South Koreans take Christmas very seriously, apparently:
South Koreans dressed in Santa Claus take a written exam in a Santa Claus School class for the Christmas holiday season at the Everland amusement park in the Seoul suburb of Yongin, South Korea. Christmas has become increasingly popular over the years in South Korea.
Not to sound like Scrooge, but these photos are kind of terrifying.
In the November/December issue of FP, Jeff Chang's article, "It's a Hip-Hop World," described the social, political, and even economic implications of hip-hop's appeal to young people around the globe. It appears, however, that age is no longer a factor in hip-hop's growing popularity. In China, the "hip-hop grannies," a 30-member group of retirees, perform hip-hop dance routines for both entertainment and high-energy exercise. Most of the members are over 60, but that hasn't slowed them down. The group is now performing on tour and taking China by storm.
I know the saying "you're only as old as you feel," but I don't think I can imagine Grandma Lewis taking part in this particular international trend.
The Swedish engineering consulting firm Sweco has determined that Santa Claus should begin his annual worldwide toy delivery in Kyrgyzstan—to be exact, at latitude (N) 40.40°, longitude (E) 74.24°—and continue his journey in a westwardly direction in order to maximize efficiency of distribution and avoid placing undue strain on his reindeer.
They would still have to fly at 6,000 km, or 3,700 miles, per second, though. But I suppose that the conventional limitations of physics aren't really an issue here.
Based on the famous London Underground map, this map contains the major cities of the world that have underground transportation. It also has the same fun distortions that the Tube map has to make everything fit. For example, to get from Tehran to Dubai, one must go through Haifa. And Pyongyang appears to be south of Tokyo, when in fact the opposite is true. The map also cleverly reflects what's actually going on in certain parts of the world. Most of Africa is "Under Construction" and Siberia is a giant wasteland for public transportation.
Too bad this map isn't available for purchase. I'd rather have this for Christmas than the actual book it's promoting, although that looks pretty cool too.
(Hat tip: BKNY 2.0)
In 2003, the U.S. Library of Congress paid $10 million for the first map in world history to use the name "America." The map goes on display in Washington this month, but researchers remain puzzled by its startling accuracy. Produced in 1507 by a German monk named Martin Waldseemüller, the map estimates South America reasonably well and even includes a large ocean to the west—years before the Pacific was discovered. Here, 500 years after its creation, is the famous Waldseemüller map:
And here's what it looks like up close:
Things are looking pretty grim in Belgium right now. The elected prime minister has submitted his resignation after yet another round of talks failed to form a government that would bring together parties from the country's linguistic groups. It now falls to King Albert to attempt to cobble together some kind of fragile coalition that would hold the country together. Guy Verhofstadt, the outgoing liberal Prime Minister who was defeated 176 days ago continues to lead the government under an arrangement of dubious legality. The triumphant Paul Belien is making me eat my own words.
But wait, what's that smell? Is that the crackle and bubble of a deep fryer I hear? Why yes, national frite week is here! A week-long celebration of Belgium's national dish. The Telegraph reports:
Polling has found that 98.5 per cent of Belgians agree that the "chip shop is part of our cultural heritage of which we must be proud".
Indeed, Bernard Lefèvre, president of the union of chip-makers, believes that in a country so split along linguistic fault lines, only the chip is "typically Belgian".
"A chip shop is like Belgium in miniature," he said. "We are not a revolutionary people. The political problem still seems to be something above us - it is like watching foreign television. And even the most separatist of people would not dream of saying that fries are Flemish or Walloon."
For once, I think that the U.S. Congress in its infinite wisdom may have pointed the way. I propose that Belgium's parliamentary cafeteria begin serving "unity fries" immediately.
Apparently, Australia boasts about 150 of what the folks down under like to call "Big Things." It all started back in 1964 with the "Big Banana":
Here's the "Big Oyster," which appears to be some sort of car dealership and actually looks more like a clam:
And here we have the "Big Macadamia Nut":
And the "Big Gold Panner":
Here's the "Big Pineapple":
And my personal fave, the "Big Shrimp":
We've all heard about cars powered by wacky biofuels, including switchgrass and leftover French fry oil. Now, two British men who love the environment are trekking from Britain to Timbuktu in a truck whose fuel comes from cocoa butter extracted from waste chocolate (as in, like, misshapen Easter bunnies).
