Archive | February, 2012

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Sublime connection

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

The sleepy border town of Nakhon Phanom has been receiving a lot more visitors since the opening last November of a road link across the Mekong, dubbed the third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.

Phra That Phanom is a familiar sight even to people who have never been to Nakhon Phanom. Located within a temple about 50km south of the provincial capital, this sacred reliquary was built some 1,500 years ago in a Laotian architectural style. It is 53ǒ metres high and the multi-tiered umbrella at its apex denotes its religious significance.

Anukul Tangkananukulchai, governor of this northeastern province, said he expects a good deal more foreign tourists to make stop-overs in the town on their way to Laos, especially now that it has become easier to fly up from Bangkok.

“With the new AirAsia link, in addition to the existing daily service by Nok Air, the bridge will definitely contribute to the growth of business and tourism here,” he said, adding that he expects the bridge to boost the value of trade between the two countries by as much as 30% within the first year alone.

The town’s main points of interest, from an historic or archaeological perspective, are located along the river.

There’s the former governor’s residence, a two-storey, colonial-style mansion built almost a century ago, which has been converted into a museum, plus a striking Catholic church dating back to 1926, and several Buddhist temples.

The third Thai-Lao Friendship bridge is 780 metres long and spans the Mekong about eight kilometres north of Nakhon Phanom town. Opened last November, the 1.723 billion baht bill for its construction was footed by the Thai government.

But a stroll along the footpath next to the mighty Mekong is reward enough in itself. Across the river one can clearly see the terraced mountainside above the town of Thakhek.

”We have the best panorama of the Mekong here,” enthused our guide, Suriyon Monsiengthong, ”The view is just like a [traditional] Chinese landscape painting, don’t you think?”

The comparison may sound exaggerated unless you’ve actually been here on the river bank just after sunrise and have seen for yourself the magical quality of the light and the way the mist seems to cling to the mountain ranges just across the water in Laos. It really is a living work of art. In terms of ethereal beauty I’d give the scenery here as high a mark as Guilin in southern China. Other Thai towns on the Mekong like Chiang Khan (Loei), Sangkhom (Nong Khai) and Khong Chiam (Ubon Ratchathani) are charming in their own way, but none can compete with this splendour.

In addition to picturesque vistas, Nakhon Phanom is also home to one of the best known and most sacred stupa in all of Thailand. Called Phra That Phanom, it was erected some 1,500 years ago to store what is said to be the breastbone of the Buddha, which locals believe was transported there by a celebrated monk. The original structure collapsed in 1975, after being lashed for four days by torrential rain. It was reconstructed four years later with the help of the Fine Arts Department. Suriyon reminded us of the Thai belief that everyone should make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lifetime.

”We believe that if you pay respect to Phra That Phanom seven times, you will become a real devotee which will bring you luck and more opportunities to visit Nakhon Phanom,” our guide added.

Crossing the frontier via the new bridge or by boat, one arrives in Thakhek, the main town in the province of Khammouane. Almost the first thing one notices is the number of elegant colonial-style buildings lining its streets.

One of the main landmarks here is Phra That Sikhottabong which is believed to have been built around the same time as Phra That Phanom. This, like the famous stupa on the Thai side on the river, is highly revered by the local population.

Even a couple of days’ holiday is now enough to give you a taste of life on both sides of the river here _ thanks to the currently availability of cheap flights from Bangkok.

The small airport in Nakhon Phanom used to handle about 16,000 arrivals a year, but airport director Sunyaluk Kraibutr is expecting a big increase this year in the number of passengers.

”Happy Air have also been in contact with us,” he revealed. ”They have plans to launch a service between Bangkok and Danang [in Vietnam] with a stop in Nakhon Phanom en route. Although the planes will only be able to carry 34 passengers, we see it as a promising development. There is potential for Nakhon Phanom to become one of the aviation centres of the Northeast.”


Nakhon Phanom is about 740 kilometres northeast of Bangkok. Two low-cost airlines, Nok Air and AirAsia, offer direct flights daily from Bangkok.

- AirAsia ( is using a brand-new Airbus A320 on the route, an aircraft which has a capacity of綴 passengers. It leaves Suvarnabhumi daily at 1:20pm; departure time for the return flight is 3:45pm. The journey takes 75 minutes.

- Nok Air ( operates two flights each way per day from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport, with 65 seats on each.

This Laotian-style phra that (stupa containing relics of the Buddha) is located within Wat Mahathat, not far from the old governor’s house on Sunthon Vijit Road. It is believed to have been erected around 607 on the orders of local Laotian ruler Phraya Maha Amat. It resembles Phra That Phanom but is not as substantial, being only 24 metres in height. Locals believe that if you were born on a Saturday you must pay respect to the relics enshrined here in order to prosper and enjoy good health. The main viharn (chapel) in this temple houses some interesting, Laotian-style Buddha images.

This is Phra That Renu in the Renu Nakhon district of Nakhon Phanom. It was built in 1918 to house Buddhist scriptures, gold Buddha images and Buddha relics and the architectural style was intended to mimic that of Phra That Phanom.

