2008年3月29日 星期六

Kenzaburo Oe: Military 'deeply involved' in Okinawa suicides

Japan Court Rejects Suit Against Oe

TOKYO (AP) — Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe won a major court battle Friday over a book he wrote more than 30 years ago detailing how Japanese soldiers persuaded and sometimes forced Okinawan civilians to commit suicide rather than give themselves up in the closing days of World War II.

The topic is a hugely sensitive issue on the southern Japan islands, where battles raged from late March through June 1945, leaving more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers dead and speeding the collapse of Japan's defenses. The U.S. occupied Okinawa until 1972.

The ruling was also a high-profile setback for a vocal lobby among Japanese conservatives who have long sought to discredit or censure materials documenting Japanese excesses during the war, including government-supported prostitution, the rape of the Chinese city of Nanking and other incidents.

In his book, "Okinawa Notes," Oe chronicled accounts of group suicides on Okinawa, and alleged that Japanese soldiers persuaded and at times coerced civilians to kill themselves rather than face what they were told would be horrible atrocities if they gave themselves up to the invading U.S. troops.

Historians generally agree that hundreds of Okinawan civilians killed themselves under such circumstances, and there is a wealth of testimony from survivors and their relatives to back that up.

But Yutaka Umezawa, 91, and his brother Hidekazu Akamatsu, 75, argued that Oe wrongfully accused them — though not by name — of ordering suicides on the Okinawan islands of Zamami and Tokashiki in March, 1945.

The two denied the military ordered any suicides and demanded Oe and the publisher pay them $200,000 in compensation.

In a closely watched ruling Friday, their complaint — first filed in 2005 — was rejected.

The Osaka District Court held that "there are reasons to believe" the military was responsible for such atrocities on Okinawa and other nearby southern islands, said spokesman Masakatsu Yatabe.

The court noted that the sites of Okinawan group suicides overlapped with Japanese military posts, and said testimony by survivors that Japanese soldiers handed out grenades gave solid evidence of "the military's deep involvement in the group suicides," Kyodo News agency reported.

"It is reasonable to say the book presented rational resources and evidence, though we cannot determine whether the two were the ones who issued the suicide orders as described in the book," it found.

Oe, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994, welcomed the decision.

"I felt strongly that the judge accurately read my 'Okinawa Notes' to hand down the ruling," he said. "I was most strongly impressed by that."

The plaintiffs are expected to appeal.

A government decision two years ago to delete textbook references to the Japanese military role in the forced suicides brought the issue to a boil on Okinawa, culminating in a protest by more than 100,000 people in September last year.

Accused of trying to whitewash Japan's wartime history, the Education Ministry soon afterward agreed to restore to textbooks accounts of the military's involvement in the suicides.

Military 'deeply involved' in Okinawa suicides



OSAKA--A court Friday dismissed a libel suit against Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, ruling that the Imperial Japanese Army was "deeply involved" in mass civilian suicides in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

photoKenzaburo Oe, at a news conference in Osaka on Friday, says a court's ruling should help schools provide a precise picture of the Battle of Okinawa.(EIJIRO MORII/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)

"I believe the tragedy (of mass suicides) occurred because of coercion by the military against the backdrop of wartime teachings by the central government and the military," Oe, 73, told a news conference in Osaka after the Osaka District Court's ruling. "The court grasped what I maintained in my book."

Two plaintiffs sued Oe and Iwanami Shoten Publishers in 2005, claiming they suffered damage by Oe's 1970 essay "Okinawa Notes," which said the Imperial Japanese Army ordered islanders to kill themselves during the battle.

The plaintiffs were Yutaka Umezawa, 91, who commanded Japanese troops on Zamamijima island during the Battle of Okinawa, and Hidekazu Akamatsu, 75, a brother of Yoshitsugu Akamatsu, who led soldiers on nearby Tokashikijima island. Umezawa now lives in Osaka Prefecture.

The two argued that such a military order was never given, and that the civilian deaths on the two islands were actually "murder-suicides of families." They also claimed that Okinawans fabricated the story about forced suicides to enable residents to become eligible for bereaved family pensions.

