Japan Today

TomDC comments

Posted in: Bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of plastic bits: study See in context

I'm old enough to remember a time when there was very little plastic in the use. Preserved food and beverages came in glass bottles or cans. Glass bottles were returned and reused. The crates holding pop and beer bottles were wood and metal. We wrapped things in wax paper and aluminum foil. A PR person from the plastics industry visited our engineering class to encourage us to consider designing in plastic. He asked us to think of products that we used daily, that were plastic. It was hard. Quick answers were the telephone (the landline at home) and the toothbrush. So, I suppose we were ingesting plastics from our toothbrushes for a long time -- though you can buy wood and horsehair toothbrushes in Asakusa. Another source of micro and nano plastics in the environment are clothes and fabrics made of synthetic fibers. All of our laundry drain water and dryer exhaust puts out plastic fibers. In a single lifetime, the amount of plastics in the world have exploded.

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Posted in: Kyoto wants to add extra charges for tourists to use city buses See in context

Im old enough to remember the street car system in Kyoto. Kyoto ripped it out just before other cities in the U.S. started spending millions to put streetcars back in. Kyoto is proud of its heritage but also wants to be a “modern city” with little understanding of how to do that in a balanced and thoughtful way. Results are Kyoto Tower, ripping out the streetcar tracks, Kyoto station.

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Posted in: How Italy's generous green homes scheme got out of control See in context

Not well thought out is an understatement, but the article did not include an estimate of the benefits, which will reduce the cost of the scheme considerably (although not make it free). First is the economic stimulus of the construction sector income. The people hired will pay taxes and buy goods. The construction companies purchased materials and services, and will pay taxes on their profits. There will also be a long-term reduction in annual energy payments for years to come, which is cash that mostly leaves the country and the EU. Finally, much of the energy purchased to heat those homes came from Russia. Europe needs to reduce dependence on Russian gas if it is to discourage Russian aggression through sanctions. It is hard to put a price tag on that.

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Posted in: Operator of missing Hokkaido boat apologizes for causing fatal accident See in context

Of course this is a tragedy for the poor people lost and their families. It is also a tragedy for the community and industry, and a strong argument for effective regulation so that prudent, experienced operators can stay in business, and good employees can keep working and developing their skills.

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Posted in: Robot photos appear to show melted fuel at Fukushima reactor See in context

Rather than inchoate fear of nuclear energy what we have here is inchoate technology. What system should be implemented that doesn't have a solution for a worst case scenario, when worst case has such a high cost? As we have seen, it is not sufficient to write off a worst case scenario based on an estimate of low probability, as these estimates make many assumptions that can't hold up over the needed time spans. Leaving aside the unpredictability of a natural event, these probability estimates assume that the nuclear power plant is located in a stable society and not exposed to active threats. Radioactive sites remain dangerous longer than any modern government has been in existence. Even assuming no accidents, there are insufficient sites for long-term storage of radioactive waste from spent fuel and decommissioned plants. We should rightfully be suspicious of declarations by political authorities and hired technicians because they are invested in a system that had promised to be a solution to their fears of having to rely on a global supply chain of fossil fuels. This is top of mind with the situation in Ukraine. But the increasingly apparent problems with the fossil fuel system does not make the risks of nuclear go away. People in positions of influence are only going to be concerned with the current election cycle or the next big contract. There is no benefit to them of paying attention to long-term viability.

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Posted in: Classic rock albums turning 50 See in context

Yes -- Close to the Edge

Jethro Tull -- Thick as a Brick

Allman Brothers -- Eat a Peach

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Posted in: Ghosn says he is helping everyone who stood by him See in context


Japan is a member of Interpol, meaning this type of limited information sharing has an existing legal basis. It's been approved by the Diet. Information sharing with Lebanon has not. That's the big difference.

So, you are saying that by their own fault, Japan is not able to share information that might convince Lebanon that there is a reasonable case against Ghosn and that he would have a fair trial in Japan?