Nang Aen Cave is one of the most popular destinations in Thakhek district. It’s actually a network of flooded caves some 17km deep. Boats can be hired to take you on a cruise into the interior; it costs about 200 baht a person for the four-hour excursion. According to a local guide, there are plans to build a luxury hotel not far from the entrance to the cave and develop the area into a major tourist zone.

This 10-room, colonial-style mansion was built about 95 years ago for Phra Phanom Nakaranurak, first governor of Nakhon Phanom. It later became the official gubernatorial residence. When Their Majesties visited the province in 1952, the governor at the time surrendered the house for their use. Feeling it would be inappropriate for commoners to use the bedroom in which the king and queen had slept, the governor closed the house a year later and had a new official residence built nearby. The mansion lay vacant for 22 years until a decision was made in 2008 to renovate it and reopen it as a museum. It now displays photos of historic significance taken around the province, collections of old Thai coins, lamps and ceramics plus other vintage items donated by benefactors. It is open daily (except Mondays and Tuesdays) from 10am to 6pm. There is no admission charge.

This attractive chedi is Phra That Sikhottabong located about six kilometres south of Thakhek town in Laos. It is believed to have been built some time in the 6th century which would make it a contemporary of Phra That Phanom. It was commissioned by King Nanthasen and is one of the most highly revered phra that in Laos. Before entering the temple, female visitors are required to don a sarong. That’s a local tradition that must be respected and no exceptions are made, even for women wearing long trousers or jeans �” like I was! A monk based at the temple blesses visitors with holy water and also gives those who want to make merit a sacred sai sin (short length of cotton thread) to tie around their wrists. The two young Laotian women in the photo are waiting their turn to make merit. They have prepared a selection of food for the monk’s lunch.

Saint Anna’s Church is located on Sunthon Vijit Road which is parallel to the Mekong. A place of worship for Catholics built in 1926, its beautiful architecture never fails to draw admiring glances. The best time to photograph the exterior is early in the morning when the sky is at its bluest. the doors were locked when we arrived there late in the afternoon, but we were able to locate the caretaker who seemed happy to open up and let us see inside. The interior is quite simple. A large, high-ceilinged chamber facing an altar, with a pulpit, from which the priest delivers sermons, off to the side. Stained-glass representations of Jesus on the cross and other biblical scenes adorned the walls. A small flight of wooden stairs led to the roof, but the caretaker advised against an ascent, saying the structure was very rickety. You can get a nice view of Laos from the river bank here.

This clock tower is a prominent Nakhon Phanom landmark built as a memorial to Vietnamese immigrants who returned to the country of their birth in񎦨. The area boasts lots of old wooden shophouses and the atmosphere here reminds me of Chiang Khan, another border town on the Mekong — but during the low season for tourists. A street market is held here on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Mekong is a major source of food for all those living near it and no matter where you go along its banks you can always spot a few fishing boats. Some locals also use the river for irrigation, like this woman on the Thai side who is harvesting broccoli. She and her family have been farming vegetables here for years, she told me. They practise crop rotation and will soon be planting shallots on this plot. The only time of the year she can�t grow vegetables is during the rainy season. When asked if the level of the river was as the same as in years past, she replied that it seemed to be lower, but that there was still enough water to meet her needs.

Thakhek is the Laotian town opposite Nakhon Phanom. Although the bridge has been open to traffic since late last year, people are still crossing the Mekong by ferry, especially those who buy stuff in Thailand to sell in Laos. The short trip is made by long-tail boat and the one-way fare is 15,000 kip (57 baht). The boats operate every day from 8am to 6pm daily.

This market in Thakhek is quite big and sells everything from fresh meat to clothes, fashion accessories and farming tools. It is open from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. Next to it is the provincial bus station where you can board buses to Pakse, Vientiane or even go all the way to Vietnam. A local person told me that the journey to Vietnam takes the whole night and costs the equivalent of 600 baht.

The foods stalls at the night market in town is where many of the locals seem to hang out after dark. The long queue of customers for a khanom jeen (rice noodles) stall made me decide it was worth checking out. Instead of serving these bland noodles with the usual curry, this vendor was offering two types of soup as accompaniments; one flavoured with kapi (fermented shrimp paste), the other with fermented fish. A big bowl of each is put on the table so you can ladle out as much as you want onto your noodles. The locals consume this dish with a selection of steamed and raw vegetables plus an unusual kind of hard-boiled egg. The later is made by piercing the shell of an egg, emptying out the contents, mixing it some white pepper, soya sauce and herbs, pouring the lot back into the shell and steamed (or sometimes grilling) it. The first mouthful of khanom jeen with soup was a real surprise because the flavour was salty but also a little sweet. It was even more delicious when I added a spoonful of chilli-infused vinegar.

This vendor is making a Vietnamese-style delicacy called pak moh. They are made by pouring a rice flour and tapioca batter over a piece of muslin which is then steamed to make a delicate pancake which is then stuffed with a savoury minced pork filling. Very popular in Nakhon Phanom, consumed either as a snack or as part of a full meal, pak moh only cost 20 baht per serving. They are very filling so are great if you’re feeling really hungry!

