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2002
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Issue #33 (Jan 11)
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JAPAN ZONE - July 25th 2001 - Issue #5
Newsletter of the Japan Zone website

http://www.japan-zone.com/

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The Upper House election is just days away but in my neighborhood at least the loudspeaker vans are conspicuously absent. I'll never forget the name of candidate Seki Masao, after my eardrums were pounded with his name, day in, day out for two weeks some years ago. I was unlucky enough to live on a main road as all day long, a woman's high-pitched voice screamed: "Seki Masao, Seki Masao, Seki Masao de gozaimasu". I don't know if he ever got elected but I've never heard his name since so I doubt it. I certainly hope not. Roll on Sunday. If you want to know more about the Upper House, or House of Councillors, visit their English website:
http://www.sangiin.go.jp/eng/index.htm

-- GIVEAWAY --

So, for the first Japan Zone giveaway, all you have to do is predict how many seats the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will win in the forthcoming election (hint: the LDP currently holds 107 seats in the 252-seat house, of which 46 seats are uncontested in the election). Those who guess right will have a chance to win a pair of traditional Japanese geta sandals or a T-shirt for the runners-up: Now Closed.


Good luck!

Mark McBennett
Webmaster, Japan Zone

Contents
1. What's going on in Japan
2. True crimes
3. Gei-noh news
4. Sports news
5. Make love, not war
6. More Engrish
7. Japan Zone updates
8. I stiiiiiill haven't found what I'm looking for...
9. Unsubscribe

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1. What's going on in Japan
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As slow progress continues to be made in the country's structural reforms, figures are being regularly released for fiscal 2000 that reveal just how bad a state the public corporations are in. The National Oil Corporation - set to be the first corporation to be sold off, the nation's postal services (made up of mail, savings and insurance), the (now defunct) corporation that managed reserves for public pension plans, and the Japan Highway Public Corporation all have debts in the trillions of yen. The reports fuel the debate over PM Koizumi's radical reform plans.

Also a major concern is the rapidly falling Nikkei Index, similar to the US Dow Jones. It has recently fallen to 16-year low levels and many fear it will soon break the psychological 10,000 yen barrier. The index briefly recovered when Koizumi took power but worries about the degree of inevitable 'pain' that will be caused by reforms have started to take hold. Perhaps not an auspicious time for McDonalds Japan to start trading on the Jasdaq, the Japanese version of the Nasdaq, on July 26th becoming the first McDonalds operation outside the US to list.

After a diplomatic standoff of several days, US Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland was arrested July 6th for the rape of a woman in her 20's in Okinawa in June. Woodland contends the sex was consensual. The military handed over the suspect saying they were reassured he would receive fair and humane treatment while in custody.

Tensions still flare up regularly between Japan and neighbors China and South Korea over the issues of history schoolbooks and the prime minister's planned visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Both foreign governments demanded changes be made to entries on events both ancient and modern in middle school texts but Japanese representatives said that while they have had changes made to factual errors they cannot enforce changes based on differing interpretations. They say the constitution, in fact, prohibits the government from doing so. Meanwhile, the August 15th visit to the shrine where Japanese war dead, including many Class A war criminals, are enshrined is regularly seen abroad as glorifying Japan's past militarism and aggression in Asia. The Japanese side insists that PM Koizumi neither praises nor glorifies the war. The Koreans have already taken several retaliatory steps, including cancelling plans to increase the availability of Japanese popular culture.

Ten people were killed and dozens more injured in a crush following a fireworks display in Akashi, Hyogo prefecture on July 21st when some 3,000 people (some estimates say 6,000) crowded onto a footbridge designed for a maximum of 1,800. The dead were two elderly women and eight children. Massive crowds gather every summer to watch displays all over the country but this is the worst such incident to date.

The extent of corruption exposed in the Foreign Ministry continues to grow. Two bureaucrats were arrested in connection with the skimming off of funds for the last G8 summit in Okinawa and they have indicated that their shady dealings were neither unusual nor isolated. It's about time the inner goings-on at the elitist and secretive ministry were revealed.

A man in his 50's kept his father's dead body in a freezer at his Yokohama home for 13 years in the belief that he could one day be brought back to life. The man went missing and the power supply to his home was cut off. Neighbors alerted the police when they noticed a foul stench. While bizzare, the man's actions are not illegal and police appealed to relatives to come forward and have the body cremated.

