Aging in Japan

One of the things that struck me in Japan was the number of elderly people. It seemed very noticeable. In any case, this might be a glimpse of things to come in the US, though nothing looks anywhere near as grim here as the picture in Japan:

At the moment, there are more than three people of working age to support each person over 65. In 2055, that figure will have fallen significantly. Roughly speaking, there will just be one younger person to support each pensioner. . . . .



Ask before you eat

One warning that I should give Americans who eat sushi in Japan and that is apparently one of the selections is raw horse. I kid you not. I had to ask about five times before I actually believed the answer that I was getting. I love sushi, but this is going too far.

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Other thoughts on Japan

1) It has been 19 years since I last visited Japan, and there are a number of things that have changed.
a) There are a lot fewer English advertising signs now, but the ones that you see generally seem to make more sense. When I was here before there were signs such as "I feel Coke" or "I touch Lark (cigarettes)." There are still a few things such as a drink called "body love," but this is more silly than anything else. Most English signs are something like "Great Selection" or "Hair Make," something I saw at many beauty salons. I like the packages in the grocery stores that have an English label reading "tastes great," but the rest of the package is in Japanese and I couldn't figure out what it was inside the bag, though I was tempted to buy it just to find out what tasted so "great."
b) When I was here before it seemed most people smoked. I thought that I needed an air tank with me to go on the trains, and the smoke was unbelievably thick. Now I have seen one person smoking. Before the sidewalks were filled with automatic dispensors for cigarettes, but I have only come across a couple of set ups this time.
c) The population seems visibly much older. I kind of expected this because of everything that I know about the birth rate here, but the ratio of older people on the trains is quite high.

2) Japan has privatized its university system, though it has left many regulations in place (such as restrictions on tuitions). The government has apparently stopped its subsidies and the universities have to make up the difference with getting donations. My host at the University of Tokyo is essentially doing consulting for major companies and turning over the consulting fee as a donation to the university. You can really tell how much he cares about the university, but it seems like are really difficult task to assume that there are enough faculty over enough years who are willing to make that type of sacrifice.

3) One hot topic among academics here is the drop in fertility. I suggested some changes in divorce laws and the property division rules that women would get on divorce. One amazing fact to me is that up until recently women did not get any of the man's retirement fund when there was a divorce. The new rule is that the fund is divided 50-50, but I explained that to the extent the man is the one who invested in market activities and the woman invested in the home, she was still being shortchanged for her investment.

4) Few apartments seem to have dishwashers and no one seems to have disposals. Dryers also seem to be relatively rare, with people hanging their clothes out to dry on their balconies. The cost to women doing these chores must be tremendous and from the comments that I have heard from people, women are the ones who are expected to do these tasks. Someone that I discussed this general issue with noted that it isn't surprising that women don't want to have many kids.

It didn't seem like a joke (I could be wrong), but one professor said he had gotten a dishwashing machine because his wife was "lazy."

5) Japanese book stores are suprisingly colorless. Their books have white covers with writing, but none of the pictures and colors found on books sold in the US. The books are also basically stuffed into every available space. The books aren't displayed nicely where you see the covers as in the US, but you only see the binding.

6) Post cards are very difficult to find. As someone who tries to send them to my friends when I go to interesting places, this has been a time consuming task with little success. strange.

7) Sake doesn't seem to produce the hangover that other alcoholic drinks do. I guess that I knew some of the differences with Sake before, but not as many as I do now. There are two types of Sake, those that are meant to be served cold and those that are meant to be served warm. The cold Sake is the high quality one, but there are many different varieties of that. The very best seem to taste very smooth -- they almost have no taste. The hot Sakes that I tried remind me of Kentucky Bourbon.

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Japanese Sake

I don't think that I have ever been much of a fan of Sake before, but I think that was because in the US I don't think that I have ever had very good Sake before. All I can say is that good Japanese Sake is amazingly smooth. A substantial amount of Sake with an absolutely awesome sushi dinner, followed by a walk through a giant (truly giant) Budist temple, was a great way to spend the evening. All I can say is that this Sake packs quite a punch. These Japanese academics have life pretty good.

A talk at Hitotsubashi University earlier today, an interesting economics and public policy faculty with lots of good question.

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Random Impressions about Japan

1) A very common way of people committing suicides is for people to throw themselves in front of trains. I can only imagine the social costs of this form of suicide in that the trains appear to be stopped for an hour or so. It would be interesting to compare the costs of say Americans committing suicide with the cost of Japanese. It is not clear why Japanese want to commit suicide in such a was as to inconvienence so many other people, with trains delayed by an hour during the busy rush hour.

2) The only English language programming that I can pick up on the TV is when they are showing American baseball. Right now I am watching Detroit play Boston. Possibly it is being covered because a former Japanese star seems to be pitching for Boston.

3) Japanese food is actually pretty cheap. If I had as much sushi in the US as I have had during the last couple of days, I would have had to take out an extra loan on my house. Instead here I have been quite stuffed and gotten to eat the food for around 1300 yen. But the food is great.

4) Japanese yell a lot when they do sports. Whether it is soccer or what appeared to be Lacrosse with huge goals, there was a lot of yelling going on.

5) I watched some Summo wrestling on TV and all I can say is that it goes by extremely fast. A match appears to take as little as 5 seconds sometimes and I don't think I saw anything longer than 15 seconds. They do it fast and then two other contestants come on. It makes it somewhat difficult to get very involved in watching a match.

Further point

6) Japan's crows are huge and extremely large and agressive. I have been told that they are originally from Africa, but wherever these crows are from, they certainly make an impression.

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Going to Japan for 9 days

I will be giving academic talks at the University of Tokyo Law School and Hitotsubashi University. For those interested, the talks are:

May 15-----talk at the University of Tokyo Law School from 13:00 to 15:00
May 17-----talk at Hitotsubashi University from 10:35 to 12:05

It has been almost twenty years since I was last in Japan so it will be interesting to see how it has changed.

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