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Japan-China Relations: The Power of Gyoza March 20, 2008

Posted by genchan in Asian, China, Food, Health, Japan, Politics.
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Who would have thought that gyozas can become an issue affecting high level bilateral ties between two nations. Then again, nothing seems too surprising when it comes to Sino-Japanese relationship. For those who are fully aware of the icy thin political relations between the two Asian giants, one can’t help but ponder what next.

The gyoza saga is receiving high level attention simply because proper mechanisms are not in place to handle such incidents at the lower level. Certainly, more of such issues would crop up in the not-so-distant future considering the fact that bilateral trade is on the rise and the demand for cheaper food products is there in Japan.

However, cheaper foods can also mean improper food preparation to cut cost. This is where the gap lies – the stringent requirements of food preparation by the Japanese and the lack of legislation to ensure food safety by the Chinese. Unless the gap can be substantially reduced through mechanisms of understanding and enforcement, incidents such as the gyoza issue will continue to prevent healthy recovery of bilateral ties.

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Tainted ‘gyoza’ poisoning bilateral ties

By Frank Ching (The Japan Times, Monday, March 17, 2008)

HONG KONG — The tainted “gyoza” dumpling scare in Japan has caused the delay of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Tokyo and, if not properly handled, could result in the unraveling of the dramatic improvement in bilateral relations achieved since October 2006, when Shinzo Abe broke the ice by visiting Beijing shortly after he became prime minister, followed by Premier Wen Jiabao’s “ice melting” trip to Japan last spring.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda added to the momentum when he visited Beijing and other cities in China last December and invited President Hu Jintao to visit Japan in the spring, “when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.”

Much hinges on this pending visit, which will be the first Chinese presidential visit to Japan in a decade and will fall on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty in 1978.

In the dumpling incident, 10 people were taken ill after eating imported Chinese dumplings tainted with an organo-phosphate insecticide called methamidophos. The subsequent media frenzy resulted in thousands of others reporting that they, too, felt sick after eating imported Chinese dumplings.

Consumption of Chinese food plummeted from 57.9 percent before the incident to 21.6 percent afterward. Kyodo News conducted a telephone survey and found that 75.9 percent of respondents said that they “will not use Chinese food from now on.”

China is Japan’s second-largest source of food imports after the United States and accounts for over half its imported frozen products, so the economic impact can be huge. But even more important is the potential damage to the political relationship between the two countries, which has only started to mend recently.

Although both countries agreed to cooperate in investigations into the dumpling incident, their respective investigative agencies ended up arguing over the origin of the toxins found in the dumplings.

Chinese officials have cleared Tianyang Food, in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province, which made the dumplings, saying its strict quality-control measures make it almost impossible to introduce toxic substances. Chinese police have said there was little chance the dumplings were contaminated in China, directly contradicting the position taken by Japanese police.

Japanese investigators have noted that methamidophos is banned in Japan and so it is unlikely that the contamination took place in Japan.

China is saying that this is not a case of food safety, but rather of sabotage by someone who wants to harm Japan-China relations.

Well, if that is the case, the saboteur has been incredibly successful, as China and Japan are trading accusations. And now, the Hu visit, originally planned for late March or April, has been pushed back to the middle of May.

Moreover, the two sides have still not reached agreement on the dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea, where there are overlapping territorial claims. They have agreed on the principle of joint development but, so far, there has been no agreement on the exact location where drilling will take place.

However, China has reportedly agreed to recognize a Japanese-drawn median line in the East China Sea. Even if this median line is acknowledged simply for the purposes of joint exploration and not territorial sovereignty, it is still a major step forward.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, has said the issue will be sorted out before President Hu’s trip. This issue, too, could cause a delay of the presidential visit.

What with the Abe-Wen-Fukuda visits, the two countries have been on a roll, and momentum for the improvement of relations has been building up over the last 17 months. However, if the dumpling issue and the East China Sea dispute continue to drag on, this momentum could be lost.