Oh-gui and haya-gui (eating as much or as fast as you can) contests are enjoying something of a mini-boom in Japan these days. One reason is 34-year old Arai Kazutoyo from Saitama Prefecture. Arai won the famous Fourth of July hotdog eating contest in New York's Coney Island last year and has become something of a celebrity at home as a result. This year Arai lost to 23-year old Kobayashi Takeru from Nagoya who set a new world record of 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. The amazing thing is how small and wiry both these guys are - Kobayashi is 173cm tall and weighs just 60kg.

Video game maker Square Co. released Final Fantasy X, the latest in a popular game series that saved the company from bankruptcy several years back. Costing some 35 million dollars to make and selling for 8,800 yen (70 dollars) the company hopes to recoup its costs and break the record of 3.8 million units. But with it only being available for the Sony Playstation 2, which has sold less than 5 million units, that seems a tough target. A movie version costing some 137 million dollars was released recently in the US with top actors such as Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi and Donald Sutherland doing the voiceovers. Despite getting lukewarm reviews, the movie's director Sakaguchi Hironobu is being touted as the latest Japanese to "make it" in the US. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within will open in Japan in the autumn. Yahoo's movie site has dozens of video clips and stills:
http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hv&id=1804476698&cf=mm2

A private survey showed that TV commercials for the Liberal Democratic Party featuring PM Koizumi are as poular as those featuring SMAP-ite Kimura Takuya or actress Matsushima Nanako.
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/smap.shtml
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/matsushima_nanako.shtml

The TV screening of the movie Titanic, which was cancelled because of the Ehime Maru incident, has been rescheduled for Aug 31/Sept 1. Nine people died when the ship was sunk by a US Navy submarine off the coast of Hawaii in February.


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2. True crimes
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A car carrying almost 80 million yen was attacked and stolen on the morning of July 10th in Kanagawa Prefecture. The two men in the car, who had been collecting cash and checks from Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in the small town of Manatsurumachi, were both injured in the robbery.

There have been a series of thefts of safes containing weekend earnings in the Kansai area of western Japan. The latest involved 52 million yen stolen from five supermarkets and a drugstore in Osaka, Hyogo and Wakayama prefectures on July 16th.

The number of lock-picking break-ins reported to the police last year was over 11,000 - about 100 times that of 1996. The word "pikingu" has even entered the Japanese vocabulary. Companies such as Miwa Lock, which has a 60 percent share of the residential lock market, are working round the clock and canceling summer vacations to try to keep up with demand for newer, more sophisticated residential and car locks.

An 11-year old boy was detained July 16th for several arson attacks in Tokyo, one of which resulted in the death of an 86-year old woman. The boy said he was angry that he was being bullied at his new school.


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3. Gei-noh news
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R&B sensation Utada Hikaru, who took the Japanese music business by storm a couple of years back, is set to become the youngest performer ever to do an "Unplugged" show on MTV on August 10-12. The 18-year old Utada, whose debut Japanese album "First Love" sold almost 8 million copies, grew up in New York and is bilingual.
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/utada_hikaru.shtml
http://www.toshiba-emi.co.jp/hikki/

Actor and comedian Ishibashi Takaaki, one half of the comedy duo Tunnels and a star of the Major League movie series, threw out the first pitch of the July 7th LA Dodgers-Seattle Mariners game. Ishibashi wore the No.16 shirt worn by Nomo Hideo back when he was with the Dodgers.

US-based illusionist 'Princess' Hikita Tenko is said to have recently spent time in Russia training for a space flight. It seems she and boyfriend Jean-Claude Van Damme plan to really get away from it all on their honeymoon. A suitably eccentric idea for this pair - while I can see that she's a real pro who works incredibly hard, I'm convinced that she's a total wacko; and he is said to be an ego on legs who's probably lost count of the number of times he's been married.

The relationship between actor Ozawa Yukiyoshi, son of the world famous conductor Ozawa Seiji, and actress Hayasaka Yoshie is getting serious after they received their parents' blessings. The pair appeared together in the 1999 movie Buta no Mukui (The Pig's Curse).

A lot of people were pissed off when actress and TV commercial starlet Hirosue Ryoko (20) got into Tokyo's presitigious Waseda University without having to take the entrance examination. Well, imagine how they feel now that she's decided to drop out! She is also said to be currently involved with TV personality Kaneko Ken.