The plaintiffs demanded Iwanami Shoten Publishers halt printing of Oe's book as well as compensation from the defendants. The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal the ruling.

More than 430 people took their lives on the two islands in late March 1945 amid the U.S. onslaught.

In "Okinawa Notes," Oe blamed Japanese troops for forcing mass civilian suicides, but he did not include the commanders' names.

The central issue of the trial was whether the Imperial Japanese Army played a role in the suicides.

"The court cannot conclude that they (the commanders) actually issued direct orders, but it can sufficiently presume that they were involved" in the mass suicides, Presiding Judge Toshimasa Fukami said.

The Imperial Japanese Army was "deeply involved" in the mass suicides, and Oe's references to commanders as "those responsible for the incident" in his book had "reasonable data and grounds," the court ruled.

The court cited numerous accounts of survivors who testified that Japanese troops delivered grenades to the islanders to blow themselves up.

Grenades, the court said, were highly valued weapons for the soldiers and very difficult to obtain from other sources.

In addition, the court noted that mass civilian suicides occurred only in places where Japanese troops were deployed.

The ruling also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the islanders lied to gain pensions. The court said witness accounts pointing to the role of the military in the suicides existed even before those pensions were available.

The libel suit was cited by the education ministry in its decision to downplay Japanese troops' role in the mass suicides from "coercion" to "involvement" in a screening of high school textbooks, whose results were disclosed last year. For more than 20 years, the history textbooks said the military forced the suicides.

Oe said Friday the court's ruling will help schools provide a precise picture of what really happened during the battle.

"Although the textbooks merely state the 'involvement' of the military behind the mass suicides, teachers can teach the meaning of the hideous incident with this ruling," said Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994.

The writer argued in court that the mass suicides resulted from the military's teachings to Okinawans that becoming a prisoner of war was a "disgrace" as well as from coercion by the military, which presided over civilians in a "vertical structure."

The ruling came on the same day that people on Tokashikijima island visited a monument honoring those who committed suicide in March 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.

On March 28 that year, the largest number of islanders killed themselves.

The Battle of Okinawa, the last major campaign of the Pacific War, raged for nearly three months. Okinawan casualties were estimated at around 120,000, most of them civilians. The figure represented about one-quarter of Okinawa's population at that time.(IHT/Asahi: March 29,2008)

2008年3月27日 星期四

Japan Gets Ready To Take To The Skies 日本打算造飛機

不甘做配角 日本打算造飛機

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給波音公司(Boeing Co.)和空中客車(Airbus)作了數十年忠誠的供應商之後﹐日本正準備啟動單通道飛機計劃﹐讓自己在航空業也能以主要飛機製造商的身份佔有一席之地。

據 知情人士透露﹐三菱重工業(Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.)最早可能會於本週五公佈研發96座三菱支線飛機(Mitsubishi Regional Jet)的計劃﹐公司預計可在2012年交付使用。這種飛機將採用新的引擎技術和建造方法﹐三菱希望這能使其在競爭激烈的市場中比現有支線客機實現一個跨 越。

自去年6月在巴黎航空展上宣佈將啟動自己的飛機製造計劃以來﹐三菱一直努力從豐田汽車(Toyota Motor Corp.)、波音和聯合技術公司(United Technologies Corp.)旗下的普拉特惠特尼(Pratt & Whitney)等公司尋求財務支持或技術幫助﹐以此打消外界的疑慮。日本政府已表示﹐將在預計1,500億日圓(約合15億美元)的研發預算中投資至多 三分之一﹐不過知情人士稱﹐這類項目的成本通常會大大超過這個預算數字。



如果項目能夠啟動﹐三菱支線飛機將使走走停停了近30年的飛機夢最終變成了現實。使用自身先進的汽車製造技術生產飛機是日本商界人士多年的夢想﹐在這之前 他們一直只能看著波音和歐洲航空防務航天公司(European Aeronautic, Defense & Space Co.)旗下的空中客車將許多技術率先付諸應用。


