If dogs could fly: ANA considering letting dogs on planes

August 24, 2016


Dogs may soon be allowed to accompany their owners on flights with Japan‘s All-Nippon Airways, according to an article in the Japan Times.

This announcement follows a successful trial package tour conducted by ANA in late May of this year.

On that occasion, 87 passengers with between them 44 dogs were flown from Narita Airport to Kushiro in Hokkaido for a two-night stay.

According to the Japan Times, the basic package for two adults and one dog cost around ¥220,000 ($2,195 or €1,940).

What ANA’s trial flight demonstrated is that there is ample demand for services like this. Within just two days of going on sale, the tickets had already sold out.

Airlines usually require pets to travel in the cargo hold for domestic flights. For many pet owners this is a cause for serious concern, as they worry about the temperatures in the cargo hold.

This issue has also been acknowledged by some airlines.

The Japan Times article notes that ANA, for example, will not allow short-nosed dogs like bulldogs and chins to travel in the cargo area during the hot summer months, as these dogs are particularly prone to heat stroke and respiratory issues. 

On the ANA trial flight, however, dogs travelled in the cabin together with human passengers, albeit in cages strapped to the window seats.

There was also a veterinarian on hand in case any issues arose.

This is not the first time ANA has allowed animals to travel alongside human passengers. Prior to 2005, pets were allowed in the cabin on the airline’s international flights.

The service was discontinued, however, following complaints from passengers who suffered from allergies, or who generally felt uneasy in this environment.

The airline discovered an additional issue after the May trial. Specifically, that some passengers were reluctant to ride in an aircraft that had previously accommodated animals.

In response to this, ANA officials made clear that if the company does launch regular pet flights, it will do much more to inform customers about the way the cabin is cleaned after each flight. 

Despite this concerns, there are those in the tourism industry who expect great success if tours with pets do take off.

Professor of international tourism at Toyo University, Katsuhiko Shoji, who also happens to head a nationwide association promoting tours with pets, goes so far as to say that, “If long-distance travel becomes easier for them, Japan’s tourism industry will be revitalised.”

At the same time, Prof Shoji highlighted the need for cooperation from other actors in the leisure industry, such as hotels.

“Enabling pets to board the airplane is not the end goal. The cooperation of entities at the destination is also necessary,” he said.


Sources include: Japan Times


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South Korea accuses North of hacking official emails

August 3, 2016

(Photo: Shutterstock)

According to prosecutors in Seoul, a significant number of South Korean government officials had their email accounts hacked by North Korea last year.

An article in Asahi Shimbun reports that investigations into the cyber-attack found that between January and June 2015, a “North Korean operated group” stole the email passwords of 56 people. This included officials in South Korea’s Defence, Foreign and Unification ministries. 

The story was first reported by Yonhap news agency.

In order to obtain email passwords, Yonhap informs us that in January North Korean hackers used a free web-hosting server to create 27 phishing sites, which pretended to be portal sites run by the South Korean Foreign Ministry, universities or companies related to defence, for example.

As yet it is unknown whether any confidential information was leaked, but an investigation is underway.

This is by no means the first time that Pyongyang has been accused of involvement in cyber-attacks. 

Just a few days previously South Korean police accused the regime of stealing personal data of over 10 million customers of South Korea’s online shopping mall Interpark, Asahi Shimbun reported.

Interpark only became aware that their customer data bank had been hacked on the 11th July, when the company was blackmailed to the sum of 3 billion won ($2.6 million or €2.3 million) in return for not publicising this private information. 

The National Police Agency of South Korea asserts that North Korea’s main spy agency, The Reconnaissance General Bureau, is behind the latest attack. They said that the same codes and internet protocol addresses had previously been used in cyber-attacks carried out by Pyongyang.

According to the Japan Times, Seoul believes that military institutions, banks, various state agencies, TV broadcasters, media websites and a nuclear power plant have also been targeted by North Korean hackers in recent years. 

The South Korean Police Agency believes that the North Korean regime is seeking means of obtaining foreign currency. 

According to the South’s spy agency, Pyongyang has an army of over 1,000 hackers intent on targeting Seoul’s top institutions and officials.