Actually, if need be, the two countries can set aside the dumpling issue and focus on the bigger issue of food safety. On that, it is clear, their interests are identical. China needs to export and Japan needs to import food, and this can only work if steps are taken to ensure that the food is safe from production through its appearance on supermarket shelves.

The disclosure that the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, is considering food safety legislation is an encouraging sign and, one hopes, the saga of tainted Chinese food products may be coming to an end.

A breakthrough on the East China Sea is also vital. The presidential trip cannot be delayed indefinitely. The cherry blossoms, after all, start to bloom in late March and it is a stretch to say that they are still blooming in mid-May. But there can be no further delay.

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Globalization – widening the gap of inequality? February 3, 2007

Posted by genchan in East Asia, General, Globalization, Government, Japan, Singapore.
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Much efforts have been put into defining ‘globalization’ and yet the term remains as elusive as ever. In essence, it is used to refer to the rapid spread of information, technology, ideas, goods and services, labor and capital across national borders causing the thick ‘walls’ that have for centuries gave meaning to sovereignty become porous and bringing the world closer in time and space.

Countries that defy the tide of change have often been warned of being left behind by their more assertive neighbors. Fearing being left out, countries warn their citizens to rise to the occasion and adapt to the changes in order to reap the benefits of globalization and help their nations develop. Globalization is thus seen as an opportunity to modernize and democratize in line with global values and choices. This means the opening up of a closed or regulated market to foreign capital, loosening up of borders to labor migration and importing of new technologies and creative ideas, among others.

While many realize the need to globalize, approaches have been varied from those taking a cautious approach to those fully embracing it. For the cautious ones, they are skeptical of the true benefits that globalization brings to a country and its people citing incompatibility with traditional cultural values, religion, political structure and practices and the belief that globalization equates westernization as reasons.

Globalization is a generic term and it would be a fallacy to equate it with westernization. However, the advancement of science and technology in the West has allowed the Western world to ‘export’ their influence and interests ahead of others to other regions of the world. The same could be said of Japan exporting its popular culture such as manga, anime, cuisines and music to Asia and the West.

Due to the differences in the configuration of each country and its set of people, the impact of globalization would logically be uneven and disparate. Not only does it causes disparities between economies, it affects the social stratification within state societies as well.

Take Singapore as an example. With a population of about 4 million people, it has often been lauded as a successful city-state which has embraced globalization to its best advantage. A tiny island lacking in natural resources and agricultural sector, it depends heavily on trade and finance with the outside world. Singapore is one of the first countries in the East Asian region to sign bilateral free trade deals with other countries and its global focus exemplifies its interest to reap the benefits of a global economy on offer.

With smart policies in place, Singapore has been able to grow at an average of 7.6%, in what Newsweek (Jan. 29, 2007) considers as “a staggering pace for an industrialized state”. While its macroeconomics are impressive and may be the envy of others, its microeconomics are less so. The magazine reported that 30% of Singapore’s poorest (approx. 1.2 million) are in fact worse off compared to 5 years ago. The wealthiest 10% have increased their income by 2.3% while the poorest 10% saw a drop by 4.3% annually over a 5 year period. This in effect expands the gap of inequality and could eventually lead to social instability. Writes the magazine, “what’s surprising is that even a country famous for its smart and transparent leadership has been unable to prevent the gains of globalization from flowing mostly to rich individuals and multinational corporations”.

Realizing the problem of disparity, the Singapore government has been taking steps to reduce the gap through various programs. Singapore’s case indicates that:

  1. riding the wave of globalization allow countries to prosper but causes side-effects such as unequal wealth distribution that could strain delicate social safety nets unless corrected by innovative policies.
  2. Such side-effects may have wider and deeper implications for countries with higher population and/or lower social cohesion.

The same can be said of Japan.  Ever since the country went into economic recession and stagnation, successive leaders have been focusing on ways to reform and bring the country closer inline with global trends by opening up its market to foreign competition and labor. The forceful reforms, according to some, are affecting the balance of wealth that, if left unchecked, leads to an expanding gap between the haves and have-nots.

