2009年7月31日 星期五

Road to JAL crash site improved

Road to JAL crash site improved



UENO, Gunma Prefecture--Improvements to a road built to enable aging mourners to reach the site of the nation's worst air disaster on a mountain ridge here have been completed.

The crash of JAL Flight 123 on Aug. 12, 1985, killed 520 of the 524 passengers and crew members aboard.

The repairs, which began this spring, were the first to be undertaken after the road to Osutaka-no-One ridge was built soon after the accident.

The improvements include 830 stairs and 438 meters of handrails on steep portions.(IHT/Asahi: August 1,2009)

ASIA 200--Toyota Is First Across the Finish Line in Japan

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. last year achieved its long term goal of becoming the world's largest auto maker by sales volume, beating out long time rival General Motors Corp.

But it was a bittersweet victory, a distinction earned during one of the worst years for auto makers, as car sales crumbled world-wide amid the global recession and GM and Chrysler Group LLC filed for bankruptcy.

The Japanese auto giant posted a record loss for the fiscal year ended March 2008, and is braced for an even deeper loss this year.

[Toyota photo] Associated Press

The Toyota logo is seen on the hood of a Prius Hybrid.

And yet, few auto makers are as well-positioned to make a comeback in this tumultuous market as Toyota, which helps explain why the auto maker finished atop voting of the overall most-admired companies in Japan in a survey of subscribers of The Wall Street Journal Asia and other businesspeople.

Armed with huge financial reserves, an aggressive cost-cutting strategy and an expanding line of fuel-efficient cars, Toyota is plotting its recovery from its toughest period in its 71-year history.

The revival effort is being led by Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, who took over as president in June. The 53-year-old, U.S.-educated executive is promising to return the company to its core values of thrift and efficiency and to respond to consumers' needs.

"Toyota has overcome many challenges during its seven decades of business. What has made this possible is the way we make our cars under our "customer first" and genchi genbutsu principles," Mr. Toyoda said in his first press conference as president in June, referring to the leadership maxim that essentially encourages managers to get out of the office and go to the source of the problem.

The ability to anticipate drivers' needs and stay ahead of competitors help explain why Toyota, along with being the overall winner, led the Japanese field of companies in the featured category of "Management Has Long-Term Vision."

Toyota's Prius remains the best example of the kind cutting-edge technology that has allowed Toyota to stay a step ahead of its rivals.

More than decade ago, while Detroit was betting on the success of full-sized sedans, SUVs and trucks, Toyota introduced its first Prius hybrid to the market. It got 41 miles per gallon (17 kilometers per liter).

[Consumer Spending chart]

Many rivals dismissed the gas and battery-powered car as little more than a fad. But Toyota executives believed the fuel-sipping Prius was the future. Drivers agreed. Toyota has sold more than a million of the iconic cars since it was introduced in 1997 and has set a goal of selling one million hybrids per year by the early 2010s. The car maker has dominated the hybrid market with more than a 70% market share in the U.S. By 2020, the company plans to offer a hybrid version of all vehicles in its lineup.

Toyota's third-generation Prius, with an EPA-rated mileage of 50 mpg (21 kpl), hit showrooms this spring and has been a hit in Japan.

Toyota is betting that gas-sipping cars like the Prius will help drive sales as governments world-wide toughen fuel-economy standards and implement scrapping incentives for owners of older vehicles and tax breaks for efficient cars.

Toyota has also won accolades for its iQ, an ultra compact four-seat car meant to prove that small cars can offer style, safety and spaciousness. In designing the vehicles, Toyota had to rethink the way it makes cars, flattening the fuel tank, making seats thinner and reducing the size of the air-conditioning system. The engineering breakthroughs used to design the iQ will be used on the company's other small cars in the future, Toyota says.

Survey participants also voted Toyota No. 1 in the categories of financial reputation and good company reputation.

[Japan top chart]

Japanese videogame maker Nintendo Co. topped the category of "innovative in responding to customers needs" and was ranked No. 2 most-admired company in the country. Panasonic Corp., which ranked No. 3 in the most-admired company list, won the "high quality services and products" category.