Meanwhile accusations of North Korean involvement in cyber-attacks have also come from beyond the Korean Peninsula

Last year, for example, Pyongyang was accused by the FBI of being behind a major cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. This attack happened to occur as the company was preparing to release The Interview, a comedy film featuring a plot to kill the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

In November of last year, the Sony system was hacked and embarrassing emails and personal information subsequently published. Later, a group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace” threatened cinemas showing the film with attacks in the vein of 9/11. 

According to BBC News, while the North Korean leadership praised the cyber-attack calling it a “righteous deed,” they also called claims of their involvement absurd and denied any responsibility.

Even before this incident, the US government had sanctions in place over North Korea’s nuclear programme. BBC News reported that in response to the attack on Sony, Washington added further sanctions.

This is thought to be the first time the US has punished another country for a cyber-attack on a US company. 

This year, meanwhile, there has been increased tension in the region following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test carried out in January and the series of ballistic missile tests which followed. 

These events provoked an escalation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, as well as individually by countries including the United States, South Korea and Japan

Sources include: Asahi ShimbunBBC News and Japan Times


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Bhutan looks to Japan for help in introducing electric vehicles

July 3, 2014

The tiny Asian nation of Bhutan has a very big goal, to convert the country’s vehicles to electric power. The Bhutanese people’s culture has a deep respect for the environment, which is reflected in the Prime Minister’s decision in favour of zero emission vehicles.

Currently Bhutan’s main export is clean electricity from hydroelectric plants, which is sold to neighboring India. But most of the revenue from those sales at present goes to importing fossil fuels for transportation.

Following an economic crisis, the kingdom banned the import of new vehicles in March 2012, and subsequently imposed a “green tax” on all vehicles: 20 percent on those with engines of 1.8 liters or more, 5 percent on those below.

Prime Minister Tobgay announced his plan to reduce the country’s oil imports by 70 percent last December. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn followed this in February with an announcement of an agreement between the nation and the carmaker to provide electric vehicles for the country.

The opportunity to sell zero-emission electric cars was underscored by the Japanese carmaker Nissan’s simultaneous announcement that it had appointed a national sales company for the kingdom, named Thunder Motors. Nissan and Thunder will work together to develop localized versions of the company’s electric vehicles designed for conditions in the Himalayan nation, whose average elevation is 8,000 feet above sea level.

The first stage of the program is for Nissan Leaf electric cars to become both Bhutanese government vehicles and taxi cabs in the capital city of Thimphu.The Nissan Leaf is the most successful electric car in history, with over 100,000 sold.

Based on World Bank data for 2009, Bhutan has just 46 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people, meaning that its 742,000 citizens operate roughly 34,000 cars. Ghosn announced that Nissan hopes to sell “hundreds of cars” in the short term and “thousands” soon thereafter.

Though Nissan is be the world’s largest producer of battery-electric vehicles,  it will not have an exclusive on electric-car imports to Bhutan.

The Nissan CEO told Green Car Reports: “We welcome others, Nissan is most able to compete when buyers compare the performance, price, and customer satisfaction of the Leaf against any other electric vehicle.”

The big picture, Ghosn suggested, is that Bhutan can provide an inspiration, perhaps even a model, for emerging nations as they look toward expanding vehicle sales.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged this week that the “government and private sector of Japan will examine what we can do” to support Bhutan’s plan to introduce electric vehicles.

Tobgay is the first prime minister of Bhutan to make an official visit to Japan since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1986. On his recent visit Tobgay said he told Abe that Bhutan wants to introduce the vehicles to help conserve the environment and to reduce spending on oil imports.

Tobgay also took the time to convey his country’s appreciation for a recently signed grants agreement with Japan for underprivileged farmers.

“This assistance has been instrumental in improving the livelihood of farmers through increased productivity, and contributing to the nation’s effort to achieve food self-sufficiency and security,” he said.

During the talks, Abe also briefed Tobgay on Japan’s intention to become a “proactive contributor to peace” through international cooperation, in the light of China’s apparent willingness to pursue claims for territory and other resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to the U.N. Charter and its purposes, including the peaceful settlement of disputes based on the principle of international law,” Tobgay said.


