Hill visits Pyongyang
REUTER Jun. 21 2007
U.S. nuclear envoy on surprise trip to North Korea.
U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill leaves Japan on a surprise trip to Pyongyang to discuss the next stage of the North Korean disarmament deal, a day after Filipino Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo returns from North Korea.
Okinawa city rips efforts to alter textbooks
Japantimes May 15, 2007
NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) The city assembly of Tomigusuku, Okinawa Prefecture, called Monday on the education ministry to retract its instructions to textbook publishers to modify statements that Okinawa residents were forced by the military into committing mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa.
It is the first time that a municipality in Okinawa has passed a motion opposing the instructions since the results of the textbook screening process were released in late March.
The Tomigusuku Municipal Assembly unanimously approved the statement, addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, education minister Bunmei Ibuki and chiefs of the Upper and Lower houses.
It also demands that the original descriptions be restored in the textbooks.
The statement says the textbook screeners' instructions "deny the historical facts, accumulated through studies into the Battle of Okinawa that are based on the numerous testimonies of those who experienced it."
It also says, "It has been recognized as a publicly known fact that (civilians) at that time were placed under the forcible control of the Japanese military, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry acknowledged it."
The instructions "can never be accepted by the people of Okinawa Prefecture who went through a cruel ground battle and were forced to make indescribable sacrifices," the statement said.
The Battle of Okinawa claimed the lives of one-fourth of Okinawa's civilian population. More than 200,000 Japanese and Americans died in the bloody battle in the closing days of World War II.
According to the results of the screening process, one textbook initially stated that "the Japanese army gave hand grenades to residents, making them commit mass suicide and kill each other."
After the screeners took issue with the statement, saying it could result in misunderstanding, the textbook was revised to state, "Mass suicides and killings took place among the residents using hand grenades given to them by the Japanese army."
Other textbooks deleted the words "by the Japanese army."
It was the first time that ministry screeners had asked for such changes.
Fukuda slams officials treated by cabbies
Japantimes June 7, 2008
More than 500 bureaucrats at 13 ministries and agencies accepted favors from taxi drivers in the form of cash, coupons and merchandise during rides home late at night at taxpayer expense, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura revealed Friday.
The finding follows the Finance Ministry's announcement Thursday that 383 of its bureaucrats had admitted receiving such favors.
Machimura told the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration on Friday that the 502 officials include 383 at the Finance Ministry, 16 at the Financial Services Agency, 13 at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, 11 at the Environment Ministry, and 10 each at the Defense Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
He added that the favors were handed out to those officials on more than 12,400 occasions. The Finance Ministry accounted for the lion's share, with 11,603, followed by 266 at the Financial Services Agency and 139 at the farm ministry. Machimura was responding to lawmakers Isamu Ueda from New Komeito and Akira Nagatsuma from the Democratic Party of Japan.
Speaking at the same Diet committee session, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda denounced the bureaucrats for having received such favors. They "shouldn't be doing anything whatsoever that might incur suspicions among the people," Fukuda said, adding it should have been obvious to them that what they were doing is wrong.
Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga told reporters Friday the perks were "very shocking" and "severe punishment" will be meted out following a further investigation.
"It's regrettable that the incident triggered public distrust. We'll conduct a thorough investigation to prevent this kind of behavior from happening again, and endeavor to restore trust."
He said he was informed about the misdeeds three days ago and ordered a probe on all 2,681 officials in the ministry.
Transport minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, who supervises the taxi industry, said Friday that cabbies offered the favors as a sales promotion to attract customers. "But cash is problematic. Beer is undesirable," he said, noting 36 transport ministry officials were known to have received beer, juice and candy from cab drivers on 249 occasions in fiscal 2007.
Teito Motor Transportation Co.
A woman's life behind the wheel
Japantimes Sept. 8, 2002
Taxi driver Yoko Yamaoka finished working at 5 this morning. Tomorrow she will get up at 5 in the morning and start the day's shift at 8. She usually works on a rotation of three days on and two days off.
Yamaoka is one of 18 female drivers at Teito Motor Transportation Co., who together represent a tiny fraction of the 1,243 drivers with the Tokyo-based taxi company.
While she looks rested (she had taken a midday nap), Yamaoka, a 47-year-old mother of one, says she feels a bit tired. It isn't because of her job's irregular schedule, though. She blames the bad economy and the fact that she only got a few fares the night before.
"If I get customers, I usually don't feel fatigued even after the long night," she explains. "I feel much more tired when I haven't seen much business."
It's a complaint of all drivers, of course. It was the prospect of a higher salary that attracted Yamaoka to this profession. She had grown tired of receiving less pay in clerical jobs simply because of her gender. She likes the fact that male and female drivers earn the same.
But equal salaries don't ensure equality of treatment out on the streets. While women taxi drivers aren't as rare as they used to be, they are still something of a novelty, and the reactions of some of Yamaoka's customers remind her that people are still unaccustomed to seeing a woman in the driver's seat.
