Monday, June 24, 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Japanese print media question safety of food imports from China

The Japanese tabloid media have found something new to complain about China. Some features in news magazines lately have been warning people about the safety of food and ingredients imported from China. But officials from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said there are no major problems that are specific to Chinese food of late.

Yukan Fuji news magazine’s cover story last week features steps on how to cleanse any “highly toxic” product imported from China, which includes peeling the outer layers of onions and dipping the vegetables in boiling oil. Nikkan Gendai meanwhile had a headline saying “Extremely toxic rice from China has landed in Japan.” Even one of the more respectable news magazines Aera cited in an article published last May 23 the numerous food safety violations coming from China. Apparently for the past year, there have been 222 incidents with fresh or frozen vegetables, 112 cases with peanuts, 77 with other vegetables, 166 concerning frozen prepared food, 61 with shellfish and 97 concerning cooked meat products. Other publications have also taken issue with ingredients coming from China which are then used in Japanese-brand processed foodstuffs.

Hiroyuki Nagayama, a spokesman for the Imported Food Security Division from the ministry said that the most prevalent issue with Chinese food is pesticide residue, but that “has not been such a major problem” of late. He also emphasized that the food violations are not just specific to products imported from China; other countries like US and Thailand also have minor violations. The last major scare from a product from China came in 2008 when dozens of people were taken ill after eating dumplings from China that had insecticide. Tinyan Food Processing immediately stopped production and exporting the dumplings and the Japanese government asked Beijing to investigate the matter and make sure it never happens again.

Roy Larke, a professor of international marketing and Japanese business at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University said that instead of just worrying about product coming from China, the government should take responsibility on ensuring that the food people consume is safe. He said that they should have final say on “the quality control of the Japanese supermarkets and intermediary import suppliers.” 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shareholder rebellion claims five scalps at Glencore

Glencore Xstrata was the subject of a boardroom clear-out as shareholders at the newly formed mining giant moved to punish directors for a controversial multimillion-pound "golden handcuffs" package proposed ahead of the mega-merger.

Its chairman, the City veteran Sir John Bond, was among the former Xstrata directors booted out at the company's first annual meeting since the $67bn (£44bn) tie-up, with 81 per cent voting against his re-election. He has been replaced on an interim basis by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP who quit in 2010 in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Three other former Xstrata directors, Con Fauconnier, Ian Strachan and Peter Hooley, were also ousted, while a fifth, Sir Steve Robson, announced before the meeting that he was resigning from the board.

The revolt came amid continuing anger over a £144m package of retention payments for 70 Xstrata executives which was initially proposed as part of the mega-merger. Sir John had originally insisted these were vital to the success of the tie-up, but was later forced to remove them as a condition of the deal going ahead.

After a vote last November that saw Xstrata investors support the merger but about 87 per cent fail to back the payments, Sir John announced his resignation, although he said he would not leave until a replacement was found.

In a statement after he was ousted, he said he recognised and respected "the strong opposition among many to the retention arrangements which the board felt appropriate to ensure management stability".

The search for a new chairman will be led by Mr Hayward, the senior independent non-executive at the miner, as the head of the nominations board.

His elevation to interim chairman is a dramatic return to the top of a FTSE 100 giant for the ex-BP man, who attracted severe criticism in 2010 for telling reporters in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which caused 11 deaths, that he wanted "my life back." He eventually resigned as BP chief executive, saying he was "demonised and vilified".

Mr Hayward is currently chief executive of Genel Energy, the oil explorer backed by the financier Nat Rothschild. Glencore Xstrata said Mr Hayward would be step down once a permanent chairman was found.

The board clear-out leaves the struggle for power over Glencore Xstrata even more firmly in the hands of Glencore directors and executives, amid concerns over whether a new chairman will be able to provide a balance to the company's chief executive Ivan Glasenberg.

When the merger was originally proposed, the former chief executive of Xstrata Mick Davis was set to head up Glencore Xstrata for six months. However, the terms were later renegotiated and Glencore's boss Mr Glasenberg – who is also its largest shareholder – instead took charge. Meanwhile, nearly 25 per cent of the group is owned by Glencore managers.

