four Northern Islands still held by Russia (basically, they inherited them when the USSR collapsed) and claimed by Japan. I suspect the Japanese Foreign Ministry can do nothing about the visit by the Russian President. Well, it is time for a change in government again. The current party in power is doing nothing to ensure the safety and security of the Japanese.
How I long for the days of the LDP again. I think it is time to recall the current group of legislators and hand the reins of government back to the adults.
How much longer will the public allow the DPJ to stand by and do nothing? As a foreign national in Japan, I fear that the Japan that I have come to love will not be around much longer. Perhaps, it is time to take my family back to Canada. At least there, my son may have a better chance of enjoying a free country. With Russia and China on our doorsteps here, we are but one missile launch away from being run over by the communists. Let's hope the US-Japan security alliance can prevent the 'doomsday scenario'. Let's pray to God for help!
Just another day in Asia: China vs Japan. This is never going to end.
Never heard about the Takahashi Tragedy before. Interesting read.
Let me get this straight:
1) North Korea sinks South Korean sub with a torpedo.
2) South Korea is worried about retaliating out of fear of sparking war.
3) Isn't the sinking of the sub already an act of war?
4) Why hasn't China condemned the sinking of the sub?
5) Is the world going to let North Korea sink subs without any penalty?
Anyone living in Seoul should plan on moving very soon. The North has a bunch of missiles and nukes pointed right at Seould. So, let me ask you a simple question: Your neighbour has a gun pointed at your children's head and warns that they will pull the trigger if provoked. What are you going to do? The South had better think of any exit strategy quickly.
Time for the US armed forces to begin building up their troops and artillery in Okinawa. War is coming soon. I had better pack up my bags and get my family out of Dodge (Tokyo) PDQ.
After reading the article about how certain individuals within the Lotte Marines organizations conspired like children to oust the popular manager of the team, Bobby Valentine, last year. It is an incredible read: children running a professional baseball organization. How in the world would the owner of the team sit back and allow such childish activities destroy the baseball club? Read the article to find out. I am so glad that I am no fan of the club. I would be livid at how Bobby was thrown under the bus. The fans should march to the team's offices and throw the people responsible under the bus instead. And I mean it.
Read article: Japan Times.
Bad guys involved (people wearing the black hats): Ryuzo Setoyama, Yoko Yoneda.
Let's hope the team stays at the bottom of the league for the next 10 years as punishment for their evil and dirty management ways. Let them be cursed.
A key, if unusual, combatant in the effort of the front office to discredit Valentine was a moon-faced, middle-aged woman named Yoko Yoneda, who, at the start of the 2009 season, had been elevated to the No. 3 spot in the front office, in charge of media relations and VIP suites.
With a fondness for garish fashion — black, zebra-striped polyester shirts and loud pink dresses — and carrying a mauve business card that described her as a "fortune teller" who did "character and color analysis," she was surely one of the strangest NPB executives in the annals of the game.
Yoneda made news at the beginning of the season, when she ordered reporters to stop wearing jeans and to use keigo, or formal Japanese when speaking to the players. This was the cause of great mirth to some observers, since most reporters had nothing else in their wardrobe and most players, for their part, were so uneducated they could not understand honorific Japanese.
A former cheerleader at high school baseball powerhouse PL Gakuen and an employee at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., which manufactures Pocari Sweat, a Japanese soft drink, Yoneda had been introduced to Akio Shigemitsu, by the president of Otsuka, and had been given a job in the Lotte front office in 2006.
No one could figure out what the nature of her relationship was with the diffident billionaire's son, who denied there was anything romantic going on. He simply explained in a news conference that Yoneda was an "eccentric character" who told his fortune.
I can still remember that horrible morning in 1995: the Great Hanshin Earthquake claimed more than 4,000 lives. It's destruction was horrific. I jumped out of my loft and headed for the front door. As I stood outside in the early hours of the morning, my neighbours stayed indoors.
What I remember about the day is that I had to show up for work. The trains were not running and I waited until later in the afternoon to show up for work.
Eventually, Kobe was rebuilt but many families and many businesses never truly recovered.
Now, another horrific earthquake struck in Haiti. The devastation is ugly. The entire world must come togethe and help save as many people as possible, It is the only thing to do.
As I watch some media commentators and politicians spew their party's rhetoric, I can't understand how they can speak of such disaster with so much distaste and poor manners.
Now the predictions of 2010 are underway, I predict that the Hatoyama government does not make it past June 1st. Why? Too many scandals. You name it and the current government has it. Problems and losing the confidence of the public quickly.
Now, many in Japan predict that Ozawa will take over as PM. I doubt it. He may be a heavyweight in the party but his enormous power comes from his backroom dealings. Having him out front only puts him more in the spotlight. And he does not want that. Let him be the kingmaker and not the king.
So, who replaces Hatoyama?
Morning temperture hovered around one degree celsius. Not too cold but with zero insulation in the apartment, it felt pretty cold. Got my long thermal underwear on and trying to stay warm as I bang out some blogs.
Let's hope the new year is much better for me and my family. Gotta work hard and study hard in 2010.
Very interesting indeed. I wonder if this is going to be how all governments view air travel and the security of aircraft.
Get used to teleconferencing - as I have done so already. The only thing I hate about it is the fact that we in Japan have to join the conferences at some darn awful time to suit the schedules of others. Hate it! Big time.
When will Japan turn around this wayward ship? Far too many people are still worried about their jobs and their children's future (me included). If the Hatoyama Government cannot create change soon, I worry that the LDP will be ready to return in four more years and then, undue all that Hatoyama has done.
