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TechCrunch Japanese, one month on July 25, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media, TechCrunch.

Following up from my post in June, I think a month is ample time for an organisation to get their act together.

So, where does TechCrunch Japanese stand, one month on?

The “Japanese editorial team” remains as anonymous as ever. And I do think this is a big deal.
Having seen more translated content, I have to say that I feel that more and more translation errors are becoming apparent. Or is it meant to be a liberal translation? Do the Japanese editors have free rein to modify the meaning of the text? The policy remains unclear. (My gut tells me most of the translation issues are errors, rather than conscious editing)

Also, I don’t like the writing style. It may just be personal preference, but I find that Japanese is not conducive to writing about “hard” subjects in a chatty conversational tone. I understand the whole bit about “blogs are meant to be about conversations” and all that, but stylistically I find the clash between the subject matter and writing style uncomfortable.

I don’t think that there is a fundamental problem with using english language original content to produce derivative Japanese content, outlets like CNET Japan appear to do it satisfactorily.

Hitoshi Igarashi (1947-1991) July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in crime, History, Japan.

The 15 year statue of limitations expired earlier this month, in the unresolved murder case of Hitoshi Igarashi, an assistant professor of comparative culture and specialising in Islamic studies at Tsukuba University.

It is highly likely that he was murdered because he had translated Salman Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses”.  Only a week earlier, the Italian translator of the book was also attacked and stabbed, although he escaped with his life.

The murder is all the more tragic because Igarashi’s stated position on the issue was a conciliatory one, trying to bridge the gap between the Islamists’ position and the one espoused by Rushdie. He felt that by translating the piece and making it more accessible to Japanese readers, more people would have a chance to judge for themselves.

The police are continuing their investigations, as the statute of limitations is suspended for any period that the assailant is outside Japanese jurisdiction. Rumours persist that an Iranian securities force backed hit squad was flown in specifically for this attack, and if this were the case the assailants probably fled the country quickly, and may still be brought to justice.

I thought it was a shame that this issue, relating to freedom of speech which is such a fundamental cornerstone of western beliefs of personal freedom, have received such little press. Not even a statement from Rushdie to mark the 15 year anniversary.

We must not forget.

Paloma Industries, another crisis management disaster July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan.

For the latest corporate crisis management disaster in Japan, let’s head to Nagoya and Paloma Industries.

Paloma Industries is a privately held company which is Japan’s #2 maker of gas powered water heaters (they also make other gas related equipment like gas cookers). It owns Rheem, the US water heater/HVAC company.

It has transpired that there have been more than 2 dozen incidents of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning related to the use of Paloma water heaters, resulting in more than 20 deaths going back more than two decades.

The company’s first press conference attributed the accidents to tampering of the saftey devices within the heaters which were designed to detect incomplete combustion. The implication was that the heaters were tampered with by either users or some third party over which Paloma had no control.

It now transpires that many of the cases of “tampering” are likely to have been known if not directed by Paloma. The problem began with a manufacturing fault with the safety unit, which resulted in a large number of units failing in the field. Replacements parts were in short supply, and repairers hotwired the units so that users would not be without hot water. It appears that at least some of these incidents were carried out with Paloma’s full knowledge.

Furthermore, the production of the spare safety units was terminated although Paloma had enough information to suggest that substantial numbers of units were likely to fail. (They did keep parts for the statuatory minimum 7 years)

The Paloma Industries group is a family owned business, with turnover of around $2Billion per year. It’s current 37 year old CEO is the 4th generation of the same family to head the company. His father is Chairman.

At a recent press conference where both were in attendance, each was attempting to shield the other from blame, which you could interpret as the lovely sight of father-son mutual love, or the out of touch behaviour of a family who presided over their own little kingdom. The problem with these mini-feudal organisations that are mega-family run businesses, is that the mere employees are often put in a situation where they are simultaneously demotivated by the promotional ceiling of a company where the top tier of management is defined by blood relationships, and work in a climate of fear/intimidation of a dictatorial boss which leads to poor communications and lack of transparency within the organisation.

It was sort of tragicomic to see one of the underlings attempt to cover his Chairman’s ass by stating that he was not sure if his boss was aware of the reported accidents, even after the Chairman had stated (to his credit, but then he has all but retired from the front line and was doing it mainly to deflect attention and responsibility from his son) that he had been briefed about the incidents at the time.