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About the author

columnist Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Position: Reporter

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Biking manoeuvres in the dark

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

If “in-bed activities” are not necessarily limited to nighttime, why can’t an outdoor fun like mountain biking be enjoyed beyond the hours of daylight?

Around the world many bikers are doing so. And in a tropical country like Thailand where day temperature sometimes soars to over 40 degrees Celsius, riding after sunset really makes sense.

I’ve done some night rides before but they were only on city streets. Last Friday it was the first time I hit an off-road trail after dark. And not only that the temperature was comfortable, the lack of sunlight made the dirt track even more exciting!

I was tagging along after the Bangkok Hash House bikers who had their February group ride last weekend in Khao Yoi, Phetchaburi. The night ride was an extra activity for members who arrived there on Friday, a day before the group’s big monthly event.

There were 18 riders joining the night adventure. For safety reason, everybody was designated a number which allows easy member count. I was No. 4.

Like the others, No. 4 was well-equipped for the unlit terrain. A high-power light was borrowed from a friend and fitted to the handlebar. Another set was supposed to be fixed on top of the helmet but couldn’t; so I tied it to the backpack and used as blinking rear light instead. Inside the backpack, apart from 1.5-litre of water, there were also a spare tube and a mini-pump, crucial stuff I was normally too lazy to carry.

I was so satisfied with my unprecedented preparedness, then somebody tested his whistle and I suddenly noticed that everyone else also had one. Obviously, the purpose of the device is for informing the rest of the group should an emergency happen. Without it, No. 4 must make sure he always kept up with the others, or at least stay within a shouting distance, throughout the ride.

Around 7:30pm, the group rolled off in a single file, led by one of the “hares” the folks who had surveyed the trail and the only person who had a clear idea where we were going in the moonless night.

My borrowed light was bright enough to give me a decent visibility of the trail surface up to five metres ahead. Beyond that you see the lights of other riders in front. Rocks and holes on the surface were accentuated by harsh shadow it cast when hit by the strong light.

On the trail sides were bushes and farmlands covered in darkness. In the distance you can see profile of hills against the starry sky. On some of those hills, lines of forest fires were seen eating away fallen leaves, twigs and some younger trees that couldn’t withstand the burning flames.

Despite the hare’s previous recce and a GPS device, taking wrong turns was not unavoidable. But with everybody trying to stick together and constant member counting, nobody got lost.

At times, we rode through villages. Our presence prompted the dogs to bark and woke up the families. We were lucky they were kind people and some got out of their homes just to ask us where we were heading to at such hours. In my thought, had any of the villagers got cheesed off by the noisy “intruders” and greeted us with a gun fire, it would have been a big mess. Glad that didn’t happen.

The entire ride lasted about two hours, covering 20 or so kilometres. However, it seemed as if we had covered a much longer distance. For some, it was great fun ending too soon, for a few others who were looking forward to the next day ride it was kind of too much. I could feel the hare was under pressure trying to satisfy all members. But as an outsider, No. 4 just felt thankful and focused on the joy of riding.

The Bangkok Bike Hash’s next monthly gathering will take place on March 24-25 in Pattaya. Not sure if there will also be a night ride, though. However, you can find that out by simply checking the group’s website,

Meanwhile, I think it’s time I started being more serious about in-bed activities, oops, sorry I mean about searching for the best bike lights I can afford.

Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to or go to the “Freewheel Bangkok” community page on Facebook.

Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post’s travel editor and a mountain bike freak.

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We have videos of daily news summaries media reports coupled with commenary and analysis of key developments every Weekdays. Watch them all on Morning Focus page.

About the author

columnist Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor

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Creative use of land / Tokyo lags in attracting foreign companies

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

The following is the second installment in the “Creative use of land” section of a series of articles examining ways to restore Japan’s vitality. This part of the series will explore how to utilize land in the face of problems common to all parts of the country. This article looks at what should be done toward creating a community with a unique character.

For Erwin Gonzales, president of Japan Medical Tourism Inc., the Great East Japan Earthquake struck his business a double blow. Not only did his company lose many customers in the wake of the disaster, but his eight staff members returned to their home countries and have yet to return.

Japan Medical Tourism enables patients from overseas to receive advanced medical care in Japan. The company’s business performance had improved steadily since its establishment in 2009, but the Great East Japan Earthquake changed everything. JMT’s clients, who had totaled about 60 a month before the disaster, plunged to zero. Their numbers began to increase in autumn, but are still about one-third of prequake levels.

Gonzales, 37, said his business has been hurt by the impression that Tokyo has become dangerous since March 11. His company has begun discussions on offering cosmetic surgery tours to South Korea, where such procedures are very popular.

The downturn in foreigners visiting Tokyo after the Great East Japan Earthquake is well-documented. The number of foreign visitors staying overnight in Tokyo during summer to autumn last year was down 40 percent compared to the same period the previous year. However, Yoshihiro Seguchi, chief of the Tokyo metropolitan government’s comprehensive special zone promotion department, said Tokyo’s decline had begun long before the March 11 disaster.