Toyota's consistent high ranking in the readership survey is a reflection of the company's impressive global expansion. For the past decade, the company grew at a breakneck pace, recording a net profit of 1.72 trillion yen ($18.11 billion) in the year ended March 2008.

But Toyota hit a speed bump during the global financial crisis and recession, tripping up its aggressive expansion plans as sales around the world plummeted.

Just over a year ago, Toyota had ambitious plans to sell a record 10.4 million cars in 2009. But with bloated inventories, a credit crunch and sagging demand world-wide, Toyota is now aiming to sell 6.5 million vehicles this year, one million less than last year.

Many of Toyota's woes are in North America, its largest market and home to seven of its 36 assembly plants. As demand fell, Toyota has scrambled to scale back production there, laying off or idling workers at some plants and suspending the opening of a new plant in Mississippi.

Toyota executives says the country perhaps grew too big too fast, making it difficult to throttle back its production levels as quickly as it should have during the sudden decline in demand last year.

Toyota made an ill-timed decision with a $1 billion new plant in San Antonio to produce the Tundra. Sales of the truck never reached expected volumes. Just one of the plant's two production lines is now in operation.

"I do not think we were wrong to expand our business to meet the needs of customers around the world but we may have stretched more than we should have," Mr. Toyoda said.

Adding to Toyota's woes, the strong yen, which diminishes the value of the company's overseas earnings, eroded profits. For the fiscal year ended March 2009, Toyota posted a 436.8 billion yen loss and is forecasting a net loss of 550 billion yen for the current fiscal year.

As Toyota maps out its recovery, Mr. Toyoda has taken a personal pay cut of 30%, vowed to cut 800 billion yen in fixed costs over the next year and called on the company to focus more on making quality products, not pursuing profits and rapid growth as it has during the last decade of global expansion.

To that end, the car maker has shaken up its management structure so its executive vice presidents will take responsibility for different regions of the world, allowing the company to respond quickly to opportunities to expand or take a step back.

"Rather than asking, 'How many cars will we sell?' or, 'How much money will we make by selling these cars?' we need to ask ourselves, 'What kind of cars will make people happy?' as well as, 'What pricing will attract them in each region?' Then we must make those cars," Mr. Toyoda said.

Write to John Murphy at john.murphy@wsj.com

2009年7月27日 星期一

The Well-Paid Flirt

The Well-Paid Flirt

Published: July 27, 2009

TOKYO — The women who pour drinks in Japan’s sleek gentlemen’s clubs were once shunned because their duties were considered immodest: lavishing adoring (albeit nonsexual) attention on men for a hefty fee.

Skip to next paragraph
Yuli Weeks for The New York Times

The hostess Mineri Hayashi at Club Celux in Tokyo. More Photos »

But with that line of work, called hostessing, among the most lucrative jobs available to women and with the country neck-deep in a recession, hostess positions are increasingly coveted, and hostesses themselves are gaining respectability and even acclaim. Japan’s worst recession since World War II is changing mores.

“More women from a diversity of backgrounds are looking for hostess work,” said Kentaro Miura, who helps manage seven clubs in Kabuki-cho, Tokyo’s glittering red-light district. “There is less resistance to becoming a hostess. In fact, it’s seen as a glamorous job.”

But behind this trend is a less-than-glamorous reality. Employment opportunities for young women, especially those with no college education, are often limited to low-paying, dead-end jobs or temp positions.

Even before the economic downturn, almost 70 percent of women ages 20 to 24 worked jobs with few benefits and little job security, according to a government labor survey. The situation has worsened in the recession.

For that reason, a growing number of Japanese women seem to believe that work as a hostess, which can easily pay $100,000 a year, and as much as $300,000 for the biggest stars, makes economic sense.

Even part-time hostesses and those at the low end of the pay scale earn at least $20 an hour, almost twice the rate of most temp positions.

In a 2009 survey of 1,154 high school girls, by the Culture Studies Institute in Tokyo, hostessing ranked No. 12 out of the 40 most popular professions, ahead of public servant (18) and nurse (22).

“It’s only when you’re young that you can earn money just by drinking with men,” said Mari Hamada, 17.