I guess the underling’s behaviour would have been lauded by many if not most Japanese in the past (even now?), but my personal opinion is that these people have a misplaced sense of loyalty. Of course, being a whistleblower is still very difficult in Japan, especially if you are a middle aged man without any outstanding skills as reemployment on similar terms is a remote possibility.

Unquestioning loyalty used to be the norm and a desirable characteristic. In this day and age, I think it should be seen as a character defect. Sign of a sheeple. A real man should stick to his principles and sense of justice (he should have a moral backbone and a decent set of principles in the first place, of course).

[Sidenote: I know things were different in WW2 (Japan wasn’t a signatory to the Geneva Convention for starters) but I happen to think that people who carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity (class B and class C war crimes) even if they were following orders, should not have been enshrined with the other soldiers who gave their lives for the nation – at least the ones found guilty of crimes severe enough to merit the handing down of the death penalty (about 1000 men in total).

I don’t see how crimes against peace are in such a different league to the other two types of war crimes, both of which seem to be equally dispicable (granted, Class A criminals directed the big picture but the individual acts of barbarism seem inhuman enough to me not to justify a honourable burial). I guess the alphabetical lettering makes it appear as if A>B>C in order of severity….]

[Endnote: Haven’t all these big Japanese companies heard of PR (or even more specifically, crisis communication) management companies? Given how pathetic most Japanese executives seem to be at handling actual communication, it would seem to be a great business to be in]

Cool Osaka? July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan.
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Osaka, modelling itself on the UK’s Cool Britannia effort (which seems so 90’s) has announced the Osaka Brand Summit to be held on the 25th of October.

Apparently the aim is to convince people the rest of Japan and the world that there is more to Osaka than Takoyaki and Owarai.

Officials and the local business community have apparently launched this PR campaign worried that many people associate negative images like muggings (of which Osaka boasts the highest incidence in the country) and bad manners (Osaka-jin being stereotyped as loud mouthed and common, and having shocking driving manners).

I guess they forgot the fact that we also associate Osaka with a thriving underworld (e.g. the recent Asuka-kai scandal), a huge homeless problem (i.e. the de facto slums of the Airin district), and the imminent bankrupcy of the local municipal government burdened under 1) an immense amount of debt from financing public sector white elephant construction projects (which are defended as a) having provided work to the construction industry during a time when the industry in Osaka was hard hit, or b) the difference in actual vs calculated demand for the products of the construction projects could not have been foreseen at the time (which is clearly bullsh*t, but is a line offered by bureaucrats all over the country and hardly anyone is ever held accountably) and 2) an inefficient, lazy, money wasting, and militant bureaucratic public sector workforce.

To be fair, there is a strong manufacturing base in and around Osaka, the Matsushita and Sanyo related clusters being two major examples. But Sanyo’s difficulties of late are another big worry for Osaka…

Matsushita announces its autumn PDP lineup July 20, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Japan.
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Matsushita, the leading PDP manufacturer, has announced 4 new models which go on sale on September 1st.

All of the new models are full HD (1920 x 1080), and include models with 50, 58 and 65 inch (diagonal) screens. The prices of the 58 and 65 inch models (at an estimated JPY1M and JPY0.85M respectively) handily undercut the prices of the similar sized full HD LCD models from Sharp, reflecting PDP technology’s cost advantages at the larger end of the spectrum.

The big news (pun intended) announced was the other model in the lineup, which is a 103 inch (that is more than 2.5 metres!) screen. Price, a whopping JPY6M (more than $50k).That is the same size screen as displayed at this year’s CES. Matsushita expects 5000 of these huge displays to be sold globally in the first year, with 500 units in Japan.
At the smaller end of the scale (the volume market for flat panel TVs is 37-45 inches), Matsushita said they are making technical progress in full HD displays for these smaller screens, but no schedule was announced for commercialisation. This is the big technical issue for PDP, assuming that consumers require a full HD screen.

Ruby on Rails contest in Japan July 19, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan.
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Ruby on Rails, the open source web framework, has attracted some attention as the underlying framework utilised by some high profile “Web 2.0” services.