Just when I was excited about ordering Airborne from Drugstore.com and having it shipped to Japan, the website blocked my order. From complete excitement to utter disappointment. What gives? Is Airborne some type of controlled substance that can't be shipped to Japan? Is it on some list of dangerous goods? I cannot believe it. I know have to look for some other substitute product.
Hey Drugstore.com: can you help me out here?
Heading to tonight's business networking event in Tokyo. I passed on the word about the event to a few of my colleagues. Hopefully the gathering will be both productive and enjoyable. I'll get a chance to see some of my former colleagues and possibly meet up with some future ones as well.
I'll snap a few fotos of tonight and post them here and elsewhere. If you are in Tokyo tonight, drop on by.
Just read that the Japanese government plans to implement one of their election campaign promises: elimination of tax deductions for dependents and addition of child allowance payments. As of June 2010, I will love my tax deduction of $4,000 per year and gain a child allowance of $3,600 per year. Net loss of $400. I can live with this loss of take home cash. If my paying an additional $400 per year helps save the country, I'm all for it. But, if the extra $400 tax payment only pads the wallets of politicians, I am all against it.
I am so happy that the local Ito Yokado is offering $100 business suits. That is all I can afford now.
Are the LDP destined to lose the general election? Will the government mandarins start updating their CVs? The answer is 'yes' to both questions.
The incoming administration has decided to wrestle power away from the mandarins and place all policy and administrative responsibilities in the hands of politicans. I expect a super large purge of civil servants over the next 6-9 months.
Let's hope the people of JPN finally get 'real change' and not simple lip-service from politicians.
I know my taxes are going up and I only hope what I pay into state coffers now eventually help rebuild the social support system for those retiring in the next five to ten years. No one should have to live in poverty after contributing to society for a full 40+ years. Retiring should not equate to living in poverty.
Been thinking about this one for awhile now: how far behind/ahead is JPN with respect to the Internet/Mobile Internet compared with the rest of the world?
Lots of great companies here in Japan. I am sure there are many young start-ups out there trying to break into the 'bigs' but, need some nice private funding to get them to the next level. Will the DPJ (whom I believe will form the next government) step up and help? Or will the DPJ continue to live in the past (the glory years of Japan's global economic power? Or will the DPJ look towards high-tech and new industries to propel JPN back to double-digit growth years?
There is no denying that Japan is doing well in the mobile Internet space. But, I would like to see much more from the players in this space. Creation of knowledge. Storage. Retrieval. Dissemination. Refinement. Acceptance. Recycling.
The next generation of Intenet users will use computers and mobile devices in a way much different than how we use them today. Knowledge is the key.
Ecommerce will change greatly. Will the future youth spend as much money as we do yearly on the consumption of goods? Or will they spend money on the acquisition of knowledge?
I for one plan on getting my son in front of a computer very soon.
Yet another high-performing colleague has announced (in private) that he is leaving our company. No matter how many times I get informed of a colleague's impending departure, I am saddened and upset. Saddened that a trusted colleague is leaving and upset that the company chooses not to do more to keep him around.
In this day and age, high-tech growth companies must do whatever is in their powers to retain employees. Each year in the high-tech world is equivalent to seven years of learning. So, after 2.5 years with our company, another one is leaving with more than 14+years of earned knowledge. Sad. If high-tech companies continue to let employees leave without even putting up a fight, they will find out the hard way that 'creative destruction' works fast and furious.
I got an interesting email the other day from (another) headhunter. I honestly thought that with the global financial crisis and the rising unemployment rate worldwide, headhunters would be looking for jobs themselves. Well, much to my surprise I got an email for a request to contact by a headhunter in Tokyo.
I don't know whether the headhunter is trying to fill their quota to obtain CVs or if someone out there is interested in my services. I just don't know. If headhunters really want to know more about me, they should check out my linkedin profile page: I pretty much keep it up to date on all my current project work.
Yes, the temblor got me out of my chair very quickly. I ran and grabbed my son and headed towards the door. After having survived the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995, I know that when the ground shakes head toward the front door and prop it open. Unless you want to get stuck inside your home and have no way out, you'd better get the front door open quickly.
The quake measured a 3-4 on the Japanese scale where I live in western Tokyo. The ones closer to the epicenter felt it at the full 4-5. A couple of magnitudes higher can jolt your back fillings out.
My son is somewhat shaken by the experience; probably more afraid that I was afraid than with his fear of something he doesn't really quite comprehend just yet.
Maybe it's time to rethink this idea/experiment of living in Tokyo.
Six months down. Another six months to go until we can celebrate a new year.
So much has happened in these past six months. The US witnessed the swearing in of President Obama. China marked its anniversary/no anniversary of Tin Sq. A couple of (fake) GOP senators shed some tears for their youthful transgressions. Jon Stewart still is a funny guy. And I am still working way too much overtime. I clocked in just undert 78 hours of OT this month. Great. This puts me at just over the 375-hour mark for the first six months of the year. Is there any law against this much OT?
Let's all pray that the next Japanese election will bring about some real changes to the country's tax policies. Stop taxing us to death. I don't mind paying my fair share but, I do mind paying extra to make up for all those tax cheaters out there.
Give us a tax break, will ya? I guess governments worldwide love taxing the regular guy and give the money to big corporations.
Someone has got to change this system.
I am so happy. I could rangle an extra two days off during the Golden Week holiday period. This puts me up to 8 days off straight. Thank God for miracles.
Now that N. Korea has launched its communication satellite (payload unconfirmed) over Japan, should Japan return the favour and launch one of its own communication satellites (payload unconfirmed) over North Korea?
