Archive for June, 2012

Tattoos are forever, which is why they cost so much to remove

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

On second thought…

The weekly magazine Aera recently discussed tattoos, which became a contentious issue in Osaka after Mayor Toru Hashimoto not only prohibited city employees from gettting them but suggested that any who already had tattoos resign. Hashimoto believes that Osaka citizens are offended by tattoos, which tend to be associated with gangsters and other lowlifes. Many young people get tattoos for reasons having to do with fashion, but the majority of citizens don’t make such a distinction. Public baths and onsen (hot springs) tend to prohibit patrons with tattoos, even if it’s just a tiny reproduction of a butterfly.

The mayor’s pronouncement met with complaints from some corners, which grumbled about personal freedom and human rights, but the Aera article implies that it had the desired effect. One young man in his late 20s told the magazine that after high school he became a construction worker and got a fairly large tattoo on his back because all his construction worker friends had tattoos. But now he wants to take a test to become a civil servant and wonders if having a tattoo will be a liability, and is therefore seriously thinking of having it removed. When told that no one can notice the tattoo when he has his shirt on, the young man says that he figures if he does get a public job he will have to undergo a physical examination, and so the doctor will see the tattoo and may report it to his supervisor.

In the context of the article, this isn’t presented as paranoia but more like common sense. In any case, tattoos are painfully permanent, and having them removed involves a hefty investment and even more pain. Aera says that you can assume that whatever your tattoo cost to apply, it will cost 10 times as much to erase. The magazine reports that the number of people in Osaka who are having tattoos removed has increased noticeably since Hashimoto made his stand. But it’s not just in Osaka. One Tokyo cosmetic surgery service, Isea Clinic, says that since the beginning of the year the number of inquiries it receives about tattoo removal has gone from about 100 a month to 125. Most are from the people who have tattoos themselves, but quite a few are from people whose children have tattoos. The reason isn’t just employment. Some parents think their children have less of a chance of finding a marriage partner if they have a tattoo.

There are three removal methods: laser, surgery and skin grafting. The laser method is the cheapest, at about ¥10,000 per square centimeter of skin. However, depending on the tattoo, it is likely that a shadow of the original pattern will be left behind, so others will know that the individual used to have a tattoo. Surgery, which means basically gouging out the skin and then sewing up the wound, costs about ¥30,000 per sq. cm. The tattoo is gone completely, but a scar remains. A skin graft, which involves cutting a chunk of flesh from another part of the body and using it to cover the tattoo, runs anywhere from ¥700,000 to ¥1,000,000. As the Isea doctor says, it’s too easy to get a tattoo, which is why so many people regret it in the morning, so to speak. In the end they want it removed regardless of the cost. “They always tell me it’s OK to leave a scar,” he says. The price you pay is more than just money.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Noblestone

Police rewards result in arrests, and some frustration

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Not so easy money: Wanted posters outside koban near Okachimachi Station

The idea of offering “rewards” for information leading to the arrest of a criminal fugitive didn’t really take off in Japan until the Lindsay Hawker murder case. In 2009, two years after the young English teacher was killed, the police offered a ¥10 million bounty for any leads, and five months later her killer was apprehended thanks to several tips. According to media reports the reward was divided among four persons. Previously, the prevailing wisdom was that offering monetary incentives to the public for helping police catch suspects was mercenary and thus unacceptable, but results are results, and the system now seems firmly in place after the recent series of arrests of suspects in the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack of 1995.

The three remaining Aum fugitives have all been captured in the last six months, two of them since the National Police Agency increased the reward for useful information from ¥3 million to ¥10 million in February. There has been speculation that the increase was actually occasioned by the arrest of the first Aum suspect, Makoto Hirata, in December. The police subsequently intensified their search for the other two fugitives, which the public had every right to believe had previously been lax given the almost comical circumstances surrounding Hirata’s surrender. However, old attitudes die hard, and the reward system is still in a state of evolution. For one thing, two terms are being used interchangeably, hoshokin and kenshokin, both of which also mean “prize.” Perhaps the authorities can’t decide because they feel the two words send the wrong message.

The Metropolitan Police Agency won’t release the names of the informants who may receive the rewards, though the media has been busy trying to describe them. Information about the whereabouts of Naoko Kikuchi was received by the police the morning of June 3, and they arrested her later that day, though others have said they offered tips about Kikuchi much earlier. Apparently, someone, reportedly a neighbor, brought the tip to the police, though it’s not clear if that person will receive a reward.

Continue reading about police tips for cash →

Budget airline determined to give passengers their money’s worth

Monday, June 18th, 2012

As more and more airlines struggle with fluctuating fuel costs, labor disputes and competition that puts downward pressure on fares, they cut wherever they can, and for passengers the clearest sign of this trend is the loss of services once considered standard. It started with charging for drinks and meals on shorter flights, then charging for a second checked bag or even the first. Ireland’s premier budget carrier Ryanair has taken these cost-cutting measures to almost laughable extremes.

