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.

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?

Although Masuzoe is no longer the Tokyo governor, it seems his era of fleecing Tokyo taxpayers was spread passed his own illegal personal use of government funds:

And all this studying was happening between 9:10 and 11:40 a.m. — during work time, when they should have been toiling on behalf of Tokyo’s millions of taxpayers. Instead, the city was forking out tens of millions of yen from public funds to teach them a subject they had already studied for at least six years at school, and probably a couple more at university.

I contacted the metropolitan government for comment about the amount of public money involved in this project but neither the Bureau of General Affairs nor the Office of the Governor for Policy Planning had responded by the time of going to print. ECC’s salesperson in charge of the Tokyo government account also declined to comment.

The significance of all this did not hit me at first, but what did raise eyebrows in the makeshift teachers’ room was the number of students attending — around 200 each month — and the fact that few had any direct relationship with the various Olympic-related positions in the city government. The scheme effectively meant the loss of around 1,000 work-hours a month by attending students. Questions I sent to the Tokyo government about how staff were selected for the English course have also gone unanswered.

Monocle Magazine has ranked Tokyo the most livable city in the world for the second straight year:

Tokyo is the city of the future, it really speaks to the possibilities of the megalopolis to provide a high standard of living for its residents. There are tradeoffs to living in such a large city. The most obvious tradeoff is that the availability of space is limited. Apartments are tiny, houses are tiny, seats on trains are tiny if you can find one.

What you get in return is convenience and experience. Tokyo has the most interconnected and efficient train system in the world. Tens of millions of passengers are constantly moving through Tokyo’s many train lines that are almost always on time. Having such reliable transportation really does put your mind at ease when it comes to showing up on time for work, or even meeting up with friends. The low-rise small scale nature of Tokyo’s best neighborhoods creates an atmosphere of endless discovery, and unique experiences.

Tokyo really is an exceptional city. It is amazing how far things have come in the past twenty years. I cannot fathom living elsewhere at this point in my life. Tokyo is home.

Tokyo has innumerable hidden neighborhoods, and this guide is an attempt at uncovering some of the more interesting gems lurking in those crevices:

Who better to guide you through a city’s secret neighborhoods than the locals? We tracked down seven longtime Tokyo residents—from a French retailer to a Japanese designer and museum curator—and asked for their insider tips on what makes their piece of the city special. The answers may surprise you.

“I moved to Daikanyama a couple of years ago, and I am still discovering new places all the time. Daikanyama T Site has some good restaurants and makes an ideal resting point when you want to read a book or magazine over a coffee or cocktail, but it can get quite crowded, especially on weekends. But roaming through the alleys around it will bring you to all sorts of interesting shops and little cafes. Weekend Garage Tokyo is one of my favorite places to hang out. It has a garage-like atmosphere with high ceilings and lots of outdoor tables, and the food is very good value for money.”

Weekend Garage Tokyo sounds like my kind of place.

Toyota’a former highest ranking female executive ever learned a tough lesson about mailing drugs to Japan after having spent three weeks in a Japanese prison while the police conducted an investigation into the incident:

Hamp, 55, who resigned as Toyota’s communications officer last week from a Japanese jail, has been detained since her June 18 arrest for allegedly importing prescription painkillers that require prior approval before being brought into Japan. Prosecutors will decide on July 8 whether Hamp, who hasn’t been formally charged, is to be indicted.

Her experience, and that of others like 26-year-old Carrie Russell, an English teacher held for 18 days in February for possessing prescription drugs sent from the U.S., offers a warning to visitors: Japan has tough laws for possession of prescription drugs, even when those medications may have been recommended by doctors abroad.

“When you get medicine from your physician, you assume it’s OK to bring it with you,” said Russell, who’s been taking medication for attention deficit disorder since she was 10. “I was completely wrong,” she said in a phone interview from Oregon.

Tokyo metropolitan police arrested Hamp of Toyota Motor on suspicion that she had imported the pain medication oxycodone. Hamp had her father send 57 tablets containing oxycodone to a Tokyo hotel where she was staying, according to Kyodo News, citing a Tokyo police representative.

Look, I am no rocket surgeon or brain scientist, but I am quite certain it is common knowledge to never send drugs, prescription or otherwise, in the mail, especially to a foreign country. The fact that the pills were hidden inside jewelry boxes points towards firsthand knowledge and thus I honestly believe she got what she deserved.

