The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 10 March 2016

Image: Kohei Take

Working hard

Hot on the heels of a labour ministry report showing that more than 200,000 workers in Japan were illegally pushed to do unpaid overtime last year, one Japanese company is doing its bit to improve the work/life balance of its employees. Food giant Ajinomoto is negotiating a deal offered to staff to reduce working hours by 20 minutes a day for the same basic pay. It might not sound like much but in a country where unofficial overtime is the norm – many feel the report only scratched the surface – this deal could see workloads cut by 80 hours a year from next April. Last year the Labour Standards Inspections Office ordered 1,330 companies across the country to pay their workers unpaid salaries amounting to about ¥14bn (€113m).

Image: Reuters

Warm welcome

The White House is dusting its cut crystal and polishing the silverware today as Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a state banquet hosted by President Obama, the first of its kind for a Canadian leader in 19 years. The affection both leaders have shown each other since Trudeau’s election victory in October marks a clear thaw between the two countries, whose relationship frayed under the premiership of Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper. Washington views Trudeau as someone it can do business with despite initial reservations about the Liberal government’s plan to withdraw Canadian bombers from the fight against Isis in Syria and Iraq (Canada’s combat role recently came to an end). Nonetheless the hosts and guests of honour will be all smiles later this evening as glasses are raised to a relationship that is largely back on track.

Image: Tan Hai Han

Mane attraction

Anyone doubting the merit of Singapore’s recent Unesco Creative City of Design award clearly hasn’t visited the Lion City of late. Design appreciation is at fever pitch as Singapore Design Week, Maison & Objet Asia and cult magazine conference U Symposium collide. Local and overseas talent is inspiring a nation purposefully striving to forge a unique cultural identity with a pro-innovation government backing budding creative industries. Our top pick of the week has been Singapore’s star hotelier Loh Lik Peng speaking at Maison & Objet Asia’s Interior Design & Lifestyle Summit alongside Ken Okuyama, the Japanese industrial designer. This weekend at the U Symposium a dream cast of indie publishers such as Apartamento, Cereal and Popeye are lined up to explore the future of our favourite print medium: the magazine.

Image: Getty Images

Emerald city

Historic architectural landmarks present quite the dilemma in today’s increasingly eco-conscious world: their oft-outdated infrastructure means they tend to consume energy at rapid rates yet, as key parts of our cities’ visual identities, we don’t want to do away with them. “Reimagine a New York City Icon”, a recent competition dreamt up by Metals in Construction magazine and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York, has tackled this brainteaser. Architects and engineers were called upon to submit designs to reclad Park Avenue’s famous MetLife Building with an eco-friendly exterior that retains the boxlike structure’s distinctive look. The six winners, who will split a $15,000 (€13,500) prize, were announced last week, with designs spanning a double glass “skin” that regulates interior temperatures and a vertical green wall set behind a sleek glass façade. Though only theoretical – none of the blueprints will become reality – the competition is a worthwhile exercise in thinking about how to turn treasured monuments into green machines.

From Monocle 24

Spencer Hyman

Spencer Hyman has manufactured Cabbage Patch dolls in Thailand, translated Monopoly into Japanese, worked at Amazon, helped run Last.fm and founded Artfinder. He explains why he’s now betting big on his chocolate subscription service Cocoa Runners.

From Monocle Films

Monocle Briefing: Retail Spotlight

When is a shop more than just a shop? To find out Monocle Films visits three brick-and-mortar businesses in Toronto, Paris and Madrid that are offering unique products and impeccable service.

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