Archive for November, 2012

For teachers, the business of education has become even more of a business

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Private high school students boarding a private high school bus

Private high school students boarding a private high school bus

The Asahi Shimbun and NHK recently ran features about the changing job situation for high school teachers, specifically those who work for private institutions. According to education ministry figures, there are about 90,000 teachers working at private high schools nationwide, a number that has stayed about the same since 2001.

About 34,000 of these teachers were considered “non-regular” in 2011, meaning they were either hired directly by the schools on a yearly contract basis or obtained through temporary human resources companies. That number represents 36.8 percent of all private high school teachers, whereas the portion of public school teachers who are non-regular is 19.7 percent.

Furthermore, since 2001, the number of regular teachers in private high schools has decreased by more than 4,000, mainly the result of attrition through retirement, while the number of non-regular teachers has increased by 2,800. During the same period, the number of students attending private high schools has dropped by about 15 percent, while the number of private high schools hasn’t changed.

Private high schools are under pressure to maintain enrollment just to stay solvent, and one of their main incentives to attract students is student-teacher ratios, the smaller the better. So even as the number of students declines, these schools have to maintain staff numbers, a situation that puts more strain on their budgets. They have to cut expenses wherever they can, and since 70 percent of a private school’s expenditures goes to personnel, teacher pay is the obvious target for rationalization.

Continue reading about non-regular teachers →

Ishihara’s resignation doesn’t come cheap

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Naoki Inose, shoo-in for governor

On Nov. 21 Naoki Inose, the vice governor of Tokyo Prefecture under Shintaro Ishihara, who decided to cut his tenure short and make a run for national office, finally announced his candidacy for the governor’s seat. That contest will be decided in a special election set for Dec. 16, the same date on which the nation will vote for a new Lower House.

Inose, a writer by trade who belongs to no party, is virtually assured of winning because he has not only been endorsed by Ishihara himself, but also by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Komeito, Your Party and, naturally, Nihon Reformation Party, which just absorbed Ishihara’s fledgling Sunrise Party. There will be at least four other candidates running for Tokyo governor, but media say they have almost no chance.

Because Inose is considered a shoo-in, some people are wondering: Why bother with an election? According to the law, if the governor resigns or dies or otherwise leaves office before his or her term is up, an election has to be held to choose a new governor. The vice governor only takes over until an election is held. What bothers some residents of Tokyo is that it costs about ¥5 billion in taxpayer money to hold an election for Tokyo governor, which gives those residents one more reason to resent Ishihara’s capriciousness. He was only 19 months into his fourth term when he quit.

However, it should be noted that the new governor will be elected to a full four-year term, which means the next election will be in December 2016, not April 2015, which is when it would have taken place had Ishihara remained in office. Since vice governors — and there are four — are appointed by the governor after he assumes office, they are not chosen by the people, so rather than let a vice governor take over the remaining time it is considered democratically proper to simply hold a new election when a governor leaves prematurely, which has only happened once before in Tokyo. The problem is that the Tokyo prefectural assembly elections have always been held at the same time as the governor’s poll, but a representative of the Tokyo election authority told us the next assembly elections will take place as previously scheduled, in April 2015, which means the prefecture will now have to pay for two elections rather than one.

The capital’s is by far the most expensive governor’s race in the country, the closest being Osaka’s, which costs about half as much to carry out. Most prefectures spend about ¥1 billion. Much of the money is used for publicity. Since Japan has a resident registration system, citizens do not have to register to vote the way they do in the U.S., but that also means the local government has to send a notification to every eligible voter. A lot of money is also needed to make and erect thousands of signboards for the election and hiring staff to work at polling places. Tokyo has about 10 million eligible voters and the prefecture gets a fair return on its considerable investment. In the last two governor’s elections, the turnout was over 50 percent, which many not sound like much but is pretty good by recent standards. In 2011, only 25 percent of Saitama’s eligible voters turned out to elect that prefecture’s governor. Also, because the election for the Lower House is occurring on the same day, Tokyo may save a bit of money in terms of personnel costs.

Theme parks make a comeback thanks to grandma and grandpa

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Ho-hum. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea recorded another record season. Between April and September, Japan’s favorite theme parks were visited by 13.25 million people, a 23 percent increase over the same period last year, which is understandable given that “self-restraint” was the order of business in summer 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami. Still, that’s an impressive increase under any circumstances since it translates as an operating income of ¥39 billion — double last year’s — and a net profit of ¥25.5 billion — triple last year’s.

