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US-Japan Alliance Puzzle

Another book full of extraordinary revelations about the Trump presidency, “Rage” by Bob Woodward, will be published September 15.  It is based partly on 18 on-the-record interviews between December 2019 and July 2020 with Donald Trump.

Among the pre-released excerpts and recordings of interviews is one that should capture the attention of Japanese officials.

In a discussion with Woodward, Trump called the U.S. military “suckers” for paying the extensive costs to protect South Korea. “We’re defending you, we’re allowing you to exist,” Mr. Trump said of South Korea.

Trump’s statement and sentiment reflects his cynical attitude about alliances and allies and is consistent with earlier indications that he also wants Japan to pay substantially more for U.S. military “protection.”

This is just one of many issues with the U.S.-Japan security pact and U.S. relations in general that Japan must address to protect its defense, geopolitical and economic interests in light of growing regional tensions.

Tokyo Fashion Notes

Fan-Fitted Clothes

This summer as Japan experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded, Tokyoites were eager to find ways to keep cool.  One answer: jackets fitted with battery-powered fans that circulate air over the wearer’s body!

While a counter-intuitive solution, the sale of fan-fitted clothing increased as everyone looked to beat the heat and became a popular fashion trend this summer.

First developed in 2004 by a Tokyo-based company, fan-fitted clothing was originally designed for construction workers.  While the construction market remains the largest segment, the technology is now available in a wide range of products from high-street fashion to baby merchandise.  New products for golfers, fishing enthusiasts and other outdoor pursuits have become particularly popular.

As described by marketing materials “fan-fitted jackets usually feature two fans, one placed on each side of the lower back, which pump air around the upper body. The fans are connected to a lithium-ion battery, which slips into an inside pocket and can generally be used for around seven or eight hours before it needs to be recharged.”

Fan-fitted jackets usually feature two fans linked to a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

I could not find a jacket in my size to try but noted that there is one particular feature of fan-fitted clothing that may not be to everyone’s taste. The technology works by constantly circulating air around the body, causing the garment to puff up like a balloon.

According to a manufacturer representative as reported in The Japan Times, “The clothes puff up because the cooling mechanism is effective. So, if you think too much about how it looks and try too much to make it slimline, it won’t be very effective. It feels coolest when you’ve got sleeves, so you have to think about how cool it will feel if you make something that doesn’t have sleeves. We’re thinking about how we can achieve the balance between what it looks like and how effective it is.”

The fan-fitted clothing industry is estimated to be worth around ¥15 billion in 2020, according to textile industry publication Sen-I-News. As recently as 2017, it was worth only ¥5 billion.  With weather experts noting the impact of climate change predicting that the heat this year is not an exception, fashion industry analysts foresee a growing market both in Japan and the global marketplace.

A Dedicated Face Mask Store

While wearing masks during the pandemic may be a divisive political issue in the United States, in Japan it is a growing business opportunity.

A new store in Tokyo is trying to add some fun and variety to the everyday necessity of wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

The store under Tokyo Station offers over 200 kinds of mask. One is designed to keep the skin hydrated and provide UV protection — for a price tag of less than US$5.  But there are also designer masks priced at more than US$900.

With traditional emphasis on famed Japanese customer service, shoppers can get help from staff in choosing designs that suit their functional need, fashion taste or skin tone.

The shop is operated by a unit of one of Japan’s biggest retailers. As the pandemic boosts demand, many firms from a range of industries have been entering the mask market, including electric appliance and menswear makers.