Kuwata Keisuke, vocalist with the hugely popular band Southern All Stars, realeased his first solo single in seven years. "Nami-nori Johnny" went straight to number one in the Oricon chart. Southern All Stars official homepage (Japanese only):
http://www.jvcmusic.co.jp/sas/

Aoi Erina (26), daughter of actor Aoi Teruhiko became the first Japanese singer to debut as a pop singer in Thailand. She fronts the hip-hop band Erina & Afro Bros. and sings in a mixture of Thai, English and Japanese.

Singer Shiina Ringo, who took maternity leave at the peak of her popularity, has given birth to a baby boy. Many credit her with starting the current boom in 'gutsy' female vocalists.

Pro wrestler and TV 'talento' Onita Atsushi is one of several celebrities to run in the upcoming Upper House election. The popular wrestler has found a new lease of life in recent years, graduating from both high school and university. The experience was milked for all it was worth on the popular TV show "Gakko e ikko" and in bestselling books. Asked why he was going into politics, Onita said "I finished university after I turned 40. I'd like to use that experience to make the voice of the people heard." Other celebrities running include wrestler Tiger Mask 2 and Hayasahi Hiroko, wife of the late movie director Kurosawa Akira.

Kabuki actor Ichimura Uzaemon XVII died aged 84 on July 8th. Uzaemon was a national living treasure and head of the Tachibanaya kabuki family, one of 22 established families, which dates back to the 12th century.

Young kabuki star Izumi Motoya and actress Hano Akiko have announced their plans to get married in January of next year.

Popular actor Shishido Jo, best known for playing oyabun (yakuza boss) roles, is set to make his TV comeback after having cosmetic surgery earlier this year. He will appear in the NHK drama "Heart" which starts in September. The actor had silicone implants put in his cheeks many years ago which, over the years, had sagged to give him a distinctive Droopy look.

Meanwhile his son, Shishido Kai, and sidekick Kane Kosugi (son of Hollywood ninja actor Sho Kosugi) continue to scale mountains and ford raging rivers in the famous and long-running Lipovitan D TV commercials. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the popular "genki drink" or tonic which includes vitamins, caffeine and nicotine. The CM's macho copy - "Faito!! Ippatsu!!" has become perhaps the best known in Japan. Kind of difficult to translate into English, though. "Faito" comes from the word "fight" but means "Do your best" while "Ippatsu" literally means "one shot" and is something like "Give it your best shot". Lipovitan D is made by Taisho Pharmaceuticals and is just one of a wide range of these drinks that have helped many a strugglking salaryman or hungover English teacher get through the working day.
http://www.taisho.co.jp/

Rock group Mr. Children released two albums of the greatest hits and they went straight to No.1 and 2 spots in the Oricon chart.

Sakamoto-chan is one of the most widely seen faces on TV at the moment. A guy of ambivolous sexual orientation, his age has been a mystery since he first became popular on the Dempa Shonen TV show. The show followed the exploits of this apparent dimwit as he spent several months confined to one room, studying in an effort to get into university. He looks and claims to be 'young' - he talks as if his voice is just breaking - but now that it has been revealed that he is actually 35, maybe his star will stop rising.


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4. Sports News
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July 10th's Major League Baseball All Star game was the subject of great interest in Japan, with the appearance of superstars Suzuki Ichiro and Sasaki Kazuhiro. Both played their part in ensuring a fifth-straight win for the American League over the National League. Ichiro got the first hit of the game and "Daimajin" Sasaki closed the game in the ninth inning. Ichiro had the highest number of fan votes for the game - at over 3.3 million some 800,000 more than the second-placed player. But after the All Star game, he had the longest hitless streak of his career, going 0 for 18 until he got two hits as the designated hitter in the July 17th game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. NY Mets outfielder Shinjo Tsuyoshi returned from injury after a month and drove in the winning run in a game against the Florida Marlins July 18th.
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/suzuki_ichiro.shtml
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/sasaki_kazuhiro.shtml
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/shinjo_tsuyoshi.shtml

Hawaiian former sumo Ozeki (champion) Konishiki sang the national anthem before the first of the All Star games on July 21st. His rendition of Kimigayo was quite impressive and well received. It should do his budding musical career no harm at all.

Synchronized swimming duet Tachibana Miya and Takeda Miho became the first Japanese to win a gold medal in their sport at the World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka on July 20th. The next day, the Japanese took silver in the team event.

