Posts tagged with "Japan"

‘Eel’ be seeing you: A Japanese aquarium under lockdown asks for video calls to its lonely eels

May 4, 2020

It turns out that eels have feelings, too: While animals all around the world have relished the chance to reclaim their natural habitats as humans recede into their homes during the pandemic, the keepers at one Japanese aquarium under lockdown believe that the months-long lack of human attention actually is posing a problem for the animals in their exhibits—specifically, for the eels.

In fact, the aquarists at The Sumida Aquarium, which is housed in the Tokyo Skytree Tower, have noticed that the hundreds of tiny spotted garden eels in their tanks have started behaving oddly—burrowing into the sand when aquarium workers pass by.

According to a report by Quartz, the keepers say that the eels are hiding because they have become unfamiliar with humans since the aquatic museum closed to visitors on March 1.

Garden eels are by nature highly vigilant and sensitive, and do submerge themselves in the sand when triggered—but the aquarium said that the eels had learned to accept the presence of humans because there were so many visitors.

As they acclimate themselves to a human-less environment, a newfound shyness is emerging that makes the work of aquarium staff difficult; as they cannot check on the health of the creatures.

According to the California Academy of Sciences, spotted garden eels often are mistaken for plants because of their slim size and the way in which they burrow partially into the seafloor in order to sweep up passing

Now, Quartz reports, the aquarium is launching a three-day “emergency event” starting on May 3, known as the “face-showing festival,” with the goal of “not forgetting the existence of humans.”

Sumida Aquarium is inviting people everywhere to call the aquarium’s dedicated account through an iPad or iPhone, and once connected, people are asked to wave or call out to the eels (but not too loudly) for five minutes at a time, during two time slots a day.

The aquarium said that the event is also something for people to do during the Golden Week holiday, which began April 29 and lasts until May 6.

Research contact: @qz

Steps in the right direction: Walking together helps foster a new relationship

March 2, 2020

Some people take a new relationship step-by-step. Others jump right in. However, research recently conducted at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, suggests that, when you meet a stranger, taking a short walk together may increase your odds of hitting it off, according to a report by Psychology Today.

The study (Cheng et al., 2020) found that walking together side-by-side for less than ten minutes with someone you’ve never met before will help the two of you to “warm up” to one another—regardless of whether you amble in silence or converse.

Indeed, Psychology Today noted, even when no conversation was taking place, the researchers found that paired strangers with a favorable first impression of one another are more likely to synchronize their footsteps.

“Our analysis revealed a unidirectional relationship between synchrony and impression rating: A better first impression led to higher walking synchrony between two strangers walking side by side in silence,” the authors said of their findings.

“There is a growing awareness of the validity of interpersonal interaction research in real-world scenarios, but daily natural environments are rich in their contextual information, making experiment control a challenge,” first author Miao Cheng said in a news release.

For this study, participants who had never met before were paired together and instructed to walk side-by-side along a quiet path. While walking, a motion sensor disguised as a GPS device tracked the synchrony of each pairs’ footsteps.

The researchers also duped participants into thinking the study had nothing to do with how first impressions affect nonverbal communication (i.e., synchronous walking) so that participants wouldn’t be conscious of whether or not they were synchronizing their steps.

The distance of the out-and-back walk was just under a quarter-mile; it took about six-to-nine minutes to complete the round trip at a casual walking pace.

This paired walking experiment was conducted under three different conditions: 1) walking out to the turnaround point in silence, but conversing on the way back; 2) a silent walking condition in which participants were instructed not to speak for the entirety of their out-and-back walk; 3) a non-walking environment where participants sat quietly in a classroom with other study participants and filled out a questionnaire.

At the halfway turnaround point during each walk, the paired respondents were asked to rate first impressions of their walking partner using the interpersonal judgment scale (IJS). This scale was also used to rate first impressions after the walk was completed.

In general, people tended to have a better first impression of someone after walking together, regardless of whether or not they conversed. “This suggests that walking side by side, even without verbal communication, is sufficient to alter the social relation between two strangers,” the authors said.

What’s more, The researchers found that having a conversation while walking side-by-side enhanced positive first impressions, Psychology Today reported. And, as mentioned, paired walkers with better first impressions of one another at the outset of the experiment had a higher rate of footstep synchronization from the get-go.

“It is very surprising for us to discover that a person’s traits and our first impressions are reflected in the subtle action of walking. I think most people are not even aware that their steps are synchronized with other people as they walk,” senior author Chia-huei Tseng said in a news release. “It was previously known that a person’s physical parameters such as height and weight, affect how their movements interact with others. Now we know psychological traits also have an effect.”