支 線飛機是瞄準中型市場的小型民用飛機﹐航程約在1,000英里之內。通過從小型飛機起步﹐三菱目前不會與波音和空中客車發生正面碰撞﹐但這一市場中的老牌 公司也不少﹐其中包括加拿大龐巴迪(Bombardier Inc.)和巴西航空工業公司(Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA)。



預 計三菱將成立一個單獨的公司負責研發、建造和銷售三菱支線飛機﹐此計劃還需得到董事會的批准。近日﹐公司管理人員一直希望能儘快敲定來自全日空(All Nippon Airways)、日本航空(Japan Airlines Corp.)、越南航空(Vietnam Airlines Corp.)和其它航空公司的訂單。





普 拉特惠特尼在過去20年里投資了大約10億美元研發被稱作齒輪驅動渦扇發動機的新引擎。這款引擎在主風扇葉片的後面安裝了一個齒輪箱﹐可使風扇和內部引擎 部件以不同的速度旋轉。普拉特惠特尼表示﹐這令引擎可以更高效地運轉﹐耗油量降低12%左右﹐噪音也低於目前的引擎。近幾個月來﹐三菱和龐巴迪都選擇將這 款引擎用於計劃中的新機型﹐這給了普拉特惠特尼一個證明其實力的機會。

三菱希望波音能成為該項目的重要盟軍。三菱已勸說波音加入﹐合作採 用波音787夢想飛機中使用的相同碳纖維復合技術材料。包括三菱在內的三家日本重工業企業是波音大型飛機的主要財務伙伴﹐因此他們對使用這些材料富有經 驗。通過加入不會隨使用年限而腐蝕或疲勞的復合材料﹐日方希望他們的產品能與目前主要採用鋁合金的競爭對手的產品區別開來。


據知情人士稱﹐三菱還在於美國租賃巨頭國際租賃金融公司(International Lease Finance Corp.)討論後者定購最多100架飛機﹐並簽約成為這款飛機的全球分銷商的事宜。


國際租賃金融公司創始人、首席執行長史蒂文•烏德沃爾-哈齊(Steven Udvar-Hazy)在最近接受採訪時稱三菱的飛機是頗具前景的項目﹐但他沒有透露國際租賃金融公司需要多久才能做出決定。他說﹐支線飛機是我們一直非常關注的市場。


J. Lynn Lunsford / Norihiko Shirouzu / Bruce Stanley

Japan Gets Ready To Take To The Skies

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AFTER DECADES of being a faithful supplier to Boeing Co. and Airbus, Japan is poised to launch a single-aisle jetliner program aimed at putting itself on the map as a prime player in aviation.

According to people familiar with the situation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. could announce as early as Friday that it plans to move forward with its Mitsubishi Regional Jet, a 96-seat passenger plane the company hopes will enter service in 2012. The jet will harness new engine technology and construction methods that the company hopes will enable it to leapfrog existing regional jets in an already crowded market.

Since announcing plans to pursue an indigenous jet program at the Paris Air Show last June, Mitsubishi Heavy has defied skeptics by courting financial support or technical assistance from companies such as Toyota Motor Corp., Boeing and United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney. The Japanese government has indicated it is willing to invest up to a third of the projected development budget of 150 billion yen ($1.5 billion), although such projects typically end up costing much more than that, said people familiar with the discussions.

Mitsubishi said late last year that each aircraft would sell for between three billion yen and four billion yen.

The government has given Mitsubishi Heavy a deadline to start the project by the end of the fiscal year, which ends Monday. If the project isn't launched by then, it could delay the timing and amount of funding for the first year, according to people familiar with the last-minute push to launch the program. A government spokesman declined to comment.

If the project gets underway, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet would be the result of almost 30 years of stop-and-go effort. Japanese executives have dreamed for years of using their vaunted automobile manufacturing techniques to produce aircraft, only to watch as Boeing and European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. unit Airbus implemented many of those methods first.

According to people familiar with the discussions inside Toyota, the auto maker is considering an investment of about 10 billion yen in the jet project for a 10% stake. A final decision is likely by the end of the month after a board meeting. For now, Toyota will say only that it is considering the investment at Mitsubishi Heavy's request.

