Tokyo

Abe’s LDP smashed in Tokyo Municipal Assembly election

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Has populism has found its way to Tokyo? Not really. PM Shinzo Abe’s LDP, which has ruled Japan at a national level for decades) bar a few periods was smashed in the Tokyo Municipal Assembly elections yesterday. Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike had split from the LDP to form the Tomin First (Tokyo-ites First) Party. She won 49 seats (out of 50 contested) from 6 held before the election in the 127 seat Municipal Assembly. The LDP went from 57 to 23, 15 less that its worst ever showing to date. Even the Communist Party gained seats at the expense of the LDP.

Koike’s popularity (despite sliding from 74% to 59%  over the dithering around Tsukiji Fish Market redevelopment) has been driven by the idea of ‘transparency’ in government policy decision making, a clamp down on wasteful spending and accountable government.

Abe’s LDP on the other hand has been embroiled in scandal after scandal and citizens of the capitol were not prepared to be taken for mugs (although only 33% showed up to vote). Whether it be the out-of-control screaming of recently resigned LDP member Mayuko Toyoda to her staffer, the favouritism shown in the Kake Gakuen scandal to PM Abe’s long term friend, the sale of government land at a 90% discount to set up a nationalist school (Moritomo Gakuen) or even the PM being booed on the campaign trail, voters let the LDP know that they’re sick of old school establishment politics. A national election is still some 18 months off.

The bigger issue being debated is whether Koike’s party could make serious inroads into the LDP at a national level putting Abenomics and ultra loose monetary policy on the back burner. The LDP’s national junior coalition party (Komeito) had backed Koike’s Tomin First since last year after the LDP balked at salary cuts for Tokyo Municipal Assembly politicians.

Abe tried to hose down the talks of the rise of Tomin First arguing they were like the Japan New Party which floundered after success in the 1993 Tokyo Municipal Assembly elections. They promised much but ended up disbanding despite Koike being 2IC.

Abe will no doubt crank up public spending in the regional areas to support prefectures with rapidly aging populations. What many overlook is that Japan is still backed by an aging society. Despite all the wishes of the youth for reform, the elderly will continue to grow as a % of the voter base as the population decreases. This means policy will need to be serving the silver-haired.

Abe can’t dismiss these dreadful results out of hand. The citizens of Tokyo are livid at the LDP’s antics. Yet a 33% (+2%) turnout suggests voter apathy is still alive and kicking. Abe isn’t going to be finished by this but the party needs a long hard look at itself. The voters are suitably upset. Is this a wave of populism a la Trump or Brexit? Not really. Japan continues to suffer from lacking a credible opposition which means inexperienced parties often fail in their first term. Every now and again the LDP gets sent a warning shot before business as usual returns.

Rebels too old for a cause

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The average age of motorcyclists in Japan is 53 years old and continuing to climb as younger riders looking to obtain new licenses continues to drift. Between 2010 and 2016 the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) noted that large capacity motorcycle license holders (ogata – classified as 400cc+) have fallen by nearly 1,500,000. While mid-size (chugata – classified as below 400cc) have risen around 715,000. Female riders have shown a similar pattern of 178,000 fall in ogata licenses and 147,000 increase in chugata respectively. While there are still 9.175mn men and 625,000 women willing to get out on the highway with large capacity bikes, the trend is alarming. More frighteningly, new graduates aren’t lining up either. 30,000 fewer students lined up to get a mid or large size bike license between 2014 and 2016 representing a 12.3% dip. Latest report found here Motorcycles in Japan – Analogica KK

Ouchijuku & Oyakuen – 2 must see places in Aizu, Fukushima

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Step back in time. Ōuchijuku was a small post station in Japan’s Edo period and is now located in the town of Shimogō, Fukushima (in Aizu area). Think of it as a Japanese version of the Cotswolds given the authentic thatched rooves. For bikers it is a fantastic set of switchbacks to get there.

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There is a stream of fresh water running down the street on both sides which local vendors put bottled drinks as a way to keep them cool.

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The street is probably around 500metres in length but you can sample all different types of food and drinks along the way.

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Anyone wanting to see interesting things in Fukushima, this is a must. Tsurugajo Castle is also worth the time especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby

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Tsurugaoka Castle in Aizu Wakamatsu is also worth the time…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby…

…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby.

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Little Chef Tokyo style

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This is what a highway service area looks like in Tokyo. This is Hanyu SA in Saitama. Is it any wonder some people actually do trips where the main purpose is to stop off at unique parking spots.

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Shouldn’t Tokyo be a priority for sea walls?

Driving up 150km of coastline in north east Japan I was struck by the number of concrete bollards under construction. Hundreds of thousands of these Tetris shaped objects ready to be stacked on the shore line to protect from another tsunami. Huge steel molds are filled with wet concrete with the end result a several tonne block. Which begs the question. Many are expecting Tokyo to be hit with a monster quake given the last big quake was Sep 1,1923. Surely the cost of building a sea wall and bigger fortifications off Tokyo makes sense.

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Is the motorcycle market bust in Japan for real?

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Japan may sell around 1/7th the number of bikes at the peak in the 1980s but the latest stats from the 44th Tokyo Motorcycle Show in late March 2017 revealed a record number of crowds – some 146,495, up 10,000 on last year. 155 exhibitors showed up. In fact it was even larger than last year with 2 floors being utilized vs last year’s show. Clearly the motorcycle product market is expanding – from scooters, enduros, adventure, super sports, naked, e-bikes to trikes. Interestingly Japanese brand Yamaha has turned its success on the track to pricing some of its products (e.g. R1M) at premium European levels, something unheard of 5 years ago. In the reverse Harley-Davidson has had to introduce a 750cc bike made in India to compete with Yamaha’s budget entry cruiser, the Bolt.

The average age of riders in Japan is now 53 and rising. Getting a license is an expensive ($3,000) nightmare and finding a parking space can be an even bigger horror. So there are plenty of ways to turn this sinking ship around. Product has evolved along with huge leaps in technology. Cornering ABS and cornering sensitive traction control to begin with. Even Harley-Davidson has realized it can’t survive on just its legacy. It has introduced the Milwaukee-8 engine which looks to modernize its line-up. Europe’s largest motorcycle maker KTM is bringing out incredible range of products in both its KTM & Husqvarna brands while BMW is entering the sub 400 category to attract younger riders. Yamaha is dominating the Japanese makers for product offering. Honda amazes in its ability to bore with totally uninspiring product. The only things that raise a pulse are concepts which the engineers say won’t see production. Suzuki and Kawasaki remain fringe players with a dash of lunacy amongst a pretty ordinary offering.

The golden rule of customer service

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Customer service! What is it? How well do we know our customers? In my case it is a Mr Kamimura, a diligent garçon at Aux Bacchanales in Kioi-cho, Tokyo. No matter what mood you’re in he has an innate ability to make you forget and laugh at yourself. In my case today new shoes are causing blisters. He saw me with bandaids at hand. Sensing what was wrong he scribed “blister” in my latte. A small thing perhaps but isn’t it amazing how something so simple, not discovered in any manual can keep a customer coming. The coffee is pretty good too so it’s a win-win. I’m fascinated how in today’s smartphone gazing culture how as humans were actually missing out what really matters.