In autumn 썚 when Seguchi became head of urban strategy, he was surprised at the data on listed foreign companies provided by the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The number of such companies, which peaked at 127 in 1991, had fallen to 12. Seguchi realized Tokyo “couldn’t survive globally if nothing was done.”

Out of this concern, the metropolitan government responded to a proposal from the Cabinet Office and applied for status as an international strategy comprehensive special zone. The metropolitan government compiled a plan to make Tokyo the preferred regional base for U.S. and European multinational companies and emerging companies in Asia. Tokyo was awarded the special zone status in December.

The main characteristics of the status are a reduction of the effective corporate tax rate and assistance to help foreign workers assimilate in Tokyo. The metropolitan government aims to invite more than 500 foreign companies to set up base in Tokyo by around 2017.

However, Seguchi remains cautious. “This idea is nothing new. Rival cities in other Asian countries are already doing the same things–it’s just that Tokyo has finally caught up and positioned itself at the starting line,” he said.

In 2003, reclaimed land around Incheon International Airport in Incheon, about 30 kilometers from Seoul, was designated as a free economic zone. High-rise buildings and companies’ research facilities were built on the vast plot of land, about three times the size of Setagaya Ward. About 870 companies have set up bases at the site, and U.S. Boeing is soon scheduled to join them when it builds aircraft repair and training facilities there.

Markus Stehle, vice president of Mando-Hella Electronics Corp., said the auto parts manufacturer set up a base in the zone in 2008 because of its proximity to the airport and the Chinese market. Stehle, 45, also said the atmosphere was very encouraging and supportive for foreigners.

People wanting to start a business in the free economic zone can use a so-called one-stop service to complete all the necessary paper work. Other services offered include English-language consultations for foreign workers and their families. An interpreter will accompany foreign workers at hospitals and free Korean language classes are also available.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, many foreign companies complain about the lack of business support and the living environment. According to a metropolitan government survey conducted last year on 25 organizations in Tokyo, including foreign companies, one respondent said, “There is no adviser who supports new business start ups.” Another said, “Getting the right information is difficult because we can’t use English at schools and hospitals.”

The main attraction of the Tokyo special zone is a reduction of the effective corporate tax rate. Yet despite being slashed from the current 41 percent to 29 percent, the rate is still higher than in Singapore (17 percent) and China (25 percent). This affects foreign companies’ views on whether it is worthwhile investing in and setting up a base in Japan. In fact, China overtook Japan in a survey asking which country was more attractive to such companies in fiscal 2009.

“In the past, foreign companies automatically gravitated toward Tokyo,” said Hiroo Ichikawa, a professor at Meiji University who specializes in urban policy.

“Although things changed after the economic bubble burst, Tokyo was not really alarmed. To make up for lost time, companies and administrative authorities must work together on some kind of project.”

Not wanting to wait for the government to act, some companies are already taking matters into their own hands.

To dispel growing concerns since the March 11 disaster, Mori Building Co. will build an emergency power generator in a building in Minato Ward, Tokyo, that is scheduled to be completed in August.

Mitsubishi Estate Co. plans to open in autumn a hospital staffed with English-speaking personnel.

The metropolitan government plans to adopt these ideas as part of its special zone.

Gonzales, who currently manages his company alone, said despite post-Marchಋ fears, Tokyo boasts a high level of public safety and a convenient transportation network. He added that Tokyo can still compete with cities in other countries if it is more responsive and open to accepting the needs of foreign companies.

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Japan phones built to survive showers, toilet-drops

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

BARCELONA (AFP) – Japanese women are so fond of their phones, they even use them in the shower, say manufacturers. This makes waterproofing a must — also good against rainstorms and accidents while texting on the toilet.

Panasonic and Fujitsu are touting their waterproof and dust-proof phones as they seek to charm the overseas market at the world’s biggest mobile phone show in Barcelona this week.

“In Japan, you can’t sell a phone if it’s not waterproof. About 90 to 95 percent of all phones sold now are already waterproof,” Panasonic executive Taro Itakura told AFP at the Mobile World Congress.

“Why? This is very unique — young Japanese women prefer to use their cellphones even when taking their showers,” Itakura said.

“Cellphones have become ‘must products’.”

Panasonic is looking to re-enter the European market after pulling out in 2005 to concentrate on its domestic sales.

“The reason we decided to come back is that there have been a lot of changes in this industry with the introduction of the smartphone,” which has become a “global product,” he said.

“In order to survive in this industry as a manufacturer, we, Panasonic, have to be strong in terms of global competition.”

It is not known whether Europeans share the Japanese fondness for phoning in the shower, but Itakura hopes they will consider the benefits for chatting in the rain.

A third of damages to phones comes from water, said Florian Sohn, a Panasonic marketing specialist for Europe.

“You may drop the phone in the bathroom, or bring it close to water when you wash your hands or it may fall inside toilets,” he said.

Dust-proofing meanwhile can appeal to customers such as construction workers, he added.

Fujitsu, which has a fifth of the Japanese smartphone and tablet markets, also sets great store by waterproofing.