The fear is real since Japan has long been able to pride itself on its ability to maintain equal wealth distribution and stable middle class population. This has given rise to debates on how to avoid, if not overcome, the problem of winners (勝ち組) and losers (負け組み). Japan’s social problems today ranges from the ending of life-time employment and declining birthrates to the increasing of job-hopping part-timers (freeters) and aging population. Corporate restructurings are contributing to unemployment while the younger generation are snubbing the path that their parents took opting for more freedom through temporary jobs. Long established social norms and barriers are preventing the ones cast-aside from rebounding.  

Realizing that Japan does have an adequate safety net in place to help those that get left behind by globalization, PM Abe is working on what he calls “challenge-again assistance measures” in his Sept. 2006 speech as below:

The kind of society that Japan should aim at is a society in which the efforts of people are rewarded, a society in which there is no stratification into winners and losers, and a society in which ways of working, learning, and living are diverse and multi-tracked- in other words, a society of opportunity where everyone has a chance to challenge again. If there are people who sense they are facing inequality, it is the role of politics to shed light on them. I will promote comprehensive “Challenge Again Assistance Measures” as an important task of my Cabinet.

 The “challenge again” (再チャレンジ) concept is meant to provide opportunities and pave the way for those that have fallen to rise again to the challenge and not to choose the convenient way of committing suicide in times of hardship. As a central policy, PM Abe is commited and has gone as far as creating the post of Minister of State for Challenge Again to oversee its implementations.

The concept covers 3 central pillars – shaking off employment difficulties and economic hardship brought by deflation, equal opportunities, and achieving a multi-track society (Japan +, Feb. 2007). The first pillar is to assist freeters to find stable employment through training. The second pillar is to enable the weak (primarily women and the elderly) and the disabled to support themselves such as reemployment of women after child raising. The third pillar is to change the structure of society in ways that would make it easy for people to achieve the lifestyle of their choice even at different stages of life such as helping those who would like to move from the cities to the countrysides  and engage in agriculture or forestry.

Globalization knows no borders and morals. A double-edged sword, it could benefit mankind but also help to spread vice. Its impact on societies is anything but homogenous. Therefore, countries would have to come up with their own unique measures and efforts to cope with external influence and internal changes. 

Japan’s legislative structure – main points January 27, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics.
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Some of us may have difficulties following Japanese politics due to a lack of understanding of its complicated legislative structure and changing political system.

In line with the start of its ordinary session (see PM Abe’s opening address here and report here) as the year’s budget draft is being discussed in the Diet till the end of March, The Japan Times (Jan. 23, 2007) has provided some reference points or quick notes on the meaning of DIET, its constitution, types of sessions and the various parties in the two Houses as below:

The Diet is the center of Japanese politics. It’s where ruling and opposition lawmakers play power games and employ tactics in both open and backroom negotiations. With this year’s ordinary legislative session set to start Thursday, following are some basic facts about the parliamentary system:

Why is the legislature called the Diet?

The prewar parliament under the Meiji Constitution was modeled on that of imperial Germany, which is called the Diet in English. The term dates to the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled most of Central Europe from 962 to 1806. Imperial Germany was chosen as the state model because Japanese leaders wanted a powerful system centered on the Emperor.

What constitutes the Diet?

The Diet consists of the 480-seat House of Representatives, also called the Lower House, and the 242-seat House of Councilors, or the Upper House.

What are the functional differences between the two chambers?

The House of Representatives is more powerful. As a general rule, a legislative bill must clear both chambers before enactment, but the decision of the Lower House prevails on three key issues: selection of the prime minister, adoption of the budget and approval of a treaty.

Even if the Upper House votes down a bill, the Lower House can override the decision with support of two-thirds or more of its members.

What kinds of sessions are held by the Diet?

The Diet holds ordinary, extraordinary and special sessions.