Ruby was originally the brainchild of a Japanese programmer Yukihiro Matsumoto (aka Matz), and the Rails framework was developed by David Heinemeier Hansson, a Danish hacker  (He was recognised as Best Hacker of the Year at OSCON ’05).

Drecom, the newly listed blog/CMS/etc developer is sponsoring a Ruby on Rails development contest (website at http://rails.drecom.jp), with the winner expected to be announced on July 31st.

Regardless of the merits of a company with sales in single digit millions (USD), the bulk of which are associated with strategic investors who are likely to make a huge capital gain when they are able to offload their shares, with a product whose main product, blog hosting software, which is difficult at best to differentiate from competitive products being traded at a PER or 400+, it is nice to see companies holding events like these even if it is an exercise in publicity (and/or recruitment) first and foremost.

The winner gets 1M JPY (about $8500), with runners-up prizes of 100,000JPY. Judges include Matz, Gen Taguchi, the man behind 100Shiki.com a popular blog showcasing interesting concepts from abroad, and Masaki Fujimoto, the CTO of social networking site Gree.jp.

Zico and Koizumi July 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Politics.
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I finally realised who Zico reminds me of….

Following the Japanese football team’s “progress” over the last few years, I have been disappointed at the lack of progress made by the team. Yes, they qualified for the World Cup, but in such a weak qualifing region, that was the absolute minimum expected of the team. I personally feel that the revised FIFA rankings are more reflective of the Japanese team’s relative standing.

For all of Zico’s rhetoric, the Japanese team and perhaps more importantly the system behind the national team, including the nurturing of the next generation of talent, has taken a few steps back. For all of the criticism of the previous manager, Zico has benefited enormously from the work that was put in by his predecessors.

Zico has made a load of money along the way (he had is brother and other members of his posse in the setup, and they took away about $20M for their efforts, which seems to be a poor deal), and having completed his contract, is apparently off to coach in Turkey.

Prime Minister Koizumi is also expected to step down in September after a long (too long) time in office. For all his rhetoric, I believe Koizumi has also not done much during his tenure. We’ve seen that his priorities for structural reform seem to be more directed by what he can deliver for his friends, rather than real reform to improve the fundamental economic and social structure of this country.

Koizumi leaves behind a ticking time bomb for his successor.  Whilst no fan of the LDP, and especially Shinzo Abe who is seen as the front runner to take over, I sort of feel sorry for however eventually takes over.

My pity is mainly reserved for the citizens of this country, but most of them only have themselves to blame, having supported Koizumi during his tenure.

Back to work July 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general.

Apologies for the unannounced absence. I’ve been on a well deserved holiday, the first decent vacation in about 4 years. I’m back refreshed and raring to go.

I did a 10 day trip to Europe, most of the time spent in Italy. It was a foodie road trip, spending most of the time in Tuscany, returning to the region after a 10 year hiatus. The food and wine were enjoyable as ever. Tuscany seemed to be taken over by Americans whilst we were there, in August of course Tuscany becomes the English enclave called Chiantishire. Our most memorable nights were in rural Tuscany, in a wonderful hotel outside the village of Montalcino, renowned for its Brunello red wine. The hotel was located on a ridge with spectacular views of the valleys below filled with vineyards and olive trees. The weather was glorious, hot for sure, but with much less humidity than Tokyo, so I wasn’t sweating like a pig like I do everyday during my commute into work here.

The last couple of nights were spent in Milan, catching up on some shopping (it was sale season in Milan, as luck would have it), and just happened to coincide with the World Cup final, which meant that of course I had to head out to the Piazza del Duomo where a giant screen was set up hosting tens of thousands of mad italian football fans.  Howls of protest when the Zidane headbutt reply was shown, a massive cheer when the ref reached into his back pocket and showed red. You could hear a pin drop when the penalties were taken, the crowd bursting into cheers as the Italian players scored, and also when the French missed. After it was all over, absolute mayhem, into the early hours. It was great fun, I don’t suppose I’ll be in a country celebrating a World Cup victory with the locals very often. A memorable evening.

European hotels still mostly charge extortionate rates for internet access, and that was a good excuse to try to test my psychological dependency on internet access. I must say, it was hard. It really is psychologically addictive, more so than alcohol, and nearly as bad as nicotine withdrawal.
And now, back to work and blogging. A lot of backlog to process on both fronts….