Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he pays his Facebook and Twitter fees just like everyone else

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Has Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fallen for one of those “Facebook to start charging” hoaxes?

Abe found himself the butt of the joke in parliament this week after slipping up on the subject of social media. The prime minister proudly told the House of Councillors on Wednesday that of course, he pays his Facebook and Twitter membership fees.

When Democratic Party politician Tsutomu Okubo asked Abe the question in an exchange during a budget meeting on Wednesday, he was clearly hoping to catch him out. And he succeeded.

Okubo first asked if the prime minister operates his social media accounts himself, to which Abe stated that he has help from staff, but the content of the tweets is all him. “My personal account, that one’s run by myself and my staff, basically I decide what we’re going to post about,” he told the assembly.

Next, Okubo asked with a cheeky smirk on his face: “And have you ever paid Twitter and Facebook service fees?”

He must have been delighted when the prime minister walked right into his trap, replying that yes, of course he pays his fees.

▼ Okubo looking pleased with his clever question.

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Like many world leaders, Abe has two sets of social media accounts, one under his own name, and an official account of the administration of the prime minister (the Kantei). He told the assembly that the fees on personal accounts are the responsibility of the individual:

“Of course, I pay my own fees for my personal social media accounts. But as for the Kantei accounts [the office of the PM], that’s paid for by the Kantei.”

Smiling, Okubo went on to explain what every schoolchild in this day and age knows: that Facebook and Twitter are free to use. For everyone. When he continued to poke the prime minister, asking, “Who are you paying these fees to, then?” there was audible laughter around the room.

▼ Even Abe’s team looked amused at the blunder.

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Abe rose again to counter with:

“I don’t actually know about the details of how it works. I decide the content of the posts and my staff do the rest. I think that’s to be expected really.”

Think your week was hard? Tokyo salary man’s insane work diary goes viral


QUARTZ/Global Voices (by Nevin Thompson): 

A recent video uploaded by prolific YouTube vlogger Stu in Tokyo has gone viral, so far reaching more than half a million views.

 The topic of video? A week in the life of a Tokyosalary man,” the common name in Japan for a salaried office worker.

Stu works for a British financial services company in Tokyo, he explains in the video. Typically the months of January, February and March are “crunch time,” requiring long hours. 

So, Stu decided to keep a video diary of just how much he works each day, and what he actually has time to do after he gets off work. It doesn’t turn out to be much of anything at all.

But that’s okay, says Stu. “There are definitely people in Tokyo who do this all year round in order to support their families. I couldn’t imagine having to do this if I had those kinds of responsibilities as well.”

There are signs this cornerstone of Japanese working corner is in the process of changing. Although current Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has floated the idea of eliminating regulations that limit daily working hours entirely, the government has in fact introduced plans to require Japanese salaried workers to take five days of paid vacation every year.

Until now, while many Japanese salaried employees receive paid vacation time as part of their compensation package, very few workers actually make use of it. Due to workplace culture, Japanese workers are reluctant to book vacation time on their own, leaving coworkers behind to pick up the slack. Instead, if Japanese workers do take a day off, they typically take one during one of Japan’s national holidays.

Japan currently has 16 nationally legislated holidays, the most of any G20 country (the UK has only 8 national holiday, and the US 10). The abundance of national holidays in Japan may compensate for long working hours and peer pressure that frowns on taking a day off for personal reasons.

However, when everyone in a nation of 126 million people goes on vacation at the same time on a national holiday, the result can be clogged rail lines, monster traffic jams, and long lines at airports. 

The new vacation labor regulations are an attempt at addressing this problem. There is also the hope that mandatory paid leave, combined with the large number of national holidays will spur tourism and in turn encourage consumer demand, stimulating Japan’s sluggish economy.


Obama begins Asia trip with ‘the best sushi I’ve ever had’


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took President Barack Obama to famed sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro for a private dinner on Wednesday night.


Anyone who imagines U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed territorial disputes with China or the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia” foreign policy during their private dinner in Tokyo on Wednesday likely isn’t familiar with the restaurant where the two leaders dined.

Ahead of a protocol-bound formal state visit that officially begins on Thursday, Abe took Obama to Sukiyabashi Jiro, the fabled restaurant in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district widely regarded as the best sushi restaurant in the world.

Diners approach Sukiyabashi Jiro with a sense of reverence.

The experience provided by head chef and proprietor Jiro Ono leaves little time for small talk, much less big talk.

The focus is on the fish.

Heralded as a Japanese national treasure, Ono, who turns 90 next year, is the first sushi chef in the world to receive three Michelin stars.