The vehicle is a Ford Iveco cargo truck, and as it travels 4,500 miles to Timbuktu, it will burn 2,000 liters of biodiesel originating from 4,000 kg (8,800 lbs.) of misshapen chocolate. That's enough of the sweet stuff to make 80,000 chocolate bars.
On Friday, the chocomobile crossed the English Channel by ferry, and after a sweet ride through France and Spain, it will hop onto another ferry to Morocco. Once it vrooms through Mauritania, it will plow through Mali's deserts until it arrives at Timbuktu, the city once regarded in the West as being at the ends of the Earth and which today is in a region that is being buried under sand.
The two Brits behind this stunt are, of course, trying to bring attention to biodiesel, a renewable resource that generates lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels. It seems unlikely that fueling vehicles with cocoa butter could be achieved at a large scale—that would require a tremendous amount of chocolate or, perhaps, tanning oil—but if the men's journey makes more people aware of the benefits of biofuels in general, that would be a sweet success.
My friend Beth stumbled across a Web site that ranks the readability of blogs. What level of education is required to understand your favorite blog? Type in the URL here, and voilà! It tells you the reading level. The site actually rates any Web site, not just blogs. So, dear readers of FP Passport, you will be glad to know that you are currently reading at high-school level. You are officially more edumacated than those who only look at the ForeignPolicy.com home page without delving into the blog. They read at a junior high-school level.
What about the readability level of some other popular Web sites out there? New York Times (junior high school), Washington Post (high school), Financial Times (genius), Economist (genius), Arms Control Wonk (college undergrad), Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish (high school), Daniel Drezner's blog (high school), the State Department's Dipnote (high school), and the Huffington Post (junior high school).
And the readability of the home pages of presidential candidates? Here are a few: Hillary Clinton (elementary school), Rudy Giuliani (genius), Barack Obama (genius), Mitt Romney (elementary school), John Edwards (genius! His blog, however, is at junior high-school level), John McCain (junior high school).
This silliness reminds of a Web site that was all the rage a few years ago: The Dialectizer. Type in a URL, and the site will translate it into your choice of dialects, including "redneck," "jive," and "cockney." The headine and intro for The List on FP's Web site this week, translated into Elmer Fudd-speak, reads: "De Wist: Five Weasons to Be Dankfuw Dis Danksgiving." Oh, dat scwewy wabbit!
Hat tip: BKNY 2.0 (elementary school)
Further proof that hip-hop is spreading around the world:
My man Jay-Z has been a wonderful partner to the UN, and a champion of those in need around the world."
That's U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Jay-Z, giving the rapper an award last week for his "Water for Life" campaign to promote access to safe drinking water as part of the Millennium Development Goals.
For more on the growing popularity of hip-hop in unlikely places around the world, read Jeff Chang's "It's a Hip-Hop World" in the current issue of FP. You can also read an interview with Detroit promoter Dana Burton, who happens to be the godfather of hip-hop in China, and watch two Chinese rappers face off on a Shanghai stage.
Just in time for Guinness World Records Day Thursday, a church steeple in Suurhusen, Germany, has been declared the most tilted tower in the world, toppling the record of the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Guinness World Records found that the 13th-century church's 15th-century steeple tilts an astonishing 5.07 degrees, while Italy's circa-1372 defending champ in Pisa only tilts 3.97 degrees. Nevertheless, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is still taller. At 185 feet (56 meters) tall, it towers over the 84-foot (26-meter) German steeple, which rests on a wooden foundation and sodden soil. And with its ornate columns, arches, and cornices, Pisa's leaning tower is nicer to look at.
Check out the video here:
Starting tomorrow, the United States will experience "Movember," a month when men from all ages and walks of life will sport a distinctive mustache, ranging from a little fuzz to an outright walrus look. Don't worry, it's all for a good cause: to raise awareness about prostate cancer, a disease that affects one in six men in the United States.
Since it started in Australia in 2003, Movember—which combines the Australian slang for mustache (mo') with the designated mo-growing month of November—the annual event has raised more than $8 million. Participants, known as "Mo Bros," take donations in exchange for not shaving their upper lips for a month. The money then goes to the main prostate-cancer charity in the home country of the participant. Movember now has official Web sites for six countries, and people from other countries are still able to register and participate.
