“Everyone Just Exchanges Platitudes and Inanities Because They Are Afraid to Say Anything”

(p. B3) The younger generation has frequently called out Japan’s entrenched elders for their casual sexism, excessive work expectations and unwillingness to give up power.

But a surprise television hit has people talking about whether the oldsters might have gotten a few things right, especially as some in Japan — like their counterparts in the United States and Europe — question the heightened sensitivities associated with “wokeness.”

The show, “Extremely Inappropriate!,” features a foul-talking, crotchety physical education teacher and widowed father who boards a public bus in 1986 Japan and finds himself whisked to 2024.

. . .

The show was one of the country’s most popular when its 10 episodes aired at the beginning of the year on TBS, one of Japan’s main television networks. It is also streaming on Netflix, where it spent four weeks as the platform’s No. 1 show in Japan.

. . .

Not so subtly, the show . . . comments on the evolution toward more inclusive and accommodating offices, caricaturing them as places where work is left undone because of strict overtime rules and employees apologize repeatedly for running afoul of “compliance rules.”

Such portrayals strike a chord in Japan, where there have been complaints, often expressed on social media, about “political correctness” being used as a “club” to restrict expression or to water down television programs or films. Part of what fans have found refreshing about “Extremely Inappropriate!” is how unrestrained the portions set in the Showa era are.

While critics have called the series retrograde, some younger viewers say the show has made them question social norms they once took for granted — and wonder about what has been lost.

Writing for an entertainment-oriented Web publication, Rio Otozuki, 25, said that the series “must have left many viewers thinking inwardly that the Showa era was more fun.”

. . .

Kaori Shoji, an arts critic who was a teenager in the 1980s, said she loved “Extremely Inappropriate!” She particularly appreciated how the series illuminated the chilling effects of today’s tighter policing of workplaces.

“Everyone is just playing a game to see who can be the least offensive person that ever walked the earth,” Ms. Shoji said. “Everyone just exchanges platitudes and inanities because they are afraid to say anything. Surely that cannot be good for a workplace.”

For the full story see:

Motoko Rich and Kiuko Notoya. “In Japan, a TV Show Makes Young Viewers Pine for the ‘Inappropriate’ 1980s.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 8, 2024): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2024, and has the title “A Show That Makes Young Japanese Pine for the ‘Inappropriate’ 1980s.” The online version says that the print version was on page B1 and had the title “In Japan, A Flashback To the 1980s”, but my print version was on page B3 and had the title “In Japan, a TV Show Makes Young Viewers Pine for the ‘Inappropriate’ 1980s.”)

In Australia and Japan “Coral Appear to Be Migrating Poleward”

(p. A9) Scientists are still learning about corals’ ability to adapt to climate change. Efforts are underway to breed coral that tolerate higher temperatures. In a few places, including Australia and Japan, coral appear to be migrating poleward, beginning to occupy new places.

For the full story see:

Catrin Einhorn. “Scientists Say Rising Ocean Temperatures Are Damaging Coral Reefs Around the World.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 16, 2024): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2024, and has the title “The Widest-Ever Global Coral Crisis Will Hit Within Weeks, Scientists Say.”)

Mandated Fukushima Evacuations Killed 1,600; Radiation Killed 0

Berkeley scientist Noah Whiteman’s Most Delicious Poison argues that often chemicals that are therapeutic at low doses are poisons at high doses. The commentary quoted below provides evidence that what Whiteman argues is true of many chemicals, is also true of radiation.

(p. D3) This spring [2015], four years after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, a small group of scientists met in Tokyo to evaluate the deadly aftermath.

No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation — a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming years is expected to be so low as to be undetectable, a blip impossible to discern against the statistical background noise.

But about 1,600 people died from the stress of the evacuation — one that some scientists believe was not justified by the relatively moderate radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant.

. . .

“The government basically panicked,” said Dr. Mohan Doss, a medical physicist who spoke at the Tokyo meeting, when I called him at his office at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “When you evacuate a hospital intensive care unit, you cannot take patients to a high school and expect them to survive.”

