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The Telegraph has some truly WTF news from Japan about a couple being forced to apologize Japanese couple for ignoring unwritten workplace rules by having conceived a child “before their turn”:

A Japanese worker has been reprimanded by her boss for “selfishly breaking the rules” after she became pregnant before it was her “turn”, according to media reports.

The woman was working at a private childcare centre in Aichi prefecture, north Japan, when she found out she was pregnant.

However, the timing reportedly clashed with “shifts” drawn by the childcare centre director, which listed when female staff were allowed to marry and have children.

The plight of the woman, who has not been identified, highlights the unsettling practice of some Japanese companies dictating when female staff are allowed to marry and have children, depending on their level of seniority.

Straight WTF but completely unsurprising for those familiar with Japan and some of its more traditional workplace practices.

Describing how his wife felt “glum and anxious” after finding out she was pregnant, the husband wrote: “The director at the child care center where she works had determined the order in which workers could get married or pregnant, and apparently there was an unspoken rule that one must not take their ‘turn’ before a senior staff member…”

The couple formally met with the director to apologise about the pregnancy in person, but the husband claimed that his wife has since been “chided” for “selfishly” breaking the rules of the child care center.

The Director should be chastised and chided for enacting such selfish, unspoken and unwritten, highly inhumane rules. Traditional Japanese workplaces can already tough enough to begin with, but having to deal with additional peculiarities should be unnecessary. The ojisan managing these operations rarely ever consider the long term effects of their shortsighted policy fetish.

Japan Today reports on a staggering number of personal information leaks as a result of cyber attacks targeting Japanese companies:

There were 3.08 million cases of personal information definitely or probably being leaked through cyberattacks on companies or other entities in Japan in 2017, a Kyodo News tally shows.

These figures are based on data security breaches at 82 entities last year — 76 companies, four administrative entities and two universities, according to the tally of confirmed or suspected data breaches.

The corresponding number of cases totaled 2.07 million in 2015, before surging to 12.6 million in 2016 due to a massive data leak at travel agency JTB Corp.

However, the amount of damages stemming from stolen credit card information hit an all-time high last year, as credit card information was involved in 530,000 cases, or roughly one-sixth of the total.

The total amount of damages roughly doubled from a year earlier to 17.6 billion yen ($166 million) in 2017, according to the Japan Consumer Credit Association.

Yet these figures probably understate the extent of the problem, according to some experts.

There are likely a host of companies unwilling to report data breaches for fear of legal liability or public embarrassment. Take these numbers with a huge spoonful of salt because it is almost guaranteed to be much larger number.

Japan has been making strong strides to increase cyber security capability throughout the years. However, there is a lack of emphasis on computer science in grade, middle, and high schools. A concerted, strategic focus on educating young folks on cyber security, an extremely important topic, is essentially non-existent. Until the Japanese educational system catches up with the societal shift towards more data-driven enterprises, Japan will unfortunately remain a cyber security laggard.

The Japan Times has an interesting article discussing the recent comments made by Donald Trump about Japan taking advantage of trade with the United States:

The prime minister is planning a hastily arranged trip to Washington next month after two surprise announcements by the U.S. president: That he’d meet their mutual adversary Kim Jong Un, and levy tariffs on Japanese steel and aluminum. The moves could shake the pillars of trade and security that underpin a 70-year-old alliance Abe was counting on to buttress against a rising China.

“The effect of a personal relationship is very uncertain,” said Akihisa Nagashima, a former vice defense minister who is a lawmaker with Japan’s opposition Kibo no To (Party of Hope). “This may even have been unrequited love.”

Abe’s U.S. trip bears parallels with his swift Trump Tower visit days after the 2016 U.S. election, presenting Trump with a $3,800 golf club and hailing him as a “very successful businessman with extraordinary talents.” The efforts appeared successful, as Trump reaffirmed the security alliance and shelved campaign threats to curb Japanese car imports, even as he later withdrew from a Pacific trade pact championed by Abe.

Fumio Kishida, Abe’s former foreign minister, said in a Wednesday interview in Hong Kong that the two leaders established a mutual trust. Other foreign leaders, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron and China’s President Xi Jinping, attempted similar charm offensives, with varied results.

As Trump has fired advisor after advisor, cabinet secretary after cabinet secretary, he has been increasingly surrounding himself with people who think like he does or worse. Trump is creating an echo chamber in the White House rather than a culture where his thoughts and ideas are challenged in an attempt to enact well thought out plans.