An eye for an eye.
How would N. Korea feel if Japan started firing rockets over their country? Or for that matter, how would any country feel if a sworn enemy of one's state started launching rockets over their own country?
I cannot believe Nakagawa resigned due to his somewhat embarassing performance at the G20 press conference. I don't really care if he were drunk or under the influence of some strong cold medicine. All I care about is whether or not the government can get this darn economy going again. Too many distractions are keeping PM Aso and his party faithful from enacting strong legislation and saving the country from further falling into the abyss.
Unless the PM of Japan seriously takes control of the economy, you can begin preparing for yet another change to the revolving door of PMships. I don't anything will happen until after Sec of State Clinton finishes her visit to Tokyo. Now, who will replace Aso for the final six months of the LDP Political Dynasty.
Stop taxing us to death. If you really want the economy to get better, just revoke the personal income tax (national and residential levies) and increase the consumption tax to 15% immediatley. Of course, for lower income households, they would be given a tax credit each money to pay for their daily needs. And for luxury goods (anything over 1,000,000 yen, with the exception of houses) would be taxed at 30%. This would get people to save more money - I hope.
The cash-giveaway is on. The LDP and its coalition partner rounded up enough support to pass a special budget which should put 'cold cash' into the hands of households. I don't know exactly how much I will get back but, I have already decided to put the money into my son's bank account for his schooling.
I won't do the right thing and spend it on something I really don't need or want. So, I will be a bad consumer and save it.
If Japan is serious about re-booting its economy, it need not look further than at our income taxes. The LDP and their brain trust need to refrain from collecting income tax and let consumers spend their own money. Stop bleeding us dry. We can't take it anymore. In this current economic crisis, why does the government insist on sucking the life out of me by grabbing money from my paycheque each month in order to pay for some stupid government programmes:
Top LDP Favourite Spending Programmes
1) Let us wine & dine at four-star restaurants.
2) Support my two mistresses.
3) Let me play golf during working hours.
4) I don't want to drive a damn hybrid so let me buy a Hummer instead.
5) Help me pay the blackmailers who have some bad photos of me and a .... (fill in the blank).
I hate paying taxes and so should you.
The start of the new year is just around the corner. With a new year fast approaching, I can now reflect upon all that has happened in the past year in my life.
-Going pretty well. Let's hope the knives stop appearing in my back sometime soon.
-Postponed the start of my legal studies due to the imploding financial markets. Not a good time to plunk down a bunch of cash on attaining another degree.
-Kicked in the ass but good. Yup, I, like many others, got clobbered in the stock markets. I only pray I can recover the real losses over the next 2-3 years.
As for 2009, I hope the year brings much success and a renewed sense of hope in both my career and personal development.
Happy New Year to one and all!
Now that GM is on its deathbed, should the Japanese Ministry of Finance and the US Treasury sit down with the Toyota executives in Nagoya and ask them to acquire the damaged GM? If so, what concessions would Toyota want in return for taking over?
Here are a few off the top of my mind.
#1. The US will guarantee that Japan is awarded a seat in the UN Security Council as a permanent member.
#2. Japanese students will no longer pay 'out-of-state' fees for university.
#3. The US will sell the Japanese 5 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Let's hope the two countries can work together now to save GM.
Dear Mr Prime Minister:
I believe it is time for you to heed some very helpful advice on the peril of the Japanese economy. In a few short months, either Japan will enter into a full-blown economic crisis or it will stumble for the next decade. And so, it is with great pleasure and excitement that I give you my advice on helping the country recover from its current economic troubles.
First, build more highways and bridges. Don't listen to anyone else. Without any roads or bridges the entire country will grind to a complete halt. The country actually needs more super-highways. A poor infrastructure will doom the country. Trust me - look at the USA.
Second, repeal all forms of taxes immediately. No person is responsible for paying any national or residential taxes anymore. Instead, increase the sales tax to 20% immediately. For the bottom 20% of wage earners, give them a 1,000,000 yen refundable tax credit. For families of four or more, give them a fully tax refundable tax credit of 3,000,000 yen. This should help them pay for the 20% VAT.
Third, open up the immigration policy and allow more people in the country. I recommend allowing 100,000 foreigners to immigrate per year for the first 3 years. And after that increase the quota to 500,000 per year. Instead of making them learn Japanese, institute a new education policy where English becomes the official second language of the country.
And last, build up a stronger military and be prepared for all enemies both foreign and domestic who wish to do harm to the country.
That's it. Listen to my advice and act on it. Disregard it and watch the country fail.
Foreigner in Japan
In the first quarter of 2009, the yen will surge to the 80-yen mark. Once it crashes through that level, watch out! It may creep up very slowly to the 75-yen level by the summer of next year. Time is now to save money and buy up the greenback with yen. Hoard your yen and sell the dollar. I expect the wave of US-company acquisitions made by the Japanese and Chinese will increase rather sharply in 2009-2011. And this time, the Americans will be very happy to ask for Asian assistance in the upcoming economic crisis. With President-elect Obama at the helm, I expect the US economy to recover in his 3rd year with strong gains in GDP growth in the range of 4-6% for the remaining two years of his first term. With a robust economy in 2011, President Obama is assured a second term.
BTW, there is a God and He is Great.
I cannot believe how fast the end of the world is coming. I never thought in my wildest dreams that the Nikkei would fall to a haircut away from the 7000-yen marke. Yikes. Time to call the firemen. Japan is on fire. Let's hope head honchos within the LDP are going to tackled this crisis with conviction and vigor. No more half-assed attempts on stimulating the economy. I write this blog for PM Aso.
