How Much Japanese People Sleep?

According to data from an OCDE study, Japan and Korea are the countries in the world that sleep the least hours, 469 and 470 minutes per day respectively, around 7 hours and 50 minutes. The French are the ones that enjoy more sleep time (8 hours and 50 minutes), while Americans get to sleep also quite well (8 hours and 38 minutes). My home country Spain ranks 3rd in the world enjoying 8 hours and 34 minutes sleep on average every day. Maybe this data is one of the reasons why when you come to Japan you can see so many people sleeping in trains or on the streets.

How many hours do you sleep on average every day? My average, calculated during the last 3 years using the Sleep Cycle app on my iPhone is 7 hours and 56 minutes.

Japanese people sleeping average

Source: Govexec

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The Controversy of the Letter to the Emperor

Last Thursday, Taro Yamamoto, a member of the House of Councillors of the Japanese government, handed a handwritten letter directly to the Emperor. In the letter he expressed his concerns about what is currently happening in Fukushima and the complications that are arising while dismantling the reactors.

A great debate has raged on TV programs and Internet forums. Some have asked for Taro Yamamoto to apologize while others have asked him to resign for giving the letter to the Emperor. This doesn’t mean that they are not worried about the situation in Fukushima, however it turns out that the Japanese constitution says that the Emperor can’t meddle in political issues.

Emperor of Japan
The moment when Yamamoto handed the letter to the Emperor.

It happened during a party organized by the Imperial Household Agency in the Akasaka Imperial Gardens. When the guests arrived to the party they received a map of the gardens and a number of rules to follow like for example “Do not take photos of the Imperial family”. An official of the Imperial Household Agency declared afterwards that they didn’t bother to mention that it’s not allowed to hand objects to the members of the Imperial family in the instructions for the party because it’s common sense. (Source: Asahi Shinbun).

It seems that Yamamoto didn’t know the protocol and he was not fully aware that when handing the letter to the Emperor he was trying to use him for political purposes. He has apologized but he says that he is not going to step down unless somebody else forces him to do so.

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The Three Arrows, The Miniskirt And The Bras of Abenomics

Since the end of 2012, the prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and his finance minister Taro Aso have started a new aggressive economic policy with the main objectives of ending the vicious circle of deflation in which Japan has been mired during the last 20 years, and achieving an inflation of 2%.

Bra
The models of the lingery company Triumph during the launch of their bra to help the Japanese people achieve a target inflation of 2%. They call it “Branomics” = “Bra” + “Economics”

This economic policy is popularly known as Abenomics = “Abe + Economics” and is composed of three arrows “3本の矢”. There is a Japanese proverb that says “three arrows can’t be broken” 三本の矢なら折れない.

The three arrows of Abenomics:

  • 1.- Quantitative Easing (量的金融緩和): the BOJ (Bank of Japan) leaves the interest rates near 0% and makes the money flow to commercial banks to create excess liquidity with the objective of promoting lending. With this objective, the BOJ is buying government bonds and Asset Backed Securities. The objective over the next years is to double the amount of money in circulation and as a consequence reach a 2% inflation target. Another consequence is that the yen has been depreciating fast against other currencies since the Abenomics measures started to be implemented.
  • 2.- Fiscal policies to stimulate demand: investment in public works and renovation of infrastructure which is older than 50 years (built shortly after the Second World War) and fiscal deductions to companies that invest in R&D, that hire more employees, that pay higher salaries, that buy new equipment, etc. These measures aim to achieve an increase of investments, create jobs and increase salaries.
  • 3.- Deregulations and creation of sustainable growth: of the three Abenomics arrows, this one is the arrow that is least concrete. As of now, there is a group of experts (mainly CEOs of large, medium and small companies) that will propose measures to the government over the next few years. This arrow includes plans to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new free-trade agreement between countries in the Asia-Pacific region that would help Japanese companies export more.

Bra
The Triumph ladies wearing “Branomics”, holding two bows and with three abenomics arrows stuck to their stomachs.