An ordinary session is convened once a year, usually in late January. It runs for 150 days until mid-June.

The main focus for the first three months of an ordinary session is the year’s budget draft, because the fiscal year ends on March 31.

After the ordinary session, the Cabinet usually convenes an extraordinary session in the fall to deliberate pending bills.

A special session is convened to choose a new prime minister within 30 days of a general election.

How does the length of a Diet session affect politics?

All bills submitted to the Diet are automatically scrapped at the end of a session unless action is taken to carry them over to the next session. Thus, opposition parties often try to kill a bill backed by the government and ruling camp by dragging out the deliberations in protest.

The prime minister often delivers a televised speech at the beginning of a Diet session. Why?

The prime minister delivers the General Policy Speech at the outset of ordinary sessions to outline policy plans for the year, followed by similar speeches by the finance minister, foreign minister, and economic and fiscal policy minister.

The prime minister also must deliver a policy speech at the outset of extraordinary and special sessions. Other ministers deliver speeches for those sessions when considered necessary.

What is the current strength of each party in the two chambers?

The ruling coalition — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — hold a majority in both chambers. A breakdown for Lower House seats (female Diet members are in parentheses) shows the LDP holds 306 (27), the Democratic Party of Japan and Club of Independents 113 (10), New Komeito 31 (four), the Japanese Communist Party nine (two), the Social Democratic Party seven (two), People’s New Party and Group of Independents five (none), and independents nine (none).

In the Upper House, the LDP has 111 (12), the DPJ and Shin-Ryokufukai 82 (11), New Komeito 24 (five), the JCP nine (three), the SDP six (one), PNP four (one), independents four (one), and two seats vacant.

Japan’s agriculture sector remains protected January 22, 2007

Posted by genchan in Economics, General, Government, Japan.
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It is no secret that Japan has for decades protected its agriculture sector with significant subsidies and high tariff rates. Its not only Japan but most advanced countries like the US and EU have done the same and earned the wrath of developing nations.

And while nobody dares to bet that Japan today has fully opened its farm sector, it remains less known how much Japan has been able to open up its farm products to foreign competition compared to, say, other OECD countries.

Facing a steep battle with vested interest groups who are not only traditional supporters of the ruling party LDP but also defenders of locally produced farm goods, the government is using unconventional methods such as free trade agreements (FTAs) to put pressure on farm trade liberalization. Reducing tariffs through FTAs do help increase importation of foreign farm products but are limited in their capability since sensitive items such as rice, often excluded from FTAs, would need stronger political will to overcome than what external pressures can offer. It is also worth noting that the exclusion of certain farm items from negotiation demonstrates the constraints and pressures from domestic lobbyists.

According to The Japan Times (Jan. 18, 2007), subsidies for farmers and tariff rates for agricultural items have remained high compared to imports in other sectors.  The paper reported on a biennial trade policy review report on Japan issued by the WTO which said that “farm subsidies amounted to 1.3 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, and the ratio of subsidies was almost equal to the share of farm product output in GDP at 1.4 percent”.

The report found that the “overall level of (Japanese) government assistance for agriculture is well above the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average” and that “tariffs on imports of agricultural products remain high in Japan, with the average coming to 18.8 percent, compared with an average of 6.9 percent for other imports”.

The report (to be made public after a meeting from Jan. 31 – Feb. 2) indicates at least three things: 

  1. FTAs have yet to make an impact on Japan’s domestic farm trade.
  2. Farmers continue to be heavily subsidized by the government.
  3. Structural and regulatory reforms in other sectors like finance, economics, government, education etc. have not been followed successfully by agriculture. 

Asian summits concluded in Cebu January 19, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, China, Community, East Asia, Japan, Regionalism, Southeast Asia.
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The Asian summits were due to be held in mid-December last year but called off due to what the host country, Philippines, saw as an approaching thunderstorm that would wreck havoc the carefully planned meetings. Unofficially, part of the reason was thought to be due to fears of a looming terrorist attack based on external intelligence sources. Whatever the reasons, Philippines chose to play safe and postponed it to a month later on a last minute notice.

