Re: A news item and subject which I just want to check out (122) January 26, 2024

 I joined a tour for 14 participants to Ustukushigahara Kogen at 2,009 meters above sea level located about 30 km to the east from JR Matsumoto station in Nagano prefecture last weekend. Highlights of this time tour are mountains of the Northern Alps and Southern Alps floating in a majestic sea of clouds, stadium of stars and mysterious scenes of sunrise and sunset, but advance weather forecast was cloudy and rainy at the site.
I took Tokaido Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Nagoya and transferred to the JR Chuo Line and went to Matsumoto station. It took about 4 hours including connection time. When I arrived at Matsumoto station, the sky was cloudy and it was threatening to rain after all. I thought this was unfortunately disappointing and almost gave up. For that reason, when a pick-up bus driver of “Ougatou Hotel”, the only lodging above the clouds, announced “it is sunny at the site”, there were cheers in the bus. It took about an hour by bus on a snowy road, and I was able to look at the Northern Alps like Hotaka mountain range and Yarigatake floating in a sea of clouds on the way. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a 360-degree panoramic view. The weather was very sunny and I could look at beautiful shape of well-proportioned Mount Fuji in the distance in addition to mountains of the Northern and Southern Alps. And the scene where the sun floating in a sea of clouds gradually sets in the west during sunset and the brilliance of the sun gradually appearing from the eastern sky next morning were very fantastical. The temperature at this time of the year is usually below minus 10 degrees Celsius, but temperatures during our stay were about minus 5 degrees Celsius at most. Unfortunately, I was not able to look at stadium of stars. However, the meal was delicious with a variety of ingredients, and I had an extremely satisfying experience.

When I get in touch with such majestic nature, I remember that I was at a point where my outlook on life had changed when I watched the bright red sun that peeks out from the faraway horizon and sinks into the horizon in the opposite direction in the evening in Oklahoma and Nevada where I visited when I worked in the United States when I was young. There was something deeply moving.

It seems that the scenery, blooming flowers, and encountering wild birds in Ustukushigahara are all completely different in each of the four seasons. It is a sightseeing spot that I highly recommend.

■■What I have thought and focused on recently:
■The meeting in Davos was held and participants including Global South are becoming more diverse:
The World Economic Forum, WEF, held its annual meeting in Davos in the eastern part of Switzerland from January 15 to 19. This year’s theme was “rebuilding trust” and nearly 3,000 people participated from 120 countries and regions. This year, there were many attendees from emerging countries and developing countries called “Global South” with remarkable rise, and participation was becoming more diverse. And top-level persons from more than 60 countries gathered and the situation in the Middle East and regional disputes like Ukraine invasion became major subjects. Prime Minister Li Qiang of China, President Macron of France that will hold the Olympic Games in summer this year and President Zelenskyy of Ukraine also joined the meeting.
And Samuel Altman, the CEO of OpenAI that handles ChatGPT, generative AI also appeared and spoke with the title “technology in a turbulent world”.
By the way, there is also a strong negative opinion about AI and according to WEF, as the biggest risk expected in the next two years, the percentage of false information spread by AI is mor than half and international restrictions on AI are tightening centered on Europe and the United States. I think that some sort of regulation is necessary, because if we leave AI unchecked as it is, there is a risk of losing control.

■Ms. Mitsuko Tottori, a former cabin attendant, has been appointed as the next president of Japan Airlines:
It became a hot topic that the first female president has been appointed as the next president of Japan Airlines and she used to work as a cabin attendant. I feel like this in itself symbolizes Japan’s backwardness. I have been arguing for a long time that personnel evaluation and treatment should not be based on gender and should be based on only the “qualities” of the person and “suitability” for the job. For instance, suitability for becoming a fighter pilot is a pretty high standard. It is not easy to clear even for men. However, female fighter pilots have been born in the world for a very long time and even in Japan they have been born recently. That is because the women in question was recognized to have qualifications and suitability as a fighter pilot.
I visited Sweden, Finland and Germany as a leader of Nordic mission of Kansai Productivity Center 13 years ago. At that time, I witnessed current situation of women’s empowerment and it reminded me of “how Japan is lagging behind”. I hear that when making an appointment with the destination, a question like “are there any female participants?” was done. Fortunately, no problem arose because there were two women among 23 members. In Japan, it is a male society in which there are few or no women in the meeting and gathering in various industries. The Gender Gap Index of Japan last year is record-low ranked 125th and Japan is far behind the rest of the world.
At present, frankly speaking, the society and economy in Japan is entering into “a negative spiral” and if this continues, we will be sucked into “aunt hell” and eventually, we will die in the wild. To avoid this, we have to thoroughly analyze several factors called “Japanese common sense is uncommon in the world” and take concrete measures and take a step closer to “global standard”.

■”Zombie companies” have increased by 30 %:
Zombie companies mean companies that are unable to cover interest payments on borrowed money with original profits and dividends and keeping their business afloat by rescheduling, reviewing their repayment plan, their loans with financial institutions and by government funding support and so on.
According to Teikoku Databank, in 2022 they were about 250,000 increased by 30 % compared to the previous year and reached the highest level in 11 years. As a consequence, the ratio of zombie companies in 2022 reached 17.1 % increased by 3.6 points compared to the previous year. In 2009 after the Lehman Shock, SME finance Facilitation Act that seeks financial institutions repayment forbearance and extension of repayment deadline was passed, and they inflated up to 274,000 in 2011, but after that they decreased and they were 148,000 in 2019 before the corona disaster. However, as emergency measures to the corona disaster, the government started substantially interest-free and collateral-free financing, zero-zero loan, in the spring of 2020 and the number of uses at the end of September 2022 was 2.45 million and a loan of about 43 trillion yen was executed. This loose loan made companies that would not have been able to receive financing originally extend their life. In the medical field, when a lot of casualties occur during natural disasters such as earthquake, “triage” that determines the priority of treatment based on the urgency and severity of injuries or illnesses in order to save as many lives as possible is performed. I think that such system is also necessary in the industry. Otherwise, the metabolism of the enterprise does not progress and as a result, the country’s financial burden on zombie companies will only increase and on top of that, we will fall into a vicious circle of not increasing productivity. No, we are already in the trap.

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