Many of the cabaret clubs, or kyabakura, are swank establishments of dark wood and plush cushions, where waiters in bow ties and hostesses in evening gowns flit about guests sipping fantastically expensive wine.

Some hostesses work to pay their way through college or toward a vocational degree, or to save up to start their own businesses.

Hostessing does not involve prostitution, though religious and women’s groups point out that hostesses can be pressured into having sex with clients, and that hostessing can be an entry point into Japan’s sprawling underground sex industry.

Hostesses say that those are rare occurrences, and that exhaustion from a life of partying is a more common hazard in their profession.

Young women are drawn nonetheless to Cinderella stories like that of Eri Momoka, a single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories.

“I often get fan mail from young girls in elementary school who say they want to be like me,” said Ms. Momoka, 27, interviewed in her trademark seven-inch heels. “To a little girl, a hostess is like a modern-day princess.”

Even one member of the Japanese Parliament, Kazumi Ota, was a hostess. That revelation once would have ignited a huge scandal, but it has not. She will run for re-election on the leading opposition party ticket, the Democratic Party of Japan, in the national election next month, and the ticket is expected to unseat the ruling party.

It is unclear how many hostesses work in Japan. In Tokyo alone, about 13,000 establishments offer late-night entertainment by hostesses (and some male hosts), including members-only clubs frequented by politicians and company executives, as well as cheaper cabaret clubs.

Hostesses tend to drinks, offer attentive conversation and accompany men on dates off premises, but do not generally have sex for money. (Men who seek that can go to prostitutes, though prostitution is illegal.)

Hostesses are often ranked according to popularity among clients, with the No. 1 of each club assuming the status of a star.

Mineri Hayashi has made it to the top of her club, Celux, six years after coming to Tokyo from northern Japan. One recent evening, she readied herself for an elaborate birthday event her club was throwing in her honor.

Outside the club, bigger-than-life posters of Ms. Hayashi adorned the street. At the club, a dozen men put up balloons and lined up Champagne bottles.

The club’s clientele is diverse, including workaday salarymen, business owners and other men unwinding after work.

Celux hopes to make more than $60,000 on Ms. Hayashi’s birthday party, which will be attended by scores of regulars.

“Life has been fun, and I want to keep on having fun,” Ms. Hayashi said, placing a tiara in her hair. She talks of plans to retire next year and travel abroad.

Her 17-year-old sister, who also wants to be a hostess, may succeed her. Ms. Hayashi is supportive. “I just want her to be happy,” she said.

Popular culture is also fueling hostessing’s popularity. TV sitcoms are starting to depict cabaret hostesses as women building successful careers. Hostesses are also writing best-selling books, be they on money management or the art of conversation.

A magazine that features hostess fashion has become wildly popular with women outside the trade, who mimic the heavily made-up eyes and big, coiffed hair.

But Serina Hoshino, 24, another Tokyo hostess, is exhausted from the late nights and heavy drinking.

Slumped in her chair at the M.A.C. hair salon, she talked about endless after-hours dates with clients. Stumbling back home at dawn, she sleeps the rest of the day. On her days off, she hardly leaves her apartment.

Her reward is about $16,000 a month, almost 10 times the salary of most women her age.

“It’s nice to be independent, but it’s very stressful,” Ms. Hoshino said, speaking through a cloud of hair spray and cigarette smoke.

In recent months, clubs have also started to feel the squeeze of the bad economy. Hostess wages are starting to fall to as little as $16 an hour. Still, that rate remains above many daytime jobs here.

So, the young women keep coming. The Kabuki-cho district is lined with dark-suited scouts recruiting women. One club recruiter said some women turn up to interviews with their mothers in tow, which never would have happened when the job was less respectable.

“Women are being laid off from daytime jobs and so look for work with us,” said Hana Nakagawa, who runs a placement agency for higher-end clubs in Tokyo.

She gets about 40 inquiries a week from women looking for hostess jobs, twice as many as before the downturn.

Atsushi Miura, an expert on the issue, says hostessing will be popular among Japanese women as long as other well-paying jobs are scarce.

“Some people still say hostesses are wasting their life away,” he said. “But rather than criticizing them, Japan should create more jobs for young women.”

