One among the functions of Journalism Fellows chosen by international journalism bodies is the requisite to travel — usually a week or less — and the chance to see places. But from there, the amenity ends.
Once Fellows are in a predetermined country, these journalists start to work. For they are not sent there as tourists, gallivant around or drink and be merry.
They are required to send in their straight news or news feature, usually interesting to get the attention or nod of their handlers, or editors assigned as their chiefs.
What chiefs want from Fellows are news stories out of the ordinary not often covered. And one requirement being a Fellow must be the ability to add a spice of humor to the spice of life in their coverage.
A journalism Fellow, once in another country, may be enticed in reporting matters like politics, crime, government, sensationalism, gore, the usual subjects we read on newspapers and find social media but editors of communication entities which are handlers of Fellows usually won’t pass through the desks of these editors, knowing fully well these are covered daily by beat reporters.
News or news features that do not get the nod of hard-nosed editors will be thrown straight into the wastebasket. Fellows must be able to meet the requirements of their handlers before they can come back home for respite.
Hence, Daily Laborer was ordered last week to hop onto a plane, make a beeline for Tokyo and smell for news of the ordinary.
As expected, he found the “Land of the Rising Sun” and its people a contented lot. It isn’t unusual, of course, considering that Japan has long achieved unparalleled economic stability compared with its less fortunate neighbors in this Asian world.
Why Japan is called the “Land of the Rising Sun” refers to the sun rising from the direction of Japan.
Japanese call their country “Nippon” or “Nihon,” translated as “source of the sun,” and loosely translated into English as “land of the rising sun.”
There was food aplenty, as well as other amenities of good living: motor vehicles, excellent and imposing infrastructure, technical innovation that only Japanese can excel in and other luxuries for that matter.
But does anyone know that the Japanese, despite their hi-tech, innovative talents and fantastic productivity, also allow importation of several consumer items that they could very well produce through their own capability?
In the less than a week the Daily Laborer was in Japan, he learned from government officials and Filipino Overseas Workers (OFW) stationed there that there were various items allowed for other countries to get into the Land of the Strong Yen.
There is this story Daily Laborer got wind off in his less than a week stay in Tokyo, about yen, narrated by an OFW. There was a Japanese who went to an American bank to exchange his large amount of dollars to yen. He did the transaction with the traditional bow that Japanese do.
After a week, he came back with the same amount of US dollars. But he received less yen from the teller and he asked, “What’s wrong? I give you same amount of yen, but you give me less dorrah?”
The American teller shrugged and said, “Fluctuations, man, Fluctuations!”
The Japanese angrily grabbed his exchanged money and stormed out of the bank, yelling, “FLUC, you, Americans, too!”
Japan is a major economic power in the world. However, it lacks many raw materials needed for industry and energy, such as oil, coal, iron ore, copper, aluminum and wood. Japan must import most of these goods.
In order to pay for these imports, Japan must export a variety of manufactured goods to other nations. Major Japanese exports include electronic equipment, motor vehicles and heavy equipment.
Hence, trade with other countries is very important to Japan, which possesses a trade surplus which is the envy of other nations suffering from trade deficits.
Japanese and OFWS revealed many of the important imported goods like mineral fuels including crude oil; pharmaceuticals; ores, slag, ash; gems, precious metals; organic chemicals; coal tar, petroleum gasses; tar pitch, and; peat.
There comes foodstuff; textiles; wood and wood products; stone; vegetable products; mineral products; animal and animal products; footwear/headgear; rawhide, skins, leathers and furs.
Cigarettes and wine are also imported.
Good for the Philippines because it earns yen by exporting to Japan things like nickel, fruits, furniture, fish and seafood preparations, leather, toys, articles of apparel, essential oils, vegetables and tubers, footwear, soap, lubricants, pharmaceutical products, sugars and sugar confectionary, cereal, flour, starch, knitted or crocheted fabric, cocoa and cocoa preparations, fertilizers, headgears and many more.
The act of importation, Daily Laborer felt, was more of an act of appeasement to foreign trading partners than necessity. For example, Japan buys imported tires because of huge trade deficits it has from countries like, say, the United States, South Korea and the rest. And, of course, because of the appreciation of the yen.
Take for example high quality tires like those from Michelin (France) and Pirelli (Italy) used to be considered too expensive for ordinary Japanese drivers: these were bought as status symbols.
Not anymore. With the rising yen, tires from the US and Europe can now be bought in any Japanese motor vehicle accessory shop at about the same price as locally made ones, and more and more ordinary Japanese drivers are turning to them.
Tires from South Korea are also brought in, likewise because the Japanese are attempting to “save face” for the Koreans who are shrieking like unappeased women that Seoul imports are more than 10 times what Korean producers export to the Japanese market.
Japan also imports bicycles. In the past, bicycles consisted mainly of high-class brands from countries like Italy. But in recent years, imports became utilitarian.
They are now being used for shopping, commuting and leisure. One resident told Daily Laborer that a bicycle is very useful in Japan’s crowded cities, especially Tokyo. Holding onto his bicycle, the Tokyoite said to Daily Laborer: “This is imported from Taiwan. It is light but very sturdy.”
“And cheap, too,” he added with a smile.
Indeed, it was cheap at the price he quoted and after Daily Laborer mentally compared it with the prevailing cost of living in Tokyo.
One model sells at a going price of 10,000 yen (about US$80). Similar bicycles made in Japan go for no less than 16,000 yen to 23,000 (US$128-US$184).
Today, Japan imports more than a million bicycles, as compared in 1985 when it started importing only around 40,000 bicycles.
Watching the Tokyoites riding their bicycles reminded Daily Laborer of his home in Baguio City where bicycles are becoming a fad for the young and the old and used mainly as an instrument for exercise and to take any road less traveled by.
Cigarettes are another item of which the Japanese are in ample supply. However, during a side trip to Akita prefecture, Higashinaruse, near Tokyo, a rural place in Japan where shops can be found distant from each other, Daily Laborer chanced upon Japanese who Have to “walk for a mile for a Camel.”
While in Tokyo, you see Japanese luxuriating in the smoke of “Marlboro country.”
And like in the Philippines, imported cigarettes are being puffed all over the land. This is because the Japanese abolished tariffs on foreign cigarettes and the Americans all cut their prices.
Together with the appreciation of the yen, and the cheapness of the leaf tobacco in other countries, it became possible to import name brands as prices are almost the same as locally produced ones.
Japanese tobacco costs 1,600 yen to 1,800 yen (US$12.80) per kilogram. This compares with less than 600 yen (US$4.80 in the United States. Without tariffs and lower costs, the retail price of imported cigarettes falls to 220 yen to 250 yen, about the same as Japanese cigarettes.
No wonder that one American Daily Laborer met on the streets of Tokyo said regarding American cigarettes sold in Japan, “Buying for cigarettes, I felt like I never left home.”
Because of the strong Japanese currency, imported chocolates have proliferated already in most stores, edging out even the lower priced local produce. As it was, Daily Laborer found Japanese candies very good, comparable to imported ones.
But would you believe chocolate costs half as much as those made in Japan?
Many stores sell a bar of chocolate for 100 yen to 150 yen (US$). Daily Laborer bought a locally-made bar for 200 yen and regretted it when he noticed a Japanese munching on an American “Hershey’s” chocolate brand and he told Daily Laborer he bought it at only 80 US cents.
The Japanese, of course, are very much amused by all this. But they shrug it off philosophically, saying they owe it to themselves to share their bounty with other people and other countries.
With a trade imbalance of over US$10 billion in their favor, they can very well afford to do that.
Without saying, “so sorry” either.