Wishy-washy Japan

Japan 2007

Adapted from Metropolis

In 2007, the Japanese were wishy-washy about everything. Voters booted out the LDP, but they didn’t seem much happier with their replacements, the DPJ. A sumo grand champion was banished to his homeland before being invited back, and the country’s Self-Defense Forces announced that they were through supporting US-led anti-error operations … maybe. The only sure thing: everyone is looking forward to a happy and healthy 2008. But first, a look back.

The Year’s Best

Research

Academics spent the year finding out that…

  • The frequency of English in Japanese pop songs has plummeted because “the freshness symbolized by foreign words seems to be declining”
  • Japanese parents are less involved in bringing up their children than counterparts in South Korea and China
  • Japanese men prefer to kill themselves on a Monday, but not a Saturday or a holiday
  • The number of homeless in Japan decreased by a quarter during the past four years
  • Japanese couples have sex on average just 48 times annually, and just 1 in 10 say their sex life is “exciting”
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Break-throughs

In 2007, Japan’s scientists managed to…

  • Power an electric car to a speed of over 100km/hr using commercial AA batteries
  • Create baby mice from “bimaternal embryos”—in other words, without any male input
  • Develop a robot that can change direction without lifting its feet
  • Develop technology that can instantaneously determine whether someone is a minor or an adult (to screen users of alcohol vending machines, among other applications)
  • Replace a mouse’s teeth with ones created in a lab dish
  • Create a fire patrol robot with a nose so sensitive that it can identify a stinky ashtray
  • Twice break internet speed records, first by sending data at 7.67 gigabits per second, then at 9.08 Gbps
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Trends

Over the past 12 months it was noted that…

  • Net cafés are becoming de facto homeless shelters, as thousands of people of no fixed address spend the night there
  • It’s time to do away with the stereotype of Japan as an uncreative nation, after The Economist dubbed Japan the most innovative country on the planet
  • The pet boom has created a lucrative market for scam artists, like the one that fooled thousands of women into buying coiffured sheep under the ruse that the animals were actually dogs
  • Japan’s reputation around the world is on the rise, especially in the US and China, where record numbers of people view the country favorably
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Polls

This year’s surveys found out that…

  • 21 percent of Japan’s population is elderly
  • 88 percent of Japanese women in their 20s would refuse to marry a man who is a temporary worker
  • 39.3 percent of Japanese men smoke, a record low
  • 90 percent of the nation’s conbini have a problem with people dumping household trash in their bins
  • 73.3 percent of Japanese females aged 16-19 have had sex during the past month
  • 13.5 percent of able-bodied Japanese drivers admit to parking in handicapped spaces
  • 96.3 percent of Japan’s 2007 university graduates are currently employed
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Products

Hot items from 2007 include…

  • PowerBankSystem’s flexible solar panel, which can be rolled into a tube and stowed in a backpack for emergencies
  • TakaraTomy’s Wonderfulshot, a ¥6,000, .35-megapixel camera for dogs
  • Coleman Japan’s battery-powered portable shower, which is capable of pumping out 20 liters of water
  • Sony’s Walkman, which features a USB cap studded with Swarovski glass crystals
  • Yoshitoku’s Samurai Vader, a medieval Japanese version of the Star Wars figure
  • Hitachi’s “portable brain monitor,” which can keep tabs on the cerebral activity of subjects who are performing tasks in “normal daily life”
  • Hokkaido Prefecture’s Dual-Mode Vehicle, which uses rubber tires when driving on pavement and retractable train wheels when operating on rails
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Words to the Wise

Japan’s “words of the year” for 2007, as selected by Jiyukokuminsha publishing company, provide a snapshot of a country that’s feeling a bit insecure about itself.

“ハニカミ王子 (Hanikami Oji),” which can be translated as “bashful prince,” is the nickname of 15-year-old golfer Ryo Ishikawa (above, right), who won the 2007 Munsingwear Open KSB Cup and whose reserved, respectful manner touches a nostalgic nerve in older Japanese.

“どげんかせんといかん (Dogenka sento ikan)” (I have to do something), the campaign slogan spoken in Miyazaki dialect by newly elected governor (and former comedian) Hideo Higashikokubaru (above, left), was music to the ears of locals after their former gov was kicked out of office in a bribery scandal.

Other words bespeaking social ills include “消えた年金 (Kieta nenkin)” (vanished pension), which referred to the Social Insurance Agency’s missing pension-records imbroglio, “食品偽装 (Shokuhin giso)” (mislabeling of foods), and “ネットカフェ難民 (netcafe nanmin),” or net cafe refugees. On the lighter side was “どんだけ(Dondake?)” (What the hell?), the catchphrase of popular transvestite/makeup artist Ikko (bottom).

