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Guess who gets Comsn’s care businesses? September 13, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in crime, Economy & Business, Japan, Society.
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A previous post relating to Comsn’s divestiture of its care businesses.

Comsn has announced their plans for divesting their care businesses.

The residential home business goes to Nichii Gakkan.

The homebound care businesses are to be divested on a prefecture by prefecture basis (PR). Japan Care Service gets 13 prefectures, Nichii gets 5. (Various others make up the balance)

Why do I mention Nichii and JCS? Because they were both also implicated by the Tokyo metropolitan government for illegal practices.

I guess Comsn/GWG’s statement regarding their selection of buyers for the businesses – specifically that part about selecting buyers who can show that they are lawabiding corporate citizens with solid compliance trackrecords – has gone out the window.

As I had predicted, the MHLW seems to be spinning this as a Comsn problem, they announced that the amount Comsn has been billing illegally now stands at nearly JPY1.5B. No mention of other companies in the report, though.

I guess they have managed to do their job and make everyone forget that it isn’t just a Comsn problem. The fact that the mainstream media is willing to let this one go unnoticed seems to be par for the course. It still makes me sick, though.

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Comsn continued June 12, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Japan, Society.
5 comments

With Goodwill Group being pressured into divesting Comsn to a third party, several groups are being mentioned in the press as potential parties to a transaction.

Watami has expressed an interest in the old peoples’ homes business, which they already have a presence.

Another interested party is Nichii Gakkan, who is a major player in the care services market.

But Nichii was one of the three companies (along with Comsn and Japan Care Service) which were named as having profitted illegally from abusing the system.

A Tokyo Metropolitan Government sanctioned inquiry had found that Nichii had pocketed approximately $1M illegally, compared to Comsn’s $2.5M.

Why is the media glossing over the fact that Nichii has also been abusing the system, even if they did not engage in the tactics employed by Comsn of liquidating their subsidiaries to escape punishment?

It seems to have been decided by the media’s puppetmasters that Comsn will be used as a scapegoat whilst others who engaged in substantially similar illegal practices are allowed to continue as if nothing had happened.

Whilst Comsn’s attempt to avoid punishment is undoubtedly a underhanded act which exacerbated the situation, the underlying issue is that a number of major care service providers have been institutionally defrauding the taxpayer. The problem is bigger than one single corporation.

It seems the problem is being spun as being due to a greedy rogue corporation, when the signs are that there are fundamental problems with many of the larger players in this sector.

Pretending that the problem is isolated to Comsn is unacceptable. A wholesale review of the industry is required. But I don’t expect that to happen in the current climate. The underlying problems will resurface again later, after more people suffer, and more taxpayers’ money is wasted, unless the structural problems are not addressed. Another MHLW disaster in the making.

Measles outbreak hits Japanese universities May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.
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More than 50,000 university students have been affected by closure of campuses, mainly around the Tokyo area. More than 90 cases have been reported at Nihon University, 3o cases at Waseda, and 16 cases at Sophia, amongst others.

Campuses are being shut down for upto a week to prevent cross-infection on campus.

Why the sudden outbreak of measles amongst university students?

To answer that, we go back to 1988, when the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations began. Prior to that measles and rubella (german measles) vaccinations were carried out separately.

The MMR vaccination regime brought with it an increased number of reported cases of encephalitis, which was attributed to the use of the Urabe-strain used to prepare the mumps vaccine. The MMR triple vaccine was withdrawn in 1993, but in the interim period, many parents decided not to vaccinate their children because of the potential side-effects.

In 1993, measles and rubella vaccinations were reverted to separate vaccinations. In 2006, a Measles-Rubella (MR) double vaccine regime was introduced (with a booster).

MMR vaccinations are usually administered at age 1. So babies who were up for vaccination during the ill-fated MMR regime between 1988 and 1993 will now be between the ages of 15 and 20. The MMR scare only really got going in 1989, so the window is actually more like 4 years, between 1989 and 1993 (age 15-19), with a likely increase in numbers who were not vaccinated as time went on.

This would put around half of the undergraduate population in the high risk group. It is not uncommon for universities (and especially new entrants thereto) to be associated with high incidences of contagious diseases, due to the sudden increase in exposure to people. I remember when I was a university student in the UK, there was a public health awareness campaign around meningitis which saw increased infection rates amongst new university students.