Among other victims were residents of nursing homes. And there were the suicides. “It was the fear of radiation that ended up killing people,” he said.

Most of the fallout was swept out to sea by easterly winds, and the rest was dispersed and diluted over the land. Had the evacuees stayed home, their cumulative exposure over four years, in the most intensely radioactive locations, would have been about 70 millisieverts — roughly comparable to receiving a high-resolution whole-body diagnostic scan each year. But those hot spots were anomalies.

By Dr. Doss’s calculations, most residents would have received much less, about 4 millisieverts a year. The average annual exposure from the natural background radiation of the earth is 2.4 millisieverts.

How the added effect of the fallout would have compared with that of the evacuation depends on the validity of the “linear no-threshold model,” which assumes that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, causes some harm.

Dr. Doss is among scientists who question that supposition, one built into the world’s radiation standards. Below a certain threshold, they argue, low doses are harmless and possibly even beneficial — a long-debated phenomenon called radiation hormesis.

. . .

Life evolved in a mildly radioactive environment, and some laboratory experiments and animal studies indicate that low exposures unleash protective antioxidants and stimulate the immune system, conceivably protecting against cancers of all kinds.

. . .

. . ., a study of radon by a Johns Hopkins scientist suggested that people living with higher concentrations of the radioactive gas had correspondingly lower rates of lung cancer. If so, then homeowners investing in radon mitigation to meet federal safety standards may be slightly increasing their cancer risk. These and similar findings have also been disputed.

. . .

There is more here at stake than agonizing over irreversible acts, like the evacuation of Fukushima. Fear of radiation, even when diluted to homeopathic portions, compels people to forgo lifesaving diagnostic tests and radiotherapies.

We’re bad at balancing risks, we humans, and we live in a world of continual uncertainty. Trying to avoid the horrors we imagine, we risk creating ones that are real.

For the full commentary, see:

George Johnson. “RAW DATA; When Radiation Isn’t the Risk.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015 [sic]): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 21, 2015 [sic], and has the title “RAW DATA; When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk.”)

The recent book by Whiteman mentioned above is:

Whiteman, Noah. Most Delicious Poison: The Story of Nature’s Toxins―from Spices to Vices. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2023.

The study of radon mentioned above is:

Thompson, Richard E. “Epidemiological Evidence for Possible Radiation Hormesis from Radon Exposure: A Case-Control Study Conducted in Worcester, Ma.” Dose-Response 9, no. 1 (2011): 59-75.

Firms Develop Technology to Capture, Liquify, Transport, and Sequester CO2 into “Depleted Offshore Oil-and-Gas Wells”

(p. B4) ATHENS—Ship operators have a radical idea for industrial companies that are searching for ways to dispose of carbon emissions: Take the captured CO2 out to sea and bury it deep under the ocean floor.

But first, supercool the carbon emissions to temperatures so low that they become a liquid.

HD Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipyard, and Greece-based shipowner Capital Product Partners have designed a specialized vessel to carry liquefied CO2. They envision such ships transporting their cargo to depleted offshore oil-and-gas wells, where it would be pumped in and entombed for permanent storage. Capital Product Partners signed a deal for four such ships, to be delivered in 2025 and 2026, that together cost more than $300 million.

“Ships move everything from oil to our furniture, clothes and toothpaste. Now they’ll move our emissions, which is in effect waste management,” said Jerry Kalogiratos, chief executive of U.S.-listed Capital Product Partners, which operates more than 100 cargo vessels.

. . .

“The wells are sealed with a fast drying mix of concrete and sand. If there is a leak inland the gas could end up back in the atmosphere, but there is no conclusive research about what will happen if it escapes in the water,” said Fotis Pagoulatos, a naval engineer in Athens. “The consensus for now is that pollution risk at sea from leaked CO2 is low.”

. . .

While no contracts have been signed, Kalogiratos said Capital Product Partners is in talks with a number of European emitters as well as big energy companies in Japan and South Korea.