“The mobile phone is with us 24 hours a day. It accompanies us to the bathroom, to the shower, or under the rain. So it is a necessity for the phone to be robust,” Nobuo Ohtani, Fujitsu corporate senior vice president, told AFP.

While better known abroad for their laptops, the Japanese giant is now also trying to sell phones to Western markets.

In Barcelona, it showcased its range of phones already available in Japan, as well as a new “quad-core” phone with extra processing power.

Besides being waterproof, the phone also appeared crack-resistant when hammered repeatedly with a falling steel ball.

Ohtani said Fujitsu’s smartphones will also offer “human-centric technology” that makes the devices easier to view or hear, a particular advantage for the elderly user.

This technology includes sensors that raise or lower the volume of a call, or even slow down speech if the caller is speaking too quickly.

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Keep females in Imperial clan: experts

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

Female members of the Imperial family must retain their status after marriage to maintain the Emperor system, experts told a government panel Wednesday.

Journalist Soichiro Tahara and Akira Imatani, a Teikyo University professor on medieval Japanese history, were invited to give their views at the panel’s first hearing. Panel members include Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito and Itsuo Sonobe, a former Supreme Court justice who was appointed as special adviser to the Cabinet on the issue.

Both Tahara and Imatani recommended that females be allowed to stay within the Imperial family after marriage, though with limits on their lineage.

“Times have changed and Japan has become a society that promotes gender equality. I think refusing to allow females to maintain their status is an anachronism,” Tahara told the panel. The session was open to reporters, though no cameras were allowed.

But creating female branches of the royal family raises various issues, such as how far the line would extend and what would be the status of commoner husbands.

Tahara and Imatani suggested a quasi Imperial status for such husbands, permitting them to attend official events and keep their jobs, though perhaps with some restrictions.

Tahara cited Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, who is married to the daughter of Prince Mikasa, the youngest brother of the late Emperor Showa. Such a job should be permitted, though one in the financial industry, for example, might not be.

“There will be various restrictions (for the husbands) but that cannot be helped. . . . Some may have to” quit or change jobs, Tahara said.

The idea of creating matrilineal branches has surfaced amid concern that the Imperial family is rapidly shrinking due to an Imperial House Law that stipulates that women who marry commoners must abandon their status.

There are currently 23 Imperial family members, including the Emperor, but only seven are male. Four are over Ȝ years old. Meanwhile, there are eight single women in the Imperial family, six of whom are over the age of 20.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Tahara noted some are concerned that creating female lines will lead to heirs to the crown from the maternal side. By law, only the sons of emperors can ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.

Tahara said that in his view empresses should be allowed but the discussion of a maternal line is a different story.

Throughout history, there have been eight empresses.

“Japan has a history of female emperors but traditionally, the emperor system has never had heirs from a maternal lineage,” Tahara said. “The discussion of creating female family branches and allowing heirs from maternal lineage to succeed the throne is completely different.”

The government panel will hold one or two hearings a month and hear from various experts on the issue.

While no deadline has been set, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday that the government did not intend to “continue the meetings forever.”

Tahara also said that members of the Imperial household should not be allowed to marry foreigners.

He recalled being asked by European journalists a few decades ago why Emperor Akihito married a commoner rather than someone from his class, and why he didn’t look abroad if no Japanese women were suitable.

“Not once has there been foreign blood in the Imperial family — that is the tradition. I don’t think I was able to explain it properly, but I told (the journalists) that Japanese people would not like it, and that I couldn’t agree, either,” Tahara said.

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Paris's Best Boutiques for Spring Handbags

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

By Jennifer Ladonne


Say goodbye to the ubiquitous hobo bag: This spring, sleek, structured handbags in fresh colors are popping up in Paris‘s most fashionable districts. These four standout boutiques offer some of the city’s best handbags, many of which can only be found in Paris.

Moynat: Classic Luxury Updated

Move over Vuitton and Goyard, the gleaming Moynat boutique is Paris’s newest luxury destination. Grande dame of 19th-century Paris luggage makers, Pauline Moynat famously combined innovation with high style. The revived label evokes the best of her work adding elegant modern touches. Take the two-toned Quattro tote; fully reversible in gorgeously detailed leather, this supple yet durable bag offers both utility and style. This is the only Moynat shop in the world, a great excuse for a quick trip to Paris. 348 rue Saint Honoré;

Tila March: Cosmopolitan Sleek for Women on the Go

Open for barely a year, the sleek Tila March boutique near Saint Sulpice quickly became catnip for super-stylish Parisians on the go. Designed by an ex fashion editor who knows exactly what the cosmopolitan woman wants, these sophisticated daytime bags and totes in durable nubuck suede sport classy leather closures and come in an array of dreamy hues—periwinkle, peppermint, mustard, and cocoa. The superb shoes and sandals are icing on the cake. 24 rue Saint Sulpice;