2009年7月13日 星期一

Japan's Love Hotels

BBC 報導日本這種love hotels 二千多家 沒有一家非常有名的連瑣 某英國人現在有六家

No room at Japan's Love Hotels at Christmas

By Jonathan Head
BBC, Tokyo

Like many other non-Christian countries, Japan has got into the habit of celebrating Christmas.

But as well as the usual decorations and presents, the Japanese have also made this season into an uniquely romantic one.

Love Hotel
Guests pay according to how many hours they stay
For the country's famous Love Hotels - fantastic-looking roadside buildings which beckon travellers with flashes of neon - this is by far their busiest time of year.

Christmas Eve has, for reasons no-one has been able to explain to me, become the most romantic night of the calendar.

At a time when many Christians are in church, it has become a tradition for young couples to enjoy their first moments of passion; for suitors to propose marriage; for older couples to escape the noisy confines of the family home for a rare night of intimacy.

Ideally, this should happen in a luxury hotel. But these are booked up months in advance, and are beyond the pockets of many Japanese.

2009年7月4日 星期六

Journeys Japanese Baseball: Root, Root, Root and Buy Me Some Eel


Japanese Baseball: Root, Root, Root and Buy Me Some Eel

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Japanese baseball fans, like these at a Yomiuri Giants game in the Tokyo Dome, don’t sit on their hands.

Published: July 5, 2009

HANAMI, or cherry-blossom viewing, is jokingly referred to as the most popular spectator sport in Japan. In truth, the title belongs to baseball.

But “spectator” is a misnomer, because attending a baseball game in Japan involves active, enthusiastic participation.

On a Sunday afternoon in April, I was crammed into a seat in the upper deck of the Tokyo Dome to watch the biggest rivalry in Japanese baseball — Japan’s version of a New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox match-up. The Yomiuri Giants were set to battle the visiting Hanshin Tigers, whose devoted fans made up nearly half of the crowd of about 44,000 in the jam-packed stadium.

As soon as the game began, so did the coordinated cheering. Led by cheer captains in the outfield bleachers, the batting team’s fans chanted, sang and rhythmically banged plastic bats for every pitch to every batter. Their deafening, synchronized roar dominated the dome. Each hit ignited a burst of still louder cheers and frantic towel waving.

“It’s a manifestation of perfectionism,” said Robert Whiting, the author of several books on Japanese culture and baseball. “If you are going to be a fan, then you have to go all the way.”

Yet the fans of the team in the field maintained a respectful hush, interrupted only by an exuberant wave of applause after each out. Questionable calls were never booed. No jeers rang out when an error was made. These fans radiated only love for their teams.

Love and an endless reserve of energy. After 12 innings of play — and 4 hours 36 minutes of sustained cheering — the score was still tied, 6-6. And that’s when everyone packed up their paraphernalia and quietly shuffled out of the stadium. Game over.

The lack of resolution was unnerving. But in Japan, ties are not uncommon because games are called after 12 innings — win, lose or draw. The game I attended was only the Giants’ ninth of the season, but already their second tie.

Otherwise, the rules of game play for the 12 teams in Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s equivalent of Major League Baseball, are largely the same as those used in the American version. As in the United States, there are two major leagues in Japan, with one, the Pacific League, allowing the designated hitter, and the other, the Central League, eschewing it.

The regular season runs from early April to October, with each team playing 144 games, compared with 162 in America. It is followed by playoffs that culminate in a championship series, called the Nippon Series, in early November.

The Giants were the Central League champions last year, but lost the final series to the Pacific’s Saitama Seibu Lions, 4 games to 3.

Even visitors who aren’t particularly interested in the sport itself will find that attending a baseball game in Japan provides an illuminating peek into Japanese culture and an opportunity to taste some culinary curiosities. Concession stands around the stadium offer a dizzying variety of food options — many of which are completely unidentifiable to untrained foreign eyes.

One recognizable item, however, is the ubiquitous bento box. Stacked neatly beside photographs of their contents, the boxes can contain pretty much anything — sushi, tofu, grilled eel, rice balls with egg, and pickled vegetables are just some of the possibilities.

