Archive for October, 2010

What’s the real cost of quitting?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Discontinued Pfizer ad: Hiroshi Kan is quitting, too

Pfizer poster: Tachi Hiroshi is quitting, too

Recently, the Health Labor and Welfare Ministry released the results of 15 years of research into the amount of money a person spends on health care during an entire lifetime. The research began in 1994, based on records of 52,000 male and female residents of Miyagi Prefecture aged between 40 and 79.

According to the research, a 40 year-old-man today with normal blood pressure could expect to live another 46.5 years and spent a total of ¥13.34 million for health care, which, if he has kokumin hoken (meaning individual national insurance rather than national insurance through an employer), means he would spend about ¥4 million out of pocket, given that patients have to cover 30 percent of a medical bill themselves. A man with high blood pressure can expect to live 44.8 years more and spend ¥17.1 million. The ministry makes no projections for women because the results were “too diverse.”

In terms of other lifestyle determinants, a person who walks more than one hour a day will live 1.5 years longer and spend ¥350,000 less than someone who walks less than one hour a day (on average). However, the most interesting estimate is that someone who smokes will live 3.7 fewer years than someone who doesn’t and will thus spend less during his lifetime on medical care than someone who doesn’t smoke, though the ministry doesn’t specify by how much. The rule of thumb is that elderly people spend exponentially more on health care than do younger people, so if smokers die before they get old, the government saves considerably.

Continue reading about the tobacco tax →

Flood control: Destroying neighborhoods to save them

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Money in the bank: Super teibo explanation along Arakawa River

Money in the bank: Super teibo explanation in Oshima Komatsugawa Park, Edogawa Ward, Tokyo

Next week, the most entertaining show in town, the deliberations of the Government Revitalization Unit, which holds hearings on government programs with the aim of cutting budegetary waste, will start again. According to various news reports, one of the main targets of the council this time will be the long-term public works project to improve flood control effectiveness in Tokyo and Osaka. Though Japanese rivers that pass through urban and suburban areas usually have extensive levee systems, some of which are centuries old, these embankments are thought to be no guarantee against the inundation of bordering communities in the event of a major storm. In 1986, a levee in Ibaraki Prefecture collapsed causing damage to surrounding neighborhoods, thus prompting the Liberal Democratic Party government at the time to initiate an ambitious public works project to shore up all the levees in the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas, where many residences are actually situated below sea level. In the Kanto region, this project is being carried out for the Tone, Edo, Arakawa and Tama Rivers; while in Kansai construction is taking place on the Yodo and Yamate Rivers. Altogether,  872.4 km of waterways are targeted.

The method of reinforcement is to build “super teibo.” Teibo is the Japanese word for “levee” or “embankment.” Existing levees are essentially elevated banks that separate residences from the river. A super teibo would extend the elevation into the residential area, effectively raising the level of the area higher than the level of the river. In the event of a flood that rose above the level of the levee, not only would the levee hold, but the amount of water inundating inhabited areas would be greatly reduced.

Continue reading about super teibo →

Ramen chain widens definition of ‘new graduates’

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

On the surface, there isn’t much to distinguish Korakuen from other chain Chinese food restaurants. The company, which is headquartered in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, operates 430 outlets, mostly in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Their fare is pretty cheap, maybe cheaper than most Chinese restaurant chains, with prices for ramen ranging from ¥290 to ¥600. And like other companies in this line of business, Korakuen’s workers are mostly part-time and non-regular, which describes about 8,000 of its 9,000 employees.

However, on Oct. 14, Korakuen issued an announcement that sets it apart, not only from other chain restaurants, but from most Japanese companies in general. Starting in spring 2012, the company will recruit and hire as full-time, regular employees new graduates (shinshotsu) of universities, junior colleges, vocational schools and high schools who matriculated from their respective institutions in 2009, 2010 and 2011. To anyone unfamiliar with Japan’s traditional employment system, this will hardly sound remarkable, but to most Japanese people it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

Continue reading about Korakuen's recruiting shift →

Lawyers’ livelihoods to get needier

Monday, October 18th, 2010

JFBA Hall in Hibiya: Not so exclusive any more

JFBA Hall in Hibiya: Not so exclusive any more

Six years ago when the Liberal Democratic Party overhauled the legal system and established the lay judge system, the revisions also included measures to increase the number of practicing lawyers in Japan by changing the juridical education and certification systems. Logically, that would mean allowing more people who took the bar examination to pass. The aim was an extra 3,000 law professionals entering the market each year, and though this target hasn’t been achieved on a regular basis (2,074 passed the test this year), the increase in the number of lawyers has had a big effect on incomes.