In any case, the current outbreak is directly linked to the botched MMR vaccination regime, and the neglect of the government agencies (specifically the Ministry of Health (MHLW as it is now), which has had more than its fair share of disasters – Fibrinogen/Hep C and Factor 8/HIV being the two most famous) involved in following up with the high risk group until now.

(Litigation regarding the side-effects of the MMR vaccine is on-going, after more than a decade…..)

The Digg effect and some additional thoughts on Japan and Racism February 23, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Society.
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Thanks to some link love from my friend Matt, whose post hit the Digg’s World News page and the top page of Digg, the post I wrote on the way the same statistics are described by Japanese and English versions of the same newspaper has been getting a ton of hits. I hope at least a few of them stay around or check in once in a while…..

Whilst Matt’s personal story seems to have struck a chord with Digg readers, I wonder how many of the wider population, especially those who questioned the existence of racism in Japan, were aware of the recent incident where an offensively racist magazine was widely sold in mainstream stores in Japan. (I wrote about that here)
Having read the comments on Digg and on Matt’s site, I would like to point out that I don’t think Matt is the paranoid type who sees a racist motive behind every unpleasant act he is subjected to.

Nor is he a boorish, loud, annoying, Roppongi type gaijin – I’ve observed these types of individuals violating Japanese social protocol (or at least the tradional protocol) many a time, acting like they own the place, and could be said to be responsible for the confrontation to a significant degree. When in Rome…..

Matt isn’t a newbie to Tokyo either.

I know that people like Gen caution reading too much into two random events (Was it my physics teacher who told us you should have 4 data points before attempting to speculate about a trend?). Gen is correct when stating that the comments are indeed a trainwreck. But I personally feel that Matt’s unfortunate experiences are a result of a worrying trend.

For the Japan apologists (and there were plenty of them too), I would like to offer my belief that racism is widespread in Japan, but most of the time it isn’t the kind of overt in-your-face racism which is thankfully less visible than in many countries. It is often a more subtle type of racism, and it is indeed difficult to distinguish between plain unease with dealing with a foreigner, and racism. We don’t have many reports of hanging foreigners by their ankles from a tree, or dragging them behind a pick-up truck, or generally lynching them.

The spread of the racist ideology is, I believe, also on the increase. I certainly sense a swing to the right in the general tone of political and media debate, and with Japan having plenty of issues with its neighbours (N Korea, the Chinese red peril jeopardising the Japanese economy, etc), it is just too easy to crank up the nationalist line, scream for a renewed sense of patriotism, and generally point the fingers of blame at outsiders. Japan is facing a difficult future, and not much has been done to prepare for it. Politicians and bureaucrats are getting ready to blame anyone but themselves for when things get rough.

I would not underestimate the level to which the general Japanese population values/believes in the racial and cultural homogeneity of its nation (or the belief that such a phenomenon exists). Such beliefs must inherently be due to a belief system which ascribes superiority to certain races ahead of others, or to racial purity at the very least. Such beliefs are fundamentally racist, therefore it must be concluded that racist beliefs are widespread in Japan. I think this used to be seen as an old fashioned belief, and had hoped that it was consigned to the rubbish bin of history, but it seems to have made a comeback.

Most Japanese are well aware that discussing such beliefs is not PC, and mostly shy away from discussing this topic outside closed circles of intimate friends and family, and only the most combative actually state their position to a foreigner. Many Japanese actively avoid conflict, much more so than Americans or many Europeans in my experience, and those ill at ease with foreigners are statistically less likely to stray into a foreigner’s path, especially if said foreigner hangs out in well known foreigner hangouts. (Such hangouts are signposted in ink which is visible only to the Japanese eye, so that people who don’t like foreigners can avoid) The fact is that a person’s experience can differ widely depending on the kind of lifestyle you choose to lead during your period in Japan, in the same way that a foreigner’s impression of the USA might differ widely depending on where they spent their time.

Of course, there are plenty of people who like the foreign visitors to our country, and treat visitors with equal respect.
Then there are those who seem to have a problem with their own national/racial identity and aspire to be something they are not….