Avril Gau: Versatility with Retro Touches

Avril Gau designed for the big boys—Robert Clergerie, Chanel, Loewe, Stephane Kélian—before opening her romantic shop on boutique-lined rue des Quatre Vents. With modish shapes and streamlined clasps, these versatile bags have subtly retro appeal. The fetching midsize Renee sports a curved flap in alternating buttery calfskin and suede; in cognac and bold coral, it makes an elegant statement. With stylish shoes, sandals and boots, small leather goods, and some jewelry also on offer, the work of hunting down top fashion finds is pretty much done for you. 17 rue des Quatre Vents;

Philippe Roucou: Red Carpet-Worthy Elegance

On super-chic rue Charonne, Philippe Roucou channels muses from dance and cinema for some of the most gorgeous bags in Paris. Mixing calf, lamb, raffia, and beautiful shades of python—like dusty rose or pale silver—the totes and day and evening bags are a mix of elegant and sexy. A ruched clutch in black lambskin goes seamlessly from day to night; in aqua or fuchsia python, attached to a wide wristband via a delicate gold chain, it’s borderline naughty. Whether sporting black spheres, gold shell casings, or teal rooster feathers, the tiny Isadora is always the most glamorous bag on the red carpet. 30 rue de Charonne;

Thinking of a trip to Paris?

For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our online Paris Travel Guide.

Photo Credit: Paris Shopping Woman via Shutterstock

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Japan struggles with tainted reactor water

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

Foreign correspondents were taken on a tour of the blasted Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. The WSJ’s Phred Dvorak talks to Jake Schlesinger what she saw at Fukushima.

OKUMA, Japan—Nearly a year after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami sparked triple meltdowns at reactors here, the taming of Fukushima Daiichi has become in large part a quest to control water.

Foreign journalists on a tour of the Fukushima Daiichi compound Tuesday saw fields of squat, gray water-storage tanks; miles of orange, black and gray hoses; an AstroTurf-covered barge full of contaminated water; and white-suited workers huddled in a field preparing space for a new water container.

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A journalist measured radiation levels at stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant, Okuma town, on a Tuesday tour.

Water is crucial to the continued safety and stability of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, even after reactor temperatures fell at the end of last year to a level at which little radioactivity is being emitted. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. is still injecting hundreds of thousands of gallons into the reactors every day to keep them from overheating again. Because that water and groundwater—now contaminated—is leaking out of the reactors at an estimated 10,000 tons a month, cleaning it up and storing the excess is a constant challenge.

When the temperature drops, as it is expected to do Tuesday night, there is the added problem that the water might freeze, bursting out of hoses, tanks and pipes.

Tepco says workers have been installing heaters near key equipment and wrapping pipes with insulation, starting with the most important ones that could cause the worst spills. Still, the company said frozen pipes likely caused 28 leaks in January and February. In one of the worst incidents, more than 8 tons of radioactive water leaked from a pipe in reactor No. 4 in early February. Tepco said the water had a low level of radiation, and drained into the basement without leaving the building.

“We’ve been taking steps to prevent freezing, starting with critical facilities like those for storing water from the reactors,” Takeshi Takahashi, Fukushima Daiichi’s new plant manager, told reporters Tuesday at the plant’s command center. Like much of the staff there, Mr. Takahashi, a serious-looking man with dark circles under his eyes, was living at the center.

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Kimimasa Mayama/Press Pool

Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactor No. 6, center, on Tuesday.

The water problem isn’t one that will go away soon: Tepco has to keep bathing the nuclear reactors in cooling water until the fuel is removed. And until Tepco can plug the leaks and cracks in reactor piping and buildings, contaminated water will keep welling out. Officials estimate it will take six years to plug the leaks and 25 to remove the fuel.

The heart of Fukushima Daiichi’s waterworks is atop a hill in the middle of the compound, in the back of a blue truck. There, three pumps send water coursing through thick, black, insulated hoses and into the three damaged reactors below. Next to that truck is a white one with three more pumps�€”emergency backup.

A third truck holds the emergency diesel generators that are supposed to power the pumps if the electricity goes down, as it did on March 11 of last year. At that time, the generators on the lower floors of the reactor buildings were destroyed by the tsunami. This time, they are set high enough on the hill so that they might remain dry if another big wave comes, said a Tepco official.

[FUKUSHIMA2]Jana Press/Zuma Press

Workers at the plant continued with painstaking cleanup efforts.

On the far side of the reactors, pumps suck contaminated liquid out of the reactor building basements and send it through a series of white, block buildings where oil, cesium and salt are removed.

One facility for removing cesium was created by Kurion Inc. of Irvine, Calif., featuring equipment so big it could only be transported by a special Russian aircraft, Tepco officials said. Another was made by France’s Areva SA, which came up with an intricate system of pipes and valves that took 50 welders more than a month to put together, Tepco said. The Areva system isn’t being used now.

A third cesium-removal facility was made by Toshiba Corp. Tepco says that one is the main decontamination system in use. Toshiba and support companies deploy 140 workers to operate and monitor the water-processing system, and another 20 to oversee pumping and circulation, through a 2.5-mile line of pressure-resistant hoses. Tepco has two sets of backup lines in place as well, in case the main line gets blocked and needs to be flushed out.

Some of this cleaned-up water goes back up to the truck at the top of the hill, to get rerouted through the reactors.