Regional jets are small commercial planes with a range of about 1,000 miles, aimed at midsize markets. By choosing to start with a smaller jet, Mitsubishi Heavy won't compete with Boeing and Airbus for now, but it will enter a market that is crowded with established players such as Canada's Bombardier Inc. and Brazil's Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA.

In addition, Russia and China are well on their way toward developing their own regional-jet programs and, like Japan, plan to sell their jets abroad.

It is unclear whether Japan's longer-term goals would include building larger jets that might compete with Boeing and Airbus. While such a move might seem the logical next step, the cost barriers are steep. Jets seating 130 passengers or more typically cost between $6 billion and $12 billion to develop, depending on size.

Pending approval from its board, Mitsubishi Heavy is expected to set up a separate company to develop, build and distribute the Mitsubishi Regional Jet. In recent days, officials have been scrambling to nail down orders from All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines Corp., Vietnam Airlines Corp. and other carriers.

Representatives from the two Japanese airlines confirmed that the companies are considering the Mitsubishi plane among other choices and will likely make their decisions by the end of the month. A Japan Airlines spokesman said that while the company is still studying the aircraft, company officials 'feel that it is a significant national project that will contribute greatly to the development of Japan's aviation industry.'

According to people familiar with the situation, Mitsubishi may decide to launch the program with an order for as few as 15 jets from All Nippon, as long as officials are convinced that other orders will follow soon.

Vietnam Airlines is considering a proposal from Mitsubishi for up to 20 airplanes, although the airline has yet to agree to the order. According to these people, Vietnam is pushing to make any order contingent on an agreement to eventually produce as much as 30% of the jet in Vietnam.

Under a previous agreement with Pratt & Whitney, the program must have at least three customers, including at least one from outside Japan, before the U.S. engine maker will proceed with the bulk of its work. People familiar with the situation said Pratt officials are confident that the original launch criteria will be met.

Pratt has spent roughly $1 billion over the last 20 years to develop its new engine, called the geared turbofan. It includes a gearbox just behind the main fan blade that enables the fan and the internal engine parts to spin at different speeds. Pratt says this allows it to run more efficiently, burning about 12% less fuel and making less noise than today's engines. In recent months, Mitsubishi and Bombardier have chosen this engine to power their planned new airplanes, giving the engine maker a chance to prove its case.

In what could prove to be an important alliance, Mitsubishi Heavy has persuaded Boeing to participate in the program by working together to adapt elements of the same carbon-fiber composite technology being used in Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner. Three Japanese heavy-industry companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy, are major financial partners with Boeing on the bigger jet, so they already have experience with these materials. By incorporating composite materials that don't corrode or fatigue with age, Japanese officials hope to differentiate their product from competitors who rely largely on aluminum.

Mitsubishi Heavy and Japanese government officials had hoped that Boeing would sign on as a significant investor in the project, but the Chicago company declined, saying it needed to focus on getting its delayed Dreamliner out the door. 'We will participate in a limited way. Discussions are underway to determine exactly what will be of most value to the program,' said a Boeing executive familiar with the talks.

According to people familiar with the situation, Mitsubishi also is in talks with U.S. leasing giant International Lease Finance Corp. about a possible deal in which it would order up to 100 of the jets and then sign on as the world-wide distributor for the jet.

While an agreement is far from certain, it would be a huge boost for the fledgling jet program. By renting new airplanes to growing airlines, ILFC seeded hundreds of Airbus planes at airlines world-wide during the European plane maker's infancy.

In a recent interview, ILFC founder and Chief Executive Steven Udvar-Hazy called the Mitsubishi jet 'a promising project,' but he stopped short of saying how soon ILFC might make a decision. 'Regional jets are a market we have been looking at very closely,' Mr. Udvar-Hazy said.

He said ILFC has also been watching the development of Bombardier's planned C-Series regional jet, which would compete with the Japanese aircraft. Bombardier has been actively seeking customers for its airplane but has yet to officially launch the program.