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Posted in: Ghosn says he is helping everyone who stood by him See in context


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Posted in: Top METI official takes flak for business trip parties in Texas in 2017 See in context

If you are an organization promoting start-up companies (METI is), then SXSW is the place to be, and parties are where connections are made. It is crazy expensive to do that at SXSW. onsider also that $23,400 is not a lot of money for, say, a nice booth for a week at a big trade show. Now, we could surely question whether a METI official would be able to work SXSW effectively, but I would not automatically label this as corruption or gross incompetence. Who was there? What results were obtained? Were records kept? If, say, representatives from 20 Japanese start-ups attended and were able to meet VCs, that's not too bad. If it was only Maeda-san and a few friends, that would be bad.

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Posted in: New Harajuku Station building opens in Tokyo See in context

JR just thinks the old station is a wasted retail opportunity. All those young people streaming by and no one spending money on their property. I suppose that is how a stockholder corporation is supposed to think, but, but is there any such thing as the public good? If each business optimizes its own property the charm of a location as a whole, and the reason for people to go there vs. somewhere else, is lost. I won’t even get into the larger question of is a city just a big shopping mall?

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Posted in: Harajuku Station will be demolished after the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics See in context

Pedestrian flow and safety are important and will be addressed, but I'm sure the awful volume of the new station is more about JR wanting to profit from in-station shops. They see all these young consumers passing through and they can hardly make a yen off them now because there is no room for shops. That's a tragedy for them. So the beautiful outside spaces and large trees behind the station will be given over to more retail.

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Posted in: Britain’s politicians would be wrong to undo rail closures See in context

Demanding that a rail line make a profit is a little like demanding that the sewer network in your town make a profit. It is very cheap to make a home without water and drain pipes and a town without sewers, but large, shared benefits accrue from having them -- like increased density, more efficient use of land, and general well-being. That's why zoning laws require them. The same could be said of rail, which allows increased density, better fuel efficiency, reduced pollutants and greenhouse gases, more efficient use of land, more universal access to transportation. No transportation system is unsubsidized. Fuel taxes do not fully pay for roadways. Air fares (taxes, landing fees) do not fully pay for airports and air traffic control systems. Furthermore, this article ignores network effects. The branch and short lines may not have many passengers, but how do passengers get to the trunk and long-distance lines? The system must be considered as a system.

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Posted in: Court rules TEPCO execs not guilty of professional negligence over nuclear crisis See in context

In a way, this is a not a bad outcome for the anti-nuclear movement. If these individuals were found liable, one might conclude that nuclear energy is safe, except for a few negligent actors, which the system is correcting. As no specific individual negligence was found, one might conclude that our social systems are not up to the challenge of safely operating multiple nuclear power plants worldwide (if anywhere). There are technical solutions for all of the problems we are aware of, but -- as demonstrated at Fukushima, Chernobil and Three-Mile Island -- it is a challenge for organizations to sustainably maintain operations flawlessly -- and there will always be unexpected events.

An even bigger challenge than operating the plants is developing a nuclear waste transportation and disposal capability that will be safe for thousands of years. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. What evidence do we have that society is capable of meeting this challenge? To date, there is no long-term high level nuclear waste storage solution in the United States.

People on this forum know that Japan is far from perfect, but if Japan, with a relatively high level of technical ability, industrial capacity, social order, and quality control expertise cannot safely operate nuclear plants, then how will the other 30 countries with nuclear power plants fare? Several of these countries are less stable politically and have a less well-developed engineering infrastructure than Japan. Natural disasters are a threat worldwide, as are wars and terrorism.

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Posted in: Disputing Koizumi, new industry minister calls no-nuclear power policy 'unrealistic' See in context

Hiro wrote: "Currently many other countries try to build nuclear powerplants as a solution to supply their nation with cheaper cost while Japan instead is trying to scrap them. "

Most studies show that nuclear power today is not the low cost option -- only with government subsidies they receive for liability insurance. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

Even the French studies (a country that is all in with nuclear power) show that nuclear is competitive in cost only with state-subsidized insurance. The Japanese study -- almost alone -- shows nuclear is cheapest -- but that is with state subsidized insurance.

And I don't think the cost of Fukushima is being factored into the cost for Nuclear. The cost of the evacuation. The decrease in the value of the land. Lost production. And now TEPCO is saying that they can't continue to store radioactive cooling water. What has been the loss in Japanese fishery exports because many countries won't import Japanese fish? What private insurance company (experts in assessing risk) is going to insure all that?

