Asia - Issue 52 - Magazine | Monocle

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The living dead


Japan’s emperor called it a “miracle fish” after it was found swimming in a lake at the foot of Mount Fuji in 2010 – 70 years after it had been declared extinct. The future for the deepwater salmon known as Kunimasu seems brighter now that scientists have started farming the species in its original habitat at Lake Tazawa, in Akita prefecture. “Our biggest challenge is to create the next generation from wild mature fish,” says Jun-ichi Tsuboi, from Yamanashi Prefectural Fisheries Technology Center. Kunimasu disappeared from the lake in 1940. Researchers blamed pollution but the fish might just have been living too far below the surface.

Don’t worry be happy


Japan isn’t just battling a lacklustre economy. Studies over the past three decades show that Japanese are becoming less happy. Now the government wants to find a way to boost the national mood. According to a Cabinet Office white paper, despite rising per capita growth since the 1980s, Japanese have become less satisfied with their lives.

After months of discussions, a government-appointed panel has come up with a Happiness Index. The index, which will be tested over the next few years, is a mixture of economics and psychology: it gauges income level, work environment and family but also reflects how individuals rate their own happiness. “Policymakers are realising that there has been too much focus on economic growth,” says Yoshiaki Takahashi, an official who helped kick-start the policy debate.

Japan isn’t alone. In April, the UN will host a high level meeting on happiness and well-being, an idea proposed by Bhutan, which makes Gross National Happiness a priority. But unlike gdp, comparing happiness in different countries can be tricky, says Yukiko Uchida, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Kokoro Research Center. A recent study she co-authored found that on a 10-point scale Americans said that eight or nine was ideal, while Japanese felt six was optimal. Culture was a factor. “Many Japanese worried that if they achieved too much happiness at a young age it would decline later in life,” says Uchida.

Other nations measuring happiness

Its Gross National Happiness gauges nine factors, including time use and health.
The University of Waterloo has collated an Index of Wellbeing.
North Korea
Its survey ranks other countries, with China reportedly at the top and US bottom.

Ups and downs


For years economists have argued over whether China’s economy is headed for a soft or a hard landing. With Chinese officials themselves reportedly admitting that GDP figures are “manmade”, everything from sky-rocketing Lamborghini sales to tens of millions of empty luxury apartments has been called up as evidence of what is to come. A more reliable figure is sales in earthmovers, a statistic untainted by speculation, which predicts future investment in the construction and infrastructure sectors. Weak sales in 2011 led analysts Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins to predict that “a real estate price decline in 2012 poses substantial risks to GDP growth”.

Career break

Singapore — parliament

Not all MPs in Singapore have to face the voters. Nine are appointed by the president for a two-and-a-half-year term in an attempt to bring more independent voices into parliament. Each nominated member of parliament (NMP) is brought in from a different economic sector. The latest batch includes a university lecturer, a leading banker and an actress.

Packing a punch


No one does parliamentary fights like the Taiwanese. They became common in the 1980s partly because of procedures that made it impossible for smaller parties to have their say. Now they’ve just become a way of doing parliamentary business.


Ashvin Kumar

Film director


In 2009 and 2010, Oscar-nominated Indian filmmaker Ashvin Kumar travelled to Kashmir to make Inshallah Kashmir: Living Terror, one of two documentaries about the troubled territory. Both India and Pakistan claim it as their own – India has stationed 700,000 soldiers there and human rights activists say residents have been detained and treated with lethal force by troops.

What’s this film about?
Kashmiris tell their stories of human rights violations. India says it’s fighting militants. That’s not untrue but there’s a virtual gag order on reporting the truth. I was appalled by what I saw there.

You released your film online instead of in cinemas. Why?
I shot footage for two documentaries. We sent the first, Inshallah Football, to India’s film censor board. They refused to issue a certificate, although it has no violence or sexual content. So I released the second one online free. I knew it was commercial suicide but I wanted people in India to see it. After 24 hours it had been viewed 20,000 times.

How do you want people who see your film to react?
Tourists in Kashmir go from hotel to houseboat to taxi. They never see what’s happening to real people. I hope this film will get them out of the taxis to speak to Kashmiris. I hope it inspires more filmmakers.

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