J. Lynn Lunsford / Norihiko Shirouzu / Bruce Stanley


這新聞竟然沒提供 LINK 簡直落後甚多

DATE 2008/03/28


  電氣數位博物館以上世紀80年代為中心,收集了日本開發的約4000項技術資訊,對約600個項目進行了解說。各項目除了專業解說之外,還包括英語譯 文以及“設想面向中學2年級學生”(國立資訊學研究所前所長現顧問末松安晴)的入門解說。但截至目前,英語譯文僅為約150件。


  該博物館刊載的資訊除了能夠利用谷歌等搜索網站訪問之外,該博物館內也備有搜索引擎,提高了可搜索性。內容的複製和再利用方面,對個人非營利目的使用以及學校相關者用於教育目的時,原則上自由。(記者:野澤 哲生)


2008年3月23日 星期日

'ambassador' Doraemon


Japan's new 'ambassador' is drawn to the job


Tokyo -- Japan has created an unusual government post to promote animation, and named a perfect figure to the position: a popular cartoon robot cat named Doraemon.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura appointed the cat as "anime ambassador" at an inauguration ceremony yesterday. Komura handed a human-sized Doraemon doll an official ambassador's certificate, along with dozens of "dorayaki" red bean pancakes - his favourite dessert - piled on a huge plate.

The appointment is part of Japan's recent effort to harness the power of pop culture in diplomacy.

Japan created an International Manga Award last year under comic-book enthusiast and former foreign minister Taro Aso.

2008年3月15日 星期六



「作家寫作。作曲家作曲。畫家繪畫。工人做工。大體上說,你所作所為,注定你是甚麼人,也會使你變成甚麼人。也可以這麼說,那就是你是何等人,你生來是塊甚麼料子,就會使你做那種料子能做的事。你的外在所作所為,與你的內在是相配的。你是生活在『表裡一體』之中的。」(竟然忘掉誰的文字,謹向作者致謝:同樣的話,著名心理學家B. F. Skinner 在回憶錄說過。)

Sucking out cash from the taxpayer honey pot


Used books come in all kinds and prices. Some are a dime a dozen, while rare books command exorbitant prices. For instance, a well-preserved first edition set of the three-volume "Wagahai wa Neko de Aru" (I Am a Cat) by novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) can apparently fetch about 3 million yen.

I hear that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism owns a set of extraordinary volumes that would surprise even the literary feline in Natsume's novel. Reportedly, the production cost was around 30 million yen per copy.

The volumes are supposed to be a report on overseas roads, but the content is very thin. The book project was funded by road-specific tax revenues.

Goshi Hosono, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) Lower House legislator looking into the matter, posed questions in the Diet recently. He found out that the transport ministry commissioned the Infrastructure Development Institute-Japan to do the book project--for 90 million yen.

Not surprisingly, this institute provides amakudari cushy jobs to retired ministry officials. The institute took three months to put the report together, but had only three volumes printed and bound. There is little doubt the institute knew nobody was going to read it.

Much of the content was reportedly "borrowed" from the World Bank's published materials and online encyclopedia entries. There is nothing in it to indicate the institute did any independent analysis or research.

"This report was commissioned solely for the purpose of bankrolling a haven for retired officials," said an irate Hosono. "Obviously, (the officials responsible) are completely under the illusion that taxpayers' money is their money."

The image I have is that of many straws stuck into a potful of tax money. It is obvious to anyone that the institute's report is just one of these straws. Public funds are being sucked away liberally, spilled like bath water down a drain.

"Government officials are the servants of the people," says the cat in Natsume's novel. The feline then goes on to lament the erosion of the spirit of public service, noting that officials have become so accustomed to power, they think they can ignore the public completely.