For the full story, see:

Costas Paris. “Ship Operators Offer to Bury Emissions.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 1, 2024): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 31, 2024, and has the title “A New Solution for CO2 Emissions: Bury Them at Sea.” The online version of the article says that the title of the print version is “Ship Operators Offer to Bury Emissions” but my copy of the print version has the title “Ship Operators Offer to Bury Emissions at Sea.”)

For Quick Spread of EVs, U.S. Regulators Need to Quickly Approve More Domestic Mines for Critical Minerals

(p. A6) For decades, a group of the world’s biggest oil producers has held huge sway over the American economy and the popularity of U.S. presidents through its control of the global oil supply, with decisions by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries determining what U.S. consumers pay at the pump.

As the world shifts to cleaner sources of energy, control over the materials needed to power that transition is still up for grabs.

China currently dominates global processing of the critical minerals that are now in high demand to make batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. In an attempt to gain more power over that supply chain, U.S. officials have begun negotiating a series of agreements with other countries to expand America’s access to important minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.

But it remains unclear which of these partnerships will succeed, or if they will be able to generate anything close to the supply of minerals the United States is projected to need for a wide array of products, including electric cars and batteries for storing solar power.

Leaders of Japan, Europe and other advanced nations, who are meeting in Hiroshima, agree that the world’s reliance on China for more than 80 percent of processing of minerals leaves their nations vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing, which has a history of weaponizing supply chains in times of conflict.

. . .

. . ., some U.S. officials argue that the supply of critical minerals in wealthy countries with high labor and environmental standards will be insufficient to meet demand, . . .

. . .

Jennifer Harris, a former Biden White House official who worked on critical mineral strategy, argued that the country should move more quickly to develop and permit domestic mines, . . .

. . .

“There’s so much that needs doing that this is very much a ‘both/and’ world,” she said. “The challenge is that we need to responsibly pull up a whole lot more rocks out of the ground yesterday.”

For the full story, see:

Ana Swanson. “The U.S. Needs Minerals for Electric Cars. So Does Everyone Else.” The New York Times (Monday, May 22, 2023): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 23, 2023, and has the title “The U.S. Needs Minerals for Electric Cars. Everyone Else Wants Them Too.”)

“In Tokyo Good Things Have Been Created Through Private Initiative”

(p. A22) Yuta Yamasaki and his wife moved from southern Japan to Tokyo a decade ago because job prospects were better in the big city. They now have three sons — ages 10, 8 and 6 — and they are looking for a larger place to live. But Mr. Yamasaki, who runs a gelato shop, and his wife, a child-care worker, aren’t planning to move far. They are confident they can find an affordable three-bedroom apartment in their own neighborhood.

As housing prices have soared in major cities across the United States and throughout much of the developed world, it has become normal for people to move away from the places with the strongest economies and best jobs because those places are unaffordable. Prosperous cities increasingly operate like private clubs, auctioning off a limited number of homes to the highest bidders.

Tokyo is different.

. . .

Small apartment buildings can be built almost anywhere, and larger structures are allowed on a vast majority of urban land. Even in areas designated for offices, homes are permitted. After Tokyo’s office market crashed in the 1990s, developers started building apartments on land they had purchased for office buildings.

“In progressive cities we are maybe too critical of private initiative,” said Christian Dimmer, an urban studies professor at Waseda University and a longtime Tokyo resident. “I don’t want to advocate a neoliberal perspective, but in Tokyo good things have been created through private initiative.”

Tokyo makes little effort to preserve old homes. Historic districts subject to preservation laws exist in other Japanese cities, but the nation’s largest city has none. New construction is prized. People treat homes like cars: They want the latest models.

For the full commentary, see:

Binyamin Appelbaum and Andrew Faulk. “Tokyo, the Big City Where Housing Isn’t Crazy Expensive.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 16, 2023): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 11, 2023, and has the title “The Big City Where Housing Is Still Affordable.”)

Okinawans Think Ikigai (a Reason for Living) Is Important for Long Life

(p. A11) Ask most people if they want to live to be 100 and the response is likely to be “Sure!” followed by “Wait a sec . . .” Questions suddenly abound: Am I going to be healthy? Am I going to be lonely? Will I be financially stable? Will I have outlived everyone I knew and loved? What author-researcher Dan Buettner set out to demonstrate in “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” is that the solutions to those concerns are also the keys to longevity itself.