With hundreds of onlookers behind police barriers lining the streets near the restaurant, Obama and Abe, neither wearing neckties, shook hands and entered the basement restaurant. New U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, also attended the dinner, which lasted about an hour and a half.

Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny restaurant with a coveted three Michelin-star rating, has only ten seats and is run by its 89-year-old owner, Jiro.

Like those who have gone before him into this shrine of sushi, Obama did not leave disappointed.

President Obama told me that, ‘I was born in Hawaii and ate a lot of sushi, but this was the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life,'” Abe told Japan‘s NHK network after the meal.

Inside the restaurant, Abe poured sake for Obama at the sushi counter.

While Obama praised the sushi enthusiastically, some onlookers said he stopped eating halfway through the meal.

The owner of another restaurant that is located in the same subway station told Tokyo Broadcasting System that Obama had put his chopsticks down midway into the dinner.

He also said a sushi chef from Sukiyabashi Jiro said Obama did not make small talk, but was quite serious, jumping into a discussion on trade immediately.

Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, refused Thursday to cite exactly how much Obama ate, saying instead: “It’s true that he ate a good amount.”


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Obama begins Asia trip with ‘the best sushi I’ve ever had’

"President Obama told me that, 'I was born in Hawaii and ate a lot of sushi, but this was the best sushi I've ever had in my life,'" Abe told Japan's NHK network after the meal.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Japan Shrine An Unwelcome Symbol for Many

Wall Street Journal:

Shinto priests walk out from Torii gate after they administer a Shinto rite “Kiyoharai” on the first day of the four-day autumn festival at the Yasukuni shrine on Oct. 17.

The shrine visited by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday has often been a lightning rod for criticism by Japan’s neighbors over the country’s wartime past.

The Shinto shrine, located in a Tokyo neighborhood near the political heart of the city, is the nation’s primary war memorial honoring 2.5 million Japanese killed since the late 19th century. It is visited by 5 million people annually, according to Yasukuni officials.

But its role in Japan’s troubled foreign relations with nations such as China and South Korea has been a more recent phenomenon. In 1978 it quietly added to those enshrined 14 “Class A” war criminals from World War II who had been convicted in postwar tribunals by the allied forces. Among them is Gen. Hideki Tojo, who was Japan’s prime minister during most of the war.

The religious act–conducted by the shrine’s head priest–was apparently taken without government consent and made public only a year later.

China and South Korea have long criticized any visits by Japanese political figures as a sign that Japan has not shown sufficient remorse over its wartime history.

The shrine is also a gathering post for Japan’s right-wing groups, who loudly commemorate Japan’s prior military actions. On many weekends, small groups of men dress in pre-war uniforms carry out marching drills. The museum attached to the shrine adds to the controversy, with displays suggesting that Japan was justified in its actions during the war.

The visit by Mr. Abe is likely to reignite much of this controversy, although the prime minister said it was not aimed at other countries.

It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people. It is my wish to respect each other’s character, protect freedom and democracy, and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all previous prime ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine,” Mr. Abe said at the conclusion of his visit.

He is the first prime minister to visit Yasukuni since Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated trips there during his five-year term from 2001 led to a chill in Japan’s ties with China.

Over the years, some lawmakers and historians have tried to resolve the controversy by seeking to remove names of the 14 war criminals at Yasukuni or by building a secular national memorial in a new location. But such efforts never gained traction due to opposition from veterans’ groups and activists, as well as complex Shinto rules that prevent spirits, once joined together, from being separated from each other.

Japan’s emperors have never visited the shrine since the inclusion of the 14. Japanese soldiers fought World War II in the name of Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989.

 A History of The Yasukuni Shrine        

1869: A shrine to honor war dead is founded in central Tokyo, first called Tokyo Shokonsha, renamed Yasukuni in 1987.

1945: Japan surrenders in World War II. The U.S.-led allied forces declare the shrine a place for individual worship.

1975: Takeo Miki visits the shrine on Aug. 15, the World War II surrender anniversary, as the first prime minister to do so. He goes as a ‘private citizen.’

1978: Names of 14 ‘Class A’ war criminals are added secretly to those of 2.5 million war dead honored at the shrine.

1985: China protests an ‘official’ visit by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to the shrine.

2001: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi starts visiting Yasukuni once a year.

2010: Democratic Party of Japan takes power, discourages Yasukuni visits by cabinet members.

2012: Shinzo Abe visits as the Liberal Democratic Party chief, two months before becoming prime minister.

2013: Four members of the Abe cabinet and 168 parliament members visit during the April spring festival. China and South Korea protest.