To discriminate against someone (including yourself) based on some characteristic which the subject has no control over seems to be rather pathetic. [But if that discrimination is due to a flawed logic process due to the inherent lack of intellectual capacity in an individual, would I be discriminating against the intellectually challenged? Hmmm….. Perhaps, but I don’t think it requires any significant intellectual powers given that untainted kindergarten children can appreciate the wrongness of discrimination when explained to them at a level they can understand]

Final note: Yes, I’m fully aware that Japan doesn’t have a monopoly on racism, having been subjected to my fair share of unpleasant incidents in various countries around the globe. That doesn’t make racism right, nor this discussion any less valid just because it doesn’t address the situation found elsewhere.

Apa Group and the structural engineering fraud scandal January 26, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in crime, Japan, law, Media, Society.
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The media started reporting that 2 Apa Group hotels in Kyoto have been shut down by local authorities who have announced that they have found that the two buildings did not comply with building code regulations relating to earthquakeproofing.

I first wrote about Apa’s scandals back in October, and Togo Fujita, the disgraced CEO of eHomes (a private building inspection agency  which had been one of the original whistleblowers in the Aneha/Huser scandal – albeit they were also the ones that rubberstamped the inspections previously) had mentioned that Apa Group buildings were suspect as far back as March 2006 (his comments were not widely broadcast by the media at that time, and most of the media also ignored the issue when it was widely reported around the blogosphere in October when Fujita communicated several statements through the mysterious and widely read Kikko’s Blog).

The news media have ignored the cases reported in October, which related to residential complex developments by the Apa Group in Chiba and Saitama. People who had put down deposits for their new homes complained that they did not recieve adequate communications from Apa, who eventually refunded the deposits. Apa had sent Fujita a letter threatening legal action back in October, which apparently was just bluster as Fujita has not received notice of legal action even three months later.

The question seems to be, why now?

Timing of such disclosures by government related agencies are so often politically motivated so let us consider what the government would like the media to stop reporting about…..

Closing arguments for (ex-)Livedoor’s Horiemon’s criminal case were scheduled for today. Does the government suspect that the criminal case is weak and will not be able to lock him away? (Verdict on March 16th)

I don’t think the Abe government are going to pull out all the stops to protect either Livedoor/Horiemon or the prosecutor’s office. So, moving along….

Abe’s cabinet continues to leak stories of misusing political funds. In the last couple of months, we’ve had Honma (who was shacked up in cushy bureaucrat housing with his mistress), Ibuki (Education minister, who was claiming he spent tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on office rent, although his registered office was in the rent-free diet members’ building. Rent bills do not need a receipt under the lax rules pertaining to politicians’ expenses, and it now appears many people are abusing this by spending the money on non-rent related things (like food) and then just claiming an arbitary amount of rent – politicians’ expenses merits a separate post of its own) , Matsuoka (Agriculture Minister, ditto), and now Kyuma (Defense Minister, whose registered offices appear to be a mahjong parlour and an ex-secretary’s residence). Abe’s popularity is now down below 40%, and a quiet news week would probably have resulted in the Kyuma issue given much exposure in the mainstream press.

Why has it taken so long to uncover these problems? Is it because Apa Group is close to Shinzo Abe?

Perhaps, but I’m guessing the powers who control these things were also sitting on it to use when they needed to deflect attention from some even worse (but less likely to caputre the public’s imagination) news, such as the political scandals. And just think, people like Huser’s Ojima and Apa’s weird dressing female CEO thought they had bought their way into the inner circle of power by supporting (I don’t think it was just vocal support) Abe. I bet they are feeling like right tools now when they realise they have been milked and then dumped to change the subject. Perhaps they should ask for their money back. But then I don’t expect that they got a receipt for their contributions.

The other faces of Tokyo January 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.
6 comments

Adamu at Mutant Frog shows us an aerial photograph (courtesy of Google Maps) of Nishinari Park in Osaka, home to a robust community of homeless people in Osaka.

He goes on to say:

The homeless culture is one of the unique aspects of Osaka that gives the city some flavor, and it’s too bad that city officials can’t recognize it as such.

Just to point out that Osaka doesn’t have a monopoly of homeless people, a quick alternative tour of Tokyo:

Fancy living in the middle of a wood which comprises part of 133 acres of parkland in the middle of Tokyo? Within walking distance to both Shinjuku and Shibuya! If you do, this may be for you.

