Southeast Asia set to become a new EU

ASEAN’s single market poised to hit the scene this year, but will regional politics thwart economic prosperity?

Published by Al Jazeera English, Feb.19, 2015

By Tom Benner

Singapore – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is on course to declare its 10-member nations a unified common market as of December 31, 2015, but sceptics say European Union-style economic integration will be difficult to achieve.

Measures are largely in place designed to reduce trade barriers and ease investment, as well as the free flow of goods, services, investment and skilled labour.

Meanwhile, leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks have been pushing for a common time zone – as opposed to the current three spanning the ASEAN region. A single time zone would facilitate the ease of doing business within the region and allow for coordinated opening times for banks and stock markets, proponents say. Continue reading …

A second home for foreign correspondents in Japan since 1945

Oct. 31, 2014

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One of my favorite things about the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo is a wall in the library/workroom filled with books by current and former members. You’re in good company when you get to spend time perusing those shelves.

I didn’t know, for example, that the prolific James Michener wrote the novel that became the basis for the 1957 movie Sayonara with Marlon Brando, which took on the post-WWII issue of racial prejudice among American military members stationed in Japan.

I also had the pleasure of meeting another famed FCCJ author, Robert Whiting, whose classic You Gotta Have Wa uses baseball to explain cultural differences between the US and Japan. Continue reading

After two Olympic shutouts, Japan wants baseball back for the Tokyo 2020 summer games

Published by the Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 29, 2014

Tokyo — Japanese baseball fans are some of the world’s most diehard. Cities across Japan, including Tokyo, now regularly slow down during the World Series in October to watch homegrown players hit and pitch in the United States. Last year Japanese watched Boston closer Koji Uehara, and this year Nori Aoki, who plays for Kansas City is hammering out hits. In all, 12 Japanese players have appeared in the MLB fall classic.

So with Tokyo hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020, Japan is already lobbying – hard – to have baseball restored to the Games. The sport was shut out of the 2012 London Olympics and won’t make an appearance in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in Brazil. Continue reading …

Meiji beats Rikkyo, 8-2

Selling hyoketsu, a lemony alcoholic beverage, in the stands at Jingu-Kyujo in Tokyo.

Selling hyoketsu, a lemony alcoholic beverage, in the stands at Jingu-Kyujo in Tokyo.

Oct 29, 2014

A day at a ballpark in Japan can be a lot like a day at any American ballpark.

There are the same familiar sounds: the crack of a wooden bat hitting a baseball. Umpire calls in loud and definitive tones. Cheers from the field after a good play, and the odd infielder yelling out what must be the Japanese equivalent of “I got it.”

The smell of beer being drunk in the warm sun. And all the same unhealthy choices to eat — hot dogs, cheeseburgers, sausages, french fries, and chicken nuggets. Continue reading

Undercounting Tokyo’s down and out

Published by Japan Today, Oct. 28, 2014

The other day in Hongo, Tokyo, I spotted a street vendor selling copies of The Big Issue Japan. A glossy photo of a very glamorous looking Nicole Kidman in evening dress graced the cover.

I bought a copy for the going price, 350 yen.

Not for Nicole Kidman. For the vendor.

There are some 125 street papers across the globe, part of the International Network of Street Papers, based in Glasgow, Scotland, and with a combined circulation of more than 6 million. Continue reading …

Sumo size me: How to eat like a sumo wrestler

imageA sumo wrestler with Hironobu Itabashi, an assistant and translator with the Dateline Tokyo journalism program.

Oct. 26, 2014

I live with sumo wrestlers. They are out and about in the neighborhood where I am staying, Ryōgoku, the section of Tokyo that is the center of the sumo world. There is a sumo stadium, sumo stables where the big guys live and train, and chanko restaurants, where the big guys eat in vast quantities as part of a weight-gain diet.

What they eat – every day – is chanko-nabe. Nabe means “pot” (or the big hearty soup that is made in that pot). Chanko means, more or less, the enormous meal that is prepared in multiple stages in that same pot.

Luckily, a friend who is Japanese joined me for a chanko-nabe night out, and helped me to understand what was happening. We sat on the floor at a low table, a large ceramic nabe bowl at the center, and a gas burner underneath the bowl to cook and simmer the various ingredients.

A smiling woman in a kimono knelt down to our level on the floor to talk about what we might like to have. Continue reading

Down and out in Tokyo

Published by Al Jazeera English, Oct. 26, 2014

Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts – and the homeless – beg to differ.

Tokyo, Japan – Minoru Ebata’s living quarters stand out in the upscale Tokyo neighbourhood of Shinjuku. The 64-year-old sleeps on a makeshift bed on the sidewalk off busy Koen Dori (Park Street), a pedestrian overpass somewhat protecting him and a few piles of his possessions from a cool autumn drizzle.

“It’s hardest when it’s raining,” he explained about his two years of living outdoors.

A short walk down the street, beneath the next overpass, finds Kazuo Oka, who makes about 3,000 yen (US$28) a day collecting recyclable cans, and is proud of the sidewalk dinners he makes on a portable stove. Continue reading …