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You drop into an office you’ve visited before and sense that something has changed. Has the bottled water dispenser disappeared? Maybe the company has changed location several times over the past 18 months or so and its website hasn’t been updated.

According to Spa (Sept. 22-29), these may be telltale signs that a business may be teetering on the edge of financial ruin.

For many, this is no longer a theoretical exercise. According to Teikoku Data Bank, 487 companies have declared bankruptcy so far this year (as of Sept. 2). Businesses involved in the food and beverage industry have been hit particularly hard, as have those working in the hospitality, apparel and retailing sectors.

In a survey of 300 salaried employees who had previously experienced working for a company that had failed, the magazine asked, “Could you surmise beforehand that the company was facing bankruptcy?” Roughly two-thirds (64.3 percent) replied in the affirmative, as opposed to 35.7 percent who admitted that they couldn’t.

The timing of the Spa article is significant, since business failures are forecast to rise in the last quarter of the year.

One reliable way to discern if the corporate ship is listing severely is to scrutinize the behavior of its president. Regular absences from the office — either failing to show up for work or being constantly off the premises during working hours — is a troubling sign. Likewise an increase in the boss’ attendance at staff meetings may indicate that they have too much time on their hands.

Telltale signs are legion: requests for voluntary retirement; delays in payments to vendors; the constant recruitment of new workers; a change in the employees’ payday; refusing to reimburse certain outlays; and so on.

For a surefire giveaway that trouble is brewing, the top sign among all categories was that “the best staff member resigns.” Another clear indication of trouble would be the resignation of the accounting manager.

As staff morale collapses, complaints increase and verbal attacks mount. Staff are constantly harangued to trim expenditures and customers typically demand settlement in advance. Entertainment budgets are slashed or eliminated.

“There are so many company presidents who whine to me, ‘Except for cutting costs, I have no idea what action to take,'” business consultant Kenichi Michizuka says. “What’s more, some presidents aim for results by having the employees spy and inform on each other, and the unfairness is palpable.”

Hair today, gone tomorrow

One topic that has unexpectedly popped up in relation to the coronavirus pandemic is male hair loss. Shukan Post (Sept. 18-25) cited a paper appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine that compared male COVID-19 patients having type A blood as appearing to be more susceptible to the coronavirus than those with type O. This susceptibility, some researchers say, may possibly be higher in males with thinning hair when caused by high levels of the male hormone androgen. As one case study, the magazine cited comedian Ken Shimura, who passed away from the disease on March 29.

Nikkan Gendai (Sept. 16) examines the claim that more men are suffering hair loss due to the pandemic. It suggests two possible reasons. One is changes in sleep patterns caused by going to bed at a later hour, which can reduce secretion of growth hormones. Another is the reduction in physical activity. One survey found the ratio of people walking fewer than 3,000 paces a day has risen from 17.8 to 28.4 percent, and this lack of exercise leads to poor circulation.

“Not meeting people or not being able to go out due to fears over infection is an abnormal situation and can cause more stress than a person realizes,” says Takanobu Tomaru, a professor emeritus at Toho University Faculty of Medicine. “It’s believed that upsetting hormonal balance and disrupting the autonomous nervous system due to stress can cause hair loss.”

Meanwhile, Flash (Sept. 29-Oct. 6) also considers the correlation between hair loss and staying at home, a condition it describes as sabishi-ge (lonely hair). It cites Tetsuo Inoue, a veteran researcher in hair and scalp preparations.

“First, you need to deal with disruptions in your living habits,” Inoue advises. “If you commute to work less, then do more walking to get the blood circulating.”

Aside from regular sleep, Inoue recommends consuming sufficient protein. “Hair is composed of 90 percent protein,” he says.

Wakame, a sea vegetable long understood as providing beneficial nutrients for hair, is also recommended.

Shoplifting on the rise

One repercussion of the new requirement for stores to begin charging for plastic bags from July 1 has been a rise in cases of shoplifting, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct. 1) The practice appears to have been facilitated by the “eco-bags” carried by shoppers.

“Their method is extremely simple,” said a security guard at a supermarket. “They put the eco-bag inside the shopping basket, and appear to be placing merchandise in the basket, when they are actually sneaking it into the bag. Up to now we could spot suspected shoplifters from bulges in their clothing or pockets, but it’s not that easy to do when they have a bag.”

Another technique is for shoplifters to pay for their purchase and then return to the sales area where they would feign to have forgotten some item, and then leave without paying.

“It’s hard for the security cameras to catch what’s in a shopping basket,” the security guard says. “If we think somebody looks suspicious and request they show us their receipt, they just say, ‘I lost it.’ When they react aggressively when challenged, there’s not much we can do.”

Confounding the problem is that many stores sell their own originally designed eco-bags, and obviously the stores can’t ask customers to refrain from using the very same bags they sell.

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

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