Skymark home page

Japanese carriers have always had the highest reputation for service, which is one of the reasons Japanese fliers remained faithful for so long and paid extra for those services. The JAL bankruptcy proved that this was no longer the case, and in recent years Japanese airlines have had to genuinely compete with others for customers, even Japanese customers. Now budget Japanese carriers have softened service, and some think that one of the pioneers, Skymark, has gone too far.

Earlier this month the media covered the airline’s “service concept,” which, in practical terms, doesn’t really make a huge difference in a passenger’s in-flight experience. However, the way it was presented seemed geared to offend. According to the Asahi Shimbun’s reports, the “instructions,” printed on B5-size pieces of paper and inserted in seat pockets on aircraft starting May 18, state that flight attendants are not obligated to “help passengers stow luggage on board the aircraft,” meaning that passengers are totally responsible for their own bags. More to the point, the instructions also state that attendants and other staff do not have to “use the polite language that airlines conventionally use.” And except for the company-issued polo shirts and windbreakers, staff can dress or make up any way they want.

After the media made a big deal of the service concept, Skymark announced that it did not constitute any sort of change but was a “clarification” of policies already in effect. The transportation ministry was mainly concerned with the “tone” of the clarification, which seemed to be a “challenge to” rather than a “violation of” existing regulations. In particular, the ministry was concerned that Skymark’s refusal to “accept complaints” from passengers on matters that “don’t directly affect customers” might cause problems.

Continue reading about budget airlines in Japan →

Is nursing care insurance making nursing care recipients worse?

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Killing with kindness? Caregiver helps elderly woman into her apartment

Ever since the government launched the kaigo hoken system in 2000 to provide nursing care services for seniors, the health ministry reviews revenues and expenditures every year and adjusts them accordingly. What this means is that every year premiums go up, which makes sense since the number of seniors is increasing while the population in general remains static or shrinks. In 2000, 15.6 percent of the population was 65 or older. In 2011 the same demographic accounted for 21.4 percent of the population.

Starting at age 40, every resident of Japan pays kaigo hoken premiums, the amount determined by age and income. Even seniors who are eligible for and receive kaigo (nursing care) services pay premiums. They also bear 10 percent of the cost of their care. As each year passes, the burden gets heavier. In 2000, the average monthly premium for people 65 and older was ¥2,911. This past April, that amount breached ¥5,000, and it’s sure to go up. The baby boom generation will turn 75 in 2025, when it is estimated that the cost of kaigo hoken services, including the 10 percent that seniors bear, will total somewhere between ¥19 and ¥23 trillion. That’s twice the cost of such services in 2012. Consequently, average premiums for seniors will be more than ¥8,000.

Continue reading about kaigo hoken →

Play money: Forgotten fate of foreign currency

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Stuff old people bring back from abroad

The magazine Travel Journal recently reported the results of a survey carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs among 7,829 travelers after the recent Golden Week holiday. The ministry asked people who had changed yen into foreign currencies how much of that money was left over in cash after they returned to Japan. The average amount of foreign cash remaining among those who responded was the equivalent of ¥38,871. Somehow, the ministry extrapolated this figure to reach the conclusion that, nationwide, there is about ¥1.3 trillion worth of foreign currencies sitting around in people’s dresser drawers or stuck in the back of wardrobes, which is a lot of money.

The survey also found out that the average Japanese traveler going overseas exchanges ¥71,940 on each trip, and spends about 70 percent of that money. The average amount of cash that is stolen from a Japanese robbery victim overseas is ¥65,730 per incident. In 12 percent of the cases, more than ¥100,000 in equivalent cash is stolen from Japanese victims. In 1 percent of these cases the amount is over ¥1 million.

For better or worse, Japanese tourists are famous in foreign countries for carrying a lot of cash, presumably because in Japan merchants still prefer transactions in cash and Japan is a relatively safe country for doing so. It’s one reason why Japanese tourists spend so much in airports. They feel the need to get rid of their foreign cash, even if it’s spent on things they don’t need. Japan Travel also comments that older Japanese people, who tend to travel in tour groups, rarely think about the exchange rate, and especially now with the yen so high may end up exchanging more yen than they really need.

Since this forgotten foreign currency in homes is likely worth less that it was when the exchange was originally made, people may not be so enthusiastic about trading it in for yen, at least not right away. Still, the government must surely be wondering how it can get its hands on it. Travel Journal says the Ministry of Internal Affairs is thinking of launching a “donation” campaign for the money. We can imagine the catch copy: “You can’t spend it here, so why not give it to us?”

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