* West Japan Rail Demands Compensation
August 25, 2000
Nishtetsu is demanding over 10 million yen in compensation from the family of the 17 year old unemployed boy who hijacked a Nishitetsu Highway bus in May this year, it was revealed yesterday. Nishitetsu seeks compensation for damages received to the bus when Police forcibly entered the bus to end the hostage conflict. Also for damages to the bus Nishitetsu provided to the police to simulate the entry. Regarding Nishitetsu's claim for compensation, a company spokesman stated, "Nishitetsu by no means is attempting to receive compensation before the victims families receive full and just compensation for their losses."

* Isahaya Bay Environmental Impact
August 18, 2000
Yesterday, experts released a startling report on the extent of destruction inflicted on Isahaya Bay, Nagasaki Prefecture, since a central-government sponsored land reclamation project began on a section of the bay. According to the report, all of the shellfish have been destroyed, and the first half of August saw red tides due to poisoned plankton. According to the Nagasaki Prefecture Fishery Division, the total extent of damage to the fishery industry has reached an estimated 250 million yen.

- * Traditional Hakata Products Prove Popular in New York
August 8, 2000
Traditional Hakata textiles, on display at an international trade fair currently being held in New York, are proving to be a big hit. The traditional handicraft, known as "Hakata-ori", is being introduced to customers in America under the brand name of "Hakata Japan". The line-up of products features a fresh take on traditional patterns with bags and accessories designed to coordinate with Western clothing. According to reports, the products received 120 business inquiries during just the ̃rst two days of the fair and several deals have already been signed. By all accounts, an industry, which in the recession-plagued domestic market is somewhat stagnant, looks set to be re-invigorated by dealings in a land far away.

* Duplicate Keys Used to Rob Vending Machines
August 8, 2000
An investigation by police in Fukuoka and Hiroshima prefectures has revealed an outbreak of crimes where money from vending machines is stolen by perpetrators using duplicate keys, obtained illegally. According to police, a spate of crimes have been committed in the Kyushu and Chugoku regions with incidents thought to number several hundred in Fukuoka Prefecture alone. Police in both prefectures had, as of yesterday, arrested three Chinese nationals on suspicion of theft and several duplicate keys had been coñscated from the suspects. Police believe the crimes are being committed systematically by groups of Chinese and are investigating how the keys were obtained.

* Kyushu Govts Lag Behind in IT Rush
August 3, 2000
Prefectural governments in Kyushu have been criticized for their lethargic response to computerization and poor use of the Internet. While the Ministry of Local Governments has set a national target of one PC per government employee, Fukuoka Prefectural Government is struggling to keep its promise of installing one PC for every 2.6 employees. The national average is currently one computer per 1.5 government employees. Drives are being made to have application forms for marriage, business, building and other permits available online, however at most government offices in Kyushu such forms are still submitted as paperwork.

* KNR Rail Pass to be Sold Through JR
August 2, 2000
The Korean National Railway is currently considering the sale of a rail pass similar to the Japan Rail pass which allows unlimited travel on all trains for a specified time. KNR currently offers such passes, however they are only available in the U.S. The KNR pass, if given the green light, will be available through Japan Rail Kyushu which also runs the high speed hydrofoil connection between Fukuoka and Pusan.

* U.S. Secretary of State Visits Miyazaki
August 1, 2000
U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright yesterday attended an unveiling ceremony in Miyazaki City for a hall named in her honor. Following the ceremony the Secretary of State gave a talk inside the actual hall to some 400 local junior high school students. The event was originally scheduled to take place during the recent meeting of foreign ministers' as part of the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit but was postponed after the Secretary of State was unable to attend the meeting. After the fleeting 3-hour visit to the city, Albright traveled by airplane to Tokyo for talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Yohei.

* Discounter Osada Looks for a Way Out of Debt
July 28, 2000
Yesterday, the regional discount superstore Osada, with headquarters in Saga, asked its 900 creditors and investors to forgive 80% of the 16 billion yen the company owes them. The plan presented by Osada also offers to payback the remaining 20% over the next ten years, during which the chain hopes it can survive through infusions of public funds applied for under a civil support code. Osada's total debt however stands at 34.7 billion yen.

* New Fukuoka Airport Proposal
July 14, 2000
Yesterday, a committee created to discuss the feasibility of building a new airport off the coast of Tsuyazaki Town met to discuss financing the project. Officials estimate that the new airport would cost 960 billion yen. The committee suggested that by selling the old airport to the private sector, the city and prefectural government may be able to overcome the hurdle of construction costs.