Considering all these circumstances, Abe-san is going to have a tough time charming Trump this time around.

CNBC reports on a positive mindset change in Japan on entrepreneurship and start-ups:

Moreover, young Japanese workers have grown up in a world where innovation is driven by the likes of Airbnb, Uber and Facebook, according to Riney. Unlike their parents’ generation, they “never saw a world where massive wealth and innovation-drivers were Sony or Nintendo or some of those more traditional folks.”

Government support has been crucial in bolstering the start-up scene, according to Riney.

The quality of entrepreneurs is also increasing as many left their jobs in consulting or banking sectors to either start their own company or join the management teams of existing start-ups, according to another investor.

“Before, I couldn’t really meet founders with certain prestigious backgrounds,” Hogil Doh, investment manager at Rakuten Ventures, told CNBC. “Now, almost 80 percent of the founders have … worked for McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group or Goldman Sachs.”

The key here is a how Japanese society is evolving to no longer view working at a startup as a failure or some kind of plan B. It used to be if you were unable to get a job at a major Japanese company then a startup was essentially the only route for you to go. Nowadays that is no longer the case, and young folks are increasingly being attracted to startups.

Personally, I think the startup culture attracts Japanese millennials moreso than being lost in an ocean of corporate drones dressed in their freshman black suits. Startups generally value capability over the Japanese time honored seniority. They are viewed as potentially better opportunities for growth, even if the work is likely more difficult and riskier than established companies.

Finding the right startup is always the tough part. On the one hand it is important to locate a company that matches your skills, while on the other hand you want to join a startup that has major growth potential and long-term stability. It is a difficult yet exciting proposition for many young folks, who are increasingly steering away from marriage and family life.

Ultimately, a Japanese resident, I am very glad to see the startup scene is finally taking off. Like with so many other things, Japan is about 15-ish years behind the rest of the world. But once that momentum is built, Japan will be hard to stop, and will become a force to be reckoned.

NHK WORLD reports that Porsche Japan had a network breach leading to customer data being leaked:

The Japanese arm of German automaker Porsche says more than 28,000 email addresses have been leaked via a hack.

Porsche Japan says information at risk includes 23,151 email addresses belonging to customers who asked for product brochures via the internet between 2000 and 2009.

Its officials suspect their customers’ names, postal addresses, phone numbers and income information may also have been compromised.

They have also admitted to a leak of email addresses of customers who participated in a 2015 sales campaign.

Not good at all. I am curious what attack vector was used to breach the network and subsequently exfiltrate the data. Additionally, I wonder what their security operations center and situational awareness capabilities are.

Sankei Shimbun published an interview I conducted beginning last year November and finishing up in January 2018. The article was written by a gentleman named Bando-san, and it discusses nation states leveraging artificial intelligence in cyber operations, among other topics:

元在日米軍司令部サイバーセキュリティー長のスコット・ジャーコフ氏が産経新聞の取材で明らかにした。ジャーコフ氏は現在、米セキュリティー企業「マカフィー」のサイバー戦略室シニアセキュリティアドバイザーを務め、攻撃動向などを調査。欧州警察機関(ユーロポール)などと情報を共有し、昨年、中露のAI技術取得の情報を入手したという。

ジャーコフ氏によると、中露が獲得したAI技術は自動的に膨大な数のパソコンやスマートフォンにウイルスを送れる機能を持つ。添付ファイルを開封すればウイルス感染するメールを世界中に一斉送信し、「ハッカーが関与しなくても情報窃取やシステムを破壊する攻撃などが可能」という。また、ジャーコフ氏は「標的にする組織のシステムの欠陥を調査したり、金銭を奪える標的を探したりするAI技術も獲得した」と指摘。北朝鮮については近年、判明した同国のサイバー犯罪を分析し「AI技術を取得している可能性がある」とした。

The article, quite obviously, is entirely in Japanese, and covers many of the topics Bando-san and I discussed. The interview was a lot of fun, and I even ended up breaking out a whiteboard to draw out some of the ideas I was trying to convey. I have conducted a few media sessions, and a couple other interviews, but this was the first time I took this route.

One extremely perplexing note: although the interview was conducted in the McAfee office in Shibuya Mark City where I work, the journalist opted to use the title from my previous position with the US Department of Defense. I suspect he believes United States Forces Japan Chief of Cyber Security sounds more legitimate than McAfee Senior Security Advisor? I disagree, but can understand his perspective.