The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Needleman seems skeptical. She writes, "Convincing... business professionals... to grow mustaches -- even for a cause -- may be tough in the U.S., where mustaches aren't currently in vogue and facial hair runs afoul of corporate grooming norms." But, um, it's not exactly a fashion statement in Australia either—which, of course, is kind of the point. As Adam Garone, one of the three co-founders of Movember, puts it:
The mustache is a vehicle to get [men] talking... What we say is you're essentially donating your face for a month. You become a walking billboard because you walk into a meeting and you're forced to explain yourself."
Indeed, the success of Movember largely depends on men in the corporate world taking a risk to grow a mo'. During the past few years, the competitive spirit in the world of finance has translated into big bucks for prostate-cancer research—around 25 percent of the total Movember money raised, according to Garone. It will be interesting to see how Movember does in its first year in the United States. And it will be almost as interesting to see hordes of Wall Street bankers with their new looks. Good luck, Mo Bros!
UPDATE: Passport reader Arjew Tino writes in with a hard-hitting report from the Movember crowd in DC.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono released his first music album today. According to Reuters, the CD features ballads and religious songs that the president wrote himself. The former general's talents were not unknown. During his election campaign in 2004, Yudhoyono would occasionally woo supporters with a few songs, and his crooning obviously didn't cost him the presidency.
Another Indonesian general, former Armed Forces Chief Wiranto, is widely expected to run for the presidency in 2009 and may seek to reclaim his title as Indonesia's top singing general. In 2000, Gen. Wiranto released his own CD of ballads that he sings himself. Wiranto indicated that profits from the CD sales would go to help Indonesian refugees from the war with East Timor.
And the list of world leaders known to belt out a few notes is not restricted to Indonesia:
Let's just hope that Hillary Clinton doesn't get any ideas from all this singing.
BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM: Helen Park, an avid collector, adjusts her My Little Ponies as they are displayed at the International My Little Pony Convention at the Redwood Hotel and Country Club near Bristol on October 26, 2007, in England. Fans of the toys were in the city to celebrate 25 years Of My Little Pony (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
There's a convention for everything these days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is known for bringing out in public his beloved dog Koni, a black Labrador retriever. In fact, he has even used his large dog to intimidate German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is reportedly scared of dogs due to a childhood biting incident.
Putin has also revealed a macho "my dog is bigger than yours" mentality in ridiculing U.S. President George W. Bush's Scottish terrier, Barney. When Bush once visited Putin's summer home, Koni came running out, and Putin said to Bush, "Bigger, tougher, stronger, faster, meaner—than Barney."
But Putin's little secret is that he has a special place in his heart for the most unmacho of dogs, his poodle Tosya. Putin has tried to keep his fondness for Tosya hidden, ever since news of the poodle made some Russian men perceive him as a wimp. (Today, Tosya is conveniently described as belonging to Putin's wife Lyudmila.) And the poodle is pampered. A 2005 interview with Tosya's hairdresser revealed that the poodle's fur is trimmed "in lion's style" once or twice a month for 150 euros ($213 at today's exchange rate) per trim.
Photos of Tosya have been extremely difficult to come by, but Scottish Terrier and Dog News, the authoritative source for news on Scotties and other canine-related matters, which has been following the story closely, recently announced that a photo has finally emerged. The photo, included here, shows Putin in the throes of affection with Tosya. So much for ridiculing Barney!
So maybe Hugo Chávez does have a "prize-winning record of managerial incompetence," as Andy Webb-Vidal argues in a new FP web exclusive, "Dumb and Dumber," but perhaps he has other talents. For instance, can he carry a tune? It seems that when not admonishing his countrymen for buying alcohol, luxury cars, and breast implants ("the latest degeneration"), Venezuela's president can still get down with his bad self:
All of his sermonizing about vices and virtues might make Chavez seem like a prudish sourpuss to some, but he also likes to party — in his own clean way.
He says he unwinds with pickup baseball games or outdoor bowling matches known as "bolas criollas." And during marathon speeches he breaks into song frequently — so often, in fact, that one aide compiled recordings of him singing on an "All Time Hits" CD, which has yet to be released to the public.
"There I am singing, but it's terrible," Chavez said.
Forget Kevin Spacey, he should be talking to Timbaland! Check out Chávez on vocals here and judge for yourself.
Earlier this week, Passport speculated as to why the mood of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il improved so dramatically from Tuesday to Wednesday during his summit with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. On Tuesday, Kim looked sullen and glum, but on Wednesday, he was all smiles, even asking Roh if he wanted to extend his stay for a few more days. Was Kim putting on a show for the international community? Was he happy about the agreement to end the decades-long Korean War, or relieved about the agreement to dismantle nuclear weapons?