Now ask me why Fukuoka needs another airport? -Ed.

* Fukuoka City Subway Temperature Adjusted
July 12, 2000
In response to requests from subway users, Fukuoka City yesterday announced it will adjust the strength of air-conditioning and temperature of the city subway trains. The trains are currently set to 25 degrees. The city raise the temperature of one of the six carriages of a subway train by two degrees to 27 degrees. The "Mildly Air Conditioned Carriage"` will be so marked and will be the third or fourth carriage of a train to arrive at a station. The other carriages will be set to 24 degrees. The temperature adjustments are expected to be completed by the 28th of this month.

* Fukuoka City to Get Tougher on Gang Related Crime
July 3, 2000
Fukuoka City on Friday announced plans to combat "urban crime" related to gangs and foreign syndicates. As well as broadcasting commercials on television, the city plans to seek the support of independent organizations that deal with crime prevention. As the so-called "Gateway to Asia" and the host of the upcoming Finance Ministers' Meeting of the Kyushu Okinawa Summit, the plans suggest that the city is turning its eye to the downside of such internationalization. The fact that the number of foreigners arrested last year on suspicion of penal offenses was at an all-time high was raised during open question time at the city's council meeting on Friday. In response, Fukuoka City Mayor Yamasaki Kotaro expressed his intention to strengthen efforts to deal with such crimes.

* Private Universities Drop Entry Requirements
June 28,2000
According to a survey released by cram school Kawai Juku, most private universities nationally and in Kyushu will be forced to lower entry restrictions at next year's entry exams on 54.6% of subjects offered. With an increasing number of local students opting to enter national universities, many of Kyushu's private universities have placed "F" as the minimum exam grade acceptable for entry - a record low entry grade. There are 475 private universities in Japan offering a total of 3,807 courses, and of these 673 courses have a minimum entry requirement of F. But in Kyushu, 161 of a total of 295 courses currently consider a grading of F as acceptable for entry.

* Naha Highway Complete
June 26,2000
Today, at 5pm, the 5.1 kilometer Naha Airport Highway will open after months of construction. The highway, built to handle increased traffic for the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit 2000, will link the airport with Hanebaru-minami Interchange, and will feature signs and guides in English. No official estimates of the total cost of construction were released.

* Police in Kasuga Search for Bank Robber
June 27,2000
Police in Fukuoka are continuing to search for a man suspected of robbing a bank in Kasuga City yesterday. The man, wearing a mask, burst into the Kasuga branch of Saga Bank at around 2:50 yesterday afternoon and told staff to fill a bag he was carrying with money. After firing a shotgun once at the ceiling, the man made off with some two million four hundred thousand yen in cash. Receiving a call that the bank had been robbed, police managed to track down the suspect's car some 30 minutes later by a park approximately 800 meters from the scene of the crime. The bag containing the cash and the shotgun were discovered hidden in shrubbery in the park. There were some 50 customers and staff present at the bank at the time of the robbery but no injuries were reported.

* Publication in English of A-bomb Victims' Accounts
June 23,2000
Consumers' cooperative F Co-op has put together an English version of a collection of accounts by atomic bomb victims resident in Fukuoka. The Cooperative hopes to spread the message of the realities of atomic warfare by distributing the publication to foreigners visiting Fukuoka for the Finance Ministers' Meeting of the Kyushu Okinawa Summit in July. The Cooperative has issued the publication annually since 1995 however this marks its first translation into English. The B-5 size, 66-page publication is free (excepting postage) and can be obtained from F Co-op. Inquiries should be made to (092) 474-1346.

* Nagasaki Town to Get Advanced Cable System
June 23,2000
Yesterday, officials of Shimabara City in Nagasaki announced plans for the creation of an advanced information system using cable technology. As a city selected to participate in the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication's "Telecommunications Research Program", Shimabara plans to connect 80 locations sometime this year, including schools, public centers, medical centers, and homes for the elderly. The three year project will cost 170 million yen, but will steadily increase its user base by accepting applications from those who wish to be connected to the system.

* Rail Travel Between Fukuoka, Tokyo a Record Low
June 20, 2000
Rail travel on the Shinkansen bullet train and other lines between Fukuoka and Tokyo in the period between 1989 and 1998 has sunk to a record low, with just 10% of travellers now opting to take the train instead of flying. The entry of new domestic carrier Skymark Airlines in 1998 has been one factor behind the increased competition between domestic flight carriers which has led to significant travel cost reductions. Meanwhile, train travel on the shorter Fukuoka-Osaka route has fared better, falling slightly from 59.3% utilization in 1989 to use by 53.5% of travellers in 1998.