Sources: Japan Times, Green Car Reports

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Child Poverty and Pension Worries For The Japanese

May 19, 2014

At 16 percent, Japan’s relative poverty rate — the share of the population living on less than half of the national median income — is already the sixth-worst among the 34 OECD countries, just ahead of the United States. Child poverty in working, single-parent households  is by far the worst at over 50 percent, making Japan the only country where having a job does not reduce the poverty rate for that group.

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe charges ahead with his “Abenomics” policies to revive economic growth, things look set to get harder, not better, for Japan’s working poor. This deepening divide between the haves and have-nots could threaten Abe’s vision of Japan’s economic revival

Having ramped up spending on public works projects and business incentives, the government has also moved to shore up its finances, cutting welfare benefits last summer and last month raising the national sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent. The regressive tax puts the biggest burden on the poor, and another hike to 10 percent is planned in a mere 18 months.

For those like Ririko Saito, who lives hand-to-mouth with her daughter on an hourly wage of ¥1,080 ($10.6), last month’s tax hike has made life considerably harder. An extra ¥1,300 a month she will be receiving from the government to offset the higher costs of essentials is just not enough to avoid the repeated utility cuts.

“As it is, we can only afford discounted groceries.” Saito said. “I’m not sure how we’ll manage, but I’ll just have to find a way.”

Team Abe’s success in reversing 15 years of price declines that have hurt business confidence and investment also squeezes the poor, who cannot count on bonuses or financial profits to offset rising living costs as he artificially stokes inflation.

Japan says it plans more aid for welfare recipients, largely through job training. That, however, is little consolation because even those with jobs often live under the poverty line. The government does not officially define the “working poor,” but the number of part-time, temporary and other non-regular workers who typically make less than half the average pay has jumped 70 percent from 1997 to 19.7 million today — 38 percent of the labor force.

“The Abe administration’s stance is more about fixing things, including poverty, with a trickle-down effect from overall economic growth,” said Takashi Oshio, a professor at Hitotsubashi University specializing in social security. “There’s little political capital spent on issues like alleviating child poverty. It doesn’t garner votes.”

Some economists say a broad recovery in consumption, a key ingredient of Abenomics, may not last if more and more households struggle to hold above the poverty line. In the longer run, problems associated with poverty such as worse access to quality education, poor health and crime could increase fiscal burdens and dent Japan’s growth potential by shrinking the pool of skilled workers.

“Rising poverty leads to a wider gap in education,” said Makoto Saito, an economist at NLI Research Institute. “Japanese companies are supposed to be creating value-added jobs, but at this pace there won’t be enough people to fill those positions.”To be sure, higher sales taxes are widely seen as inevitable given Japan’s public debt is more than twice the size of its economy, and growing.

But economists say the government could limit the pain with policies that redistribute wealth better. With current social spending skewed toward pension and health care schemes that mostly benefit the elderly, Japan is the only OECD country where the poverty rate among working households and households with children rose after benefits and taxes, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Politically, it’s easier to get the understanding of the electorate since multiple tax rates would benefit everyone, not just the poor,” said NLI’s Saito.”But if effective countermeasures aren’t adopted to help low-income earners, the poverty rate is just going to keep rising.”

The majority of Japanese people are also worried about their financial future according to a recent survey by the Japanese Government which revealed that around two-thirds of Japanese aged 35 to 64 are concerned they will not have enough money to last through retirement. The Cabinet Office survey of around 6,000 people late last year revealed growing anxiety among people that savings, retirement payouts and public pensions will prove insufficient in old age.

About 67 percent said they feel they will have inadequate economic resources to fall back on after they retire, with three-quarters of that group stating their provisions are “quite inadequate.” Only 1.6 percent said they feel they will have enough money and 21.7 percent said they will have the bare minimum. Around half of those surveyed also said they want to be able to keep working after they turn 65.

The survey’s results will go into a white paper on Japan’s aging society to be adopted by the Cabinet in June.