I suspect most countries subsidize nuclear energy because they want to have nuclear technology for other purposes. Some large and well-connected Japanese companies still hope to export nuclear power products. A Japanese energy policy that doesn't include nuclear will surely end these hopes.

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Posted in: LDP calls for law to tighten regulation on IT giants See in context

I think that Rakuten (a Japanese company) and Yahoo Japan (a Japanese company) will also fall within this discussion? 

I agree that many of these sites have too much market power, but Rakuten, Yahoo Japan, Softbank, although Japanese, are not the same as Toyota, Toshiba, etc. in terms of influence baked into the system. Including them in the government statement gives the appearance of fairness. Rakuten was also included in the recent government raid on travel booking sites. The company being protected in that raid is JTB -- and the hotel industry. JTB's booking terms are all in favor of the hotels. Can the LDP deliver real economic innovation and reform without antagonizing their base? Or will giving establishment companies time to compete work out best for Japan?

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Posted in: Trump threatens Harley-Davidson with higher taxes over European production move See in context

Do you realize what the unfair trade policies are costing the US today?*

Nothing, and clearly you don't know either when you make claims equating trade

imbalances like debt, they are not the same thing.

Trade imbalances are part of the current account of a country. The other major component is investment. The U.S. has been able to do OK despite consistent trade deficits because of net positive investments. But a deficit is not a good thing -- in trade or investment. An absolute deficit would ordinarily put downward pressure on the value of the dollar, which would make our exports cheaper, but the U.S. benefits from (still) being a global default currency and a relative safe haven.

The fact is Americans consume more than we can make in a lot of goods.

Our only option is to import products. Otherwise, consumption falls and hello recession!

I am not arguing for it, but there is no reason why the U.S. could not manufacture enough for its own consumption. Manufacturing has been moving offshore because American companies can boost profits this way, while reducing wages paid. Boost domestic manufacturing, increase employment, support the economy. Higher prices may reduce consumption in terms of number of units, but the total amount spent need not fall, and more of the money spent would end up in paychecks of people who need to spend to live.

Anyways, why should consumers be forced to pay higher prices? If they want to pay higher

prices for American goods, they can. If they want to buy cheaper goods, they also can. Is that not fair?

That is fair, but fair doesn't always mean smart. It is a recipe for long-term economic decline, and therefor not in the long-term interest of any American. As a higher and higher percentage of Americans earn lower wages at marginal and service sector jobs, or no jobs at all, either social support services are increased (taxes) or crime and health problem burdens increase (even for wealthy people, who still have to live with, and try to sell their products/services to increasingly poor and problematic people). Also, as manufacturing moves offshore, engineering design follows, business support services follow, investment in plant and equipment follows. Ultimately, our only economic contribution becomes natural resources. Natural resource based economies tend not to do well.

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Posted in: U.S. delivers second radar defense system to Japan See in context

Good fences make good neighbors.

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Posted in: LDP accused of avoiding election questions from foreign journalists See in context

Punishment for not playing nicely during their last minister interview. That's what the Japanese press fears. Lack of access.

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Posted in: Ex-U.S. POWs visit Japan, recall horrors of war See in context

Jeff Lee:"The Heiwajima Kannon shows a Japanese Shinto god, which seems to, um, miss the point. "

I can't see the monument but Kannon suggests a Buddhist statue, not Shinto. And yes, there is a big difference.

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Posted in: Germany urges Japan to deal honestly with WWII past See in context

We who debate here are all just pawns in their game. The politicians on all sides are playing with fire for their own gain. Going along with them risks repeating the mistakes of the past. Recognize that we all have the capacity to do horrible things -- or at least look the other way -- and our only defense is to actively seek good will and reconciliation. And also be courageous enough to turn out the politicians who are inflaming passions. Not easy on all fronts as the LDP and CCP know what buttons to push. They know how to frame the debate. They know that greed -- the prospect of economic growth and wealth -- will buy off principled resistance and corrupt morals.

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Posted in: 70-year-old Japanese politician arrested in China on drug charges See in context

Who is making meth in China? And why isn't that stopped in a country with a loyal citizenry (what I gather from reading comments on a Japan Today) and watchful government?