* Environmental Engineering Faculty Underway in Kitakyushu
June 20, 2000
Construction on a large new faculty of Kitakyushu University, the Kitakyushu International Environmental Engineering Faculty (naming unconfirmed) is gearing up towards completion by April, 2001. The faculty will focus on training individuals in scientific and technological know-how needed to deal with global environmental problems, and will be the first such academic institution in Japan. The new faculty will emphasize training in foreign languages, and staff will consist of local and international environmental experts. With a student population of whom one-third will be foreign exchange students, the new faculty is expected to foster a sense of awareness of international environmental issues.

* Homeless to be Kicked-out
June 19, 2000
Following up on numerous street rumors, the Fukuoka 'Onigiri' (Rice-ball) Group, which supports the homeless in the area, confirmed with authorities that homeless who seek shelter in Ohori Park during the Okinawa Summit's Finance Ministers' Meeting in Fukuoka will be removed. Officials have scheduled a dinner for the ministers within the park, and apparently asked local law-enforcement authorities to remove the homeless.

* Saga Youth to be Evaluated
June 19, 2000
On Friday, court proceedings officially began for the 17-year-old Saga youth who hijacked a highway bus over the Golden Week holidays, killing one passenger and injuring several others. The Saga court decided to conduct the longest court-approved psychiatric evaluation to date, one that would last 3 months. Previously, the longest testing ordered was by a Kobe court, which took four weeks to evaluate a youth who beheaded an elementary school girl.

* JR Western Japan to Sue
June 15th, 2000
Yesterday, the president of JR Western Japan announced that the company will be seeking close to 3 billion in total damages from construction companies who built tunnels along the bullet train line between Fukuoka and Yamaguchi. Last year, concrete began crumbling from the ceilings of tunnels due to faulty building techniques, causing extensive damage to at least one bullet train, and halting service several times.

* Government Land in Kitakyushu Sits Idle
June 15th, 2000
A survey of land owned by the Kitakyushu City government revealed on June 15 that 50 sites in the area measuring a total of 54,000 hectares are currently unused, with no existing plans for their use. The various sites include forest and hillside land, surplus land originally intended for housing development (37 sites), industrial areas fallen into disuse and with no apparent plans for their re-use (8 sites) and others. A further 20 sites have been marked for eventual use as parks, housing or road areas however development has not yet gone ahead. The government stated it would examine the most appropriate ways of using the land, and that it would not "simply sell" the areas.

* 40% of Japan's Loan-Sharks in Kyushu
May 25, 2000
According to a recent survey by Lawyers Against Illegal Loans, 910 of Japan's 2,181 illegal loan companies and individuals are operating in the Kyushu-Okinawa region. The same group launched a court case on the 9th of this month--the first of its kind in the country--against all such establishments in Kyushu's seven prefectures. The group intends to initiate the second phase of its case on June 1.

* Beer Lovers Unite
May 24, 2000
Beginning today and running until the 28th, 15 beer companies from all over Kyushu and Okinawa will offer 30 different kinds of beer at the Kyushu-Okinawa Beer Festival, held on the rooftop of Fukuoka Building. This festival highlights the best of what Southern Japan has to offer, with a full frothy mug costing only 400 yen. Hours are from 11am to 10pm, except for the first and last day, when doors close at 5pm. For more information, call (092)737-2000.

* Doctor Sued for not Revealing Cancer
Yesterday, the Iizuka branch of the Fukuoka court system ordered a doctor and Aso Cement, the financial manager of Iizuka Hospital, to pay a local family 30 million yen in damages for not revealing that a now deceased family member had developed stomach cancer. Although the doctor diagnosed the woman as having cancer, he chose not to reveal his findings to either the woman or her family. Cancer is traditionally a somewhat taboo subject in Japan, and while not revealing a diagnosis to a cancer patient is not unusual, the judge decided that the rest of the family should have been notified. The 54-year-old woman died last June.

* West Japan Rail Issues Bonds
April 5, 2000
West Japan Rail yesterday announced the issue of 10 billion yen in corporate bonds aimed at institutional investors. The bonds will have a fixed yearly interest rate of 1.8%, and will mature in 7 years with a lump-sum redemption payment. Money raised from the issue will be used for investments in facilities and the repayment of loans.

I include this as a demonstration of the interest rates offered in Japan. Needless to say, rates are slightly higher in the United States. -Ed.