Fried mashed-potato balls are a pleasant substitute for French fries, but the more daring will opt for takoyaki, small dough balls filled with octopus. Hot dogs are also for sale, though it’s much more fun to battle a bowl of slippery soba noodles with chopsticks. And if the Baskin-Robbins ice cream stand is familiar, some of its perplexingly named flavors — like the refreshing Popping Shower (it’s minty) — are not.

To round out the gustatory experience, try sipping some sake or whiskey.

The long lines that are common at concession stands in American ballparks are blissfully absent. Perhaps that is because Japan has beer girls.

Running up and down the aisles with pony kegs strapped to their backs, the smiling young girls are easy to spot in their colorful uniforms and matching caps (not to mention their shorts with hemlines as short as sartorially possible). In a subtle nod to Daisuke Matsuzaka, a favorite Japanese player now pitching in the United States, one girl selling Asahi beer — and practically glowing in her neon orange, lime green and royal blue uniform — had a Red Sox towel tucked into her shirt and matching bright red knee-socks.

For the benefit of beer girls and fans alike, shrill whistles warned of every incoming foul ball, after which officials rushed to the impact site to check for injuries. The seats closest to the field even came with protective helmets and gloves.

Furthering the calculated effort to accommodate all and irritate none, glassed-in smoking lounges featured televisions showing the game. And for entertainment during some of the lulls between innings, Giants cheerleaders in white gloves and orange leg warmers flipped and danced on the field.

A few days after the tie in Tokyo, I caught a Tigers home game against the Chunichi Dragons at Hanshin Koshien Stadium, the country’s oldest, having opened in 1924. Situated just outside Osaka, Koshien was packed with the home team’s fans, which made their seventh inning tradition a spectacular event. After gleefully blowing up jumbo baseball-bat-shaped balloons — a seventh inning stretch of the lungs, not legs — the crowd released the colorful balloons in unison to awesome effect.

The former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Hideki Okajima, who now plays with Mr. Matsuzaka for the Boston Red Sox, described Koshien Stadium as a “party house” in a recent e-mail exchange (conducted with the help of a translator). He added that while playing for the rival Giants, he “almost feared visiting Koshien because of the fans there. When Tigers hitters are at the plate, fans don’t stop singing, beating drums and waving the flags.”

And the game I attended was no different. Living up to their raucous reputation, the fans created a heady, carnival-like atmosphere.

Two innings later, when the Tigers clinched a 4-3 victory, the crowd offered a second, equally dazzling balloon display. As the players celebrated in the middle of the dark brown, all-dirt infield, fans cheered and balloons rocketed around the stands like confetti fireworks. On this night, there was plenty of joy in Mudville.


The English version of the Nippon Professional Baseball official Web site, www.npb.or.jp/eng, has a calendar listing all coming games in 2009 and information on all 12 teams.


The Yomiuri Giants play at the Tokyo Dome (1-3 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo), and their last regular season home game this year will be on Sept. 27.

The Hanshin Tigers play at Hanshin Koshien Stadium outside of Osaka (1-82 Koshien-cho, Nishinomiya), and their last regular season home game will be on Sept. 20. Balloons can be bought at the stadium.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows play across town from the Giants at Jingu Stadium (3-1 Kasumigaoka-machi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo). Their last regular season home game will be on Sept. 30.


Although it may be possible to buy same-day walk-up tickets at the stadiums, Giants and Tigers games often sell out so it is recommended that visitors purchase tickets in advance.

For Giants home games, print-at-home tickets are available online at gticket.e-tix.jp/en/ticket_pc_en.php (in English). Prices run from 1,700 yen for the outfield bleachers, about $17.35 at 98 yen to the dollar, to 5,900 yen ($60) for seats behind home plate.

Tickets for the other teams cost generally slightly less. They can be bought in advance at stadium ticket windows or at convenience stores (including FamilyMart, 7-Eleven, Lawson and ampm), through a variety of machines, some of which are difficult to identify and all of which are in Japanese. But if you present the relevant information written in Japanese (including date, venue, teams and preferred seat location), store employees are often happy to help navigate whatever type of ticket kiosk is located in the store.