"What matters now is to secure the appointment of an independent chairman who commands the support of both external and internal shareholders," said major shareholder Scottish Widows Investment Partnership's Anne Fraser. "The chairman would then be well-placed to lead a refreshment of the board."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Japan’s college co-eds on tight budgets seek illicit night work

A survey conducted in the 3-month period from May 2012 by the Tokyo chapter of the Japan Federation of Private University Teachers’ and Employees’ Unions (JFPU) analyzed data from 5,400 university and junior college students. The survey found that the students’ average monthly allowance from home was 89,500 yen — the lowest figure since the survey began back in 1986.

What’s more, reports Nikkan Gendai (April 9), after monthly rents were deducted from the above figure, the students were left with an average of just 923 yen in spending money per day — the first time this figure has fallen below 1,000 yen.

With the surge in the stock market brought on by so-called “Abenomics,” falling value of the Japanese yen and consumer price inflation that is expected as a result, families’ budgets are expected to be pinched further, and this is almost certain to lead more university co-eds to turn to yoru no arubaito or part-time work at night, a euphemism for jobs in the sex industry.

“It looks like more and more college co-eds will be taking up jobs at deri heru (out-call sex) services and erotic massage parlors in order to supplement their allowances,” says Yukio Murakami, a journalist who covers the “pink” trade, who adds, “For girls who don’t want to be affiliated with a sex shop, there’s also a method called ‘group prostitution.’ The way it works is that one girl ‘sells spring,’ and when the customer asks her to ‘introduce me to your friend,’ he will eventually engage the services of several girls in the group.

“The going rate is about 20,000 yen for honban (intercourse) and because the girls work in a group they tend not to suffer from feelings of remorse. Other groups of girls operate in a similar manner, working as ‘companions’ or accompanying men to karaoke boxes. They troll for business via the Internet, and their general charge is 10,000 yen per hour.”

Other part-time jobs involve wearing a revealing miniskirt while doing waitress work at a so-called “sexy izakaya” (2,000 yen/hr) and working at ona kura clubs whose service is watch male customers while they masturbate (but without hands-on participation) (4,000 yen/hr).

“Another type of job is ‘soft dating,’ just accompanying men for a dinner,” says Murakami. “The going rate is 10,000 yen an hour. It’s enough for lots of ‘herbivorous men‘ just to hold a woman’s hand.

“Attractive women willing to pose as nude ‘models’ can make 20,000 yen for three hours of work. A lot of girls try to land jobs modeling sexy lingerie — the going rate’s 3,000 to 5,000 yen per hour.”

Once your daughter heads for school in the big city, almost anything goes, warns Nikkan Gendai. (K.S.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hitachi's ROPITS is a tablet-controlled self-driving urban vehicle

Toyota, Honda, and General Motors have been toying with the concept of eco-friendly single-seater urban vehicles over the past few years, and Hitachi has taken notice. Although it may look like a miniature car, Hitachi's ROPITS is more like a robotic wheelchair designed to assist people with difficulty walking (i.e. Japan's growing elderly population). The key difference is that – unlike the concept vehicles demonstrated by the auto makers – ROPITS drives itself.

The company says ROPTIS, which stands for Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System, would pick up a single passenger at designated stations all on its own. Entering your destination is as simple as tapping on a map displayed by an onboard tablet PC or your own mobile device. And because it only travels on sidewalks with a maximum speed of 3.7 mph (5.9 km/h), it won't have to deal with many of the safety issues associated with self-driving road vehicles.

The navigation system combines Real Time Kinematic GPS (RTK-GPS) with a stereo camera rig and multiple laser range finders to provide accuracy to within one meter (3 feet). The sensors provide a 360-degree three-dimensional image of the vehicle's surroundings, giving it the capability to detect and react to oncoming pedestrians or unevenness in the ground surface.

Hitachi has already tested ROPITS in an 18 square-kilometer (6.9 sq mile) area of Tsukuba city, one of the first in Japan to give the green light to robotic vehicles testing just a few years ago.

The company says that besides transporting people, ROPITS could also be used as an autonomous delivery vehicle for a variety of services, and plans to continue developing the technology.

While it may be a while before such a system is actually rolled out, you can see the vehicle perform a press demonstration in a video released by the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Seo In Guk to Debut in Japan Coming April

According Nikkan Sports News on February 18, the singer turned actor Seo In Guk is to debut in Japan this coming April.