* Huis Ten Bosch President Resigns
March 28, 2000
Yoshikuni Kokin, 57, president of one of Japan's most prominent theme parks Huis Ten Bosch, yesterday announced he would resign at a general shareholders meeting to be held in July. At a press conference held in Sasebo City, he stated he was resigning to except responsibility for the 110 billion yen of accumulated debt that the company is currently holding. The announcement comes after The Japanese Performance Bank accepted his request to write off 20 billion yen of debt. A succeeding president has yet to be decided and the situation has shaken up Nagasaki residents and the Kyushu tourist industry.

* Police Mistakenly Fires Tear Gas on Residence
March 27, 2000
A 35-year old assistant inspector with the Miyazaki Prefectural police mistakenly fired tear gas towards an apartment complex Monday during riot squad training at. The tear gas cannister traveled about sixty meters before landing in the ground floor parking of the apartment building. Although gas was not released and no injuries were reported, the police failed to make the accident public, or inform the residents until nearly ten hours later.

* Fukuoka Bank Claims Responsibility for ATM Crash
March 24, 2000
Fukuoka Bank has claimed responsibility for the incident at the beginning of this month when some 1,400 ATMs went off line for approximately four hours due to problems with the bank's host computer. In a report that was filed to the relevant government agency, the bank admitted that its failure to take expedient measures resulted in prolonged confusion. The bank's president will take a 30% pay cut for three months and five management level employees will be dealt disciplinary punishment.

I think this story and a few others like it are interesting because of the admission of guilt. Even though Japan definitely has a very strong system of coverups, when something publicly goes astray, the admission of guilt is often very swift. -Ed.

* Cherry Blossom Season Forecast
March 17, 2000
The Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory yesterday announced the forecast for this year's cherry blossom season in Kyushu and Yamaguchi. Revising an earlier forecast, the observatory now expects the start of the season to be in line with the average. The trees are expected to start blooming in Miyazaki on the 25th of this month, in Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima on the 27th, in Fukuoka and Oita on the 28th and in Shimonoseki and Saga on the 29th. The trees are forecast to be in full bloom approximately one week later.

* Cancer Cure to be Announced in Fukuoka
March 16, 2000
At the first "International Ultrasound Medical Research Symposium," to be held on the 28th of this month at Fukuoka University Hospital, Dr. Hisashi Oka of Showa University in Tokyo will formally announce a new method for the treatment of liver cancer in advanced stages. Dr. Oka, working with doctors at Fukuoka University who ran successful tests of his experiment, used ultra sound and chemotherapy drugs to isolate and destroy cancerous cells. The new development should provide further impetus for research in the expanding field of ultrasound medicine.

* Blue Note to Re-open
March 13, 2000
Last Friday, the railway corporation Hanshin Dentsu announced that it would take over management of Blue Note Fukuoka from the financially struggling Iwataya Department Store. Iwataya announced they would close the club on March 18, claiming loses of 100 million yen per year. If the management transfer runs smoothly, the club will re-open as early as September.

* Kagoshima Police Policy Change
March 9, 2000
Kagoshima Police Headquarters yesterday announced they would no longer make public the names of officers under the rank of assistant inspector. The move comes in an attempt to protect officers from crank calls and allow them to conduct their work free from harassment. In the past officers and their families have received death threats and crank calls while working on murder cases and other violent crimes. One officer received crank phone calls over a period of seven years. Kagoshima Police say it is a timely decision as they will start a new initiative this April against gangsters. The names of officers under the rank of assistant inspector in Fukuoka and Okinawa Prefectures are not available to the public.

* School Field Trip Overhaul
March 8, 2000
Amid the ongoing controversy over corrupt practices in planning school field trips, the chairman of the Fukuoka Board of Education recognized during a prefectural assembly meeting yesterday that school officials had not made attempts to reduce the financial burden on parents. He also announced plans to establish a special group that will explore ways to cut costs. The recent moves toward cost-cutting and transparency in the trip selection process were the result of revelations that school employees may have been receiving kick-backs for choosing certain travel companies.

* Gasoline Leak Discovered Weeks Later
March 6, 2000
On Friday evening at approximately 6pm the Fukuoka City Fire Department responded to a call from a Mitsubishi gasoline station in Katakasu, Hakata-ku. The station reported a gasoline leak caused when in the middle of February, staff mistakenly filled an underground tank that was under repair. Some 3,000 litres of gasoline was leaked but went undetected until Friday. The city's environment bureau has taken water and air samples from the surrounding area to check for contamination.