Thus, the summits were carried out in Cebu from the 13th to 15th January under heavy security, successfully concluded without the storm nor the attacks.

There were four summit level meetings held consecutively a day apart. In an ‘inductive’ format, the ASEAN leaders gathered for their 12th ASEAN Summit on the first day, followed by the 10th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit and the 7th Tripartite Summit (plus three members) on the second day, and finally the 2nd East Asia Summit on the last day.

What have these meetings discussed and agreed upon? Below is a summary.

1. ASEAN Summit

  • uphold centrality of ASEAN and its standing as the driving force
  • five agreements were signed:
    1. Cebu Declaration Towards a Caring and Sharing Community – which reiterates ASEAN’s commitment to accelerate cooperation to improve the quality of life for citizens in the ASEAN region
    2. Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint for the ASEAN Charter – ASEAN leaders endorsed the Report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter and requested a task force to begin drafting the Charter before the next Summit.
    3. Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 – which will advance the integration of the ASEAN Community five years ahead of the original plan.
    4. ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – which will intensify ASEAN efforts to promote fair and appropriate employment protection for ASEAN migrant workers.
    5. ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism – aims at enhancing and deepening regional cooperation on counter terrorism activities.
  • hasten the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community to  2015 by transforming ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.
  • statement on Myanmar included in light of the failed UNSC resolution
  • agreed to forge closer cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

2. APT Summit

  •  reaffirmed the APT as the main vehicle in realizing an East Asia community, with ASEAN as the driving force, and with the active participation of the Plus Three members.
  • noted the scheduled adoption of the Second Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the next APT Summit in Singapore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of APT cooperation. The statement shall identify opportunities and challenges and offer strategic guidance for future direction of APT apart from reviewing a decade of accomplishments.
  • acknowledged China’s proposal for a regional monitoring center on infectious diseases. Also acknowledged with appreciation Japan’s new pledge of USD 67 million for battling avian and pandemic influenza in the region.
  • welcomed the outcome of the feasibility study by the Expert Group on the EAFTA, which was spearheaded by China.  And also welcomed the proposal of South Korea to conduct the Phase II study involving the in-depth sector-by-sector analysis of the EAFTA.
  • welcomed the proposal of Japan to establish an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

3. Tripartite Summit

  • held for the first time in two years.
  • agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism at level of senior foreign affairs officials to conduct close communication and coordination on regional matters.
  • agreed to start negotiations on trilateral investment agreement asap in 2007.
  • welcomed China’s proposal to designate 2007 as the Year of Cultural Exchange among China, Japan and South Korea.
  • agreed that the trilateral cooperation is important for East Asia cooperation and that they respect ASEAN as playing the leading role.
  • ‘abduction issue’ was not stated in the report but worded as “addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community”. China was reported as being supportive of Japan’s concerns in the abduction issue and would provide “necessary cooperation” (The Japan Times, Jan. 18, 2007)
  • took note of the progress and looked forward to more positive results of the joint research on trilateral FTA.

4. East Asia Summit

  • signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of fossil fuel use, and to reduce dependence on conventional fuels, among others.
  • reiterated support for ASEAN’s role as the driving force for economic integration in the region.
  • agreed to launch a Track Two study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) among EAS participants (based on Japan’s proposal for a free trade area among the 16 members).
  • included the phrase on the ‘abduction issue’ (first time ever) as Japan work to get support from the members for the unresolved abduction dispute between Japan and North Korea.

Apart from the above, there were ASEAN+1 summits held as well. With China, ASEAN signed an agreement on Trade in Services and another agreement on enhancing cooperation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the 14th of January.

Other news include a AUD 5 million finance by Australia announced on 12th January for the second phase of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases Progamme (EID), which aims to assist ASEAN countries in developing a regional instrument to mobilise multi –national (ASEAN) outbreak response teams.