Location: south west corner of Yoyogi Park, between Shibuya and Shinjuku, and just around the corner from some very exclusive residential neighbourhoods in Shibuya Ward. (including the apartment where that 32 year old wife killed her 30 year old husband. She then cut him up and dumped his headless upper torso in Shinjuku, his lower limbs just around the corner from home, and buried his head in a park in Machida, taking his head (I assume in a non-transparent bag of some sort) with her on an Odakyu-line train.

Or perhaps you would prefer a riverside location?

Location: Sumida River, by Kototoi Bridge. In fact, along the whole stretch of the river from Shirahige Bridge-Komagata Bridge-Azuma Bridge-Kototoi Bridge-Sakura Bridge-Umaya Bridge, a distance of about 5km or so, you can see a row of makeshift homes pretty much all the way. (just try scrolling along the river. Many of the blue sheet tents on the east side are obscured by the elevated highway (route 6) running along the east bank)

That is apart from the area around Sakura Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge built allegedly to connect the two parts of Sumida Parks on each bank – belonging to Sumida Ward (which also seems to have a healthy population of tents on the east) and Taito Ward on the west.

Sakura Bridge apparently cost JPY2.83Billion to build (back in 1985)……

That is about $25M at today’s exchange rates, and a little over $10M at 1985 exchange rates – don’t ask me how much that is in today’s money, but it sure sounds like a lot of money for a pedestrian footbridge to connect two parks, especially when there is another bridge just a few hundred yards downstream and the bridge doesn’t connect to the park on the Sumida Ward side… (perversely, the downstream bridge – Kototoi Bridge, does connect the two parks, and existed a good 60 years before Sakura Bridge was built. Pork Barrel project, anyone?)

Here’s another prime location, with a view of the Shinjuku skyscrapers.

It seems like the homeless have recongregated in Shinjuku Central Park, some of them in plain view from above (though most seem to prefer living under the trees). The population was driven out a few years ago, the rumour was that our great Governor didn’t want to see blue plastic sheeting when he looked down from his nice office in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices (the two square buildings on the bottom right). – The fact the blue tents are back in force would seem to suggest that the rumours that Ishihara doesn’t spend much time in his office these days may be true.

He certainly isn’t known for his sympathetic attitude towards the homeless – he seems to think they are all lazy good-for-nothing bums. It’s alright when you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, eh. (or in his case, maybe it was somewhere else. You can never quite tell which orifice he decides to speak from on any given occasion)

The Dowa problem, organised crime, local government and private companies June 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Finance, Japan, Society.
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There was a report in today's newspapers about a banker who was found dead in an apparent suicide, after being questioned by police in relation to an embezzlement case which has strong links to organised crime.

The issue revolves around one Kunihiko Konishi, who was, amongst other things, the head of a social welfare foundation called the Asuka-Kai.

He was also the head of the Asuka branch of Buraku Liberation League's Osaka prefectural confederation.

Konishi, who appears to have been a de facto dictator controlling the Asuka-Kai's affairs is suspected of embezzlement, but the evidence points to government officials and banks being aware of Konishi's embezzlement and turning a blind eye, or worse, aiding and abetting Konishi.

The banker who committed suicide was in charge of the Asuka-Kai account in the past. Other bankers who managed the account have also been questioned. The bank in question was the then Sanwa Bank (later UFJ Bank which is now part of MUFG). The banker, who was given a managerial post after his stint working the Asuka-Kai account (probably as a pay-off for work the bank knew was dodgy), is reported to have killed himself in protest at the bank's handling of this issue. The bank does appear to be taking the line that they were unaware and that this was just the act of a few rogue employees. Suicides of bank employees are not uncommon, but historically they rarely make the news. Even when reported, they are reported as being due to "overwork" or "depression", in an attempt to hide the real reason. I guess that when you have been conditioned for "job for life (if you are a "loyal" employee, and bonus points for doing "difficult" work)", and with little chance of decent reemployment at the kind of pay that big firm bankers are accustomed to, I can see how people might try to rationalise their actions. After all, so many people around them seem to be doing similar things, and the vast majority don't get caught. Most "problems" are sorted quietly. Unfortunately, if you happen to be "unlucky" enough to be caught up in something which makes headlines, the company shows its ruthless streak and offers you up for sacrifice. Not a very fair implicit contract, is it.    