None of the above. Knowing Kim is a film buff, Roh gave him a stack of DVDs of South Korean movies and television shows. One was "Jewel in the Palace," a television show about a cook for the Korean royal family back when the peninsula was unified. It stars Lee Yong-ae, rumored to be Kim's favorite actress. For a guy who loves movies so much that he once kidnapped a director and actress and forced them to fulfill his cinematic vision, it's a nice gift.
It's also ironic, considering Pyongyang prohibits DVDs from the South. Here's how the government enforces the ban, according to Reuters:
A routine tactic used by North Korean police is to cut the electricity to apartment blocks before a raid and then go to each home to check what is on video tapes or DVDs that have become stuck inside players.
The downside for Kim is that he's going to have to enjoy his DVDs on an old television. It was rumored in the South Korean press that Roh would present Kim with a flat screen TV. That idea was scrapped - the TV would have violated UN sanctions prohibiting luxury good exports to the North.
Being a bit of a travel guidebook junkie, I was intrigued to hear that the BBC just plunked down an undisclosed amount (though there are whispers) for a 75 percent stake in the Lonely Planet universe of books, Web sites, and TV travel programs.
LP sells about 7 million books a year (several of them to me) and its main site garners more than 4 million viewers a month. But the Beeb is apparently after LP's vast store of content - content that's ripe for spinning into related TV and Web programs in the very lucrative travel market. What's more, Lonely Planet is a trusted brand with a 30-year history. I imagine it's a good deal for them.
Hearing the news about the purchase reminded me of this great recent post on the blog of the Far Eastern Economic Review. According to a FEER correspondent, Chinese authorities apparently consider Lonely Planet China's version of recent history 'inconvenient.' Copies of the travel guide in Shanghai bookshops were thus the target of some very clumsy censorship. As in, medical-tape-over-passages clumsy. They must have been out of Sharpies that day.
Russians must be feeling a tinge of nostalgia today, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. But while the days of immense public curiosity and excitement for space exploration are about as over as the Soviet Union, the space race is still alive and kicking. In this week's list, FP takes a look at some of latest frontiers in space research and the unexpected cosmic challengers who are gearing up to take on American space dominance. From Mars to space weapon, the race is on.
But we left off a few out-of-this-world ideas that might just belong on the pages of a science fiction novel:
Going up? Forget loud, jarring rockets. Imagine taking a smooth ride up a 62,000-mile cable into space on a cosmic elevator. Although I couldn't explain the physics behind it for the life of me, scientists have been looking at possible plans for a space elevator constructed of carbon nanotubes. NASA and the Spaceward Foundation are holding a competition in Utah this month for the best design.
Greening outer-space Despite the rush to wean the world off dirty energy sources, space-based solar power is still waiting on the sidelines. The vision is quite simple: Platforms that capture sunlight are put in space and the resulting energy is then beamed down to Earth. Col. M.V. "Coyote" Smith, space-based solar panels' biggest fan, spearheaded a study (without any funding) for the National Security Space Office in an attempt to convince the Pentagon of the technology's feasibility. To add to the geek appeal, he then gave his presentation in Second Life.
Five-star accommodation $4 million for a three-night hotel stay? Only if it's in orbit. Xavier Claramunt plans to have Galactic Suite, the first space hotel, up and running by 2012. Of course, there is a lot of planning that goes into accommodating people in a zero-gravity atmosphere, like figuring out how guests can shower. Claramunt's solution: a spa room where bubbles of water will float around you.
Of course, we can debate whether spending millions of dollars and unquantifiable amounts of brain-power into these kinds of space endeavors is really the most prudent use of our resources. And for countries like China and India, there are countless terrestrial causes that could benefit from the investment otherwise going into establishing massive space programs. But if anyone is offering a free ride on a space elevator and a stay at the nearest galactic hotel, sign me up.
Whatever street cred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earned himself in Tehran for last week's appearance at Columbia University in New York, he has certainly become an object of mockery in the United States. His denial of the existence of gay people in Iran (later, in a U.N. news conference, he reiterated that he didn't know of any homosexuals in Iran and asked a reporter for their addresses) was a crystallizing moment. It's obvious to anyone that there are gay people in Iran. So even if Ahmadinejad is telling the truth about Iran's nuclear intentions (doubtful), his preposterous statement about homosexuality will serve for many as all the evidence they need that this guy is a big, fat liar. This will prove useful to the Bush administration if it decides to attack Iran down the road (a big if at this point).