But much of it gets stored in the squat, gray tanks that have replaced the trees that once grew throughout the sprawling Fukushima Daiichi compound.The tanks store water that has a high saline content, which can damage equipment, explains one Tepco official. Water at other stages of processing are stored in containers of other shapes and colors. Tepco has the capacity to store 165,000 tons of contaminated water, said Katsuhiko Iwaki, deputy manager of the Fukushima Daiichi stabilization center. About 125,000 tons of water already is being stored. The company plans to expand capacity to about 205,000 tons, he said.

Fukushima Daiichi also has one floating container for contaminated water. “There’s Megafloat,” said Mr. Iwaki, pointing to a big, flat AstroTurf-covered barge quietly anchored in the sea by the side of reactor No. 1. The barge was originally created to be a floating fishing pier for the southwestern city of Shizuoka.

—Mitsuru Obe contributed to this article.

Write to Phred Dvorak at

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Nuclear-free summer looms over Japan’s west in risk to recovery from quake

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

Enlarge image
Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

The No. 3, left, and No. 4, reactor buildings stand at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power station at dusk in Takahama Town, Fukui Prefecture, Japan.

The No. 3, left, and No. 4, reactor buildings stand at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power station at dusk in Takahama Town, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Enlarge image
Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Pedestrians walk past a restaurant in Osaka, Japan.

Pedestrians walk past a restaurant in Osaka, Japan. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Enlarge image
Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Nuclear-Free Summer Looms Over Japan’s West

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Commercial buildings in Osaka, Japan. The Kansai area accounts for about a fifth of Japan’s economy.

Commercial buildings in Osaka, Japan. The Kansai area accounts for about a fifth of Japan’s economy. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Japan’s economic rebound from the
deepest contraction among advanced nations after Greece and
Portugal may be stunted this year as power shortages threaten
its western region.

The Kansai area, which accounts for about a fifth of
Japan’s economy and escaped the worst of electricity cutbacks
after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, last week lost its
final operating nuclear plant. Power supply may be up to 25
percent less than peak summer demand if plants are not
restarted, according to Kansai Electric Power Co. (9503)

Shortages drive up costs and force manufacturers to shift
work schedules to lower-use periods, disrupting supply chains
and adding to reasons to go abroad. The yen’s 47 percent climb
against the dollar in the past five years has already hurt
competitiveness enough to prompt firms from Nissan Motor Co. (7201) to
Kansai-based Panasonic Corp. (6752) to move some operations overseas.

�œHigher energy costs come on top of a strong yen and a
shrinking domestic market for industries from steelmakers to
major manufacturers,” said Martin Schulz, a senior economist at
Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo who has done research for
the Bank of Japan. �œIt’s another reason to shift production
overseas — another brick in the wall.”

Only two of 54 reactors in Japan are operating after
meltdowns at three of six at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (6503)’s
Fukushima plant in last year’s disaster. By late April, a nation
that received about 30 percent of its power from atomic stations
before the quake may be at least temporarily nuclear-free.

‘High Uncertainty’

Nationwide electricity rationing could cut gross domestic
product growth by 1.8 percentage point to 0.1 percent in the
fiscal year starting April by capping industrial production,
discouraging investment and limiting exports, the Institute of
Energy Economics, a government affiliated think-tank estimated
in December.

The potential hit to growth would affect an economy just
starting to gain momentum after contracting for three of the
past four years. The government reported today a larger-than-
forecast gain in industrial production in January after retail
sales data yesterday also exceeded estimates.

In Osaka, Kansai’s biggest city, electric wire manufacturer
Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. (5802) will spend 5 billion yen ($62
million) on generators and other preparations for power
shortages and is also budgeting for energy costs to rise,
President Masayoshi Matsumoto says. “With 6 to 7 billion yen,
we could build a plant in Vietnam and make profit,� Matsumoto
said. “Moving production overseas is of course one of the
options we are considering.”

Rating at Risk

A diminishing manufacturing base and energy constraints
threaten to add to deflation, the world’s biggest public debt
burden, and an ageing population in hobbling an economy that’s
smaller now in nominal terms than it was in 1995. Gross domestic
product shrank 0.9 percent last year, compared with
International Monetary Fund estimates in September of declines
of 2.2 percent for Portugal and 5 percent for Greece.

Standard Poor’s said last week that Japanâ€�s AA- debt
rating, the fourth-highest ranking, may be cut again if growth
prospects worsen in the medium-term, while the Bank of Japan
referred to “high uncertainty” over power supplies when easing
monetary policy on Feb. 14. Liquefied natural gas imports rose
to a record in January and the nation had its biggest monthly
trade deficit.

The yen traded at 80.58 per dollar yesterday, compared with
a post World War II high of 75.35 in October.

‘Biggest Concern’

“The biggest concern from this electricity shortage is
that we are making companies have no choice but to move
overseas,” said Shigeru Suehiro, head of statistics at the
Institute of Energy Economics, a Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry affiliated think-tank founded in 1966. “It will leave
a significant impact on Japan’s economy.”