The three Abenomics arrows follow ideas started by Keynes and whose most famous exponent nowadays is Paul Krugman. Some people say that it will work, but others say that it will end in a catastrophe because the future Japanese population will not be able to withstand an even higher debt although they can finance themselves emitting bonds in their own currency. As of now the negative consequences of Abenomics are an increase of the debt, a VAT increase from 5% to 10% (in 2015) and the depreciation of the yen (positive for exports). Another possible negative consequence is that inequalities in wealth distribution may increase.

For the moment it seems like prices in supermarkets are stable (we still haven’t noticed signs of inflation) but the Nikkei 225 index has started to notice the effects of Abenomics after several years of stagnation and it has risen more than 40% in 2013:

Nikkei index

The good news for all those of you who plan to visit Japan this Summer is that according to a popular theory when the economy is going well the skirts length decreases (Skirt length theory). On the other hand when things go sour the economic situation affects women’s moods which decide to wear longer skirts. This theory is better explained in this CNN video:


“When the Nikkei is below 9,000 we wear long skirts, when it’s between 10,000 and 11,000 we wear knee-length skirts and when it is above 11,000 we wear miniskirts”

Japanese Bra


Video of the branomics presentation.

Bra

Sources: Mof Taro Aso Speech, more about skirts and the economy.

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More Than Half of the Companies Older than 200 Years are Japanese

The Bank of Korea made a study to better understand which are the oldest companies in the world and what are the common characteristics that have made them survive for so long. According to the study there are 5,586 companies older than 200 years, of which 3,146 are Japanese companies. Germany ranks second with 837 among the oldest in the world and the Netherlands and France tie for the third place with 196. In Spain there are only four companies older than 200 years, all of them distilleries: Raventóns, Can Bonastre, Codorníu and Chivite.

Oldest companies in the world are in Japan

It seems like one of the keys to the survival of a company for many years is its headcount; it turns out that almost 90% of the companies older than 100 years have less than 300 employees (maybe this fact is related to the Dunbar’s number). Another of the common characteristics of these companies is that they all seem to be controlled by families whose priority doesn’t seem to be to make as much money as possible but they are concerned about passing the company to the next generation and that the company provides benefits to its community, employees and clients. The Japanese people are specially careful about all these aspects in their companies; while some people criticize some of these aspects, saying that they are one of the causes of the slowdown of the Japanese economy during the last two decades: “companies should die and be born in order for the country to progress”. Some others say that it’s one of the keys to the success of Japan: “the stability and strength of our companies makes our economy robust and resistant in the long term”.

Nowadays, the oldest companies in Japan are related to construction, hospitality, metallurgy and services. I wonder how will this list be in 200 or 300 years; what kind of companies there will be on the list? Will Microsoft, Apple, Google, Wallmart and BP continue to be alive?

Sources:

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Japanese Strikes – The Spanish Urban Legend

In my home country, Spain, almost everybody believes that when Japanese workers go on strike instead of not showing up for work, what they do to protest is to work even harder than on normal days. They are known as “huelgas a la japonesa” which mean Japanese-style strikes.

I think this urban legend only exists in Spain and some countries in Latinamerica! I wonder how did it originate.

In Japan there are no “huelgas a la japonesa”, but “normal” strikes do exist. They are less common than in other countries and when there are protests or manifestations they are usually very civilized.

Workers of the railway company Japan Railways JR during their strike protesting with signs at the the south exit of Shinjuku station:

Japanese strike

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Japan Airlines President Routine

Japan Airlines (JAL) is one of the top 10 airlines in the world by passengers. Although Japan Airlines has a lot of clients, the company is having a lot of financial troubles and in 2010 they declared bankruptcy.

Japan Airlines is the largest company in Japan, however its CEO since 2007 Haruka Nishimatsu commutes to work by bus every day and earns less money than any pilot at his company. He earns around 80,000 euros/100,000 dollars per year, he eats in the company restaurant with other employees and works in an open space with the rest of his team. On the other hand, the president of Lehman Brothers Japan used to commute by helicopter to get to his Roppongi Hills office until the company went bankrupt and sunk the world economy along with it.