Lastly, there was a photographer present during the interview, snapping tons of pictures. Of all the shots taken, WTF was that one selected for the article?

NBC News on the mounting pressure Tokyo faces to do something about its smoking problem prior to the upcoming 2020 games:

The scent of chicken skewers cooking over a charcoal grill mixes with another distinctive odor — cigarette smoke from a handful of white-collar workers unwinding after a busy day at the office.

This scene plays out in small bars across the Japanese capital, where many restaurants and watering holes still allow their customers to smoke.

But lawmakers here are coming under pressure to implement tougher restrictions against passive smoking before Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics, with the World Health Organization and the International Olympic Committee leading the calls for broad bans in public spaces.

The health ministry estimates that about 15,000 deaths in the country each year are linked to second-hand smoke. But the habit has proved tough to kick.

Anti-tobacco campaigners have a theory about what’s behind the government’s reluctance to take strong action against smoking. Japan’s finance ministry still holds a one-third stake in the ownership of Japan Tobacco, the country’s biggest seller of cigarettes. That means a portion of the firm’s profits flow into in the government’s coffers.

If there is one complaint about Tokyo at the top of my list it would be this. Smoking is so pervasive here it is almost an afterthought. Some wards have enacted regulations about smoking, but there is no all-out law covering Tokyo Metropolitan.

The small yakitori shops or izakaya’s already smell bad enough because of the smoke from the BBQ or kitchen, but add some cigarette stench on top and you have a recipe for disaster. I hate going home with that sickly scent caked all over my clothes, especially during winter when wearing a jacket.

SC Media UK reports on Japan joining the ATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia:

Japan is to join the ATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia which the organisation said in a statement will further strengthen the knowledge base and reach of the currently 20-nation-strong centre.

The Prime Minister of Japan announced Japan’s decision to join the organisation.

“We welcome the decision of Japan to join CCDCOE as a Contributing Participant, membership status available to non-NATO nations. Japan is one of NATO’s key partners beyond the Euro-Atlantic area and a globally recognised technology and cyber-security power. Joining the Centre will be a concrete step forward signalling the commitment in cyber defence cooperation between like-minded nations,” said Merle Maigre, director of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.

Japan participating in global cyber cooperatives like this is a smart move, and one to surely be helpful for the country long-term.

Good riddance:

A Japanese court on Friday convicted a U.S. military contractor of murder and rape charges in the death of an Okinawa woman and sentenced him to life in prison.

The Naha District Court also found Kenneth Shinzato, a former Marine, guilty of abandoning the victim’s body, court officials said.

Half of about 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan are on Okinawa.

The U.S. military says the crime rate among its ranks in Japan is lower than among the general public.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government wants Japan to play a greater military role internationally and in Japan-U.S. security alliance amid escalating missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.

There is no place in the world, much less Japan, for people like Shinzato.

It is about time Tokyo has grown up and begun to consider catching-up to the rest of the developed world, outlawing smoking in indoor locations like restaurants and bars. Although, the proposed exemption seems to almost negate the whole point of the law:

As more people have grown aware of the health hazards, the number of smokers in Japan has dropped sharply, according to data from the cigarette maker Japan Tobacco.

Now train platforms, department stores and many restaurants are smoke free, while office workers who have yet to kick the cigarette habit are consigned to small smoking rooms or outside shelters.

The health ministry recently proposed a compromise version of its smoking ban to expand an exemption so that restaurants as large as 150 square meters, or a little over 1,600 square feet, could allow smokers.

Determined smokers figure they will spend even more time cramming into outdoor smoking shelters and parks dotted around the city.

Koki Okamoto, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and head of the Neighborhood Second-Hand Smoke Victims Society, said restaurants could potentially gain customers as more people stop smoking and an increasing number of families with young children seek to go out to eat.

I find it hard to believe that by the time the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are upon us, Tokyo will still not have completely outlawed smoking indoors. Maybe this move is just baby steps?

Malware is definitely a global issue, but it is increasingly becoming a major problem in Japan as consumer Internet-of-Things devices rise in popularity:

In Japan, telecommunications companies are working to identify infected devices to prevent them from being used in cyber-attacks.

Cyber-attacks often involve IoT equipment, and financial firms are frequent targets.

In one example in Japan, more than 600,000 pieces of IoT equipment were held to ransom.

Hayato Sasaki, an expert at the Japan Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center, says Japanese firms are experiencing a global problem.