Panasonic, the world�€™s largest maker of plasma televisions,
said in November it would build a solar cell plant in Malaysia.
Nissan, Japan’s second-biggest carmaker, shifted output of its
March compact from Japan to Thailand in March 2010, citing the
yen’s strength.

Last year, officials imposed 15 percent reductions for
heavy power users in the wrecked northeast region of Tohoku and
in the Kanto area where Tokyo sits. In the rest of the country,
reductions were voluntary.

At the industry ministry, Noriyuki Mita, a policy planning
division director, said that while officials want to avoid
mandatory electricity limits, that depends on decisions about
nuclear power. A group of four cabinet ministers, led by Prime
Minister Yoshihiko Noda, will decide if or when reactors closed
for servicing can restart after last year’s disaster raised
safety concerns.

Stress Tests

All 11 of Kansai Electric’s reactors are now out of
service. While two may be ready to restart in April, Noda said
Feb. 10 that even if reactors pass stress tests and are
technically ready, the government won���t give approvals to power
companies unless local authorities agree.

Around the country, only three of 29 local governments
housing plants will accept restarts, with 24 authorities
undecided and two against, the Sankei newspaper reported Feb. 4.
In Kansai, officials have signaled opposition.

“Last year we took measures such as moving days off to
conserve power by the 10 percent we were requested,” said
Shinki Kawanami, a spokesman for Maruichi Steel Tube Ltd. (5463), a
pipe and tube manufacturer based in Osaka that supplies
Mitsubishi Corp. (8058) “This summer will be much tougher,” he said,
adding that the company has looked at shifting production to
plants in other places.

Extreme Option

Electronic equipment maker Daihen Corp. (6622), also based in
Osaka, and a supplier to Kansai Electric, sees shifting
production elsewhere as “an extreme option,” according to
environmental section chief Koji Moriyama. “We hope that, once
safety is taken into account, nuclear plants will be restarted
quickly,” he said.

Industry Minister Yukio Edano told BS Asahi television on
Feb. 24 that it’s “necessary” to restart nuclear reactors to
avoid power shortages, provided that it can be done safely and
with the agreement of local residents.

In the west, some people express skepticism that any
action will come quickly enough.

I think people are underestimating the impact of this
electricity shortfall,” said Masataka Nakagawa, head of the
economy and industry department at the Osaka Chamber of Commerce
and Industry. Telling manufacturers to save power again this
summer is “like asking someone who’s already skin-and-bones to
go on a diet.�

To contact the reporters on this story:
Andy Sharp in Tokyo at;
Toru Fujioka in Tokyo at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Panckhurst at

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Japan says may cancel Lockheed F-35 if price rises

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:16am EST

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan may cancel orders for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets in the case of a price rise or delivery delay, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said on Wednesday, putting Tokyo’s choice of next-generation combat aircraft in doubt.

Tokyo has warned Washington against increasing the price, but this was the first time Tanaka had raised the possibility of cancelling the order in public.

The Pentagon this month confirmed plans to put off orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years to save $15.1 billion, a move that a Lockheed executive said would increase the price of the radar-evading warplane.

Japan is due to pay 9.9 billion yen ($122.96 million) per fighter for an initial batch of four that are scheduled for delivery by March 2017. Japan plans to buy 42 in total.

“As for the first four planes, I expect an official contract to be concluded by this summer. If it turns out they cannot meet what they have proposed by that time, that would raise concerns about our defense capability,” Tanaka told parliament.

“I believe we would need to consider as a potential option matters like cancelling our orders and starting a new selection process if that is the case.”

Continued schedule delays and talk of lingering technical issues have prompted the eight countries that are helping to fund Lockheed’s development of the new plane — Britain, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands — to rethink their own near- and long-term plans.

Japan, which is concerned about China’s rapid military buildup and constant threats from impoverished North Korea, in December chose the F-35 over combat-proven but less stealthy rivals.

The F-35 competed against Boeing’s F/A-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of European companies including BAE Systems.

Lockheed Martin has said it is committed to providing F-35s that meet the cost, schedule and industrial requirements of the Japanese government, but added that F-35 pricing is determined by talks between the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Japan’s defense budget has been under pressure with the country saddled by a public debt twice the size of its economy.

Stealth technology has drawn much attention in Japan since China, which has a long-running territorial dispute with Japan, confirmed last year it had held its first test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter jet. ($1 = 80.쾞 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Tim Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Softbank wins coveted high-speed bandwidth

Posted on 29 February 2012 by admin

Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:25am EST

TOKYO Feb 29 (Reuters) – Japan’s Communications
Ministry panel said on Wednesday that it will allocate Softbank
Corp a coveted 900 Megahertz spectrum for high-speed
mobile services, as Japan’s No.3 mobile phone operator races to
strengthen its network.

Softbank, which supplies Apple Inc’s iPhone in
Japan along with KDDI Corp, is locked in a race to beef
up telecommunications networks in a mobile market dominated by
NTT Docomo Inc.

KDDI and NTT Docomo already have the rights to high-quality
bandwidths. Expectations that Softbank would gain the rights
have helped its share price rally 14 percent this month.

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