Natsume wrote his book a century ago. But the cat's lament and Hosono's anger are one and the same, and I am truly disgusted to see that no progress has been made in a hundred years.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 13(IHT/Asahi: March 14,2008)

2008年3月13日 星期四



  IDC日本(東京千代田)3月11日公佈的數據顯示,2007年日本國內手機市場(按供貨量計算),夏普連續兩年佔有率首位。第二位與去年一樣,仍然 是松下行動通訊。包括由上年的第六位上升至第三位的富士通,前三位的佔有率都實現增長,三家公司佔有率合計幾乎佔到整個市場的一半,壟斷趨勢進一步加劇。

  夏普的佔有率為25.1%,比上年增長6.5個百分點。以液晶電視品牌冠名的“AQUOS Mobile Phone”等高功能機型業績良好。松下行動通訊的佔有率為13.2%,增長0.8個百分點。前兩家公司向NTT DoCoMo、KDDI(au)及軟銀移動三家公司均有供貨這一點也非常具有優勢。

  富士通面向中老年推出的操作簡單的“易用手機”被市場接受,獲得了11.5%(上年的佔有率未公佈)的佔有率。新力愛立信行動通訊的佔有率為6%左右,排在第六位。已決定退出的三菱電機的佔有率為4%左右。(3月12日 《日本經濟新聞》晨報)

  【日經BP社報導】 《日經電子》拆解組委託從事手機拆解調查的Fomalhaut Technology Solutions(東京都江東區)拆解了兩款最新手機。這兩款機型都是以相機為賣點的產品。此次介紹的是NTT DoCoMo于2月中旬推出的“Cyber-shot SO905iCS”。由新力愛立信行動通訊(Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications)開發。這是一款以新力數位相機的品牌名稱“Cyber-shot”冠名的手機,配備有光學3倍變焦及笑臉檢測等功能。下次 將介紹的是KDDI的手機“W61CA”。製造商是卡西歐電腦。該手機也配備有“EXILIM ENGINE for mobile”。

  SO905iCS是一款在其他手機紛紛配備單波段接收功能的形勢下,毅然放棄該功能,而致力於數位相機功能的手機。拆解結果顯示,該機型內置 有比通常情況大得多的相機模組。相機模組的體積佔整個機身的近8%。與此形成對比的是此次同時拆解的W61CA中,相機模組所佔的體積不足0.1%。


相機模組、光學系統以及基板照片。由Fomalhaut Technology Solutions提供

產品名稱 Cyber-shot SO905iCS
廠商 新力愛立信行動通訊
外形尺寸 13mm×50mm×24mm(合上滑蓋時)
重量 約145g
連續待機時間 約520小時(靜止狀態下)
連續通話時間 約220分鐘(語音),約120分鐘(影像電話)
螢幕 約2.7吋(橫480畫素×縱864畫素)
記憶卡 microSD卡
相機 有效畫素數約510萬(主),有效畫素數約32萬(副)
電池 3.7V,870mAh







2008年3月10日 星期一

Japan's Mittelstand Under pressure

Japan's Mittelstand (德文 小企業 )

Under pressure

Mar 6th 2008 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition

Small firms, the bedrock of Japanese industrial might, face hard times

THE bouquet of flowers at Densho, a 150-person company one hour's drive from Tokyo, is the pride of Iwao Sumoge, the shacho, 社長 or president. The firm specialises in cleaning parts of machines that make semiconductors, in which a speck of dust is intolerable. It also thins the glass displays for mobile phones by using a special chemical process, rather than grinding. It provides these intricate services to some of Japan's biggest corporate behemoths.

behemoth PhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhonetic Phonetic PhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhoneticPhonetic Hide phonetics
noun [C] FORMAL
something that is extremely large and often extremely powerful:
a grocery chain behemoth

The flowers were sent by a business partner to congratulate Densho after it registered to be treated as a medium-sized enterprise, rather than a small business. The company, founded two decades ago, is toying with the idea of a public listing—not to raise money, but because it is often done in Japan to symbolise a firm's maturity.

The success of Densho, and of hundreds of small businesses like it across Japan, is underappreciated. Japan's big companies—Toyota, Canon, Sony and so on—are well known. But their success rests on the foundation provided by Japan's small and medium-sized firms (those known in Germany as the Mittelstand).