Here is that the Diet must do immeidately.
1.) No new personal taxes.
2.) Refund the past 2 years worth of personal income taxes back to the workers. Take the money out of the hides of corporations.
3.) Sell off each and every state-owned business. Get out of the business of running or being partners in any industry.
4.) Start building up the country's war-making capabilities. Don't even think that the US will come and protect Japan. The US has no money to fight any more wars. Period. Full stop.
5.) Free education for all children under the age of 17.
At the rate the market is collapsing, the Nikkei may hit the 6500-yen mark by the end of the month.
If the LDP is serious about trying to save the economy, they should give LB control of the entire foreign exchange reserves that the BOJ has tucked away for a rainy day.
With $1 trillion on the balance sheet of LB Japan, I'm sure the gang at Roppongi Hills can put the ship back on course. Heck, with a clean trillion bucks, LB Japan could go and buy up Goldman Sachs and fire the entire lot of them. I'm sure LB Japan would like to toss out Goldman from Roppongi Hills!
Imagine what LB Japan could do with a trillion bucks....
Just in on the wire. The Japan Business Federation will call for a rise in the consumption tax to 10% from 5%. All I can say is this: FINALLY!!
Someone, somewhere has the guts to push for a rise in the sales tax. Japan needs to increase the tax in order to help fund social programs especially for the elderly. With a graying population, the country must address the problems of weak social services for the elderly and infirmed.
I don't mind paying higher taxes if it will help alleviate some of the problems people face in society. What I do mind is when Japanese politicians use my tax money to wine and dine their pals and trophy girlfriends.
My own recommendations;
2010: Consumption tax = 10%
2015: Consumption tax = 15%
2020: Consumption tax = 20%
Many may talk about Toyota's production system as the sole reason to the company's long success. Perhaps, there may another reason: labour practices. In a newspaper article, "System under stress at Toyota" penned by Yuri Kageyama, AP wire, published in "The Japan Times" English news daily here in Japan, Kageyama notes that the Nagoya-based company may be working its employees to death. The Japanese call it 'karoshi' (death from overwork) and the government has permitted beneficiaries to sue companies where a loved one was worked literally to death.
In the article, Kenichi Uchino died of overwork. He had worked over 100 hours of OT a month. Think about it. He worked 25 extra hours a week. That is a lot of OT. If Uchino-San never set foot in the office at the weekends, he worked 5 extra hours per day or work shift. I work 3-4 hours extra per day and I am at my breaking point. While I hope I do not die from OT, the thought does cross my mind from time to time.
The frightening aspects of the news article is that Toyota may be experiencing some cracks in their vaulted production system. It is sad because I have a great deal of respect for the company. I have never worked for Toyota nor have I worked for any of its corporate affiliates. I sure hope the founding family members who still have some input into how the company is being run (especially by an outsider) do care enough to 'correct' the problems before the company goes the way of the dinosaurs.
I hope HBS updates their business school case study to reflect the perils of the 'global production system'. Business school students should be aware of the dangers of trying to replicate the Toyota Way.
One hundred hours of overtime a month. This is f'ing unbelievable. No way. No how. Never.
Decided to take personal holidays on Monday and Tuesday before the official Obon holiday break. This gives me a full 9 days off this summer. It has been quite a while since I had such a long holiday break in a long, long time.
Day #1 - Saturday
Batman Dark Knight - I went to the first screening at 08h20. Wonderful film. Five stars. Any less would be an insult to the memory of Heath and all those who loved him. God take Heath into your arms and take care of him.
Day #2 - Sunday Walk with My Son
Walked to the train station and picked up an English language daily newspaper and then, bought a cool children's book with a funky DVD. Gee, why didn't we have such entertainment tools when I was a kid?
Day #3 - Cleaning
I promised the Mrs. that I would stay home and clean. Lots of cleaning. No, make that a boatload of cleaning.
Temperatures reached 33-34 degree C this week. With all the pollution the world is pumping into the air and the waste we throw away, is it any wonder why Mother Earth is pissed off at mankind? I expect her to throw alot of disasters our way very soon. More tsunamis. More earthquakes. More melting ice caps and then, rising sea levels. Here's some friendly advice to all those beachfront owners: move. If you own property in California, move to Denver. If you own property in Manhattan, move to Saskatchewan. Unless mankind wises up and changes its deadly ways, our extinction may come about within the next 150 years. Or I forgot, that's why we plan on colonizing Mars. We need new frontiers to ruin.
I have noticed more and more police in and around many of the major train stations in Metro Tokyo. While the sight of so many boys in blue give me pause, I welcome the presence of more police in Tokyo. More police are a good sign: more police means more prevention of criminal activities. Or so I am led to believe. I would like to see police at each and every train station at the gates and on the platforms. This alone would mean the prefectural police departments would need to hire an additional 10,000 people just to guard the mass transport stations. And if people are so worried about paying for the police, I suggest the police start issuing tickets for a wide range of social bads. Here is a sample list for the NPA to think about:
How to Raise Money for The Increase in Police Officers
1. No reading porn magazines or newspapers on trains (penalty: 500,000 yen).
2. No fighting on trains or on platforms (penalty: 2,000,000 yen).
3. No touching the butts or b--bs of females (penalty: 10,000,000 yen).
4. No drunken and disorder behaviour anywhere (penalty: 5,000,000 yen).
5. No putting on make-up while on trains (penalty: 7,500,000 yen).
And if the violater cannot pay the princely sum, what shall we do? I'll leave that for another blog.
