The crops at cherry orchards in Yamagata Prefecture have been plagued by an infestation of fruit thieves.

“We still haven’t tallied the losses this year,” a source at the prefecture’s agriculture department tells Yukan Fuji (July 29). The thefts, said to be the worst in five years, have spurred Yamagata Gov. Mieko Yoshimura to ask people to put their heads together and come up with a solution.

Just before the harvest that was scheduled for the end of June, cherry thieves made off with about 150 kilograms of the prized Beni-shuho variety, leading a farmer to moan, “We devote a year nurturing the crop, only to have this happen in an instant.”

It seems the anti-bird nets strung up on the branches weren’t enough to keep out humans, and so far this year an estimated total of 215 kilograms valued at approximately ¥860,000 have vanished in the prefecture.

Unlike Yamagata, proactive cherry growers in Yamanashi Prefecture obtained subsidies from the local agricultural cooperatives and installed infrared sensors, developed in cooperation with computer manufacturer Fujitsu, in the orchards. The anti-theft sensors — which need only be installed and monitored as the harvest season approaches — were introduced in 2018, and subsequent thefts have reportedly been zero.

Keeping the fires burning

The sacred Olympic flame, brought from Mount Olympus in Greece, made its public debut in Japan on April 2 in Fukushima Prefecture.

Since then, reports Shukan Post (Jul. 31-Aug. 7), it appears to have been missing in action. Upon inquiring to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, the magazine was told: “At present, the flame is being kept in the Tokyo metropolitan area. We haven’t made the location public out of fears that many people may converge, which is undesirable due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

A committee spokesperson at least mentioned that the flame is being kept in a lantern, with lamp oil used as fuel.

Yuta Nakamura, an authority on vintage lanterns, told Shukan Post: “It’s necessary to add additional oil every 10 to 15 hours. The flame is extinguished when adding the oil, so I suppose they first have to transfer the flame to another lantern during the process.”

Nakamura estimates the fuel cost for keeping the flame burning another 11 months at around ¥200,000, not including other costs such as personnel or use of the storage facility. Will the flame be allowed to flicker out, one wonders, if no Olympics are held as planned next July?

A stroll down memory lane

Crammed in between the west exit of JR Shinjuku Station and Yasukuni Dori is a rabbits’ warren of some 80 tiny eating and drinking establishments that is visibly unchanged from the 1950s. The spot promotes itself as Shinjuku Nishiguchi Omoide no Yokocho (Shinjuku West Exit Memory Lane), although Shukan Shincho (Aug. 6) describes it using its less flattering nickname: “Piss Alley.”

In recent years, the tiny eateries have become popular with foreign tourists, not only for their low prices but their nostalgic atmosphere of a bygone era.

Still, there’s no stopping progress and, in 2003, shop owners formed a preparatory organization for redevelopment of the 2,000-square-meter area, with construction of a 48-story building, a joint project planned by Tokyo Metro and the Odakyu Railways Co., planned for completion in 2029. But at this point no plans or schedule have been formally announced and the developers are vague about getting the property owners to vacate.

Satoshi Otake, an author who covers urban nightlife, describes Memory Lane’s continued existence as a “modern-day miracle.”

“Clusters of tiny shops with this kind of old black-market style atmosphere are already long gone from Osaka and Nagoya, and only a few, such as Dozamachi in Nagasaki, still remain,” he says. “It’s amazing that the one in Shinjuku managed to survive the bubble economy of the 1990s. Fortunately, I think it has hung on until now due to the complicated ownership situation.”

Sagging jeans

A weekly in-depth business report in Shukan Jitsuwa (Aug. 13) looks at the ongoing jiinzu-banare (abandoning the wearing of blue jeans) among Japan’s young people, who can now be seen clad in other types of casual wear such as chinos, cargo pants and shorts.

The move from jeans has been ongoing for a decade. According to industry data, total sales of jeans of all types reached 78 million pairs in 2002. A decade later they were down to 46.5 million and the current annual figure is believed to have fallen below 40 million.

The big three specialty retail chains in Japan — operated by Right-on Co., Ltd., Mac House Co., Ltd. and Jeans Mate Corp. — have seen their respective annual sales revenue decline by nearly half over the past decade.

“There are two main factors in the decline,” an authority in the fashion trade tells the magazine. “One is the ongoing price war. The other is that young people’s tastes in clothes have diversified and jeans are no longer seen as the fashion standard.”

“Jeans originally became popularized in Japan by Hollywood icons like Marlon Brando and James Dean,” a veteran store manager says. “What put the brakes on their popularity was the advent of low-priced jeans sold at mass retailers such as Shimamura and Uniqlo.”

He explained the price range was previously between ¥3,000 to ¥10,000 a pair, but after Uniqlo introduced its GU label, which sold for ¥990, jeans caught on among middle-aged women and kids, and lost their fashion appeal.

Since then, the market eventually became polarized between the ultraexpensive and the ultracheap and demand for midrange products went south. Outlets operated by Mac House, for example, fell from 567 in 2009 to 372 this year.

Still, not all is lost.

“Just as Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs used to work wearing Levi’s, adoption of casual wear by workers in the IT sector has been growing,” a fashion authority tells the magazine. “Now, with more people teleworking from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible that as work and leisure move closer together, jeans will make a comeback.”

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