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It was a good year for…

  • Teenagers, who learned that they will be able to drink and smoke legally when the government lowers the age of majority from 20 to 18
  • Toyota, which was expected to surpass General Motors as the world’s top automaker
  • Sumo grand champion Hakuho, who won four tournaments and was promoted to the rank of yokozuna
  • Yosuke “Dainoji” Ochi, who beat out France’s Guillaume “Moche Pitt” de Tonquédec to take the crown at the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland
  • Japan’s real estate companies, thanks to a rise in commercial land prices for the first time since the days of the Bubble
  • Nintendo, whose market value surpassed that of Sony despite the fact that Sony generates eight times as much revenue
  • Japan’s love hotels, which reported sales of 2 to 3 trillion yen
  • The comics industry, which launched the inaugural International Manga Award and which found a highly visible supporter in PM candidate Taro Aso, who is said to read 20 manga a week.
  • Bluefin tuna, which the Fisheries Agency sought to protect because of overfishing
  • The Tokyo Marathon, which saw some 30,000 competitors turn out in pouring rain and numbing cold to participate in the inaugural race
  • Japanese language teachers around the world, as record numbers of foreigners are learning nihongo
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It was a bad year for…

  • Shinzo Abe, whose ineffectual one-year tenure as prime minister was bleak even by Japanese standards
  • The LDP, which gave up control of the upper house of the Diet to the DPJ in July
  • Sumo, which was buffeted by a hazing scandal, match-fixing controversies, and the exile of yokozuna Asahoryu
  • English school chain Nova, which went into bankruptcy
  • Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi, who lost his Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest crown to 22-year-old American Joey Chestnut
  • Japan’s national sports teams, who got trounced at the Rugby World Cup and the women’s soccer World Cup
  • The imperial family, after Prince Tomohito of Mikasa—fifth in line to the throne—was hospitalized for five weeks due to alcoholism
  • The Social Insurance Agency, which lost data on tens of thousands of pensioners
  • Niigata, which was hit by a massive earthquake that caused multiple deaths and trillions of yen in damages in July
  • Foreigners—including long-term residents—who are now required to be fingerprinted and photographed each time they enter Japan
  • Handgun deaths, after the murder of a SWAT officer during a hostage standoff in Aichi and the assassination of Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito
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Men of the Year

According to GQ Japan

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Politician

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Hideo Higashikokubaru
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Former comedian Hideo Higashikokubaru, 50, became a governor of Miyazaki prefecture after winning an astonishing 90.7 percent of the vote.

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Intellectual

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Mogi Kenichiro
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Sony’s computer scientist, Kenichiro Mogi, 45, explicated the thorny subject of neuroscience in numerous media appearances.

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Entertainer

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Lou Ohshiba
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Lou Ohshiba, 53, the most hated tarento of the ’90s, was the hottest star on Japanese TV thanks to his super-energetic personality.

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Business Leader

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Tadashi Yanai, Uniqlo CEO
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Tadashi Yanai, 58, founder of fashion brand Uniqlo, which enjoyed sales of over ¥525 billion in 2007.

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Sports

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Hara Tatsunori
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Manager Tatsunori Hara, 49, led the Yomiuri Giants to the Central League championship for the first time in five years.

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Women of the Year

According to Vogue Nippon

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Singer-Actress

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Anna Tsuchiya
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Anna Tsuchiya, 23, released Strip Me? in 43 countries and appeared in Mika Ninagawa’s drama Sakuran, which was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival.

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Athelete

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Miki Ando
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After a disappointing performance in Turin last year, Miki Ando, 20, made a strong comeback by winning the gold at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships.
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Pageant Queen

Riyo Mori

Shizuoka-native Riyo Mori became the second Japanese woman to win the Miss Universe title.

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Director

Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase, 38, snatched the Grand Prix at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival for her film Mogari no Mori.

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Musician

Mayuko Kamio

Violinist Mayuko Kamio, 20, won the first prize in the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition.

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Year of the Fake

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Fake
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The kanji for 偽 (itsuwaru), meaning “fake,” was chosen as the character that best summed up the year 2007 by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. A full 18 percent of respondents to the nationwide poll felt the character would serve as a fitting “good riddance” to a year rocked by food-labeling scandals, sumo shenanigans, the Nova debacle, and the usual bouts of political shady dealing, among other fiascoes. “I don’t know what to believe,” said one down-in-the mouth respondent. “I just hope that next year we can restore our sense of trust after all these deceptions.”

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The Year in Numbers

27
Consecutive batters retired by Chunichi Dragons pitchers Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase in throwing the first perfect game in Japan Series history

60
Number of transportation companies in the Tokyo area that accept Pasmo and Suica IC cards

5.8
Percent of “teenagers hanging around Shibuya ward” who have contracted a sexually transmitted disease

37
Average number of sexual partners these teenagers reported having

2 million
Number of Tokyoites who would be immediately killed by a North Korean nuclear ballistic missile strike

84,150
Kilos of trash illegally dumped on Mt. Fuji that were cleared by volunteer members of the Fujisan Club

110
Consecutive number of winters, since recordkeeping began in 1897, that Maebashi experienced snow accumulation at least once, before that streak was snapped in 2007

8
Number of infants left at the “baby hatch” for unwanted newborns at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto, during its first six months of operation

32,295
Centenarians in Japan, the first time the number has topped 30,000 since records began in 1963

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