But for now, he's just an object of ridicule. And nobody does ridicule better than New Yorkers. Exhibit A: This hilarious mock gay love song to Mahmoud performed by Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and Adam Levine of Maroon 5. Check it:
On the right: A young boy in a traditional Bavarian costume Oktober-rests in a cart during the Costume and Rifleman's Parade Sunday in Munich, Germany. The procession, which features oompah bands and people in Bavarian costumes, takes place annually on the first Sunday of Munich's Oktoberfest beer festival, which this year began on Saturday and lasts until Oct. 7.
Other highlights from the opening weekend include:
The United Nations is nothing if not diplomatic. Witness the following sign, which graces the press room here at U.N. headquarters in New York:
Visions of the future generally reveal more about the time in which they are created than the time they are predicting. Take for example this film of rocket pioneer Werner von Braun describing humanity's space-bound future, made during the early days of the space race. Or this article from the rapidly industrializing America of 1900 predicting that all wild animals would be extinct by 2000 and that Nicaragua and Mexico would join the union after the completion of the Great Nicaragua Canal. (Both of these examples can be found on the fantastic Paleo-Future blog, which specializes in this sort of thing.)
It is with this history in mind that I approach the World Future Society's just released Forecasts for the Next 25 Years. The predictions are quite interesting, and about as plausible as the ones above probably seemed when they were made. Not surprisingly, wariness about the rise of China is prevalent. The WFS predicts that a water shortage in China will cause the price of commodities around the world to increase. They also believe that India's future development is more viable than China's because of its greater political transparency and democratic institutions. All this reflects traditional wisdom in political economy, but I'm not so sure. For the past few years, China has specialized in disproving the traditional wisdom. The WFS also reflects current fears about global warming in forecasting, "The costs of global-warming-related disasters will reach $150 billion per year." As the Times pointed out this week, 20 years ago, the depletion of the ozone layer was leading scientists toward similarly gloomy predictions. Admittedly, global warming will be a much tougher problem to address, but the future may surprise us.
Here's the best prediction, though:
Forecast #4: We’ll incorporate wireless technology into our thought processing by 2030. In the next 25 years, we'll learn how to augment our 100 trillion very slow interneuronal connections with high-speed virtual connections via nanorobotics. This will allow us to greatly boost our pattern-recognition abilities, memories, and overall thinking capacity, as well as to directly interface with powerful forms of computer intelligence and to each other. By the end of the 2030s, we will be able to move beyond the basic architecture of the brain’s neural regions.
As I sit here using this primitive input system to create this post, the thought of being able to use my vastly improved interneuronal connections to research foreign policy and find links for blog posts (I imagine it would look something like the above postcard from 1910) gives me a supremely nerdy glimmer of hope about an otherwise bleak-seeming future. And maybe that's what futurism is really about.
Members of a local Chinese dance troupe wait at the entrance to Sydney's Luna Park, 18 September 2007, for the arrival of the Special Olympics' "Flame of Hope". Sydney is one of the key international destinations on the Torch's epic world journey, which sees it touch down in five continents before arriving in Shanghai for the 2007 Special Olympics World Games being held 2-11 October. (Photo: GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Interested in a 180-year-old country with great beer, surrealist art, and female tennis players—and no functioning government? Boy, have we got a deal for you.
This week, a Belgian prankster put his country up on eBay, promising: "For Sale: Belgium, a Kingdom in three parts ... free premium: the king and his court (costs not included)." The joke was a creative protest of the country's ongoing political crisis which Passport wrote about a few weeks ago.
Some readers thought our somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about the possibility of Flanders and Wallonia splitting was overblown, but Tuesday was Belgium's 100th day without a government and the crisis appears no closer to resolution. The leading Walloon newspaper, Le Soir, says the crisis can only end in "divorce or separate bedrooms" for Belgium's linguistic groups. The Economist has flat-out encouraged the country to call it quits. Even Belgium's would-be prime minister, Yves Leterme, claims there's nothing holding the country together but "the king, the football team, some beers."
Is it only a matter of time before the Belgian crisis has its own logo and theme music on CNN? While the situation certainly appears more serious, there stills seems to be a certain amount of schadenfreude driving the growing media coverage (including ours) of Belgium's possible breakup.