* High School Graduations Run Smoothly
March 2, 2000
The majority of Fukuoka public high schools held graduation ceremonies yesterday for the first time under a controversial new law recognizing the hinomaru (national flag) and kimigayo (national anthem), but no protests or disruptions were reported. Last August, despite fierce protests from many students, teachers, and principals, the Diet approved the law, thus requiring schools to use both during official ceremonies. Many opposed the law fearing that the flag and anthem are too intimately tied to Japan's militaristic past.

I attended one such ceremony. Nobody really objected. But the song, and bowing to the flag every single time, is a little different. -Ed.

* School Trip Scandal Continues
February 29, 2000
A survey of schools in Ogori City, found that four out of eight public elementary schools in the city signed contracts with travel agencies without going through the estimates and proposals sent by various travel agencies last year. The principal of a school which conducted business for five years with the same travel agency said that it was customary for the schools to do business with the company with which they did business the previous year without questioning whether the fees were expensive or not. In order to reduce the expenses of future tours, the schools have decided to look at the proposals of at least three travel agencies before signing any contracts.

* Kumamoto Governor Dies Suddenly
February 28, 2000
The governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, Fukushima Joji, died suddenly on Friday. The 72-year old governor was found floating face down in the outdoor bath of an inn he was visiting in the spa resort of Kurokawa at around 6:50pm. He was taken to a hospital in Kumamoto City where he was pronounced dead at around 9:50pm. The cause of death was myocardial infarction. The governor, who was serving his third term in office, had been carrying out official duties up until his departure for Kurokawa. Under the law, an election for a new governor must be held within 50 days.

* Car Plunges into Shopping Arcade
February 21, 2000
A car driven by a 58-year old man fell 21 meters from the seventh floor of a parking garage to land upside-down on the roof of a Beppu City shopping arcade. Firemen and paramedics arrived thirty minutes later, and rescued the driver, who was doing well, though badly bruised. The accident occurred as the man was backing into a parking space.

* Forum on Domestic Violence
February 21, 2000
Some 200 people yesterday participated in a forum aimed at establishing a support system for victims of domestic violence. The forum, held in Kasuga City, was the first of its kind to be held in Kyushu. Panelists participating in the forum agreed on the need for a network comprising of both public and private bodies in order to provide a total support system for victims. Similar networks already exist in Sapporo and Tokyo. A research panel that will explore concrete ways in which support can be provided is to be established later this year.

* Man-made Island Leads to Decrease in Migratory Birds
February 21, 2000
A survey conducted by the Fukuoka City Ports and Harbours Bureau has confirmed that the number of migratory birds on the Wajiro tideland has decreased since the start of construction on a man-made island in the area. The survey revealed that compared to 1993, before the start of construction, the number of birds such as sandpipers and plovers has decreased by half. However the bureau denies the decrease is related to the construction and claims the main cause is climate changes along the bird's migratory routes and breeding grounds.

* Teenage Brothers Detained for Murder of Mother
February 19, 2000
Police in Fukuoka Prefecture last night arrested a fourteen-year-old boy and reprimanded his thirteen-year-old brother on suspicion of inflicting bodily injury resulting in the death of their mother. According to the police, the boys, from the Chikugo area of Fukuoka, got into a verbal argument with their mother when they returned home and found drinking. The argument escalated into physical violence after they asked her to prepare their evening meal. The elder boy contacted emergency services when his mother collapsed in the kitchen. The 49-year old divorced woman was taken to hospital but died shortly after 7pm.

* Cohen Says 'No' to Heliport Limit
February 16, 2000
Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen officially rejected a Japanese proposal to impose a 15-year limit on U.S. military use of a heliport in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture. Defense officials from the two countries decided in January to relocate the Futenma Air Base to Nago, following years of local protest over noise pollution and poor relations between base personnel and area residents. The new location, however, has also provoked protests, forcing the Okinawan Governor and other Japanese defense officials to consider ways of reducing the U.S. military presence without compromising defense agreements.

* Kyushu Sports News
February 9, 2000
All eyes are on southpaw pitching ace, Shinsuke Ogura, who will be playing in his second professional season with the Daiei Hawks. The pitcher has been hurling balls at 144km/h, making him one of the first players in many years to show this kind of potential.

* Eliminate Traffic with Bicycles
February 3, 2000
Fukuoka City announced yesterday that bicycle lanes will be introduced into two major parts of the city in an attempt to reduce chronic traffic congestion. The new lanes, which are intended to encourage people to ride instead of drive, will appear on Island City, a man-made island being built in Hakata Bay, and in the Kashi area, along the Nishitetsu Miyajidake and Kagoshima train lines. While there are already bicycle lanes in the West Ward of the city, in Imajuku and Muromi, these lanes were designed with recreation in mind. The new plans mark the first time the city is using bicycle lanes to fight traffic congestion.