. . .

What is clear early on is that what Mr. Buettner “discovers” during his visits to Sardinia; Singapore; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and even Loma Linda, Calif., is largely what we would expect: that much of what helps people live longer isn’t necessarily the purple Japanese sweet potatoes, or going to church every day, or having the limited stress load of a Greek shepherd. It is an Okinawan diet rich in nutrients and fiber, the walking uphill to the Sardinian church, and the community to which one belongs in Loma Linda when one is, for instance, a Seventh Day Adventist who plays pickleball.

. . .

There are many correlating clues to a longer life across the locations in “Live to 100.” Okinawans emphasize the importance of having an ikigai, or reason for living; in Costa Rica the same thing is called one’s plan de vida.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “Netflix’s Lessons in Longevity.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date August 29, 2023, and has the title “‘Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones’ Review: Lessons in Longevity.” In the original the word ikigai and the phrase plan de vida are in italics.)

Buettner’s latest book on blue zones is:

Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons from the Healthiest Places on Earth. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2023.

Feds Impose Tariffs on Imports of Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Make EV Engines

(p. A3) Large U.S. steelmakers are ramping up production of a hard-to-make, paper-thin steel to capture a fast-growing market for a material critical to powering electric vehicles.

. . .

Such electrical steel, which accounts for about 1% of all the steel produced annually in the world, already is in short supply for electric vehicles, executives said. Companies expect demand to accelerate faster than production as EV volumes expand in the coming years.

“It’s in limited supply and with very long lead times. Sometimes 50 or 52 weeks,” said Hale Foote, owner of Scandic Springs Inc., a San Leandro, Calif., company that uses high-grade electrical steel to make parts for scientific measurement devices.

. . .

More than 80% of the electrical steel produced comes from China, Japan and South Korea, all countries that are subject to U.S. tariffs or quotas on steel imports, industry analysts said.

. . .

(p. B2) “It takes intense focus. You have to have absolute consistency or you scrap the material,” said David Stickler, who led the investment group that built Big River Steel in Osceola, Ark., and then sold the mill to U.S. Steel in 2021. Mr. Stickler said he envisioned electrical steel being a core product at Big River when he started planning the mill nearly a decade ago.

. . .

Steel-industry executives said that creating more domestic capacity to make electrical steel for vehicles will likely take years, as steel companies acquire equipment and become proficient at the exacting production process.

“You can’t just buy the equipment and start making electrical steel. Those who’ve made the investment will have an advantage for the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Stickler said.

For the full story, see:

Tita, Bob. “Paper-Thin Steel Used to Power EVs Is in Short Supply.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 28, 2023): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added. The online version is longer, but the passages quoted above appear in both versions.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 27, 2023, and has the title “The Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Power Electric Cars Is in Short Supply.”)

Yale Economist Says Stagnant Japan Would Benefit from Mass Suicide of Elder Citizens

A growing number of so-called “progressives” are advocating an end to economic growth. I do not believe that most of them understand how much more suffering and death the world will experience if their advocacy succeeds. (I remember decades ago seeing a beautiful but troubling Japanese movie with my friend Hajime Miyazaki, in which the loving, aging matron of a starving family was willingly carried up a mountain by one of her sons and left there so the other members of her family would have more to eat.)

(p. A1) In interviews and public appearances, Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, has taken on the question of how to deal with the burdens of Japan’s rapidly aging society.

“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” he said during one online news program in late 2021. “In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?” Seppuku is an act of ritual disembowelment that was a code among dishonored samurai in the 19th century.

. . .

(p. A10) Given Japan’s low birthrate and the highest public debt in the developed world, policymakers increasingly worry about how to fund Japan’s expanding pension obligations.

. . .

In Japanese folklore, families carry older relatives to the top of mountains or remote corners of forests and leave them to die.

. . .