Japan airlines

Japan airlines

Japan airlines

Japan airlines

Via forocoches

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2011 Top 10 products and trends in Japan

Gakuranman has translated into English a report published every year by the magazine Trendy which ranks the products and trends that conquered Japan during the year. Moreover it tries to predict what will be trendy in the coming year; however it usually fails when trying to forecast the future.

This is the ranking of what has been cool in Japan during 2011:

1.- Smartphones
2011 was the first year in which more smartphones were sold than “traditional” Japanese cell phones known as “keitai”. Among the top 10 phones sold in the year, 6 are smartphones, most of them using Android, although the most popular have been the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S.

I also let myself follow the smartphone trend and changed my old Panasonic keitai for an iPhone 4 at the beginning of the year. What I like the most about my iPhone 4 is its camera.

My iPhone

2.- Facebook
If 2010 was the year of Twitter, 2011 has been the year of Facebook, which has become popular after establishing offices in Tokyo and launching a Japanese version for keitais. However it is still a second tier social network but it’s growing now faster than Mixi and Twitter.

3.- Energy-saving fans
One of the great problems after the earthquake disaster in Tohoku has been to ensure electricity supply during Summer to all prefectures that depended on the power previously provided by Fukushima. Many campaigns were run to make the population aware of using air conditioning the minimum possible. One of the products that benefited indirectly were fans, specially those positioned in the market as “low consumption”/”energy-saving”.

USB fan
Michi and Mika gave me this fabulous USB fan as a gift.

4.- Sanyo GOPAN Bread Maker – GOPAN
This new device designed by Sanyo is able to make bread using rice. Several work colleagues have bought it and they say that the bread is pretty decent. In almost every Japanese house we have a suihanki 炊飯器 to cook rice, this new Sanyo product has been well placed in the marketplace as a new indispensable kitchen gadget. It was released last April and more than 200,000 units have been sold.

Sanyo Bread Maker

5.- Nissin Cup Noodle Rice
Nissin, the largest Cup Noodles producer in the world released to the market rice cups that can be cooked any time using a microwaves. This year the ready-made food market has doubled compared to last year, most likely as a consequence of the earthquake, which changed the lifestyle and culinary habits during the months after the disaster throughout the most affected areas.

Nissin Cup Noodel

6.- Daihatsu Mira E:S and Mazda Demio 13 Sky Active
It’s the first time I hear about these cars. It seems they are very cheap (under 10,000 euro/ 13,000 dollars) and consume around 3 liters per 100km.

Daihatsu

7.- Makkori Rice Wine
Makkori is Korean rice liquor. I don’t know why but suddenly Suntory decided to release a new makkori brand and advertised it so much that the imports of makkori from South Korea doubled with respect to 2010. Until this year I had never seen makkori on sale in any supermarket, only in Korean restaurants.

Makkori

8.- Willcom – Call anyone flat rate
Willcom, the fourth cell phone carrier in Japan offers a flat rate for calls for only 980 yen per month (around 10 euro / 13 dollars). The truth is I don’t know why this shows up in this ranking when Willcom is the carrier which is highly likely to disappear from the map in the coming future.

Willcom

9.- Loxonin
Since I arrived to Japan I use “Bufferin” as an Aspirin substitute. Of course, there are also Aspirins in Japan but they are quite expensive and I think there are still no “generic” Aspirins. I remember that one day in which I had a terrible headache at work, I asked for one to Yamazaki, a girl which keeps at her desk a drawer full of medicines. However she didn’t have it and gave me “Loxonin”. She told me that I still couldn’t get it without a prescription but soon it would be possible. 20 minutes after taking Loxonin I felt like jumping and going out jogging.

If you are interested, they are on sale in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and India under different names. The main component of the pills is Loxoprofen.