* Kyushu Unemployment Third Worse
February 2, 2000
A report into the labour force released yesterday by the Management and Coordination Agency shows the Kyushu region, including Okinawa Prefecture, unemployment rate stands at 5%. The rate, 0.3% higher than the national rate, puts Kyushu third behind the Kinki area at 5.6% and the South Kanto at 5.1% in the regional unemployment figures breakdown. The national rate of 4.7% is the highest unemployment figure posted since the report began in 1953.

* Mushrooms Render Deadly Gas Harmless
February 2, 2000
Members of the Kyushu University Agriculture Department Research team working under Professor Hiroyuki Wariishi have been successful in rendering the gas yperite, used widely by the Japanese military in China during WWII, harmless using mushrooms. Oxygen from the mushrooms is used to breakdown the yperite. The Japanese government is committed to disposing of the remaining yperite gas by the year 2007. The success of the research is receiving worldwide attention as the first time any research group has been successful in rendering the gas harmless.

* Fukuoka Blue Note to Close Doors
February 1, 2000
In an effort to further eliminate its money-losing operations, Iwataya announced yesterday that it will close shut down the Blue Note Fukuoka on March 18. The New York-based Blue Note jazz club, which also has clubs in Tokyo and Osaka has been the venue for over 600 local and international acts since 1990, was created to give jazz lovers a place to enjoy real jazz. In recent years, however, the number of famous musicians who performed at the club fell as Iwataya sought to cut costs. As a result, attendance rates remained low, averaging only about 65%. Iwataya has reportedly lost over 1 billion yen since opening the club.

* School Trip Scandal Continues
February 1, 2000
In investigating complaints of exorbitant fees related to school trips the Nishinihon Shimbun learned that 32 prefectural schools in Fukuoka have conducted business with the same travel agencies for no less than five years. The paper learned that the cost of the trips were almost always at the upper limit of the budgets proposed by the schools and that the price of the school trips were virtually the same, regardless of the date of departure and number of participants. In the travel industry it is considered common sense that the cost of a trip changes depending on the season, date of departure and group size.

* Environmental Review Board Created
February 1, 2000
The Island City Environmental Impact Review Committee was inaugurated to evaluate the potential damage to the environment caused by the on-going construction of a massive man-made island in Hakata Bay. The committee which is made up of environmental specialists will, among other issues, look into whether previous studies into the environmental impact of the project were accurate.

* Inquiry into School Field Trips Suggests Kick-backs
January 28 2000
Recent inquiries into the selection process of travel agencies who plan school field trips for Fukuoka City and Fukuoka Prefectural public schools suggest that some school officials may be receiving kick-backs from travel agencies. Inquiries were launched after parents complained of the high costs and lack of transparency in the selection process. According to one teacher at a middle school in southern Fukuoka, the teachers of the school collected estimates from a number of travel companies and selected one, but were then overruled by the principal who decided on another without giving clear reason. At a Fukuoka City school, one teacher noted that even though parents have repeatedly complained about the cost of trips, the school continues to use trains for travel instead of buses which are cheaper and more convenient. Reports from other parts of the prefecture suggest possibilities of collusion as well.

* School Field Trip Probe Started
January 27, 2000
Following a Fukuoka prefectural report two days ago, Fukuoka City announced plans yesterday to launch an inquiry into school field trip programs for all public middle schools. Many parents have complained of exorbitant costs and that the travel companies provide no transparency or options in their programs. Based on the results of the inquiry, the City may reimburse parents and force travel agencies make their plans public.

* Ski Trips for School Trips
January 26, 2000
A recent report shows that 78 of the 80 public high schools in Fukuoka went on ski trips to Hokkaido and other northern regions last year as a part of their supposedly educational field trips. While the Fukuoka Board of Education stipulates that each school must decide for itself on some sort of unique trip that would benefit students, members of the prefectural assembly voiced strong criticisms, noting that the intent of the trips has been compromised. Schools which leave everything up to travel agencies were further singled out because "the trips run the risk of being the same as any other," as one member remarked.

Personal note - all my schools went to Hokkaido

* Workers Raise H2 Rocket's Engine
January 20, 2000
Salvage workers yesterday succeeded in raising the main engine of the H2 rocket, which crashed into the Pacific Ocean after blasting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima Prefecture last November. The engine was raised from an area some 380 kilometers north west of the Ogasawara chain of islands and from a depth of about 2,900 metres below the surface. The engine is to be transported to the National Aerospace Laboratory in Tokyo for analysis that researchers hope will shed some light on the cause of the crash.