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), defined in the manufacturing sector as those having capital below ¥300m ($3m) or fewer than 300 employees, represent 99.7% of companies in Japan. They employ around 70% of the workforce and account for half of manufacturing by value. Many of them are found in clusters, in areas such as Tokyo's Ota ward and the city of Higashi-osaka. They specialise in fields such as electronics manufacturing, precision engineering and fine chemicals. A few date back centuries.

As in Germany, many of these anonymous, often family-run small companies boast world-class technology that enables big firms to succeed. But in Japan, firms like Densho are becoming the exception rather than the rule. There is a huge spectrum of small firms, notes Atsushi Seike, an economist at Keio University. Though some are thriving, many are miserable, he says. Indeed, business sentiment among SMEs is at a five-year low, for a number of reasons.

In recent years big firms have put pressure on their suppliers, forcing them to cut prices and accept lower margins. Most small firms find it difficult to refuse, because they rely on a single, anchor company for much of their business, observes Takatoshi Miura of the SME Agency at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Much of the profit made by Japan's big exporters since the economy rebounded in 2002 has come from squeezing their smaller brethren.

Wages at big companies increased slightly last year but dipped at small firms. And the productivity of SMEs in the manufacturing sector (defined as value added per employee) is half that of large companies—and even worse in non-manufacturing industries. Overall, Japanese firms are 30% less productive than their American counterparts, notes Hiroko Ota, the minister of economy. Meanwhile, Japan's manufacturing industry is under increasing pressure from Chinese firms offering improving quality, large volumes and low prices. Rising energy and transport costs and the fragility of the Japanese economy only add to the pain.

Accordingly, Japan's Mittelstand is struggling. Only about one-third of firms with less than ¥100m in capital are profitable, according to the tax agency, compared with half of larger firms (see chart). Admittedly, creative accounting—padding expenses, and generous tax deductions for research and development—exaggerates the bad news somewhat. But it is still bad.

Weak companies tend to have been sustained by easy bank loans. Politicians put huge pressure on small and regional banks to lend money on generous terms. Around 70% of SMEs applied for loans without any collateral or guarantee, according to a survey carried out in 2003 by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Things have been tightened up a bit since then, but loans are still considered an acceptable substitute for providing unemployment assistance, says a government economist. Because the bankruptcy rate in Japan is low and takeovers are rare, bad companies do not go away and good companies can only grow organically. The resulting overcapacity hurts everyone, says Laurent Halmos of CLSA, a brokerage.

The government has recently implemented a number of measures to help small firms. In December it said it would provide subsidies to compensate for rising energy prices, and would make it even easier for small firms to get loans. In the same month METI proposed spending $20m to help SMEs become more efficient by adopting software for accounting, human resources and supply-chain management.

None of this will magically transform the fortunes of Japan's ailing small firms, however. The success stories are those, like Densho, that combine technical acumen with innovative business practices to carve out niches. Another example is Nabeya Bi-tech Kaisha (NBK), a medium-sized firm in Gifu, central Japan, which makes high-precision machine parts, from large pulleys to tiny shaft-couplings.

Instead of churning out standardised products in high volumes and at low prices, it concentrates on expensive, customised components made in small quantities—a natural evolution from its origins in 1560 as a foundry making pots, temple bells and lanterns for the imperial family. “We want to do business like a sushi bar: the customer is right in front of you, orders different things, and a highly skilled artisan makes it right away,” says Masahide Satoh, a senior manager at the firm.

Many small firms now face the looming problem of succession. Though some are much older, a lot of Japan's SMEs sprung up in the post-war period, following the breakdown of the former business order. Their bosses, now in their 70s, are ready to hand over the reins. The strongest firms are selling up—once their owners find buyers willing to guarantee the welfare of their staff. As for the laggards, some business leaders are unsympathetic. “If they are not very good, they deserve to go away,” says Mr Sumoge of Densho, revealing a flash of his samurai ancestry. Eventually the weaker firms will go bust or be taken over. But like everything in Japan, it will happen slowly.

2008年3月6日 星期四

Japan's passenger plane project

Toyota nears entry into MHI's jet project



Toyota Motor Corp. has entered the final stage of talks to invest about 10 billion yen in a small passenger jet project led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., sources said.