Loxonin

10.- Kamen Riders transformation belt
The star product of the year for kids in Japan. It is some kind of belt that can hold Kamen Rider cards that you can buy separately and according to the cards you insert it reproduces music and different sounds.

Kamen Rider belt

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The "Happiest" Prefectures in Japan

Hosei University has published a list of prefectures in Japan ranked by their “happiness level”. To find out the “happiness” of each region they have taken into account the lifestyle, work environment, security and general health of the population.

The number one is Fukui, a quite poor province compared to the rest of the country. Its economy is mainly rural, also they produce a lot of glass and have 14 nuclear reactors. In fact, it is the prefecture with the most nuclear reactors in the country.

The two most populated prefectures in Japan don’t rank very well. Tokyo is placed in spot number 38 and Osaka in the last spot. What factors do you think are the most important for people to have a happy life?

  • 1- Fukui
  • 2- Toyama
  • 3- Ishikawa
  • ……
  • 38- Tokyo
  • ……
  • 46- Kochi
  • 47- Osaka

Source: Ichigaya keizai shimbun

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Golden Week

It’s Golden Week time in Japan, one of the longest holiday periods here after the year’s end and obon (in August). Golden Week was introduced short after the end of Second World War as a measure to fuel consumption. Nowadays it is chosen by most of the Japanese people to travel (the holidays at the end of the year and obon are mainly dedicated to spend time with family)

At the end of April and beginning of May the weather is ideal to travel around Japan, it’s not hot nor cold, and most likely the best time of the year to travel. The problem is that if you decide to come in this time to Japan, your holidays will overlap with the holidays of millions of Japanese people, you might feel overwhelmed by so many people and you might find yourself having a difficult time finding hotels and other stuff. If you decide to come to Japan on this time of the year the key is to book accommodation in advance (more than 2 months before).

Holidays during Golden Week

  • April 29th: Showa day
  • May 3rd: The day of the constitution
  • May 4th: The day of the green
  • May 5th: The day of the children

If you need more tips on traveling in Japan here you can find some.

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The importance of being diverse

The title and contents of this post are inspired by Ken Mogi’s original article “The importance of being diverse”

In today’s society, more and more globalized, sometimes we forget how important is every single one of us, as an individual, so that the harmony around us remains stable. We think that we are a small ant, moving in a dynamic system, and in part it is like that. Each ant, each one of us, has a different life; some work, some don’t; some travel, some don’t; some create a family, some don’t; some emigrate, some don’t. The day to day life of each inhabitant of this planet is diverse, this diversity makes little by little all the system to adapt to the technological changes of each generation.

We are the most adaptable species in this planet and still it’s difficult for us to get used to changing conditions. The Internet is “destroying” companies that dominated the world in the last century, even though they are trying to oppose the change, they can’t do anything. At the same time, almost without us noticing, the net is creating new ecosystems that create even more richness.

More and more we adapt faster to changes thanks to the diversity of the ants that live in the system. If there is more diversity, there are more opportunities. Problems come when a crisis affects our way of acting and a big amount of ants or all of them start to think about the same and act the same way, the diversity is lost, the system loses its equilibrium. When this happens the consequences are difficult to predict.

Since the earthquake on March 11st, the mentality of many of us that live in Japan has changed abruptly. Millions of people in the Tokyo area feared the worst, hundreds of thousand of people in the Tohoku are SUFFERED the worst, those who saved their lives are still suffering. The lifestyle of all of us during the last month has changed, we can’t stop thinking about what has happened. Instead of going out to dinner with friends, we stay at home reading the latest news about the nuclear power plant; instead of going out to the library to buy a book, we stay at home stupidly looking at our Twitter stream; instead of meeting clients in our offices we stay at home working remotely; instead of buying vegetables we buy bottled water (the water in Tokyo is safe, but many people fear it has small amounts of radioactivity); instead of going out to buy clothes we buy toilet paper (for some strange reason stores in Tokyo ran out of toilet paper the days after the earthquake); instead of buying chocolates we buy flashlights, batteries and helmets; instead of going out to dance we work extra hours; instead of going out for a walk in the parks we stay at home hearing what Edano (Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan’s government) says in NHK. We are all DOING THE SAME.