* Flu Closes Schools
January 18, 2000
To prevent the further spread of the influenza virus Fukuoka Prefecture has decided to cancel classes at 10 schools for up to 3 days. Elementary and junior high schools in Kitakyushu have been hardest hit by the recent break out of flu cases. Of 210 six graders, 89 were absent from school on Monday. At one elementary school, 20 first graders out of 37 stayed away from school. The Health Ministry suggests hand-washing and gargling upon returning home is the best way to prevent catching the flu.

* More Bogus 500 yen Coins Found
January 18, 2000
Almost 3,000 bogus 500 yen coins were found in and around JR stations along the Kagoshima line in Fukuoka, Oita and Saga prefectures. 2,233 coins were discovered in Fukuoka and another 674 found in Oita at the end of the Monday.

* Hakata Dialect On The Net
January 14, 2000
Hakata resident Tatsuhiro Kawate has produced a home page called the "Concise Hakata Dialect Glossary" offering explanations on the nuances and use of Hakata dialect through conversation examples. Kawate, a self employed business man who spent two years working on the home page has also produced a CD-ROM containing the information found on the home page. "In the future I hope to produce a CD-ROM that contains recorded examples" stated Kawate.

* Japan's First Wholesale Meat Market
January 12, 2000
Yesterday, Fukuoka City officials announced that the newly constructed 'City Central Seaside Wholesale Market', which will offer high quality meat at unprecedented prices, will open in April. The first of its kind in the country, the market will obtain ISO 9000 certification in accordance with international inspection and quality standards, and will also use an HACCP sanitation system, which was developed by NASA in America to ensure that food consumed by astronauts is free of any and all diseases. The market is located in the Chuo district of the city and cost an estimated 15.2 billion yen to build.

* Kyushu-Okinawa Summit Official Homepage
January 11, 2000
The government on Friday set up an official homepage on the Internet for the G-8 Summit to be held in Kyushu and Okinawa in July this year. As well as resources on the summit itself, the homepage provides minimal information on the history and culture of Fukuoka, Miyazaki and Okinawa. The page, which is in both Japanese and English, is aimed at introducing the uniqueness of each of the three places that are to host the summit's various meetings. The homepage address is http://www.g8kyushu-okinawa.go.jp/

* Snowman From Miyazaki
December 24, 1999
A citizen's group, working to revitalize the area near Gokase Highland Resort in Miyazaki Prefecture, is offering a snowman delivery service. Gokase Highland Resort is famous as Japan's southernmost ski resort. Nine members of the group collected two hundred kilograms of fresh snow and then packed it into snowman-shaped polystyrene packages. The group is selling the snowman for three thousand yen each and has received fifty orders from various parts of the country already.

* Fiscal 2000 Budget Approved
December 21, 1999
A record budget for the 2000 fiscal year was approved by the cabinet Monday. In the Kyushu-Yamaguchi region more than 5 billion yen was set aside for the construction of the Fukuchiyama dam and another 400 million yen was ear-marked for a project in Nagasaki. Despite this, projects that are of more immediate concern, including work on the airport and highways, are still being discussed.

* New Bullet Train Unveiled
December 21, 1999
JR Nishinippon unveiled its newest shinkansen, the Hikari Rail Star. The grey and yellow 8-car train with a top speed of 285 km/h will travel from Hakata to Osaka in 2 hours and 45 minutes, 32 minutes faster than the Nozomi Shinkansen. The train will make 18 round trips between the two cities beginning in March of next year.

* Reassessment of Public Works Projects
December 18th, 1999
A committee in Kitakyushu City set up to reevaluate public works projects as part of administrative and financial reforms, yesterday made a proposal to the city's mayor that 14 projects be reassessed. The projects cited include land reclamation for a man-made island in Moji-Ku and the development of an area as a sports park in Kokura Minami-Ku. On receiving the proposal the mayor expressed his intention to see results reflected in the budget for the next fiscal year.

* Scam Targets Housewives
December 18th, 1999
An investigation by police in Fukuoka yesterday brought to light a scam in which several housewives handed over a total of more than 1.5 million yen to a man claiming to work for a loan company. In all three cases reported so far, women were telephoned during the day and told that their husbands had taken out loans with the caller's company. The caller then threatened that something terrible would happen unless the money was returned in an hour. Another case in which the requested sum of money was not delivered has also been reported. Police are calling for people to be wary of suspicious phone calls.