If Hemp really required the medication then she should have visited a Japanese hospital. It is likely the doctors would have prescribed her something equivalent without any fuss whatsoever. My experience with the Japanese medical system is that it is exceedingly easy to get a prescription for whatever you need just by talking to your doctor about the need for the medicine. They will generally hand it out like candy, so long as the prescription falls within the quantity guidelines outlined in Japanese law.

So yeah, I do not feel bad for Hemp. She should have known better, especially someone as high ranking as her. Hemp was lucky enough to be let free after the police determined she had no criminal intent and had suffered enough as a result of her arrest and subsequent resignation from Toyota.

The tinfoil hat inside me says someone in Toyota who resented her rising to this position knew of her drug issue and informed the Japanese police about it, knowing she would be arrested and likely would not survive staying at Toyota thanks to the ordeal.

Researchers in Japan are claiming the recent self-immolation fire on the Osaka-bound shinkansen has exposed lapses in train security (emphasis added):

Transport officials met with bullet train operators after the fire to seek ways to tighten security without affecting the efficiency of the trains.

Experts say airport-level luggage checks are impractical for the high-speed line, which operates trains every few minutes during busy hours. Instead, they say increased police patrols and random baggage checks could be more effective.

Baggage checks for high-speed train passengers are also not required in Germany, France, Taiwan and South Korea. The Eurostar connecting Britain to Brussels and Paris requires a passport and luggage checks, and China has X-ray checks on subways.

The Tokyo-Osaka leg, the most popular segment with 420,000 passengers every day, is part of a bullet train network spanning most of Japan. The 16-car trains cover the 553 kilometers (343 miles) in 2 hours and 33 minutes.

“All these years we were worried but haven’t been able to find effective precautionary measures,” Sone said. “Now that the accident happened, it’s time to take action.”

It will be interesting to see if any additional action is taken to protect the shinkansen from similar attacks in the future. However, I would argue that security is sufficient: a single incident does not a problem make.

As mentioned, increased patrols and random baggage checks are likely much better measures than adding unnecessary cruft to transportation. Japan is not the United States and TSA-like security theater is a complete waste of the countries limited resources.

If anything, this incident exposed some limitations of the automated security systems once its detects a fire on the train. This seems to be a far more dangerous situation than anything else related to this act.

Tokyu has finally unveiled the design of the newly planned Shibuya skyscraper part of the huge Shibuya Station renovation project currently underway.

If all goes as planned (and it usually does in Japan) the new development will open in 2019, a year ahead of the anticipated Tokyo Olympics. According to the press release (PDF) the 49-story building will be a mixed-use facility with retail, cultural spaces, offices and, of course, the 3000 square-meter sky deck.

The project is being jointly designed by a group of renowned Japanese architectural offices: Kengo Kuma, SANAA and Nikken.

It really looks quite pretty. The site linked above has a number of additional images from different perspectives, and it seems the designers did a wonderful job. Hopefully reality will be the same.

This is fairly optimistic goal and would be wonderful if it can be realized. Currently Shibuya Station is a mess, both from the angle of trying to navigate the station itself, and also due to all the construction. If they can finish this in a mere four year that would be amazing and likely well received.

An obviously clueless Japanese Judge orders Google to delete links to a man’s previous under-age sexual solicitation arrests from the search engine in an attempt to hide his embarrassing past from the world:

In 2012, the man was arrested for paying a girl under the age of 18 for sexual favors. He was charged with violating child prostitution laws and fined 500,000 yen. However, his name and news reports regarding the arrest still come up in Google searches.

Claiming that this was an infringement upon his personal rights, the man petitioned to have the information deleted from the search engine. His lawyer told the court his client had been rehabilitated and that it was difficult to get on with his life as long as his arrest record remains online.

In handing down the ruling, the presiding judge said such relatively minor crimes do not hold any particular significance to the public and therefore continuing to display such information three years after the incident does not have much merit for society at large.

Someone needs to learn how Google and the internets work. Deleting links from Google’s search engine will not make the stories go away nor will it make them more difficult to find. In fact, this ruling will likely shed more light on his asshattery.