Aso & Tanigaki – next PMs? January 18, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics.
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Pundits have noted in the last September’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election that Taro Aso and Sadakazu Tanigaki knew they had no chance in defeating Shinzo Abe for the post but still went ahead because they wanted to position themselves and build up their bases for the next LDP race.

In short what they were targeting was not the present but the future.

Somehow, there appears to be some sense in this line of thinking. As reported in The Japan Times (Jan. 17, 2007), Aso admitted to making a proposal to Tanigaki that they “should form a political alliance in a bid to take turns holding the LDP’s top post and hence the prime ministership” on condition that Aso become PM first. This issue became public when Tanigaki broke what Aso alleged to be a ‘confidential conversation’ by mentioning about it in a recent lecture in Kyoto.

One wonders what is the reason behind Tanigaki’s open remarks if its not to undermine Aso for the top job. 

Obviously, the ultimate aim is not the LDP presidential post but the PM position which is effectively assured considering that the party holds a majority in the Lower house and is now gearing up for the upcoming Upper house election (at present LDP holds 111 seats out of 242 with the remaining coming from Komeito’s 24).

The fact that Aso is already looking towards a post-Abe era could mean that Abe’s position in office may be short-lived as the current PM battles resistance from vested groups who are against structural reforms and Constitution amendments and shore up his sliding popularity. 

Japanese government’s Internet TV December 30, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics, Video.
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Few people are aware that the government of Japan actually has an online Internet TV – here. I found it interesting and thought I blog about it.

 The site, managed by the Cabinet Office, is in Japanese, so a Japanese software allowing you to access Japanese sites would be needed. However, there is one channel in English called “COOL JAPAN” (61ch). This is the only English channel that allow viewers to view reports and stories in English. A wide spectrum of issues are covered here ranging from reports on the recently concluded 14th APEC meeting in Hanoi to North Korean abduction issue to the use of rescue robots. Not only related to government activities, the channel also carry stories on Japanese society and culture by government supported magazines such as JAPAN+ and The Japan Journal.

The remaining 12 channels are all in Japanese. 3 channels are on the activities of the current prime minister, 2 channels on the Chief Cabinet Secretary and Ministers, 4 channels on ministerial related policies/issues, 1 channel on the progress/development of regions in Japan, 1 channel showcases images of Japan and 1 channel on weather related news. However, if you search under “Genre” (ジャンル), you will find a section on CM (commercial message) that publicize advertisements on various issues such as bullying which has become a national problem due to suicide cases of school children.

Far from being a propagandist site, it provides a load of information on Japan’s political, economic and social situations from a government perspective. Updated from time to time, its worth a visit if you have not done so yet.

Japan’s first online university December 29, 2006

Posted by genchan in East Asia, Education, Japan.
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Come April 1, 2007, Japan will have its first ever government approved online university that will offer all courses over the internet.

A four-year university to be named as “Cyber University” will be based in Fukuoka and operated by Japan Cyber Educational Institute Ltd., a subsidiary of Softbank Corp. As some of you might be aware, Softbank is a corporate giant in IT under its founder Masayoshi Son who recently bought over Vodafone K.K (a telecommunications company), making it one of the 3 mobile phone operators in Japan (NTT Docomo and KDDI are the other two).

There will be two faculties (Faculty of Information Technology and Business and Faculty of World Heritage) with about 100 faculty members. The first enrollment is expected to be around 1,300 where students can access course materials as well as recorded lectures online via their own PCs.  The plus side is that its internet-based courses will allow people young and old to receive higher education without the constraints of location, time, nationality and etc.

However, just like many other newly established institutions (slightly different in this case), the university will have to iron out problems like how to verify student’s identity and ensure that quality education is not compromised in any way. For more info, check out Asahi Shimbun and Softbank’s Press Release.

