National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

A pandemic potpourri of Golden Week news gems

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing writer

As if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t give Japan enough things to worry about, the unseasonably warm winter and resulting lack of snow may spell severe shortages of water by this summer, reports Weekly Playboy (May 4). The snowfall along the Japan Sea side of the archipelago was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1961.

A source in the Meteorological Agency is quoted as saying that rainfall between now and August is predicted to match the seasonal average, which means it might not be sufficient to make up for the lack of snow.

About two thirds of the country’s water resources go to farming — some 94 percent of which is used for rice cultivation. The greatest concern of associate professor Toshiaki Iida of the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Agriculture is the possible impact on the nation’s rice crop.

A source in the department of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry responsible for control of water resources tells the magazine that water levels at dams and reservoirs are “normal” for this time of year.

“However, the volume of use for agriculture increases during spring, so we’ll be monitoring the situation very carefully,” he said.


Can entertainment help relieve the strained relations between Japan and South Korea? However grudgingly, Shukan Bunshun (May 7-14) was clearly so impressed by “Parasite” winning best picture at this year’s Academy Awards that it dedicated a dozen glossy pages at the front and back of the issue to South Korea’s top actors, vocalists, dancers and models. The list also includes several Japanese entertainers who are popular in South Korea, including model and actor Ryohei Otani and actress Saki Fukuda, who for the past half decade has performed in South Korean dramas.

The final page contains a short monologue by Japanese director Koji Fukuda, who asks rhetorically, “Why wasn’t ‘Parasite’ created in Japan?”

Fukuda cites master works with universal appeal by Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki. “Japanese directors are by no means inferior to those in South Korea,” Fukuda argues. “But compared to several billion yen in Japan, the film industry there is subsidized by the government to the equivalent of ¥40 billion, and ¥80 billion in France.

“The differences in the level of quality are apparent,” he suggests.


Shukan Asahi (May 8-15) reports on the revival of so-called “antenna shops” in Tokyo. Such shops first made their appearance during the economic boom years of the late 1980s, when major corporations opened retail outlets in popular shopping areas, with the purpose of tracking rapidly changing consumer preferences. Now these shops sell foods and beverages, handicrafts and other goods from Japan’s prefectures. According to the quasi-governmental Japan Center for Regional Development, the present number of such shops in Tokyo — 39 — grew from only two that were operating in 1992.

The stores are said to be particularly popular with middle-aged and elderly women. Many of them have recently undergone renovations, adding tables or counters to enable sampling of local foods and beverages on their premises.

In terms of annual turnover, the Hokkaido shop (located in the Yurakucho district) ranked tops in 2018 with annual sales of ¥1.18 billion. At least six others — Hiroshima (in Ginza), Okinawa (Ginza), Niigata (Omotesando), Kagoshima (Yurakucho), Miyagi (Ikebukuro) and Iwate (Ginza) — reported sales exceeding ¥500 million. Growing numbers of shops have begun offering merchandise via online sales.


Since the consumption tax increase kicked in last October, the main beneficiaries have been cashless transactions and takeout meals. Both offer price incentives. Takeout foods are taxed at 8 percent, 2 percent lower than eat-in.

Shukan Taishu (May 11-18) reported that major restaurant chains have now had several months to develop takeout menus before the stay-at-home restrictions kicked in, and it appears this strategy has been helping them keep revenue flowing in.

The magazine reviews offerings by such chains as Otoya (Japanese food), Gyoza no Osama (Chinese) and Gusto, (a family restaurant chain). Italian-style chain Capricciosa recently began offering a tasty tomato and garlic sauce spaghetti, regularly priced at ¥970, at a “one coin” takeout price of ¥500.


Finally, it seems that one side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a leap in demand for marijuana. Warning: Despite its growing decriminalization in many countries as well as legalization for medical use, the drug is banned in Japan and anyone caught possessing it risks a prison sentence.

One seller, identified only as Mr. A., tells Flash (May 12-19), “From mid-February sales have picked up with a vengeance. I’m moving ¥6 million a month — three times what I was doing a year ago.”

Mr. A fully credits the COVID-19 pandemic for the soaring demand.

“People working in bars and nightclubs can’t work and are stuck at home with time on their hands. They have more opportunities to indulge in weed.”

He added that his product, “Goes along well when watching streamed movies or music.”

Unfortunately, Mr. A’s clients began running out of money and his revenue went into a tailspin from the beginning of April. This drop proved only temporary as he began accepting payment in crypto currencies such as Bitcoin.

Another pot dealer — Mr. B — tells Friday his price to end-users before April was around ¥5,000 per gram.

“A foreign source had told me in early March that he was scared of the coronavirus and had planned to return to his country. But then a few days ago I phoned him and he was still in town. ‘My phone’s been ringing off the hook with orders,’ he told me.”

Flash supposes dealers and customers alike are taking advantage of the present precautions against infection being exercised by the police.

“Some of them are serious people employed at jobs that are alien to drug culture,” Mr. B suggests. “They say to me, ‘I’m stressed out by the pandemic and it’s safer than drinking alcohol, isn’t it?'”

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

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