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Posted in: Japan takes issue with Google maps over disputed islands See in context

I have fairly modern maps that show Tibet as an independent country, and an island off China is called ROC. Is it OK to produce maps with these names today? A map's labeling can influence public opinion. And public (world) opinion is relevant.

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Posted in: U.S. opposes bullying by China in disputed seas See in context

Always fascinating debate: China's right. Japan's right. Japan is a dog (what's wrong about a dog?). Fascinating not because it's so repetitive and predictable, but because it exposes all of our fears, insecurities, injuries to our egos. The politicians who know how to play our insecurities for their own gain always appear. What if we just decided not to play the game by the rules presented to us as alternatives? Where were we all when these islands were just a few rocks? Oh yeah, money (oil and gas) complicates things -- greed. Perhaps. There is not going to be any final resolution because the rocks are just metaphors for our feelings, insecurities, fears, frustrations, bent egos, greed (which is insecurity). It is probably asking too much of ourselves to examine our feelings, to trust that we are all generous when calm, and realize we are all devils when insecure. To calm down, think and talk.

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Posted in: Japan losing diplomatic banquet battle to China See in context

This article is going for sensation. The reduction in budget is causing consulates to cut back on cultural events, and a whole host of other activities that help people abroad develop an appreciation of Japan. Japanese consulates are being cut. Japanese language classes are being being phased out while Chinese classes and events are becoming more frequent. An Asian Studies department at an American university these days is more likely headed by a Chinese professor than a Japanese professor. There is a battle going on for hearts and minds -- make no mistake about it. "Shrimp tempura" is a lot cheaper than stepped up patrols in the Pacific and probably more effective in swaying world opinion.

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Posted in: Apple looking at bigger iPhone screens, multiple colors See in context

StormR: "Samsung is miles ahead in all areas."

You should be more precise. Exactly how many miles?

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Posted in: Japan hits back at critics at Davos See in context

Japan should invest in European bonds, that would have the dual effects of gaining European praise and lowering the value of the Yen.

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Posted in: French broadcaster apologizes to Japan over Fukushima gag See in context

An Asian team can't beat the French team without some bizarre reference to a four-armed goalie -- never mind the Fukushima angle?

On the other hand, it shows laudable freedom of opinion to make a joke about the danger of nuclear power in France -- a country totally dependent on it.

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Posted in: Japanese violinist to get her $1.2 mil Guarnerius back from German customs See in context

Just Google "yuzuko horigome" and click on images, and you can see dozens of pictures of her and the famous violin. I've traveled all over with laptop computers (my tool in trade) and have never been asked for a receipt and I am not an EU resident, like Horigome san. What were they thinking? Not thinking?

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Posted in: Japan to complete 3 new reactors despite no-nuclear policy See in context

We paid taxes for these nuclear plants. Better to complete what was built than abandon all these projects and ensure that there will be enough power to cool down the plants in the disaster. The country will be entirely dependent of other countries gas and will need to pay even more if it chooses power down everything. -- HKitagawa

Are you saying that nuclear power is economical compared to alternative energy even after adding the cost of Fukushima's displacement. loss of agricultural output and loss of land? It bankrupted the largest utility in Japan and put all taxpayers on the hook. Which is the impractical source of energy? And talk about dependence on other countries. How many uranium mines does Japan have? Where is nuclear waste processed? And where will it be discrded long-term? And what is Japan's defense going to cost as nuclear weapons proliferate. When all is factored in -- nuclear energy is hardly a bargain. It seems cheap only because these costs are mostly borne by others.

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Posted in: China slams U.S. after Senate passes currency bill See in context

China is following a mercantilist policy, and the only reason why there has not been pushback is that so many American corporations have been profiting from the low yuan. American retail stores sell Chinese made goods at huge markups. Chinese manufacturers are not benefiting as much as they should. A change in policy to allow Chinese consumption would benefit parties on both sides.

The Chinese government knows it will need to switch to a consumption-driven economy at some point. It is very expensive for the government to keep the yuan low in the face of a massive trade surplus. There is a risk of inflation. They are waiting for the right moment. Maybe waiting for a few more American manufacturers to go under, sell their equipment and lay off skilled workers. Waiting for Chinese factories to increase their capabilities. This way they can compete even with a higher yuan.

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