In broaching euthanasia, Dr. Narita has spoken publicly of his mother, who had an aneurysm when he was 19. In an interview with a website where families can search for nursing homes, Dr. Narita described how even with insurance and government financing, his mother’s care cost him 100,000 yen — or about $760 — a month.

For the full story, see:

Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida. “Scholar Suggests Mass Suicide for Japan’s Old. Does He Mean It?” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 13, 2023): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2023, and has the title “A Yale Professor Suggested Mass Suicide for Old People in Japan. What Did He Mean?”)

Auto Experts Are Skeptical of EVs, but Are Afraid “So They Can’t Speak Out Loudly”

(p. A1) “People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Mr. Toyoda said to reporters during a visit to Thailand. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”

. . .

(p. A6) The world’s biggest auto maker has said it sees hybrids, a technology it invented with the debut of the Toyota Prius in the 1990s, as an important option when EVs remain expensive and charging infrastructure is still being built out in many parts of the world. It is also developing zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen.

“Because the right answer is still unclear, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one option,” Mr. Toyoda said. Over the past few years, Mr. Toyoda said, he has tried to convey this point to industry stakeholders, including government officials—an effort he described as tiring at times.

Global car companies have made a sharp pivot to electric vehicles within the last few years, driven in part by the success of EV-only maker Tesla Inc.

. . .

At the same time, the legacy auto makers have a much broader base of customers, including many living in rural areas and developing economies with unreliable electricity supplies.

And their gas-engine businesses are still driving the bulk of profits needed to fund the costly shift to electric vehicles, which not only requires the development of new models but also construction of new facilities and battery plants.

The infrastructure to charge electric vehicles is meanwhile still lacking in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, making owning an EV still a challenge for many types of consumers.

. . .

Ryan Gremore, an Illinois-based dealer, who owns several brand franchises, said he gets a lot of customers inquiring about EVs, in part because of limited supplies.

That might give the impression of robust demand, but it is unclear how it will materialize when inventory levels at dealerships normalize, he added. “Is there interest in electric vehicles? Yes. Is it more than 10% to 15% of our customer base? No way,” Mr. Gremore said.

Mr. Toyoda’s long-held skepticism about a fully electric future has been shared by others in the Japanese car industry, as well.

Mazda Motor Corp. executives once cautioned that whether EVs were cleaner depends largely on where the electricity is produced. They also worried that EV batteries were too big and expensive to replace gas-powered models and better suited to the types of smaller vehicles that Americans didn’t want.

For the full story, see:

River Davis and Sean McLain. “Toyota Skeptical of Going All-EV.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 ): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 18, 2022, and has the title “Toyota Chief Says ‘Silent Majority’ Has Doubts About Pursuing Only EVs.”)

Government Sends Town’s $360,000 Covid Relief Funds to 24-Year-Old Who Loses It All at Online Casinos

(p. A4) TOKYO — Residents of a rural Japanese town were each looking forward to receiving a $775 payment last month as part of a coronavirus pandemic stimulus program.

But a municipal official mistakenly wired the town of Abu’s entire Covid relief budget, nearly $360,000, to a single recipient on the list of low-income households eligible to receive the money. After promising to return the accidental payment, the police said, the man gambled it away.

The man, Sho Taguchi, 24, told the police that he had lost the money in online casinos, a police official in Yamaguchi Prefecture said by phone on Thursday [May 19, 2022]. The day before, the authorities arrested Mr. Taguchi, the official said. The charge: fraud.

Japan is not the only country where coronavirus relief money has been misappropriated. The fraud has been so widespread in the United States that the Justice Department recently appointed a prosecutor to go after it. People have been accused of buying a Pokémon card, a Lamborghini and other luxuries.

But Abu, population 2,952, may be the only town on earth where an entire Covid stimulus fund has vanished at the hands of an online gambler who received it through administrative error. The details of the case, and the rare attention from Japan’s national news media, have come as a shock to residents of the seaside town.

For the full story see:

Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives. “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It Away.” The New York Times (Friday, May 20, 2022): A4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2022, and has the title “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It All Away.”)