Tuesday. 30/7/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Junichi Toyofuku

Out of office

In recent years we have witnessed a widespread moral panic about Japan’s demanding work culture. After several high-profile cases of karoshi – death by overwork – the government in April ushered in a labour reform that included a cap on overtime. Detractors believed that the plan would fall flat – flatter, in fact, than a frazzled executive in a damp doorway after a 37-hour shift at the office.

But yesterday saw evidence (well, a murmur) that the plan might be working. According to government data drawn from citizens’ smartphones, the financial and office districts saw a large decrease in the population in the evening while the areas with bars and restaurants were found to be busier than they were previously. This suggests that workers are cutting the overtime and making a beeline for places in which to unwind after downing tools. While the change is incremental, it hints that there might be a better working culture for Japan in the coming years.

Politics / Russia

Worried sick

Russia’s best-known opposition political activist, Alexei Navalny, is now out of hospital and back in detention after being rushed from his Moscow prison cell on Sunday morning suffering from what authorities have said was “hives”. (His lawyer and personal doctor have disputed the diagnosis.) The dissident was jailed last week for encouraging the weekend’s anti-government protests in Moscow. Putin is rattled, so just how worried should Navalny be? Russia analyst Stephen Dalziel told Monocle 24’s The Briefing that poisoning “is a well-known way that the current Russian regime has of dealing with its opponents – either killing them or trying to disable them.” He added that international name recognition, like Navalny has isn’t enough to keep the dissident safe.

Aviation / South Korea & Japan

Heavy cloud, no plane

Korean Air announced plans yesterday to suspend flights between the South Korean city of Busan and Sapporo in Japan as of September. The measure comes amid a fall in demand for the route owing to increasing enmity between the two countries. Seoul and Tokyo have hit a rough patch and a lingering postwar animosity is gathering momentum after a series of trade spats. Earlier this month a feud erupted over Japanese controls on exports of materials for microchips. Citizens in South Korea responded by boycotting Japanese products; beer brand Asahi and fashion firm Uniqlo are among those feeling the pinch. Leaders from the region are in Bangkok this week for the Asean summit; it’s an opportunity, perhaps, to clear the air.

Politics / Israel

Money talks

When the US controversially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the latter as Israel’s capital, the Knesset hoped that others might follow suit. This hasn’t happened (except for Guatemala) so the government has devised an unambiguous initiative to get things under way. Yisrael Katz, the minister of foreign affairs, has proposed a $14.2m (€12.7m) budget to foot the cost of moving an embassy or to send abroad as foreign aid to the country in question – a literal quid pro quo. It’s a crude proposal, which will be voted on in the coming weeks, but one that’s likely to work: moral scruples are worth less than popular support on the political stage, as the US move showed, and even less so when there’s cash on the table.

Transport / Atlanta

Safety first

Following two recent rider deaths, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has banned issuing permits to e-scooter companies. Ridership in Atlanta is at an all-time high; the legislation won’t extend to current permit holders but it will limit the number of e-scooters and electric bikes to less than 12,000. Advocates for alternative mobility rail against the city’s reliance on cars; they say that the deaths could have been avoided if the city had dedicated lanes for e-scooters. But Felicia Moore, president of the city’s council, believes that the problem lies not with the vehicles but with the people riding them. From regularly discarding e-scooters to whizzing recklessly down the interstate highway, this bad behaviour extends from Paris to San Diego. Bottoms’s ban, then, is a smart move to curb dangerous riding and a step towards safer scooting.

M24 / The Monocle Culture Show

‘Queer Eye’

We assess how Queer Eye has transformed the makeover genre – and what it has done for queer TV in general. Ben Rylan is joined by critics Scott Bryan and Toby Earle, who also offer tips on the shows to stream now.

Monocle Films / North Macedonia

Skopje: starting again

A nation defining its identity – or architectural vandalism? We head to the capital of North Macedonia to investigate a controversial building project.

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