Yumiko Yamashita! You are the 100 millionth visitor to Universal Studios Japan!

But TDL isn’t the only theme park that did well this summer. According to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, attendance at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka was up 19.5 percent during the same period, Tokyo’s Toshimaen amusement park saw an 18.7 percent rise, Yomiuri Land in western Tokyo 30 percent, Nagashima Spa Land in Mie Prefecture 3 percent, Fujikyu Highland in Shizuoka Prefecture 4 percent, and even the Dutch theme park Huis Ten Bosch in Kyushu, which almost went bankrupt before being bought by travel agent H.I.S., enjoyed an 11 percent year-on-year boost in attendance from Jan. to June.

Could all this healthy leisure spending be explained by a post-disaster recovery bump, as theorized by Sankei Shimbun? A recent segment of the TBS noon-time wide show “Hiruobi” looked into the matter and found that there’s something else involved, namely a confluence of demographics that has resulted in wider-open wallets. The program sent a reporter to Universal Studios to cover the 100 millionth admission and found that a good portion of park attendance was made up of families of three generations, with the youngest layer comprised of very young children and the oldest of grandparents who are recently retired but still relatively young and, more importantly, have a lot of savings they’re only too happy to spend on their grandkids. “My grandma buys me anything I want,” said one little girl without shame.

Continue reading about theme-park repeaters →

Annals of cheap: bananas

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Yes, we have mo’ bananas

Bananas have been unusually inexpensive this fall. Normally the retail price remains in the ¥200-¥230 per kg range (1 banana is about 150 grams) year-round, and the average price for all of 2011, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was ¥218. However, the ministry recently conducted a survey of 42 retail outlets in Tokyo and found that from January to September of this year, the price was slightly less than ¥210, and at the end of September it suddenly dropped to ¥197. Then, in early October, it fell further to ¥192 and has stayed there ever since. It’s the lowest price for bananas since 1979, and importers and wholesalers don’t like it at all. According to Tokyo Shimbun, smaller importers are hoping that the larger importers will limit their supply since it appears the price drop is due to a continual flood of bananas into the market.

Why the sudden price collapse? Apparently, it has to do with political situations on two fronts. China is, for all intents and purposes, currently carrying out an embargo of Philippine bananas due to a diplomatic flareup between the two countries over control of an island in the South China Sea. Though there are no formal sanctions involved, China recently reinforced inspections for diseases and pests that have resulted in banana shipments from the Philippines being held for extended periods of time in Chinese ports. Consequently, they are in danger of spoiling, so a lot of the bananas originally meant for the Chinese market have been coming to Japan.

China is the second biggest producer of bananas in the world (after India, which consumes 80 percent of its product), but several years ago the country signed a free-trade agreement with the Philippines, and bananas are one of the latter’s few big export crops. Another major banana market for the Philippines is Iran, which is currently under the shadow of a genuine U.S.-led embargo owing to Iran’s nuclear development program, so some of the bananas that the Philippines were planning to ship to Iran are now also going to Japan.

Continue reading about bananas →

Want more daycare? Pay workers more

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Let’s nurture: Daycare center in northern Chiba Prefecture

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry just released the results of a survey on quitting. Among the various categories of employment studied, education proved to be the field with the highest percentage of turnover: 48.8 percent of first-time teachers quit their jobs within three years of being hired. Though the study didn’t give reasons for the high turnover rate it isn’t difficult to figure out: Teaching children is a high-stress occupation with little monetary reward.

The same goes for a subset of education, daycare, which continues to pose a very real problem. The lack of daycare facilities for children not old enough to attend school is one of the main reasons young couples are not having more children. According to a recent feature in Tokyo Shimbun, the main reason there are not more daycare centers is that, while demand is increasing as more women remain in the workforce after giving birth, there aren’t enough hoikushi (nursery school teachers). And the reason there aren’t enough hoikushi is that wages are bad and getting worse.

The average monthly pay for a hoikushi, regardless of age or experience, is about ¥200,000, which is almost 40 percent lower than the average monthly pay across the board. But hoikushi tend to work longer hours than the average worker, especially since the Child Welfare Law was revised in 2001, thus allowing more private companies to set up for-profit daycare centers. Average pay for daycare workers dropped after 2001, and private centers tend to hire staff on a non-regular basis, meaning no benefits. According to HLW Ministry statistics, there were 1.12 million licensed daycare workers in Japan in April 2012. However, Tokyo Shimbun reports that few of these people actually work in daycare.

Continue reading about nursery school teachers →

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