Source: The Japan Times, the OECD

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First whaling fleet leaves Japan since International Court ruling

April 29, 2014

Japanese fishing fleets have launched their first whaling hunt since UN courts called an end to the killing of whales in the Antarctic.

Four whaling ships set forth from the fishing town of Aykawa in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, north-eastern Japan on Saturday morning. Despite the International Court of Justice’s recent order for Japan to cease all research whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean, this whaling mission has gone ahead, towards the Sanriku coast, which is not covered by the International Court’s ruling.

Such ‘research whaling’ missions such as this one are intended to prove that the whale population is large enough to justify and sustain commercial hunting, hence its exclusion from the court ruling. However, some activists have suggested that the spring ‘research’ is nothing more than a way of continuing whaling through a loophole in the law.

The organizers of the whaling mission deliberated for some time over the specifics of the spring whaling event, eventually deciding  to proceed with research whaling this spring by cutting back on the number of mink whales to be caught by ten, from 61 to 51, due to the controversy surrounding the program.

The fleet’s departure marks the start of the country’s spring coastal whaling program, which has divided opinion across media across the world, attracting large amounts of criticism from anti-whaling countries such as Australia.

The scenes at the Ayukawa port, however, were far from hostile. In stark contrast to the departure of the wintertime Arctic hunt, which regularly sees violent protests from activists chasing down the fleet in an attempt to end the hunt, this weekend’s springtime departure was peaceful, with no protesters to be seen.

Japanese response to the International Court’s ruling was strongly mixed, falling ultimately in favour of the whaling fleets. Some Japanese governmental members dismissed the court’s ruling as nothing more than an example of cultural imperialism by the West, while local residents in Ayukawa expressed fears that the decision could ultimately ruin their livelihoods. Whaling forms a significant part of Japanese cultural heritage and economy, and is for many citizens a crucial source of income. Ayukawa was badly struck by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, and has been recovering ever since: many locals say that without whaling, the community’s entire existence would be put at risk.

“No matter what the (ICJ) court ruling was, all we can do is let everyone see that we’re still hanging in there,” said Koji Kato, a 22-year-old whaling crew member. “People from outside are saying a lot of things, but we want them to understand our perspective as much as possible. For me, whaling is more attractive than any other job.”

Tokyo has called off its next Antarctic hunt, scheduled for late 2014, and has said that it will be modifying the specifics of the mission in order to make it more scientific. But vessels would still go to the icy waters to carry out “nonlethal research,” raising the possibility that harpoon ships might return to the Antarctic the following year.

Sources include: Japan Times, Asahi Shinbun


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Japan’s foreign tourism statistics released

November 1, 2013

Last year, the number of tourists worldwide reached an astonishing 1.035 billion arrivals, according to an annual survey by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite worldwide economic uncertainty, more people than ever before traveled to other countries.

The survey found that tourism around the world increased by 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. Europe is still the most visited area, with 535 million visitors, but visitor arrivals continued to increase in every region of the world except the Middle East.

The last 6 months has seen a month on month rise in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan.  In September the number of visitors surged 31.7 percent over the previous year to 867,000, breaking the record for the month, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Reasons for the increase can be ascribed to the cheaper yen exchange rate and Japan’s higher profile with the announcement of Tokyo winning the 2020 Olympic bid.

Part of that upsurge reflects a recovery from the rapid and massive drop in tourism following the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears in 2011, but it also supports the understanding that Japan is still an untapped tourist destination. Developing a larger tourist market can contribute to a healthy, diversified economy and serve as one source of economic vitality.

Japan has not yet developed its tourist market fully, but given the ongoing economic depression, it should be considered more seriously as an important industry. Though some Japanese are fearful of the result of a huge influx of tourists here after witnessing the impact of international tourism in some South Asian countries.

However, a more developed tourist industry would leave Japanese culture intact and unharmed since the Japanese economy is not as vulnerable to fluctuations as developing economies might be. It is unlikely that huge numbers of tourists will have negative effects on the already mature and established culture, or produce a tourism-addicted economy, in the way it might have once done in more fragile cultures and developing economies.