* 400th Anniversary of Dutch-Japanese Relations
December 17 1999
The Dutch Embassy on Friday revealed details of events to be held next year to mark the 400th anniversary of exchange between the Netherlands and Japan. More than 400 events of varying scale will be held in Nagasaki, Usuki City, Oita Prefecture and other cities connected to the history of relations between the two countries. One such event, Holland Week, will start on April 19th with a ceremony in Usuki City to mark the day in 1600 when a Dutch sailing vessel ran aground on Japanese shores. The Netherlands's Crown Prince Alexander will attend the event. Other events will include exhibitions, musical performances and a flower exposition.

* Nichinan City Tangled up in Fraud Case
December 15th, 1999
It was revealed yesterday that Nichinan City in Miyazaki Prefecture established a contract with the failed Nichinan Shinyo Savings Bank which would have earned them 40 times the normal interest rate on a 1.8 billion yen deposit. The former branch manager in charge of the deal is believed to have embezzled 3.4 billion yen and is at the center of the bank's collapse. He committed suicide in September. In an attempt to cover up missing funds with other deposits, he reportedly approached city finance managers with the offer. Although the City was not ultimately affected by the bank's sudden collapse, city finance managers are being severely criticized for not being more suspicious of the offer.

* Fukuoka School System Restructuring Announced
December 15th 1999
Yesterday Fukuoka Prefecture announced it will eliminate a total of 17 public schools by 2008 because of dwindling student population. However, the number of 'general education' schools, where students can choose from a large range of subjects, will increase from 1 to 8. The Fukuoka Board of Education commented that they want to create a more flexible and varied education system with this new breed of schools.

* Space World Probe Points to Negligence
December 2, 1999
An investigation into the cause of an accident last year at a theme park in Kitakyushu City has led police to suspect criminal negligence on the part of safety maintenance workers. The accident at Space World occurred when a wire on the park's "Atlas Tower" ride snapped sending seats plunging to the ground and injuring 12 people. The police investigation revealed that the wire had not been replaced within the recommended period and pointed to metal fatigue as the cause of the accident. If the case for criminal liability is strengthened, papers will be sent to the prosecutor's office by the end of the year.

* Kidnapped Boy Returned Unharmed
November 27, 1999
The only son of the Kumamoto Kyushu Bank branch manager of was kidnapped on his way to school Monday morning. Yutaro Kishi (7), a second grader at Hanaen Elementary School, was abducted at about 8 am by a man in a dark car. The kidnapper called the boy's home, and threatened to kill him if his demand of 30 million yen was not paid by the following day. The kidnapper specified the drop of point, but released the boy unharmed six hours later. Shortly after midnight on the 30th police arrested a 49 year old construction worker who was rummaging in the garbage where the ransom was supposed to have been left. The suspect who has admitted to committing the crime, conducted business with the boy's father in the past.

* Report on Past Kidnappings According to the National Police Agency there have been 222 cases of kidnapping since the end of the war where ransom was the motive, including six in 1999. Since 1983, there have been 13 abductions of minors involving a ransom, more than half of which occurred in western Japan, and four in Kyushu alone. Of the past 222 cases, only seven remain unsolved. Although the hostage was murdered in 32 of the cases, since 1993 all abductees have returned safely.

* JR Kyushu Revenue Losses
November 25, 1999
Japan Railway Kyushu announced 77.6 billion yen in total revenues, marking a 1.2% decrease from the same period last year and the second consecutive decline. A spokesman stated that a sluggish economy and ever increasing competition from highway buses and airlines for the decrease.

* More Debate on Okinawa Heliport
November 24, 1999
Yesterday, in the Ryukyu Forum, sponsored by Asahi Television, Okinawa Governor Inamine remarked that debate over the Japanese government's proposal to set a 15-year time limit on the future U.S. Marine Corps heliport would continue despite the U.S. government's strong opposition. Under a 1996 accord, the U.S. agreed to scale back its military presence in Okinawa and to return the Futenma air base in five to seven years providing that an alternative heliport site could be found. Inamine announced on Monday that Henoko in northern Naha would be that site, but added that the U.S. should only be able to use it for 15 years.

Saga Ken

* Corruption Continues in Saga Stop-light Scandal
November 24 1999
Saga police recently announced that despite major crackdowns a year ago, corporate bribes involving traffic-light makers and construction companies have continued. Justice officials recently released the names of 4 traffic-light makers and 3 construction companies who landed a total of 220 million yen and 160 million yen respectively in contracts through bribes and lavish entertainment of industry offcials . Police estimate that contracts worth a total of 700 to 800 million yen have been illicitly obtained since 1996.