If Toyota joins the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) project, it would be the automaker's first entry into the aircraft industry.

Mitsubishi Heavy plans to set up an operating company for the project as early as April to finance Japan's first domestically developed passenger jet, according to the sources.

The participation by a big-name company with ample funds like Toyota would provide a tremendous boost to the MRJ project.

The operating company for the project would be capitalized at about 100 billion yen, with Mitsubishi Heavy covering 60 percent and Mitsubishi Corp. also chipping in.

The heavy machinery maker has been calling on a range of companies, including domestic manufacturers associated with the airline industry, trading houses and banks, to participate.

Mitsubishi Heavy has said it will start implementing the project if it receives advance orders for 100 jets. A decision is expected at the end of this month.

Japan Airlines Corp., All Nippon Airways Co. as well as U.S. and European carriers have shown interest, according to the sources.

The project is designed to create two models of a next-generation passenger jet--one that seats around 70 and the other around 90.

The MRJ is expected to be lighter and far more fuel-efficient than existing jets because it will use a carbon fiber composite material for 30 percent of its fuselage. Japan has advanced production technologies for this material.

The heavy machinery maker has been conducting research for the planned MRJ since 2003. The inauguration of the jet is set for 2012.

The government has promoted domestic development of a passenger jet, but the estimated cost of 150 billion yen has been a sticking point.

Toyota Motor has shown interest in the robotics and aircraft industries.

In fact, documents show that Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of what is now the world's largest automaker in terms of production, pushed for aircraft research in the 1930s, when the company was a start-up.

In 1991, Toyota set up a department to prepare for entry into the aircraft business, but it later abandoned the attempt.

Mitsubishi Heavy in autumn last year announced that U.S.-based Pratt & Whitney will supply engines for the project.

In February, Mitsubishi Heavy picked five companies to supply major components of the MRJ.

If completed, the MRJ would be Japan's second domestically produced passenger plane in the postwar years after the propeller-driven YS-11.(IHT/Asahi: March 6,2008)

Crows in Tokyo

Urban crows the ideal city street sweepers


Even when perched alone atop a utility pole, a crow always appears to be up to no good. When I pass near one, I brace myself. These birds are smart and have been known to attack people on occasion.

According to a survey released recently by the Tokyo metropolitan government, the number of crows in the capital has risen for the first time in six years. At the end of December, there were about 18,200 crows, a 10-percent jump from the previous year.

While that number is still half the peak crow population of 2001, the sudden increase is due to the fact that the number of captured crows decreased. The Tokyo metropolitan government will continue to hunt down and kill the birds, until their population drops to around 7,000, the same level as 1985.

However, other measures to keep them from proliferating, such as covering trash bags containing food scraps with nets when they are put out on the street to be picked up, are not fully working, especially in busy downtown areas, local government officials say. Since Tokyo-bred crows are well-nourished, they lay four to five eggs at a time--more than their counterparts elsewhere produce. So simply capturing them has its limits.

Michio Matsuda, author of "Karasu wa naze Tokyo ga Sukinanoka" (Why do crows like Tokyo?) published by Heibonsha Ltd. Publishers, believes the city's complex structure somehow resembles the forests that crows originated in. Also, in the economic bubble years of the late 1980s to early 1990s, food waste increased. Trash bags, formerly sold only in black, were changed to translucent ones to enable easier checks of whether the trash was properly sorted.

Just as they can spy small animals from a treetop, crows easily see raw garbage from a utility pole.

"When I look at them individually, I find them cute," said an exterminator. Yet, no bird is as much abhorred as the crow, even though they just do what comes naturally. "We have created an image that tanuki (raccoon dogs) are dumb while foxes are smart. But aren't our perceptions of these animals also different from their true natures?" Matsuda asks. His question opened my eyes. Crows are actually playful urban street sweepers.

Experts say city crows depend on human activities for more than half of their food. The rise and fall of their population also reflects the wastefulness of our eating habits. If that is true, we must start with cutting back on the food we throw away. The breeding season for "innocent" crows is starting again this year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 5(IHT/Asahi: March 6,2008)