Remember, 'more police' is 'good'.
The government needs to sit down with the boys from the auto industry and give them this one and only government directive: Get out of the passenger car manufacturing business by 2030. The future of consumer-owned private vehicle ownership is over. Japan needs to devote all of its resources to the manufacturing of mass transportation vehicles and infrastructure. As the price of oil soars past the $1,000 per barrel level, no one but the billionaire could afford to drive a private passenger vehicle. When we will see $1,000 per barrel? Within the next 10 years. The Toyoda family should begin preparing for the future.
I read in the Nikkei that the grandson of the founder has recently been posted to oversee international operations. Let's hope he has the wisdom and foresight to see the future for what it is: bleak, especially for the manufacturing of private passener vehicles.
Layoffs have begun. Instead of calling them layoffs, companies give employees 'no assignments'. Left with nothing to do, employees come to the office and find that their telephones and computers have been removed. It is quite obvious to everyone in the office which employees are no longer deemed necessary. This subtle form of 'non-verbal communication' is very effective. It is far easier for company management to send an employee adrift without a life preserver than to sit down with them and tell them to 'hit the road'.
I think it is time for the voters to throw out the current government and let Ozawa and his crew an opportunity to run the country. Let's prat that the next government can find its way through its own BS and turn around the economy and restore Japan's education system and social welfare system.
DAVID LETTERMAN'S TOP 10 DRAWBACK'S TO WORKING IN A CUBICLE
10. Being told to "think outside the box" when you're in a freakin' box all day long.
9. Not being able to check e-mail attachments without turning around to see who's behind you.
8. Cubicle walls do not offer much protection from any kind of gunfire.
7. That nagging feeling that if you press the right button, you'll get a piece of cheese.
6. Lack of roof rafters for the noose.
5. The walls are too close together for the hammock to work right.
4. 23 power cords - 1 outlet.
3. Prison cells are not only bigger, they also have beds.
2. The carpet has been there since 1976 and shows more signs of life than your co-workers.
And the NUMBER ONE drawback to working in a cubicle is:
1. You can't walk out and slam the door when you quit.
I can feel the heat already. I have already begun wearing short sleeve shirts to the office. Hot. Hot. Muggy hot. Yech. I think I might wear shorts to the office and change into office attire after I arrive. Al Gore is right: Global warming. But, he is wrong in one respect. It is not global warming - It is global cooking. The human race is about to be cooked. Well done - anyone?
Note: I hope the Globe and Mail does not send their team of lawyers to Tokyo and waive a stack of papers ordering me to remove this blog post. This is a very well write article about what pains the Japanese must face in the near future. As a fellow Canadian residing in Tokyo, I have had the pleasure/displeasure of seeing how badly the politicians have nearly wasted away an entire decade of the country's wealth. Here is the entire article in full. I have added my comments in [ ].
Japan's collision course
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
May 9, 2008 at 9:08 PM EDT
TOKYO — It all comes down to the two inevitables, says Kenneth Courtis: death and taxes.
Mr. Courtis, an investment banker and veteran observer of Asian economies, is at his usual table in his favourite Tokyo hotel, the Okura, talking about the troubles that threaten Japan's future – and by extension, the world's.
Those troubles don't get much press these days. Distracted by the spectacular rise of China (and now India) and frankly bored by the endless Noh drama of Japanese politics, the world has lost interest in Japan's progress, or lack of it.
Japan has passed through its valley of the shadow of death, surviving the burst of its asset bubble and the resulting economic slump that once threatened to pull down the global financial system like Samson.
Over the past five years, its nearly $5-trillion (U.S.) economy has even enjoyed a modest rebound, growing at an annual average of 1.7 per cent. Japan will host the annual summit of the G8 countries July 7 to 9.
Looks are deceiving
Tokyo in spring, 2008, has every appearance of prosperity, success and order. The streets teem with fashionable young women and neatly dressed salarymen. The shops and department stores of the Ginza overflow with Prada, Ralph Lauren and Luis Vuitton.
[The large number of young men and women lugging large bags of designer clothes in the spring is an annual rite of passage: Each April, a new legion of recent university graduates join the labour force. As a result, they have access to a new found wealth all for their own. Since many young people still reside with their parents, they do not have to face the normal costs of paying rent nor paying down a mortage. Ergo, lots of disposable income. These shoppers are the saving grace for large swaths of retail stores up and down the toney areas of Ginza, Harajuku, Shibuya and Omotesando. Heck, if I did not have to pay rent on my rather small but expensive apartment, I, too would be filling my closest with Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein suits. Such as life is, I shope now at The Gap and Uniqlo.]
At the Okura, an elegant grande dame of Tokyo hotels, a middle-aged man and his much younger wife settle in at a table, parking their infant in a designer stroller, while four wealthy-looking elderly women take coffee in one corner.
[Nice hotel, but I still prefer Teikoku.]
“When you have cancer, the stages of remission feel pretty good,” Mr. Courtis says over a bowl of berries and yogurt.
The aura of comfort is deceptive. Japan's recovery has begun to falter as the ripples from the U.S. downturn spread west across the Pacific. Much more serious troubles lie ahead – troubles that, if left unaddressed, could cripple the world's second-biggest economy and affect every industrial country including Canada, which counts Japan as its third-largest trading partner.
[Exactly, if left 'unaddressed'.]
That is where Mr. Courtis and his inevitables come in.