In the reporting month, the highest number of tourists came from Taiwan at 206,800, an all-time high for the month, leaving South Korean visitors second overall. China came in third with 156,300 visitors, up 28.5 percent for another all-time high for the month. Visitors from the UK showed a year on year increase of 20% with 17,800 visitors in July alone.

The Chinese number marked the first rebound in a year since last October, when year-on-year numbers fell because of the bilateral clash over the Japanese government’s effective nationalization in September 2012 of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the isles.

Visitors from Hong Kong and Thailand came to 55,400 and 29,300, respectively, also setting all-time highs for the reporting month.

But the number of South Korean visitors fell below 200,000 for the first time this year, apparently due to concern over the reported leaks of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, JNTO officials said Wednesday.

While the September total for South Korean visitors came to 164,500, up 12.9 percent, the growth marks a slowdown from the year-on-year growth rates in the period from January to July, which ranged between 28.6 and 45.5 percent.

In the previous month, South Korean visitors grew 6.9 percent — the slowest rate of the year.

The Japanese government is worried that radiation concerns harbored by the South Koreans may hamper efforts to achieve its goal of 10 million foreign visitors a year.

The tally for the first nine months was 7,731,000, with South Koreans accounting for 25 percent. Since no sharp recovery is expected in South Korean visitors, the organization plans to encourage people in Southeast Asia to visit Japan for the Christmas holidays.

Meanwhile the estimated number of Japanese overseas travelers in August 2013 was 1,842,000, a 6.2% decrease over August 2012. The outbound figure decreased over the same month of the previous year as it has for seven straight months.

The number of travelers to East Asian destinations such as Korea (-22.0%) is still decreasing but the ratio of decrease shrank in  comparison with the recent four months. On the other hand, number of travelers to Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii all showed small increases.

Sources:  Japan Tourism Marketing Co, The Japan Times


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Japanese e-tricycles could help The Philippines cut carbon emissions by two thirds

October 14, 2013

Motorized tricycles are a popular form of passenger transport on the nation’s roads in the Phillipines, carrying between four to nine passengers, they are a common sight all over the country from the residential areas of the capital Manila, to the countryside’s highways. However, an Asian Development Bank study shows these gasoline-fueled tricycles are responsible for more than two-thirds of all air pollution generated by the country’s entire transport sector, and without intervention, the carbon emissions are set to almost quadruple in less than 25 years.

To stall carbon emissions and cut down on the noise pollution the tricycles cause the country will soon begin implementing a plan to replace 100,000 gasoline-burning, air-polluting tricycles by 2016. The Philippine government hopes the e-tricycle project will cut down on noise, save more than $100 million a year in fuel imports, create jobs through local production of e-tricycles and decrease annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 260,000 tons.

The  Japanese electric vehicles maker and distributor Uzushio Electric Co. is making a bid to distribute electric tricycles in the Philippines. Tokushi Nakashima, head of BEET Philippine Inc., a local subsidiary of Uzushio Electric Co., told a press conference on Monday that his company has submitted a bid to the Asian Development Bank, which is providing $300 million toward the e-tricycle project being carried out in cooperation with the Philippine government.

The company, which opened in March, also registered its e-trike model with the Philippines’ Land Transportation Office, affirming its roadworthiness and making it accessible for interested private consumers.

Nakashima said Uzushio Electric, having developed more than 50 models of electric vehicles in Japan, is ready to help the Philippines solve its environmental woes through participation in the project, while at the same time improve the lives of tricycle drivers who are expected to take home a bigger daily income because electricity costs less than gasoline.

BEET’s e-tricycle is made of five key components, which satisfy the requirements for the Philippines’ various road and weather conditions: a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, an AC motor, an inverter, a vehicle control unit, and a battery management system.

Weighing around 500 kg, it accommodates up to seven people including the driver, runs at speeds of up to 60 kph and can cover 50 km on a single charge.

BEET Philippine announced that it had also tied up with Softbank Mobile Corp. to develop a billing system for lease or loan payment, as well as the integration of an advanced telecommunication system to track the trikes. The company is now in talks with potential assemblers in the Philippines in preparation for mass production, though whether the bid is successful or not remains to be seen.

Source: The Japan Times

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