Maruyama Shigeki ended a two-decade drought for Japanese golfers on the PGA Tour when he won the Greater Milwaukee Open in a playoff on July 15th. Maruyama is Japan's most popular golfer, as famous for his smile and energy as he is for his swing. After becoming the first Japanese PGA winner on the US mainland (Isao Aoki won the Hawaii Open in 1983) he said his next dream is to "Beat Tiger Woods!" He still has a way to go - he didn't even make the cut in the Open.

Sumo Yokozuna (grand champion) Takanohana decided to sit out the Nagoya basho (tournament) due to injury. This left Hawaiian giant Musashimaru as the sole Yokozuna and favorite to take his first yusho (championship) since last September. But Ozeki (champion) Kaio, who was kadoban (facing demotion after a losing tournament if he had another losing record) for this basho, stayed neck and neck and got the yusho - his third - with a day to spare.
http://www.japan-zone.com/omnibus/sumo.shtml

Japan's No.1 women's tennis player Sugiyama Ai was a beaten finalist twice at Wimbledon, in the women's and mixed doubles. I was surprised to find that she is ranked No.1 in the world in doubles.

Lots of soccer news:

Japan retained the Kirin Cup with an excellent goal from Inamoto Junichi in a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia on July 4th. Yugoslavia (world No.11), one of Europe's stronger teams, earlier lost to world No.10 team Paraguay 2-0. These cup results should see Japan move up from the No.33 position it held in June.

Off the pitch, the big news was the signing of several Japanese midfielders for top European teams. Nakata Hidetoshi (24) stayed in Italy, moving from AS Roma to Parma for 26 million dollars; Ono Shinji (21), a vital part of the J-League's most fanatically-supported team Urawa Reds, joined Feyenoord of Holland. Ono's fee is said to be between 400 and 500 million yen over four years; two players are making their way to the English Premier League - Gamba Osaka's Inamoto Junichi transfered to London club Arsenal (my team incidentally), while Cerezo Osaka striker Nishizawa Akinori (25) joined newly-promoted Bolton Wanderers on a one-year loan. Nishizawa had a less than successful spell with Espanyol in Spain last season.
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/nakata_hidetoshi.shtml

Also in soccer, the first-stage championship of the J-League was won by Jubilo Iwata on July 7th with a 2-1 "golden goal" win over Yokohama F Marinos. Jubilo will play the winners of the second stage in a two-leg playoff in December.

July 21st saw the end of the J-League first stage and the final game of Dragan Stojkavic's 20-year career. The hugely talented and popular Yugoslav international midfielder is the only foreign player to have spent eight seasons with a single J-League team, in his case Nagoya Grampus Eight. His final game was a 3-0 victory over the bottom-dwelling club Tokyo Verdy 1969.


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5. Make love, not war
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TIME Magazine
Always includes features on Japan in its Asian edition.
What, me worry? - former Peruvian president Alberto Fujinmori is said to have stashed away more than 12 million dollars of money donated by Japanese supporters to help him fight poverty.
http://www.time.com/time/asia/news/magazine/0,9754,166747,00.html
Make love, not war - Disney is spending big, big bucks to make sure Pearl Harbor is a Titanic success in Japan.
http://www.time.com/time/asia/arts/magazine/0,9754,166755,00.html

Japan Lite - Japan's Best Humor
http://www.amychavez.addr.com
Amy Chavez writes a humor column for the Japan Times. While the Best Humor claim might be reaching a little bit, she has some funny insights into the peculiarities of Japan.


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6. More Engrish
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Didn't come across any new weird or wacky Engrish myself recently but I did find another website dedicated to the collection of this 'art form'.
http://www.thejasper.com/Engrish/Eindex.html


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7. Japan Zone updates
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Finally got around to adding some new content. The latest additions are:

The great Japanese pastime of pachinko.
http://www.japan-zone.com/modern/pachinko.shtml

Japanese literature, from ancient times and in the the modern era, from the Meiji period.
http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/literature.shtml
http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/mod_literature.shtml

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8. I stiiiiiill haven't found what I'm looking for...
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The site has such a wide variety of content that there's most probably lots you haven't seen. If ever you don't find what you're looking for, let me know. It might be on the site somewhere or I may be able to help you track it down. I've recently been able to help out people looking for info
on Japanese companies, movie directors and next year's cherry blossoms in Kyoto.

By the way, I found the movie that I mentioned a visitor from Russia was looking for in the last newsletter. It was a 1979 movie titled Sengoku Jieitai (or GI Samurai).


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9. Unsubscribe
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