2013: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the shrine on Dec. 26, the one-year anniversary of his taking office.

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Japan Shrine An Unwelcome Symbol for Many


Japanese ‘Levitating Train’ between DC and NYC would leave the rest of America behind


Many Americans have long nursed a pipe dream of one day riding a super-high-speed train just like the engineering marvels that have cropped up in Japan, China, and Europe. With a newly publicized offer from Japan, that dream is inching closer to reality — but only for a privileged few.

The New York Times reported Monday that Japan, desperate to export its magnetic-levitation (maglev) technology, has offered to pay for 40 miles of a 300-mile per hour maglev train from Washington, DC to Baltimore, a route that would conveniently give lawmakers an eight-minute trip to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A mix of public and private funds raised by The Northeast Maglev company (TNEM) would be used to build the rest of the route to New York. If lawmakers bite, residents of the Northeast Corridor could someday zip between Washington and New York in an hour flat.

A ripple of excitement has spread through elite circles in Washington and New York. TNEM is assembling a lobbying force of former lawmakers and businessmen to prod Congress to sign on to the deal in the name of innovation. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tellingly tailored his pitch to the financial sector, extolling the maglev’s virtues at the New York Stock Exchange in September.

Dangling the prospect of an hour-long commute in front of politicians, Wall Street moguls, and journalists who regularly travel between DC and New York is a smart strategy. TNEM is hoping to coax an exemption from Congress’ hostility to even the most modest infrastructure spending. But this vision of an American maglev train would be a massive investment that would primarily benefit the so-called Washington elite while sucking funds from the rest of the country’s rail system.

Should the privately-owned maglev succeed, it would sap Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Northeast Corridor, the agency’s major source of revenue for maintaining the rest of the country’s less populated but still indispensable routes. Without the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak would never be able to maintain even the barebones service it currently offers across the Midwest, the West, and the South. TNEM chairman Wayne Rogers made clear to Politico that the company does not plan to collaborate with Amtrak, but compete. “Right now, this is a privately led venture,” Rogers said. “If we looked at it like airlines, I don’t think that, you know, JetBlue would be saying United Airlines has a seat at their table.”

This competition idea echoes a persistent Republican plan to privatize the profitable Northeast Corridor while still requiring Amtrak to provide long-distance service to the rest of the country — a formula that would force the agency to implode. But even TNEM admits that private investments will fall short if the maglev is to become a real possibility. “A large amount of [funding] is going to have to come from the federal government,” Rogers told Politico.

That means the maglev will compete for federal funding with the less shiny but still vitally important spiderweb of Amtrak lines stretching across the rest of the country. The meager federal funding for long-distance train routes is already on the chopping block, threatening to leave many rural Americans without any mass transit options at all.

Conventional wisdom assumes mass transit is only for urbanites, while small town America clings to their cars. But attitudes are changing quickly. Amtrak ridership all over the country is growing steadily, and research suggests that the more regular service a route offers, the more passengers it attracts. If the DC-New York maglev were to become the poster child for infrastructure investment at the expense of slower routes, rural America’s options — and their fledgling interest in train travel — could disappear. The maglev would only confirm suspicions that mass transit investment redistributes taxpayer dollars to toys for city-dwellers, a bias that has helped turn public transportation into a hotly contested partisan issue. Without broadening train use all over the country, mass transit innovation won’t be a priority for most Americans.

True, the Northeast Corridor is one of the most densely populated regions in the country, making it a worthwhile and lucrative area for innovation. In fact, Amtrak is already planning to buy new Acela bullet trains and increase average speeds from 150 mph to 220 mph. The maglev plan favors intensely concentrated speed for a fraction of Americans, without offering a viable plan to expand to desperately under-served areas.

We’ve also already begun and stalled on a far more inclusive high-speed rail project thirsty for funding. President Obama envisioned a high-speed rail system that would connect the whole country, and dedicated $8 billion in the 2009 stimulus bill to start building the network. This 17,000 mile rail system would not be quite as lightning-fast as a maglev train, but would link the rest of the country at or above speeds already enjoyed by Northeast Corridor Acela riders. But after Republicans took over Congress in 2010, funding disappeared, construction on new bullet train routes halted, and the high-speed national network dream has moldered.

Some state associations and private companies in California and the Midwest are still slowly chugging along, but a high speed national network won’t get back on track without long-term federal funding and political support. That won’t happen if we keep pretending people who live in Washington and New York are the only people who ride the train.

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Japanese ‘Levitating Train’ between DC and NYC would leave the rest of America behind