It appears that not only was Konishi embezzling the money, he was reloaning money to organised criminal gangs. It transpires that the collateral he offered for the loans belonged to these gangs. Many of these dealings appear to have happened during the property bubble of the late 80's, and the statute of limitations probably means Konishi will get off with being charged for some nominal offenses relating to more recent embezzlement. Most of the loans made by the banks have been written off.

Osaka City officials first denied knowledge of any impropriety, then when confronted with evidence, admitted grudgingly that they were aware of irregularities.

Konishi appears to have been well known for his links to the organised crime syndicates, which is one reason government officials and bankers may have played along, so that they did not become targets of reprisals from criminal thugs. His face as the head of a group which promoted itself as promoting the welfare of the discriminated burakumin also no doubt helped his personal cause.

Especially in Western Japan, the burakumin discrimination problem is deep seated, and the government and local authorities have felt the need to assist these groups. However, rather than trying to cure the fundamental problem, it seems in this case (and probably many similar cases elsewhere) they threw money at the problem and tried to keep the figurehead happy. As long as that was achieved, the government and private businesses expected that Konishi would keep his side of the bargain and keep his minions under control (with the help of his friendly thugs, if necessary). It is basically an extortion racket, made even worse by the fact that it used the burakumin issue which in and of itself is a real and serious problem.  

There is no doubt in my mind that any form of discrimination against productive, law abiding, and loyal members of society is unacceptable. As the discriminated began to organise into a vocal group, it would seem in certain cases the leaders have exploited their position for personal gain. This is surely not isolated to burakumin related groups, it has happened the world over in relation to various minority rights movements and  also with trade unionism.  

Background on the issue can be read here: 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060521TDY02006.htm 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060601TDY02008.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060518TDY16003.htm 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060525TDY02006.htm 

Murakami has been arrested June 5, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, law, Politics, Society.
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Following up on my previous post, Murakami has been arrested this afternoon, and the offices of his funds raided.

It will be interesting to see how long he will be detained for, given that he has already signed a confession regarding the insider trading allegations. I guess Tokyo Prison is a little bit more comfortable at this time of year, compared to January when Horie was detained.

Suicides top 30,000 per year for 8 years running June 1, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.
2 comments

Suicides in Japan in 2005 totalled 32,552(according to police statistics), according to police statistics released today (from the Asahi Shimbun- link removed due to dead link).

That is nearly 100 people every day.

Compare that to the 6,871 deaths in traffic accidents in 2005.

The numbers citing economic hardship as the motive amounted to 7756 suicides, approximately one quarter of the total. The most common motive was health issues at 15,014 suicides. Family problems accounted for 3019 suicides. Work problems accounted for 1807, relationship problems- 809, school problems- 233.

I do wonder how they asked these dead people what prompted them to kill themselves…..

23,540 were male, 9,012 were female. Men account for 70% of all suicides.
Age at time of death of people who commit suicides:

Over 60’s accounted for more than 30%, at 10,894.

Those in their 50’s accounted for 7,586.

Thse in their 40’s accounted for 5,208.

Suicides commited by minors (under 20) totaled 608, including 7 of elementary school age, 66 of junior high school age, and 215 of senior high school age.

The balance (8,256) is accounted therefore by people in their 20’s and 30’s.

The suicide rate was 24.1 per 100,000 in 2000 (when the total number of suicides was also over 30,000), the rate is approximately double the US rate, and triple the UK rate.

It is said that approximately 90% of suicides are committed by people suffering from clinical depression. Given the state of mental healthcare in Japan, it is no suprise that suicides are so high. Given that men are more prone to depression than women, it is also not suprising that men greatly dominate the statistics.

There is a private members’ bill regarding anti-suicide measures scheduled to be debated by the Diet in the current session. The new law would require the government and local authorities to “take action to prevent suicides and to care for the families of people who commit suicide”. Specific plans of action have not been discussed, beyond giving government offices and local authorities another excuse to spend taxpayers money I seriously wonder what a law can actually achieve. Currently money is spent on creating pamphlets (which I have never seen), and other educational and promotional exercises. This is not to take anything away from the volunteers who work with bereaved families and orphans of suicide. However, without a drastic new approach to mental (and emotional) health, these figures aren’t going to go down dramatically. Having said that, a healthy economy will probably bring suicides down, at least if the recovery is evenly distributed across the economy (which it isn’t, currently).