Canadian-born, educated in Toronto and Paris, he has lived in Japan for 25 years, advising clients about investing in Japan and other parts of Asia. As an executive with Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs Asia, he was once one of Japan's biggest boosters. Now, he spends just a quarter of his time in his adopted hometown of Tokyo, travelling instead to China and other Asian countries with greater allure for investors.
“Japan is on a massive collision course between two fundamental realities,” he says, scrawling figures on a paper placemat to make his point.
On the one hand, death. Because women are having fewer children, Japanese are dying at a greater rate than they are being born. Result: an aging, shrinking work force.
[The Japanese government needs to take decisive actions to increase the birth rate by considering the following steps: (1) offer parents lump sum one-time payments for each new child born, (2) pass legislation ordering companies with more than 100 employees to create their own in-house daycare facilities, (3) make English the official second language, (4) stop building more bridges and highways and spend more money on mass transportation infrastructure, (5) offer more government academic scholarships to both Japanese and non-Japanese, and (6) work with its Asian cousins to create an Asian-super currency.]
This is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac. By the next Year of the Rat in 2020, Mr. Courtis says, 43 per cent of adult Japanese will be over 60. They will be retiring or getting ready to retire. Who will work while they play golf? Who will pay their pensions? Who will provide for their health care when they get old and sick?
[Nothing wrong with more old people. Just drop the retirement age and allow people to remain in the workforce much longer.]
The working-age population is expected to fall by one-fifth by 2030, when there will be just two workers for every pensioner.
Now consider taxes. When Japan was trying to dig itself out of its big economic hole in the 1990s, it spent hundreds of billions of dollars on public works and other pump-priming measures, a vast Keynesian exercise that made Roosevelt's New Deal look like a high-school car wash by comparison.
[Actually, I strongly recommend raising the national sales tax from 5% to 10% immediately. And if the pension coffers do not improve, bump the tax rate to 17% from 10% within 10 years.]
The after-effect is what Mr. Courtis calls a “Himalaya of debt” amounting to 180 per cent of gross domestic product, by far the highest among major economies and indeed the highest ever recorded by a modern industrialized country. Who will pay it back?
To illustrate how hard it will be, Mr. Courtis jots down a few scenarios. Even if Japan stopped adding to its debt tomorrow and recorded annual economic growth of 4 per cent for the next dozen years – both highly optimistic “ifs” – it would still have a debt of 115 per cent of GDP by 2020, as high as struggling Italy's today.
Mr. Courtis's death-and-taxes realities are converging at a remorseless pace. An aging population means a need for higher government spending; a high debt means less government money to spend.
Time for reform
Japan has perhaps a couple of decades to bring in the fundamental economic and social reforms that are needed to make it productive and resilient enough to survive the collision. Can it muster the will to remake itself one more time?
Until recently, the prospects for change were looking up. There has been real progress since what Mr. Courtis calls the near-death experience of the 1990s.
[The Japanese can recover but nothing can change until the old LDP Guard (OB) resign/get voted out of office/die of old age/resign in scandal. Until the young turks take over, don't bet the farm that Japan will change in the near future. Give it another 5-10 years before anything happens.]
Japanese banks have cleaned up their bad loans and clawed back from the threatened insolvency that frightened the world in the 1990s. Japanese companies have straightened out their balance sheets, paid off their debts and started turning robust profits again. Toyota is vying with General Motors for the title of world's leading auto maker. Nintendo has reconfirmed Japan's genius for innovation with the wild success of its Wii game-playing device.
[If Toyota were smarter or had a larger team of smart advisors, it would withdraw very slowly from the global auto markets and return to Japan. Nothing good can every come out of Toyota's dream of being the global leader in auto sales. Nothing good. I just hope the Toyoda family come to their senses before it is too late.]
While the world looked the other way, Japan actually enacted some reforms that foreign critics have recommended for years. New accounting rules make it harder for companies to hide bad results, requiring them to report the performance of subsidiaries instead of just consolidated earnings. Revised labour laws make it easier for firms to hire temporary workers so that they can respond to shifting conditions. Shareholders have gained new rights to challenge inept corporate managers.
[Here, here. Job well done.]
In politics, the five-year star turn of reforming Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006), Japan's most successful politician in decades, showed that the public was hungry for change.
“Japan has changed a lot over the past decade and half,” says University of California professor Steven Vogel, whose 2006 book Japan Remodeled documents the reforms. “The economic crisis was a real shock to the system.”
[The economic crisis was not really a true crisis in my opinion. The 1990s and the economic problems were created by "the wise" in Tokyo. Japan needed to change from its old ways and needed to nearly kill the country in order to save herself. The self-inflicted medication was a good, first step but more needs to be done.]
But just as things seemed to be getting better, doubts have begun to gather about whether Japan is really willing or able to remake itself.
Mr. Koizumi's successors, Shinto Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, have been a crashing letdown. Mr. Abe resigned last September, ill and unloved. Mr. Fukuda, 71, has seen his approval ratings fall to near-historic lows. As he appears on television daily with his sober cabinet colleagues, Mr. Fukuda seems to have come straight from central casting for Japanese prime ministers, with the charisma of a bank clerk and policies as opaque as a sliding paper door.
[This is one of the reasons I believe no person over the age of 50 should ever hold the highest office in any country. No one over 50 for obvious reasons.]
The Fukuda government is so weak that the world's biggest creditor nation found itself without a central bank chief for three full weeks this spring as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wrangled with the opposition over a successor.
With no clear direction from the top, reform has faltered. The government's decision to block a bid by a British hedge fund to buy more stock in a Japanese electrical utility, J-Power, has confirmed the impression that Japan is allergic to foreign direct investment. The recent resurgence of cross-shareholdings – in which companies make cozy alliances to protect themselves – echoes the bad old days of inbred Japanese corporate leadership.
