Japan

"What if Trump?"—"Moshitora"

Moshitora, a Japanese word that had slipped into the background has re-emerged as Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail. The word moshitora which means "what if Trump", was first used during the 2016 election. It reflects Japan's concerns about the implications of a potential second Trump term for US-Japan relations. 

Businesses also see Trump as a risk because of the protectionist policies that were put in place during his first tenure. As Japan foresees the possibility of Trump becoming president again, therefore, it's making an effort to talk to people close to him to make sure the US makes decisions that have Asia's best interests at heart.

Ippei Mizuhara pleads guilty

The story that had taken many twists and turns since March finally came to an end as Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter, pleaded guilty to bank and tax fraud. He admitted that he stole nearly $17 million from the baseball star to cover illegal gambling debts.

Mizuhara also confessed that he evaded tax of more than $1million in 2022. He is yet to be sentenced, but it's said that he is likely to spend about 30 years in prison for bank fraud, and additional time for tax fraud​.

Apologising in Japan

Japanese people often apologize to maintain harmony, regardless of fault. This is seen as a way of improving the atmosphere and maintaining relationships, not an admission of guilt. In contrast, Westerners often seek to identify the cause of a problem first. This can be seen as making excuses in Japanese culture.

When working with the Japanese it's advised to apologize first, then propose a solution or workaround, and finally, discuss who was at fault. The person in the wrong also has to explain what steps they have taken to prevent a recurrence. 

Microsoft invests in Japan AI

Microsoft is planning to put a lot of money, about 2.9 billion dollars, into Japan to make their computer systems better. They want to improve their Artificial Intelligence (AI) and build more data centers. These data centers are like big buildings where lots of computers are kept and they store all kinds of information.

By making their AI better and having more data centers, Microsoft hopes to provide better services to people and companies in Japan. This could mean faster and more reliable internet services, as well as better ways to use computers and technology. Microsoft wants to help Japan become more advanced in technology, and they think this investment will make a big difference.

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms are a sign of spring. There are festivals in many countries to celebrate the bloom of these flowers. The flowers don’t last long and fall off after a week. In Japan, people have picnics under the cherry blossom trees. This is called hanami.

The US also has this tradition because Japan gave them cherry trees in 1912. The flowers mean new beginnings. Now, people sell things that taste like cherry blossoms, such as ice-cream and cookies. They also watch the weather to see when the flowers will bloom.

 

Interest rates raised in Japan

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) raised its main interest rate from -0.1% to between 0% and 0.1%. In 2016, the BOJ made the rate less than zero to help Japan’s economy.

The decision to raise rates depended on big companies increasing their workers’ wages to deal with the higher cost of living. Recently, Japan’s biggest companies agreed to increase wages by 5.28%, the largest increase in over 30 years. Wages had not increased since the late 1990s as prices rose very slowly or even fell.

The BOJ said there won’t be more rate increases for now. With inflation slowing down, it’s likely that workers will ask for smaller wage increases next year.

Wage increase in Japan

Big companies in Japan are giving their workers the pay raises they asked for. Some companies are even giving more than what was asked. 

Suzuki, Toyota, and Honda, among others, agreed to give raises. Those in the retail and food service are also increasing wages. However, it's still not clear if small and midsize companies will follow suit.

Because wages were low, people were saving more and spending less. Now that many will be receiving a pay raise, it's expected that people will start spending more.

Japan's economy remains weak

Kobayashi Shinichiro from Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting thinks Japan's economy is still not doing well. People are trying to spend less money because prices are going up.

Kobayashi says, "For the economy to get better, people need to spend more money. For that to happen, companies need to pay their workers more. The results of the wage talks will decide a lot about how the economy will be in the future."

These talks ended recently. Before the talks, Kobayashi also said if companies pay more, prices might increase, causing more inflation. This could then change how the central bank manages money.

Leading across cultures

In the work environment, unexpected misunderstandings often arise as a result of cultural differences in leadership styles. Americans, for example, see themselves as egalitarian and think of the Japanese as hierarchical. But American leadership seems to be unclear. This is mainly because American bosses are outwardly egalitarian—relating with subordinates on a first name basis and encouraging them to participate in meetings—they can be extremely top-down in the way they make decisions.

It's very common for people of different cultures to struggle with mutual incomprehension. The main reason for this is managers' failure to differentiate between two important aspects of leadership culture.

The surprising origins of sushi

According to Executive Sushi Chef Kazunari Araki, sushi is not originally Japanese.

He says the combination of rice and fish began in the 3rd century along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. It was cleaned, gutted and finally covered in a salt and rice mixture for several months in order to preserve it. When the fish was ready for consumption, the rice would be thrown away as it would have become too salty to eat. 

By the 12th century, this process had spread to China, and subsequently Japan, where it was called narezushi. According to Araki, things changed in the 16th century, vinegar replaced salt, which was key to the development of sushi. This also led to the name sushi—which translates to “vinegared rice”.

The do-nothing man

Shoji Morimoto is 38 years old and lives in Tokyo. He has a unique job: people pay for his companionship.

Morimoto charges 10,000 yen per booking. People have hired him over 4,000 times in the last four years. He has nearly 250,000 followers on Twitter, and he finds most of his clients there. He also has many repeat customers.