Suddenly, the diversity of the Japanese ecosystem is lost, millions of people are thinking about the same, affecting, directly and indirectly, everything; and we still don’t know the consequences. For example, many restaurants are closing temporarily, leaving people with temporary contracts without a job. Many workers of the entertainment industry and the restaurant industry are publicly claiming that without money the can’t help their families that have lost their houses and are still living in shelters in Tohoku. We should actively help through donations and other means, but is as important, to go back to our daily routines. It is important that we go back to the gym, we buy books again, we go party again. If you don’t live in Japan, maybe this looks stupid, but it is the reality in Tokyo and all around Japan right now. We should stop fearing, and that way we will be helping the victims and the recovery of Japan. The health of many people in Tohoku is in danger, the mental sanity of millions of people and the health of the Japanese economy is in danger as well.

The Japanese society is a collectivist society; many times people forget their own interests as individuals and act in a way that helps the interests of others; in order to help achieve group harmony. According to the classic metaphor of Adam Smith, while individuals pursue their own interest, a invisible hand will automatically help the interest of all society. This metaphor is strictly followed in individualistic societies like the United States, where most people make things for their own benefit, thus achieving in the long term a benefit for the consumers and society. However, in Japan, the metaphor is applied in the opposite sense. Here people work to serve the consumers and society, giving all they have and this way they will automatically receive the benefits on their own, thus achieving their own goals.

The collectivism of Japanese people maybe accentuates even more the non-diversity of this moments, in front of an extreme situation everybody acts calmly, everybody in the same direction. All the efforts are now focused on the catastrophe caused by the earthquake-tsunami. Maybe this collectivism doesn’t help in the short term but I hope that in the long term it will. This year is going to be very tough, the Japanese population will decline this year the most since the year 1945. I feel like the Japanese people will put everything they have into it, they are already doing it, working more than ever to stand back up after the fall. For good or for bad, this catastrophe will most likely have a “post-world war effect”, taking Japan out of the crisis that has been lasting for 20 years. Unfortunately, Japan is a society that has been modeled for hundreds of years by catastrophes, earthquakes, tsunamis and wars. They are “used” to nature and historic events destroying the harmony of their society, and they know more than anybody else how to confront these situations.

All this is affecting psychologically all of us that are living here, but we have to be strong. I couldn’t stand the stress of the week after the earthquake and I went down to the south to Fukuoka to telework from a more calm environment, more than one thousand kilometers away from Fukushima nuclear power plant. When I came back to Tokyo, I tried to go back to my usual routine, to the diversity of my life. Others decided to leave the country during some time, but the reality is that Japan needs us more than ever, it is not the moment to leave the country, it is not the moment to abandon the Japanese people. It can be hard, but we have to continue with our “normal” lives as soon as possible. We underestimate the importance of diversity, we underestimate the role that each of us plays in our society.

When facing a critical situation, human beings, our survival instincts, make us intolerant and closed-minded. Suddenly all of us look in the same direction, but the most important so that everything goes back to “normality” is that everybody looks in different directions, the ecosystem should be diverse.

I have been thinking about this since some days after the earthquake, and many of us have been thinking the same during the last month. Ken Mogi, one of the most interesting Japanese people that I know, explains it much better than me in this post in his blog:

Ever since the Tohoku Earthquake hit, so many events and meetings have been and are being cancelled in and around Tokyo. All over Japan, in fact. Some of them are put off as a direct consequence of the earthquake. Others are results of empathetic act on the part of those concerned, or rational efforts to relocate human and material resources in an effective way. The shortage of power necessitated a careful appraisal of all social events. Still, some cancellations simply do not make sense. Some cancellations are not wise actions, even from the viewpoint of helping those afflicted by the disaster.