Seo In Guk is currently narrowing down his list for his debut song in Japan by reviewing 500 ballads.

Seo In Guk said, “I cannot wait to see you in Japan. I am working hard in Korea now, please wait just a little longer.”

Seo In Guk was the winner of the Superstar K’s first season, and debuted as an actor in the KBS drama Love Rain, which also aired on Japan’s Fuji TV.

His hit tvN drama, Reply 1997, in which he played the lead, was also introduced in Japan. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cubs Should Pursue Hideki Okajima

According to Nikkan Sports (via MLBTR), the Softbank Hawks of Japan has released former Red Sox Hideki Okajima so that the reliever can pursue opportunities back in MLB. Okajima registered a 0.94 ERA over 47 2/3 innings of work while featuring 6.8 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 ratios. The lefty actually had a higher K/9 ratio during his four seasons with the Red Sox, although the higher level of competition led to a career ERA of 3.11. A shoulder injury on his pitching arm side prevented Okajima from attempting to continue his MLB career via a minor league deal with the rival Yankees, hence the return to Japan to pitch for Softbank.

The early word is that the Oakland Athletics have interest in securing the southpaw’s services. The lack of other teams knocking down Okajima’s door would make it reasonable that the Japanese lefty figures to find a minor league offer and an invite to Spring Training at best. Considering Theo Epstein’s familiarity with Okajima from his days in Boston, it would not be out of the question for the Cubs to pursue the former Softbank Hawk.

The 37 year old lefty could help fellow countryman Kyuji Fujikawa adjust to MLB and life in America. As for the Cubs bullpen, it currently only features one veteran left hander in the form of James Russell. Unless Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley are shifted to relief duty, the pitching depth in terms of southpaws is thin to say the least. The Cubs would certainly be addressing that need by signing Okajima, age and durability in the Majors be damned. A minor league deal would not impact the current 40 man roster that already has Scott Hairston in a holding pattern.

This is exactly the type of low risk, higher reward opportunity that Epstein and Company have known to thrive on.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Roppongi’s Roi Building continues to swing

n the early morning hours of September 2 of last year, a group of approximately 10 males in ski masks and armed with metal bats arrived at club Flower, located in the Roppongi entertainment district, and assaulted 31-year-old restaurant manager Ryosuke Fujimoto, who was drinking in the club Flower’s VIP room with a party of five or six persons.

Fujimoto suffered substantial head injuries and was transported to a nearby hospital, where he died an hour and 20 minutes later.

The grisly crime has remained unsolved, though Tokyo Metropolitan Police have issued a number of arrest warrants for former members of the Kanto Rengo bosozoku motorcycle gang.

The club, which is now closed, was located on the second floor of the Roi Building, which houses dozens of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Nikkan Gendai (Jan. 1) reports that in spite of the murder investigation and rumors of a redevelopment project the building’s tenants still swing.

“Flower, stained with a sea of blood, changed its name after the incident,” says a local restaurant employee. “But the club’s managers were busted immediately for licensing problems. Now, a chain is stretched across the entrance. People find it to be a strange scene since there is a no plan for it to reopen.”

It also could seem strange since other businesses in the building haven’t missed a beat. (Nikkan Gendai describes the building with the term fuyajo, meaning a castle that never sleeps.)

Zoo Tokyo, a huge, high-end kyabakura (hostess club) occupying one entire floor, has been doing a brisk trade. During this past bonenkai season, customers were lined up outside, waiting to spend between 20,000 and 30,000 yen (entrance fees start at 5,000 yen) on one of the 100 hostesses on staff. (The club maintains 250 ladies on its books.)

Any lingering effects of the murder and the ongoing recession seem to not matter. But that will change quickly if continuing rumors about a redevelopment plan prove to be true.

Local media has reported that the massive project, which may extend from the site Roi Building to the edge of Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills complex, could begin in 2013.

“I heard that the Roi Building would be demolished,” says a hostess. “Is it real? I mean, we’ve heard this before. The club is telling me to earn as much money as I can. So I’m doing my best.”

So for now, concludes Nikkan Gendai, the flickering, suspicious lights of the sleepless castle continue. (A.T.)