Morimoto's job is to be wherever his clients want him to be and to do nothing in particular. For example, he once went to a park with someone who wanted to play on a see-saw. Another time, he visited a train station to wave goodbye to someone. However, Morimoto doesn't accept every offer. He refused to move a fridge and refused to go to Cambodia.

Morimoto's job is his only income, and he supports his family with it. He sees about one or two clients a day.

How Japan became hooked on meat

In 1939, the typical Japanese person only ate 4 grams of meat per day. Today, the average person eats 130 grams, and their favourite meat is pork, not fish as one might expect. One of the reasons for this significant change was the rise of Western influence in Japan.

Japan was known as a vegetarian country in medieval times. The national religions, Buddhism and Shinto, are both in favor of plant-based eating, but the Japanese couldn't eat meat mainly because of a shortage of arable land. As a way of dealing with this problem, Japan’s rulers banned people from eating meat.

With the arrival of the Dutch in the eighteenth century, things changed. The Japanese came to associate the meat-loaded diets of the Europeans with societal success. And in 1872 Emperor Meiji ate meat in public for the first time, automatically lifting the meat-eating ban.

Japan has the oldest companies

Japan has more old companies than any other developed nation. A study of 41 countries shows Japan has more than half of the companies older than 200 years. As a matter of fact, the oldest company still in existence is Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd., founded in 578 A.D. It was in operation under its own name until 2006, when it became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group

According to David E. Weinstein, an expert on the Japanese economy, business failures are as common in Japan as anywhere else, but the importance of tradition keeps the companies on their feet.

To ensure survival, a popular custom in Japanese family businesses is to adopt heirs outside the family, such as in-laws and talented male workers. As stated by Weinstein, "It's the name that is continuing, people get attached to the names."

While many parts of the world prioritize profit maximisation, Japanese companies focus on building and passing on a legacy to future generations.

Forest bathing stress away

National Geographic answers the question: what is forest bathing? The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. It can mean “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The purpose was to offer an ecological antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with the country’s forests.

The Japanese quickly embraced this form of ecotherapy. In the 1990s, researchers began studying the physiological benefits of forest bathing, providing the science to support the idea that time spent surrounded by nature is good for us. The concept at the heart of shinrin-yoku is not new. Many cultures around the world have long recognized the importance of the natural world to human health.

Visuals: Mr. Abe and gun violence

The killing of the Japanese ex-prime minister, Shinzo Abe, shocked the whole world. Even though some of the people in Japan did not agree with his policies, the ex-prime minister’s murder is a sad event for the entire nation. 

The murder is shocking because it happened in Japan, where deaths from guns are very rare. It is also uncommon to hear about politicians being killed in developed countries. 

Please, have a look at the graphs below and discuss them with your teacher. 

 

Salmon sushi is Norwegian

Look at the menu of any sushi shop in Japan and you will almost certainly see salmon: fatty, tender and bright orange. But salmon is actually a relatively new addition to the sushi menu.

Behind salmon’s rise to popularity is the Norwegian marketing campaign: Project Japan. In the 1970s, Norway began commercial salmon farming but, with decreasing seafood consumption at home, salmon was soon filling industrial freezers. Japan, meanwhile, had been overfishing its waters, and with Japanese fishermen told to remain within their exclusive economic zones by the United Nations, Japan began opening up its once nearly self-sufficient seafood industry to foreign suppliers.

Millenium-old mochi shop in Japan

In the year 794, Naomi Hasegawa's family started Ichiwa, a mochi shop, next to the Imamiya Shrine in Kyoto to feed pilgrims who had traveled to pray for pandemic relief. Over a millenium later, the shop still sells mochi to people struggling with a pandemic. How has it survived so long, through pandemics, wars, natural disasters, and the rise and fall of empires? By putting tradition and stability over profit and growth. 

The emphasis at Ichiwa is not growth. Profit is not the point. The point is to do one thing, and do it well. They focus on serving people and passing on the business to the next generation. Although it's not a dynamic business model, it obviously works. Known as shinise, these old businesses are a source of pride for Japanese.

Japan introduces a 4-day work week

According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government plans to encourage firms to allow their employees to choose to work four days a week instead of five, aiming to improve the balance between work and life for people who have family care responsibilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped the idea of a four-day workweek gain traction as the health crisis has caused people to spend more time at home.

Experts are divided, however, on whether the new initiative, intended to address challenges posed by Japan’s labor shortage, will be widely accepted. Labor and management are both voicing concerns about possible unwanted outcomes.

For employers, while people working four days a week may become more motivated, this may not improve their productivity enough to compensate for the lost workday. An expected advantage is helping people with family care responsibilities avoid the need to quit their jobs.

Visuals: Life expectancy in Japan

The life expectancy of people in Japan has been increasing for the past 65 years. Life expectancy means the prediction of how long people are expected to live. There are many reasons for the increase in life expectancy, such as better food, cleaner water and improved medicine.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

The decline of the yakuza

The Guardian reports that more than a decade of police crackdowns on major gangs and economic uncertainty are making it harder for the yakuza to tempt young men with promises of easy money.

For the first time since records began in 2006, 51% of regular yakuza members are aged 50 or over, according to a new report by the national police agency. Less than 15% are under 40, and those over 70 account for just over 10% of total membership.

Stricter laws, including those targeting businesses with links to gangs that had once operated with near-impunity, have made a life of crime increasingly unappealing. Yakuza members are forbidden from opening bank accounts, obtaining a credit card, taking out insurance policies or even signing a contract for a mobile phone.