These findings were published on February 21 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Research contact: @PsychToday

John Bolton bad-mouths Trump for ‘bluffing’ about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

December 25, 2019

In his sharpest criticism yet of his old workplace—the White House; not Fox News—former National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested this week that the Trump Administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions—and soon might need to admit publicly that its policy has failed badly, according to an exclusive interview by Axios’ Jonathon Swan posted on December 22.

Indeed, according to Swan, “Bolton told me in an interview that he does not think the administration “really means it” when President Donald Trump and top officials vow to stop North Korea from having deliverable nuclear weapons—”or it would be pursuing a different course.”

Why now? Bolton, who “resigned” from the White House last September, is speaking out ahead of an end-of-year timetable. If Kim Jong-un follows through on his threatened Christmas provocation, Bolton says the White House should do something “that would be very unusual” for this administration—concede that they got it wrong on North Korea.

“The idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just, unfortunately, not true,” Bolton told Axios. For example, he suggested, the U.S. Navy could start to squeeze Kim Jong-un by intercepting oil that is illegally being transferred to North Korea at sea.

If Kim thumbs his nose at America, Bolton told Swan, he hopes the administration will say: “We’ve tried. The policy’s failed. We’re going to go back now and make it clear that in a variety of steps, together with our allies, when we say it’s unacceptable, we’re going to demonstrate we will not accept it.”

Bolton, who has advocated for a more aggressive North Korea strategy, also criticized Trump for saying earlier this year that Kim’s short-range missile tests don’t bother him.

“When the president says, ‘Well, I’m not worried about short-range missiles,’ he’s saying, ‘I’m not worried about the potential risk to American troops deployed in the region or our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan.'”

The bottom line, according to Bolton:  “Time is on the side of the proliferator,” he said. “The more time there is, the more time there is to develop, test and refine both the nuclear component and the ballistic missile component of the program.”

Research contact: @axios

The moral high ground: Japanese woman leads worldwide campaign to wear flats at work

June 13, 2019

It’s high noon in the workplace: Women are gunning for a change in office dress codes that would enable them to work—and walk—in comfort.

Indeed, according to a report by The Guardian,  millions of women worldwide, at all levels of the workplace hierarchy, continue to endure their working hours tortured by blisters, bloodied flesh, foot pain, knee pain, back pain and worse, as a result of the pressure to conform to an aesthetic code—sometimes explicitly written into contracts or policy, more often subliminally expected as a societal and cultural standard—that deems it appropriate to wear high heels.

Now they are pushing back, in a campaign called #KuToo—a a play on the words kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain, in Japanese and inspired by the #MeToo movement.

In early June, Japanese actress and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa told reporters that she and her supporters had met with the Labor Ministry, “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment.”

Ishikawa had the idea for the campaign after she was forced to wear high heels during a stint at a funeral parlor.  Now, she has everyone debating the politics of footwear—and has received a groundswell of online support.

But not everyone is a fan: Takumi Nemoto, Japan’s health and labor minister, defended the dress codes, telling a legislative committee that he believed it “is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate”.

The Guardian notes that a similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work on her first day of work at a PwC in 2016 for wearing flat shoes. The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels—even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.

However, Britain never changed the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.

In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologized for the fact that women were being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.

However, in 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory. That means things might be looking up—err … down.

Research contact: @guardian

Read this and weep: Crying at least once a week is good for you

December 26, 2018

It’s counter-intuitive, but crying at least once a week may be the key to a happier life—free from tension headaches and agitation.

In fact, one Japanese academic claims that the most beneficial way to relieve stress is to shed some tears—either happy or sad— the UK’s Independent newspaper reports.

Since 2014, former high school teacher Hidefumi Yoshida, 43—who calls himself a “Namida sensei” (“tears teacher”)—has teamed up with Hideho Arita, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Toho University in Tokyo, to launch a series of lectures nationwide in Japan aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of crying.

Yoshida says that he came to recognize the benefits of a good cry after one of his former students stopped showing up for consultations after the pupil had opened up and shed tears.

 “The act of crying is more effective than laughing or sleeping in reducing stress,” says Yoshida, adding, “If you cry once a week, you can live a stress-free life.”

Yoshida explains that listening to emotive music, watching sad films, and reading tragic books—and in the process shedding some tears— can offer huge benefits to your mental health by stimulating parasympathetic nerve activity, which slows the heart rate and can have a soothing effect on the mind.