Now a seven-year veteran of the profession, Yamaoka recalls a woman who was recently waiting near a Tokyo department store.
"The lady hailed my cab, but when she discovered that I was driving, she backed away from the curb, saying, 'Oh, a female driver.' The woman didn't say anything further, and I thought she had probably had an unpleasant experience in the past," Yamaoka says. "But coming from another woman, it was very discouraging."
In general, female customers who hail her taxi late in the evening usually show obvious relief. Men's reactions range from "Hey, it's my lucky day," to downright hostility and comments such as, "Women like you taking men's jobs . . . that's why the unemployment is so high."
On the whole, though, positive responses outweigh the negative ones, she says, noting that many men are pleasant and even encouraging.
In Japan today, there are about 8,400 female cabbies driving company taxis and 116 other female cabbies who own their vehicles and operate independently. The number of women driving taxis has grown fourfold over the past 15 years.
Some taxi companies' sales strategies and services are beginning to reflect the increase of female drivers. For instance, Meiwa Taxi Co., in Kyogo Prefecture, which calls the cars of its female drivers "Angel Cabs," has offered "door-to-door" escort services that cater especially to the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women. The 10 drivers have been encouraged to get the national qualification of "home helper" for the elderly.
Still, however, the number of female cabbies in Japan is around 0.02 percent of the number of male taxi drivers. "We need to have more women drivers in order to gain more trust," Yamaoka says.
This change might not happen overnight. In Yamaoka's case, her family was not initially supportive of her career decision, worrying about the many risks that she might face on the road, from traffic accidents to crime.
Last year, 53 cases of customers robbing their taxi drivers were reported in Tokyo -- the second-highest in the past 10 years, following 69 cases in 1999. In 15 incidents, the victims were injured, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
The vulnerability of taxi drivers was tragically highlighted last weekend, on Aug. 31, when a 50-year-old female taxi driver was stabbed to death in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture. A 45-year-old man was arrested after he called local police and confessed to the killing. He later told police that he wanted to kill a woman.
Yamaoka says she's never felt danger on the job. When she ends up with problem customers, such as drunken salarymen who pass out in the back seat, she goes to a nearby police station or a train station where fellow taxi drivers are waiting for customers, and then asks for help.
If there are other drawbacks to being a female taxi driver, it's the lack of public toilets, but Yamaoka says convenience stores with bathrooms have made the situation better.
As for the perks, Yamaoka says she likes the varied conversations she has with many people. Some even pour out their troubles from at home and work to her.
"Customers seem to feel relaxed around me and start talking," she says. "After talking, they often thank me for listening to their problems. Some even say they hope to see me again, though in many cases, it will be the first and last time that we meet.
"And that is why I put my heart into this job. I may never meet the person again. So at least, in that very short time, I want to offer the customer space and time in which to feel comfortable. Knowing that they're comfortable makes me feel the same."
Hailing a cab easier for foreigners
Japantimes June 28, 2003
Taxi companies have decided to give a helping hand to those who do not speak Japanese.
Nihon Kotsu Co. said Friday it will accept calls for cabs in English beginning July 1. It said it recently recruited six operators who can speak English to handle the 24-hour Taxi English Phone service in a bid to win foreign customers.
The service will be available in Tokyo's 23 wards as well as the cities of Musashino and Mitaka.
The move follows the opening of the company's cab stand at Roppongi Hills, which houses business, entertainment and residential complexes that have drawn scores of foreign businesspeople and tourists.
There is an urgent need for taxi companies in Tokyo to improve services for foreign visitors, it said.
"We believe the service gives our foreign customers a sense of security and will help us acquire new customers," said company spokeswoman Itsuko Takahashi.
Foreigners calling the company in the past have had to wait while radio operators tried to track down an English-speaking staff member, she said.
"Few cab drivers can speak English, but our English-speaking operators will come in handy to inform them of customers' destinations and other information," she said.
But a spokesman for taxi firm Kokusai Motorcars Co. said there is little to be gained by creating an exclusive English line for radio taxis. The majority of cab users in Japan are Japanese, he noted.
Kokusai Motorcars simply has some English-speaking cab drivers on standby who can be dispatched whenever needed by foreign customers, he said.
Tokyo MK Corp. meanwhile said it is trying to increase the number of English-speaking operators it has handling radio taxi services. But the firm's most urgent task is to train its cab drivers to speak English, spokesman Akio Ozawa said.
Earlier this year, the company began providing free English lessons to its cab drivers on weekends. He said the lessons are conducted with the help of one of the firm's limousine taxi drivers, who can speak English.
"We are receiving more and more foreign tourists at Narita airport, and nearly 40 percent of our corporate clients are those affiliated with foreign companies," Ozawa said. "Even a cab company must be able to keep up with the current of internationalization."
The number for Taxi English Phone is (03) 3799-9220.