He says infected IoT equipment has been used in large-scale cyber-attacks overseas, and now Japan is a target. Sasaki urges communication carriers, equipment manufacturers, and the government to work together to strengthen IoT equipment and make it safe.

IoT device manufacturers bear the brunt of this effort. They need to start taking cyber security seriously, and rather than rushing to market, these companies need to take time to implement strong security in their IoT solutions.

I highly doubt that will happen unless the government steps in to mandate a baseline set of IoT security standards.

Germany is exploring the legalities around responses to cyber attacks and is recognizing the country may need to change its constitution to allow for striking back to cyber actors:

Germany may need to change its constitution to allow it to strike back at hackers who target private computer networks and it hopes to complete any legal reforms next year, a top Interior Ministry official said on Monday.

State Secretary Klaus Vitt told Reuters the government believed “Significant legal changes would be needed” to allow such “Hack back” actions.

“A constitutional change may be needed since this is such a critical issue,” Vitt said on the sidelines of a cyber conference organized by the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Vitt said much would depend on the outcome of coalition talks in Germany of which cyber capabilities formed a part.

Top German intelligence officials told parliament last month they needed greater legal authority to strike back in the event of cyber attacks from foreign powers.

We can all thank Russia and Putin for forcing this issue globally. Their exceptional use of cyber attacks coupled with propaganda has changed the conventional approach to using cyber as part of a broader geopolitical strategy.

Additionally, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to explore changing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, I suspect this will become an issue here in Japan as well. Hacking back against malicious actors is not as cut-and-dry as some would suspect. Specific legal authority is required, otherwise the country could face legal issues and liability, especially if attribution is incorrect and an innocent bystander is attacked.

HPV is a huge women’s health issue, and the Japanese government needs to stop playing games with anti-vaccers:

Japanese women’s health is increasingly at risk as public-health policy is driven by conspiracy theories, misguided political interference and bureaucratic caution. This is particularly evident in the government’s handling of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to protect against cervical cancer.

In June 2013, just two months after the HPV vaccine was included in the National Immunization Program, the Japanese government made the unusual and perplexing decision to keep the vaccine in the NIP but suspend “proactive” recommendations for it. This was evidently in response to highly publicized accounts of alleged adverse reactions.

The result was that girls in the target age group, from the 6th grade of primary school to the third grade of high school, stopped receiving the vaccine. Vaccination rates dropped to below 1% from about 70%.

Then there is this:

The Vaccine Adverse Reactions Review Committee, a task force established by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s Health Science Council, has repeatedly concluded that no causal link exists between HPV vaccines and professed symptoms, and that most reported cases were likely psychosomatic. A study of 70,960 vaccinated and nonvaccinated adolescent girls from Nagoya also found no significant association between 24 alleged vaccine-induced symptoms and the HPV vaccines.

Despite this, on March 16 Dr. Shuichi Ikeda, one of the principal investigators commissioned by the government to investigate alleged adverse events, presented highly misleading genetic and mouse experiment data at the MHLW’s Sciences Research Grant Meeting. He appeared on television the same day stating, “Without a doubt, there are signs of brain disorder. The results clearly reflect the objective findings which are common among the patients claiming such brain disorders.” The following day, major Japanese newspapers ran alarmist headlines.

Unbelievable. Dr. Ikeda should be fired.

The Japanese government needs to get out in front of this ASAP otherwise it will continue to put women in harms way. The public needs to hear from the government about how this claim has already been debunked, and reassure everyone about the true safety and importance of HPV immunization.

While MHLW did already make a statement to refute Dr. Ikeda, it seems to have backfired. They need to take a stronger stance, and forcefully demonstrate Ikeda’s ignorance on this topic, while at the same time presenting evidence showing why the HPV vaccine is safe.

The longer they wait, the longer this festers, and the less women will be inclined to vaccinate.

Here is a look at the new onsen symbol Japan will begin using:

onsenAccording to the The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the symbol could be misinterpreted by foreigners as the mark of a restaurant that serves hot food. To avoid confusion, three people have been added to the onsen symbol, to clarify the fact that the image is used to represent hot spring bathing.

I have never once been confused by the old symbol, although I guess it could be argued this is not aimed at people like me who live in Japan. While there is a bit of nostalgia with the older symbol, the update does make sense when looked at from the perspective of the huge influx of tourism expected in the years up to, and include, the 2020 Olympics.