And Yoshida isn’t the first person to tout the soothing effects of crying, the Independent notes.

In 1982, The New York Times reported on the study, entitled “Tear Expert”  and conducted by Dr. William Frey—who claimed that crying releases endorphins, subsequently promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.

Frey—director of the Psychiatry Research Laboratories at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota and a self-appointed student of ”psychogenic lacrimation,” as he calls emotionally induced tears—believes that tears help to relieve stress by ridding the body of potentially harmful stress-induced chemicals.

Another study, conducted in 2008 by researchers at the University of South Florida and the University of Tilburg among a cohort of 3,000 people found that crying made people feel much better in difficult situations, leading the authors to suggest that inducing tears should be used as a cathartic form of therapy.

So get those tissues and hankies out and put them to use. A good cry may be just what the doctor ordered.

Research contact: @Oliviapetter1

A ‘moving’ experience: Japan’s drive-through funerals

August 15, 2018

Few memorial services are as “moving” as the one now being offered by a Japanese funeral parlor. Mourners can pay their final respects without ever leaving their cars, according to a report by the Daily Telegraph of Australia.

The undertaker’s “drive-through” service is a first in Japan, where a rapidly aging population means that funerals are anything but a dying trade.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, Japan’s population of 127 million is forecast to shrink by about 33% within the next five decades. The proportion of over-64-year-olds —currently about 25%—is expected to reach 38% within that time frame.

Mourners simply check in by rolling down the car window and using a touchscreen tablet device. They then are asked to make a traditional offering of incense—all while their images are videotaped and viewed by the grieving family inside the venue.

The initiative aims to speed up funeral services and also to give infirm relatives the chance to participate, Masao Ogiwara president of Kankon Sosai Aichi Group,  told the Australian news outlet. “Older people may hesitate to attend a funeral because they have to ask for help to get out of the car,” Ogiwara said, “but we want as many people as possible to be able to come to say farewell to their friends or neighbors.”

The drive-through funerals represent the latest in a series of Japanese innovations attempting to win a slice of the competitive US$11.5 billion national funeral business.

One trend that has sparked controversy, according to the Telegraph, is a so-called “rent-a-monk” system, which offers mourners the opportunity to arrange for a monk to deliver funeral rites at the click of a mouse. Amazon has been advertising packages offered by Minrevi  which sends out monks to perform Buddhist memorial services and other ceremonies. However, the Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) objects strenuously to the idea —saying that hiring out monks over the Internet commercializes a religious act.

And finally, for those who would like to lament in private—or cannot afford to pay expensive funeral fees— a temple near Tokyo accepts the ashes of the deceased via mail and places it in its burial facility. There’s even an app that has been developed so that the family can view the burial site by smartphone.

Research contact: @dailytelegraph

Trump’s tariffs on steel, aluminum raise ‘external risks’ for U.S. companies

March 27, 2018

U.S. trade policy has risen to the top of the list of “biggest external risks” facing the members of the CNBC Global CFO Council., an elite group of chief financial officers representing public and private companies from various major sectors.

Indeed, based on a quarterly poll of the council members released on March 23, more than one-quarter (27.3%) say U.S. trade policy is now the biggest risk their companies face. That’s up from 11.6% in the fourth quarter of 2017, outranking other threats that have recently ranked high among business concerns, including “threat of cyber attack” and “consumer demand.”

The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing more than $4.5 trillion in market capitalization across a wide variety of sectors.

The survey was conducted after President Donald Trump signed a pair of proclamations that impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, but before the announcement on March 18 that the United States will seek trade penalties of up to $60 billion against China for intellectual property theft.

The chief financial officers voiced strong opposition to metals tariffs, especially in the broader context: potential retaliatory moves taken by other countries. “The impact direct from steel/aluminum tariffs would be negligible,” said one CFO respondent. “The indirect impact from retaliation could be significant.”

Almost two-thirds of respondents (65.8%) say the tariffs will have a negative impact on their companies, and even more (86.9%) say they will have a negative impact on both the U.S. and Chinese economies.

The CFO Council’s outlook for GDP has been downgraded amid the increased tariff fears, including in three key global economies. Canada, China and Japan were downgraded from “improving” to “stable” by CFOs.

Still, the United States was rated as “improving” for the seventh straight quarter, while the Euro zone was seen as “improving” for the fourth straight quarter. No region was seen as worse than “stable,” a trend that has now held for five quarters.

Research contact: @DavidSpiegel