As an aside, I find it quite interesting how the presiding judge considers underage sexual solicitation to have been a “relatively minor crime” considering how damaging it likely will be to her for the rest of her life. Unbelievably out of touch.

Welcome to the Streisand Effect.

The 71yo Japanese man who self-immolated on an Osaka-bound shinkansen last week was apparently so poor he claims he could not live on his government funded pension, according to his neighbor:

The neighbor said Hayashizaki had repeatedly complained that he only received a pension of ¥240,000 ($1,960) every two months, despite having made payments for 35 years.

He said he had almost nothing left after paying taxes and utility costs, and that he was unable to live on the pension after quitting the cleaning company.

A woman in her 50s who lives near the apartment said Hayashizaki was a long-term resident. She said he was already living there when she moved to the neighborhood 20 years ago.

“He seemed to stay in his apartment during the daytime. I could hear the sound of a television there,” she said. “He barely interacted with his neighbors. . . . I have never seen him with someone else.”

Nothing will ever excuse his dastardly suicidal deed. There was no need to take additional innocent lives.

Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan.

I was walking close to Tokyo Tower both before and after a meeting in Kamiyacho late this afternoon. Because of how close the tower is to where I was, I though I would take a slight detour and snap a few pictures of probably my favorite Tokyo structure. Tokyo Tower has charisma, appeal, and character no other building in Tokyo has, not even the fabled Sky Tree.

The Guardian has some additional information about yesterday’s nutso who set himself on fire while aboard an Osaka-bound shinkansen. Apparently the Japanese woman who died during his suicide attempt was on the way to a major shrine to give thanks for her peaceful life:

A woman killed when a man deliberately set himself on fire aboard a moving bullet train in Japan was on her way to a shrine to give thanks for her “peaceful life”, it emerged on Wednesday.

Yoshiko Kuwahara died after 71-year-old Haruo Hayashizaki doused himself in fuel and sparked the fire on the busy train.

“Today I’m visiting Ise shrine to give thanks for my calm, peaceful life,” 52-year-old Kuwahara wrote on her Facebook page on Tuesday morning as she boarded the super-fast Nozomi bullet train at Yokohama.

Ise shrine is one of the most sacred spots in Japan’s native Shintoism, and a major tourist attraction.

How sad is that?

Irish Times on Japan considering moving elderly families from Tokyo to relieve the congestion overpopulation in the city has created:

Over the next decade, the population of over-75s in greater Tokyo will grow by 1.75 million, warns the council. Looking after 5.7 million very elderly people will overwhelm already stretched services; for one thing, it predicts, more than 130,000 could be left without beds in care homes.

Diffusing Japan’s demographic time-bomb has become something of a political obsession.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to fall from 127 million to about 87 million, of which almost 40 per cent will be 65 or older. Last year the government pledged to somehow stem the fall at 100 million.

That is some way to thank older Tokyo residents who dedicated their life to the city – shove them in the backwoods to die alone. What is wrong with people?

The Japan Times on two dead after suspected self-immolation on Osaka-bound Shinkansen:

According to NHK, JR Tokai has reported a man poured an oil-like liquid on his head and attempted self-immolation around 11:30 a.m. on Tokaido Shinkansen.

He, and a female passenger, are believed to have died aboard the bullet train south of Tokyo on Tuesday, reported the fire department in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Two other passengers were reported to be severely injured.

These selfish individuals need to stop inconveniencing and harming other Japanese citizens with their self-masturbatory suicide plans.

Japan Today on a 14-year-old girl jumping to death at Tama Plaza Station on the Den-en-Toshi Line in Kanagawa, just outside of Toyko:

According to police, the incident occurred at around 6:30 a.m. on the Tokyu Denentoshi line. Sankei Shimbun reported that the girl, who attended a private junior high school, was in her uniform. Witnesses and station surveillance camera footage showed her leaving her bag on the platform, then run a few steps and jump onto the tracks as the train came in.

Police said no passengers on the train were injured, but services were delayed for about 90 minutes, affecting an estimated 17,000 commuters, Tokyu Corp said.

So sad that someone so young believed this was their own recourse.

As an aside, I was one of the 17k+ commuters affected by the train delay. It was unbelievable how crazy the trains were that morning. It is unfortunate it was due to suicide-by-train, something that is all too common in Japan.

The barriers preventing this very type of behavior cant be built fast enough.