The reason why we are well advised to carry on doing our daily chores, while needless to say caring and acting for the people in need, is perhaps rather complex in its makeup but not that difficult to grasp.

There is after all such a thing as a “healthy metabolism” of society. Without it, our society simply does not have the robust strength necessary to support and restore as required. “Normal” activities have to go on, even in areas where the connection to the rescue and relief efforts is not outright evident.

In order to extend help to those in need, volunteer works directly related to the emergency situations of course count. Food, water, fuel, and other indispensable materials need to be delivered to the areas of devastation quickly. Electricity must be provided. Media works are also evidently indispensable. The maintenance of communication channels such as mobile phones is one of the first priorities. Social networks, e.g., twitter and facebook, play increasingly important roles in keeping people connected. They have proved crucial in coping with this crisis.

The network of mutual influence and support, however, extends far wider than we would immediately perceive. The deterioration of diverse activities in society ultimately undermines our ability to respond to emergency and prolonged needs. Society is an organic dynamical system. With loss of diversity its very health is endangered.

In Tokyo, because people have been generally refraining from dining out since the quake, the restaurant industry is suffering. Events after events have been cancelled in the entertainment sector, affecting the lives of many. People working as freelancers or part-timers in various fields from media to catering are complaining about having their assignments cancelled at a very short notice.

At such a time of extraordinary crisis, there is a tendency in us humans to be focused on one thing, often verging on single-mindedness, if not amounting to outright panic. To be honest, that has happened to me, too. Ever since the fateful Friday afternoon on which the earthquake hit, I have been simply unable to take it off my mind. The same seems to be true for many people in Tokyo. Whenever I walk in the streets and pass people, the conversations I overhear are dominated by earthquakes. And doomsday scenario is not uncommon.

Only yesterday, as I walked through the backstreets, I heard a young man, crouching on the street, talking earnestly to an elderly couple. He was speaking rather loud, so that the words came to me very clearly.

“I know this from a close friend of mine. The Self Defense Force actually knows for sure that another big one is going to hit Japan. This time in Tokai area. They know it for sure. But powers that be do not acknowledge it. They are hiding the information so that people in Japan do not get too frightened.”

The elderly couple was listening to the young man’s version of conspiracy theory very eagerly. The gentleman was even nodding in a grave manner, as if to suggest approval and commitment. Granted, at a time of such an extraordinary crisis, conspiracy theories abound, and may sound psychologically real. The young man’s prediction of another earthquake hitting Japan is yet to materialize, and I hope it won’t come to pass. There is no evidence to suggest that another big one is imminent. Having said that, the whole episode suggested to me once again how narrow-minded we could become at those times.

So one of the difficult but absolutely crucial tasks now is to go back to life’s diversity, rather than shying away from it. We need a healthy entertainment industry. The restaurant sector has to flourish. Books need to be sold and read, hotels rooms have to be filled with laughter. While investing a substantial amount of our time and energy on the rescue and relief efforts, we somehow need to keep life’s diversity. Apart from thinking about this earthquake and pondering the future of nuclear energy, we need to sing a song of the various joys of living.

When you come to think about it, the charm of Japan derives much from the various kinds of natural and cultural varieties to be found in this small island nation. Facing and embracing diversity is actually so natural to the Japanese mindset, as is evident from the relaxed and sometimes haphazard way people in which approach religion. New Year’s Eve at the Shinto shrine, funeral in Buddhist style, celebrating Christmas in a big way, being wed before a minister in a church, making the eternal vows with hands on the bible. We needn’t learn new things. It simply suffices to remember.

One hopes that the current wave of cancellations, affecting the entertainment and restaurant industries in particular, would be only a temporary one. We need to realize the importance of breathing and enjoying an air of diversity. Only by keeping ourselves culturally and mentally robust through variability could we hope to help those in severe situations here and now, and you-know-where-and-when.

Original article by Ken Mogi

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