Today, Sept. 18, is the 25th anniversary of the smiley-face emoticon. At 11:44 a.m. on this day in 1982, Scott E. Fahlman, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, first typed the smiley-face emoticon, :-), on an online bulletin board as part of a discussion about how to signal that an online comment is being made in jest.
The historic phrase, located after a "heroic effort" of digging through ancient backup tapes, reads as follows:
I propose the following character sequence for joke markers:
Read it sideways.
A reproduction of the original bulletin board thread that gave rise to the emoticon is available here. (The discussion reveals that "&" and "#" were also proposed joke markers. The character "&" supposedly looks like a "jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter," and "#" supposedly resembles "two lips with teeth showing between them.")
Fahlman writes on his Web page about :-): "I've never seen any hard evidence that the :-) sequence was in use before my original post, and I've never run into anyone who actually claims to have invented it before I did."
Fahlman seems to have cemented his place in history as the creator of the smiley-face emoticon, which has spawned the creation of other emoticons and given Internet users worldwide the ability to express what in verbal communication is normally conveyed through tone of voice. In doing so, he has probably helped millions of people avoid all sorts of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. And that should make everyone feel :-).
Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has had enough of plagues, famines, droughts, hurricanes, and genocides. Chambers considers these incidents to be terrorists acts. To stop them, he's suing the person responsible for them—God.
Chambers, who before becoming a state legislator was a barber, filed a lawsuit last Friday in Nebraska's Douglas County District Court, naming himself as the plaintiff and God as the defendant, a permanent injunction "ordering defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats." Check out the suit here (pdf).
Some choice bits excerpted below:
God could not be reached for comment.
After 1,300 years, China has decided it will no longer engage in "panda diplomacy" by giving away its giant pandas in order to improve its relations with foreign countries.
"We will only be conducting research with foreign countries," a state forestry administration spokesman said. It appears that the last panda "gift" was made to Hong Kong to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the island's handover to China.
The policy change is likely to add to China's fattening wallet. Now, the country will rent out its adorable black-and-white furballs for as much as $1 million a year on 10-year leases—with a bonus if the panda gives birth.
This could be a good thing. Given the explicit research and conservation aim of the new program, we may see more accountability for what happens to pandas after they go abroad. Plus, it won't affect the recent APEC deal between Australia and China to bring two giant pandas to Australia's Adelaide Zoo, which will be part of China's 10-year lease program. Adelaide Zoo chief executive Chris West believes the high cost of leasing pandas is "perfectly understandable." He adds, "Our interest as a zoo has been to support pandas in the wild, and any contribution that is made will do that." If zoos and nature reserves are willing to pay the price, it's likely they'll want to protect their cuddly investments as carefully as possible.
While soon-to-be former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is struggling with his health following his resignation announcement, there are some people in Japan that have been injected with fresh lease on life: those in the manga industry.
Following the news of Abe's resignation Wednesday, shares in manga retailers jumped dramatically on speculation that Taro Aso, an avid manga fan, will soon replace Abe as Japan's PM. For instance, Broccoli, a retail chain selling games and comics, saw its share price leap 71 percent, and second-hand bookstore Mandarake closed 13 percent higher. Meanwhile, Japan's main share index fell half a percent.
But why has the manga market reacted so enthusiastically? Simply knowing that Abe's likely successor is a manga fan hardly explains the dramatic market movement.
Maybe investors sense that there may be more tangible benefits in the near future. While serving as Japan's foreign minster earlier this year, Aso was instrumental in creating the "Nobel prize" for foreign manga artists. He's keen on promoting manga overseas, arguing that the comics are a critical vehicle for enhancing Japanese diplomacy, with "warm feelings" for Japanese manga and anime translating into warm feelings for Japanese foreign policy, especially in the Asian region, where manga is already popular. Perhaps the investors responsible for the jump hope that Aso's manga diplomacy will prompt international markets to go crazy for the Japanese comics. Perhaps they even hope that Aso may provide more than just publicity. Whatever happens with the industry, one thing's for sure if Aso take the reins: Prince Pickles will be sticking around.
Janus, the Geneva Museum of Natural History's two-headed Greek tortoise, eats salad as it is presented to the press and the public during the official celebration of its 10th birthday, September 5, 2007, at the Natural History Museum in Geneva. Janus, named after the two-headed Roman god, was born September 3, 1997. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
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