There were about 17,000 lawyers in Japan in 2000, and by 2008 the number had increased to more than 25,000. The government estimates that this number will double by 2018. Consequently, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, five years ago, before the influx of new blood was felt in the marketplace, the average attorney made between ¥16 and ¥20 million a year. Last year, the average attorney income had dropped to ¥8 million. No wonder you see so many lawyers these days moonlighting as TV talent.

Continue reading about Japan's high bar for lawyers →

Landlords getting tough with families of suicides

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Big sleep: Government suicide prevention campaign for salarymen

Big sleep: Government suicide prevention campaign for salarymen

The annual number of suicides in Japan has topped 30,000 for the last 12 years, and according to the Sept. 27 issue of the Yomiuri Shimbun landlords aren’t going to take it any more. The newspaper reports that an increasing number of property owners and realtors are suing families of tenants who kill themselves. Rental units where suicides occur are more difficult to rent out afterward, and in most cases landlords have to reduce the rent substantially to get someone to move in.

The situation has become so dire that a Sendai-based organization called the Japan Suicide Survivors Network has asked the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to pass some sort of law that would protect families of suicides in these instances. In one case, a young woman killed herself in an apartment in Miyazaki Prefecture, and while her funeral was taking place the landlord showed up and demanded ¥6 million so that he could hire a priest to “cleanse” the property. The family, too upset to argue, paid him.

Continue reading about landlords and suicides in Japan →

JAL pilots may become wage earners

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Hey, Delta pilots! How much do you make?

Hey, Delta pilots! How much do you make?

Under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law, financially nackered Japan Air Lines submitted its restructuring plan for 2010 to the Tokyo District Court last month. The plan pledged to cut some 16,000 employees within the whole corporate group. Reduction of about 10,000 jobs is already assured because a certain number of employees are slated to retire naturally and about 3,800 took optional early retirement. The remainder will transfer to subsidiaries outside the group. JAL has reportedly asked more employees to take early retirement, but not enough have come forward to accept the offer, which expires October 22. If they don’t, it means JAL may not be able to reach its 2010 goal.

Consequently, the airline is thinking of threatening workers with seiri kaiko, or “forced resignations” if not enough people take voluntary early retirement. Benefits are understandably worse for those thrown out of the company than for those who leave of their own “free will,” if you can call it that. The unions are, naturally, resisting this strong arm tactic.

Continue reading about JAL's restructuring

What’s in a name when it comes to real estate?

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Are you hip enough?

Are you hip enough?

Eight of Japan’s biggest real estate companies have joined forces to run a website called Major 7 (why 7 and not 8 I have no idea), which features articles about condominiums. Last summer the group conducted its annual survey to find which urban location is the one where people would most like to buy a condo if they could. For the sixth year in a row the number one answer in the Kansai region was Ashiya, which isn’t surprising. Ashiya, in Hyogo Prefecture, has always had a high-class reputation owing to the simple fact that rich people tend to live there and most of the city is located on a hill.

The most popular place in the Tokyo Metro area was Kichijoji, for the third year in a row. (For the record, the next nine preferences in descending order are Jiyugaoka, Yokohama, Futago Tamagawa, Ebisu, Hiroo, Kamakura, Meguro, Kagurazaka and Naka-Meguro) The website doesn’t explain why Kichijoji is popular, but it isn’t difficult to guess. Tokyoites see it as a youth haven filled with trendy retailers. It is also close to a famous park.

The preference is purely aspirational, especially if you look at what’s available. Most units for sale near Kichijoji Station are small, cramped and expensive. You have to go at least 18 minutes from the station before you find something that might be habitable for a family: ¥31 million for a 60 sq. meter 2LDK built in 1976 is a representative property. If you want something new, you’ll pay through the teeth. A new 70 sq. meter apartment will put you back a whopping ¥75 million. The prices are, on average, much higher than comparable units in areas closer to the center of Tokyo.

It’s completely a name thing, and realtors know that. Kichijoji is in Musashino City, and when advertising condos or even rental apartments, many real estate agents list the nearest station to a Musashino property as being Kichijoji, even if it’s much closer to, say, Mitaka. Of course, if you live in Mitaka you can always get off at Kichijoji station and take a bus home. That way you can tell your friends you live in Kichijoji, but sooner or later they’re going to catch on.

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