[I say 'remove all barriers' of foreign investments worldwide. No more illogical reasons of 'threat to national security, or other garbage excuses. If a company is so worried about being taken over by foreign barbarians, then - DON'T LIST YOUR SHARES ON PUBLIC MARKETS. For chrissakes, stop being a crying baby.]
Clinging to the past
Robert Feldman, managing director of Morgan Stanley in Japan, says conservatives in the government and bureaucracy are staging a rear-guard action to defend Japan's old, insular way of doing things.
“In the end, what the traditionalists prefer is the current system with themselves in power,” he said in his Tokyo office. “For those of us who are concerned about Japan's economy, for its place in Asia and its ability to sustain living standards for an aging population, that sort of traditionalist position is incomprehensible.”
[Another reason is that the old guard want to continue living the 'high life' while the rest of the country suffers. These OBs think nothing about the regular folks and corporate warriors. And for that, I hope these old men who sit in their smoke-filled rooms and throngs of perfumed ladies-in-waiting, all drop dead and soon. The sooner the old guard goes away, the sooner Japan can recover economically.]
A 20-year veteran of Japan's reform battles, Mr. Feldman says reform goes through a kind of “hog cycle.” When hog prices are good, farmers produce more hogs, so prices go down and they produce fewer hogs. In the same way, government hastens reform when the economy worsens, reform revives the economy and the pressure for reform eases, as it has in the past few years.
If the theory holds true, the case for reform should be strengthening again. The Bank of Japan has lowered its growth forecast for the coming year to 1.5 per cent from 2.1 per cent. Business sentiment has hit a four-year low and consumer confidence is at a five-year low.
[Keep the BOJ independent. Any time a Diet member stomps his/her feet about the BOJ, they should be forced to resign.]
With interest rates already at a minimal 0.5 per cent, the government can hardly cut rates to stimulate the economy. In any case, consumer prices are rising, so a rate cut might push up inflation. It can't cut taxes or raise spending much either, it's in such a fiscal bind.
Its place in the world
Yes, Japan still has many world-beating companies, household names such as Canon, Honda, Sanyo and Toshiba. But nearly half of Japanese manufacturing by value is performed by much smaller, less visible firms, many of them struggling. “That's the only sector we're competitive in, so it's a problem,” says Kyoji Fukao, who teaches economics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. He estimates that the manufacturing sector's share of the economy is down to 20 per cent and falling. In the highly regulated service sector, meanwhile, annual productivity growth has fallen from 3.5 per cent in the 1980s and late 1970s to less than 1 per cent today.
Partly as a result, overall labour productivity, already just 30 per cent the U.S. level, is growing far too slowly – at 1.2 per cent a year, about half the average for industrialized countries.
Japanese still work amazingly, sometimes dangerously, hard. Lights burn late at most Tokyo offices and death from overwork – so common that Japanese have a name for it, karoshi – is a national health problem. But the hard fact is that they are no longer world beaters.
[I have stopped working overtime. I have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to work more than 14 hours a day. I average only 4 hours of OT a day now. I'm sorry Mr. Boss, but I really want to see my family for a few hours in the evening.]
Nor are most Japanese companies. Their return on equity, a common measure of their performance, averaged around 9 per cent, against 14 to 17 per cent in Western countries.
[ROE: It needs to be pushed way up to the 20% level in order to make up for the past decade of disasters.]
Japan trails in entrepreneurial vigour, too. In the United States, about 14 per cent of companies are startups; in Japan, just 4 per cent. Japan is even faltering in innovation, once the hallmark of Japanese capitalism. The iPod should have been invented in Tokyo or Kyoto, not Cupertino, Calif.
[The government needs to lower the hurdles on starting up one's own company. Heck, I would love to start up my own shop but, don't have the stomach of dealing with stupid regulations and political idiots.]
Wireless telecom giant NTT DoCoMo's format for Internet over cellphones, wildly popular in Japan, failed to catch on overseas, partly because its complex menus proved daunting to foreigners.
[NTT DoCoMo's only problem was entrusting its global expansion plans to a handful of idiots.]
Japanese are painfully aware of how far their nation has fallen. Economy Minister Hiroko Ota told her countrymen in January that Japan can no longer be considered a first-class economy. Japan, she said, had fallen to 18th among the top 30 industrialized nations when measured by gross domestic product per capita. Among the G7 countries that make up the core of that club – the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada – it has fallen from first in the early 1990s to last today. Meanwhile, its share of aggregate world income has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time in 24 years.
To ordinary Japanese, what matters even more is the rising costs of gas, tolls, electricity and instant noodles. “The politicians keep telling us that the economy will get better, but I don't see it,” says Kaz Shinoda, 50. A high-school English teacher, he has had no pay raise for four years, yet the costs of feeding his wife and two children have soared.
[No salary increase: I know that feeling. I don't even look at my salary statement anymore. It never changes.]
His friend Takumu Kato, a retired biology teacher, has it worse. He recently started work as a night clerk in a 7-Eleven store to make ends meet.
[I, too, am about ready to take on part-time jobs in order to pay for my son's future education. Luckily, he is still young and I won't need to start handing over obscene amounts of money for a couple of more years.]
Millions of Japanese like him have moved to part-time and casual work as the lifetime employment system crumbles. About a third of all employees are now non-regular workers. The Japanese call them “freeters,” from the English “free” and the German “ arbeiter,” or worker.