Leading by example? December 7, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Japan, Lifestyle.
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02.jpg 01.jpg In Japan, metabolic syndrome has become a buzzword, a hot topic of sort and more and more people are paying attention to it. Its one of those health related issues that tend to plague industrialized countries, often affecting middle-aged people.

It starts with some extra padding around the waist, from a harmless bicycle tyre size to a harmful tractor tyre size bulging. Its not so much about physical appearance but internal effects that could raise one’s blood pressure and sugar level bringing about lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, stroke and others.

 This has got people all worked up, thanks to the media. Now, the fitness industry is seeing a boom in business as people become more aware of their health risk and seek for ways to change their unhealthy lifestyles. Gradually, there have been a renewed interests in health equipments targeting home users and over-the-counter health food/supplements for those too lazy to sweat out in a local gym.

 Surprisingly, two Vice Ministers of Health, Labor and Welfare are trying to lead by example in a rare attempt of showing off their pot bellies as they are being measured and keeping to a simple health program for 6 months – here. Their goals? One aims to reduce his weight by 5 kg and waistline by 5cm while the other by 6kg and 6cm. Both are currently over 80kgs with a waist circumference of about 100cm.

And their program would be? Taking 10 min walks, avoid using elevators, avoid sweet carbonated drinks, reduce to 1 can of beer a day, reduce oily and fried food to a meal a day, and to take no more than 3 meals a day.

Noble! But how big a deal is loosing 5 or 6kgs over a period of 6 months based on the program above? Not much I would say. That was my first thought when I first read about it. Its hardly a diet and says nothing about metabolic syndrome let alone leading by example.

I guess that’s the best they can do or willing to do. They have until May 2007 before they are being measured again.

Blood flow thickness – a myth November 26, 2006

Posted by genchan in Health, Japan.
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In Japan, there is a widespread believe that the thickness of our blood flow – whether its swift (サラサラ) or sludgy (ドロドロ) – relates to our health – good or bad. In recent years, this believe has taken roots thanks to TV variety shows showing how blood flows in a medical machine where some peoples’ blood flow swiftly while some others get stuck and become sludgy. It feeds on the simple understanding that clean flow represents good health while sludgy flow (as in the image of mud) shows bad health.

This, unfortunately, has led to money making opportunities in capitalist Japan ranging from food items to health gadgets said to correct blood flow imbalance.

Finally, the truth has come out. A group of prominent doctors on a regular TV program decided to correct this misunderstanding. Put simply, its a myth. A bogus idea probably started by someone to earn money off people’s fears.

According to them, blood flow has nothing to do with our health condition. Blood flow can appear swift when we are relaxed and gets sludgy at times when we are stressed or under pressure. In short, our blood flow fluctuates and is capable of correcting itself. This indeed is good news! It is amazing to think how sometimes we can be fooled into believing something by taking things at face value.

While we are on the subject, be aware of bogus claim that shows blood cells overlapping each other or chapped shape of the cell on a microscope as an indication of bad health/disease. The former is due to the thickness of blood sample on the glass slide making the cells appear overlapping while the latter is due to time – a 20 sec exposure to air could cause the blood cell to die off showing chapped shape on the microscope. 

And while we are on the subject of health, let it be known as well that there is no real prove of a link between blood type and personality. This was made clear by the doctors as well. In Japan, young people especially women tend to assign personality/attitude to the four blood types. Some even go as far as choosing their life partner based on this. Just ask yourself if we can easily categorize 6 billion people on this planet into just 4 blood types, life would be a breeze.

Now, have you ever noticed greenish or blue-black veins (静脈) appearing on the surface of your skin, especially around your calf or behind your knee? It normally affects middle-aged women and is considered a disease by the doctors. This is because if left untreated, it could lead to skin disease and even death. Often, it happens to people who stand a lot (e.g. waiter or hairdresser), experienced pregnancy, etc. Its due to blood pressure flowing badly up. You can see it on your hands as well – it will appear/swell when you put your hands down and disappear when you lift them up above your heart level. So, how do you treat it? Either cut it off or kill it with laser or injection.