Friday, June 25, 2010

News Blast: Heat, Beards, Divorce, Samurai In NY

Image via.

Hot for Climate Change

Japan hopes an early-to-bed-early-to-rise civic initiative helps cut household carbon emissions. The "Morning Challenge" campaign says a typical family can reduce its footprint by 85kg (187.4 lb) annually if everyone goes to bed and gets up one hour earlier.

The same government department came up with the "Cool Biz" campaign in 2005 that shaved 2 million tons of green house gasses  in two years by asking workers to forgo suits so the air conditioning could be kept at a cozy, energy-saving  28 °C (82.4°F) during the summer.

A great theory in practice, surely, but those of us who have been working with a wonky thermostat all week and enjoyed at least one 89 degree work day on the fifth floor of their office building (who shall remain nameless), may be be more inclined to agree that working in uncomfortable climates can have a negative effect on concentration. Though, of course, Earth comes first.

Divorce 'Fun'

One of the most circulated stories this week was the divorce ceremony in Japan, which came to a head with CNBC's jokey warning that  it won't be long before the trend hits the U.S. It's hard to find the humor when one factors in Japan's declining population, ever-increasing suicide rate (some reasons for the phenomenon and the government's new plan  for a 20% decrease), and other crises of intimacy.

Jezebel had a thoughtful article on divorce ceremonies, wondering "is something like this really all that helpful?" and taking on Roland Kelt's argument in The Telegraph that the ceremonies help people adjust to Japan's shifting gender roles.

Beards: A Hairier Decision

Japan's beard ban we mentioned last week returns in this week’s news. Recently enforced by Isesaki City on all male municipal workers, the ban has brought to light more cases of beard bias in the workplace. Japanese 7-11’s make it their policy to never hire men who sport beards. A PR rep said that they "might even fire workers growing beards regardless of whether they are regular staff or part-time workers." Sumo wrestlers, professional baseball players, and Disneyworld Tokyo staff, all work for companies intolerant of beards. In the past month, a postal worker, who was forced to get a pay cut because of his beard, successfully sued his employers for discrimination and got his pay back. 

Mitsuru Yaku, a mangaka (comic book illustrator) social commentator, and sporty beard-wearer, said "growing a beard or not should be a matter of personal freedom and left to each individual to decide […] but a beard is a symbol that is the polar opposite of a virtue associated with a serious-minded adult, and many people equate beards with decadence or moral laxity."

As details unfold, at least one person at Japan Society is aghast.

Bite-Sized News:

►Japan was euphoric over their World Cup 3-1 win against Denmark Thursday. Next up: Japan vs. Paraguay June 29.

►The exhibit Samurai in New York opened at the the Museum of the City of New York. Examiner's in-depth article notes "on display at the museum are extremely rare 19th-century photographs, ephemera related to the historic visit, newspaper reports, and superb works of art and adornment of Japanese influence" through October 11.

►Prime Minister Naoto Kan makes his international debut debut at the G8 and G20 summits in Canada

►Japan's new economic growth strategy calls for a slight easing of historically tight immigration restrictions.

►Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum displays more than 100 newly donated artifacts from atomic-bomb survivors.

►The International Research Center for Japanese Studies launches an online database of 1,826 images of ancient Japanese ghouls and apparitions of all sorts.

►In Japan, which is the world's largest per capita vending machine user, Coca Cola unveils 46-inch touchscreen machines.

►This year's Kyoto Prize winners are South African visual artist William Kentridge, Japanese medical scientist Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, and Hungarian mathematician Laszlo Lovasz.

►A Japanese slot machine collector grows in Brooklyn.

The New York Times reports "no online journalism of any kind has yet posed a significant challenge to Japan’s monolithic but sclerotic news media."

►An unlikely candidate blazes a trail for Japan's democratic party as elections near.

►A sumo scandal threatens Japan's grand tournament next month.

►An Expedia survey shows that Japan is the world's most vacation-deprived country, where people take only about half of their average 16.5-day allotment.

►Get to know the 'politically touchy' debate surrounding Japan's proposed sales tax hike.

►Hallelujah! New York City's Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir won the choir division of Gospelfest, one of the biggest competitions of its kind in the U.S. The group was founded in 1997 by Tommy Tomita.

►Japan's smartphone battle heats up. (Best  read while listening to this.)

Image Credit: Samurai in New York: The First Japanese Delegation, 1860; (l-r) Konesosho; New York Lady; Kingero, Soldier; Gommie, Soldier; (detail), 1860; Stereoscope view, hand-colored, Studio of C.D. Fredricks & Co. Collection of Tom Burnett

N.O., S.J.

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