[Lifetime employment ends because corporate managers failed to execute their strategies properly. End of story.]
The result is a rising sense of insecurity. “It used to be that if you were hired by a company, you at least had a guarantee for life,” says Tetsuya Iida, whose temporary employment agency recently sent him to operate a machine that picks up street litter. “Now you can get fired any time.”
Twenty years ago, the overwhelming majority of Japanese – 75 per cent – used to consider themselves middle class. Today only about half do.
[Middle class? I don't even know what that means. In Japan, we have the upper class (political families) and the rest of us - the lower middle class.]
It's a long way from the “miracle” years. After registering 10 per cent average annual growth in the 1960s, 5 per cent in the 1970s and 4 per cent in the 1980s, Japan's was the most talked-about economy on the planet, a marvel of efficiency and creativity that seemed destined to eclipse the washed-up nations of the West. Readers snapped up books like Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One to find out how the Japanese were beating the Americans at their own game. U.S. congressmen railed against Japanese companies for flooding North America with cheap cars, stereos and TV sets while buying up famous assets like Hollywood's Columbia Pictures and New York's Rockefeller Center.
It seemed as if the Japanese had invented a new and better kind of capitalism, one that combined with wealth-creating dynamism of the Western market system with the steady hand of government guidance and the security of lifetime employment.
[I arrived in Japan at the beginning of the fall.]
The beginning of the fall
It all started to unravel on Jan. 2, 1990. That day, the main index of the Tokyo stock market started falling from its dizzying peak of more than 39,000 (nearly three times its level today). The collapse of Japan's stock and real estate markets brought on the “lost decade” of the 1990s, a time of stagnating growth, rising joblessness and soaring suicide rates.
[I survived the 1990s. I survived the Kobe Earthquake. I survived the never-ending revolving door of PMs.]
The things that had been touted as Japan's strengths turned out to be weaknesses. The wise, all-seeing bureaucrats who had guided its rise to riches were, in fact, often blinkered and hidebound, sealed in an unhealthy embrace with powerful, often corrupt, politicians. The giant corporations that had so impressed the world were revealed as coddled, unresponsive dinosaurs whose faults had been covered up by friendly banks and interlinked corporate allies. Mitsubishi's corporate family, for example, included Kirin beer and Nikon cameras as well as Mitsubishi Trust, Mitsubishi Bank, Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi Electric and others.
Lifetime employment prevented companies from hiring and firing workers to account for economic ups and downs. A stock market that scorned the small shareholder meant that Japanese kept their money in the bank, earning almost no interest and producing virtually no wealth, as it might if invested in the market. Even today Japanese savers have a staggering $15-trillion that is, in effect, stuffed under the mattress.
The capacity to change
Ever since Japan's crisis, it has been clear what has to change to make things right. Companies have to break their incestuous ties with banks and allied companies and govern themselves more like North American or European companies, with independent directors, stronger rights for shareholders and transparent reporting. Government has to ease regulation in the domestic market and put a fire under companies by letting more foreign companies come in to compete.
The country has to make up for the coming labour shortage by bringing in more immigrants and encouraging more women to enter the work force.
“Japan needs the world and the world needs Japan,” says Scott Callon, head of a Tokyo investment fund who is “very much a proponent of more openness, more cross-fertilization with the external world.”
But to get there, he says, Japanese will have to defeat the forces of tradition, insularity and complacency.
“There's a fight on for Japan's future between those who want a brighter future, with more risk, and those who say ‘what we have is what we have and we should protect it.' It's the difference between looking forward and looking back.”
The good news, Mr. Callon says, is that “Japan has demonstrated a tremendous ability to change. This is a country which has proven to be very capable of keeping true to its traditions and culture yet bringing in what works for the rest of the world.”
Despite the inevitables, Ken Courtis agrees. In the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, he notes, Japan transformed itself from an isolated, feudal state into a modern power with a Western legal system, an all-new education system and the beginnings of parliamentary government.
Again, after the Second World War, it clawed its way out of the ashes of defeat to become the world's economic wunderkind. It is as wrong now to write off Japan as a spent force as it was to say before that it was destined to rule the world economy.
The question is not so much whether Japan can change, but whether it can change fast enough. The answer is still very much in the balance.
To escape the collision of death and taxes, Japan will need to put on a burst of speed in productivity and wealth creation like nothing since its “miracle” years. Possible? Yes, if Japan grasps the nettle and musters the will to act decisively. Likely? Mr. Courtis scribbles a to-do list for Japan, ranging from massive corporate reform and wholesale privatization of state assets to higher immigration and all-out attack on the debt.
The changes that are needed are profound. Allowing mass immigration would require a huge cultural shift. For a country that still depends on its women to raise the young and care for the aged, seeing women shift en masse into paid work would take another sharp adjustment. Companies fear opening up to a world of hostile takeovers, mergers, critical directors and shareholder revolts.
[I think Mr. Courtis is holding a few recommendations for change. Hold back now unless he wants the Japanese OB club sticking needles into a voodoo doll of his likeness.]
Mr. Courtis looks down at the list. “Now how likely do you think it is that all of that will happen?”
For a society that operates by consensus, with a political system dominated by conservative vested interests, reaching any decision can be an agony, to say nothing of a decision to fundamentally reorder a whole society. “The Japanese knew after Midway that they had lost the war,” says Mr. Courtis, referring to the American naval victory in the Pacific six months after Pearl Harbour, “But they couldn't make the decision to end it.”
Japan had its economic Midway nearly 20 years ago, in the 1990 market crash. Time to change is running out, the inevitables are closing in.