"Weirdest stories of the year -- From dogwashers to washed up whales"
「今年の奇妙な物語 － 犬洗い屋から砂浜に打ち上げられたクジラまで」
Only in Japan, where Italian cuisine is frequently flavored with corn, mayonnaise and Tabasco sauce, could a Hokkaido pizza chain make national headlines -- for opening the country's first coin-operated dogwash.
Owners can shampoo Spot for just 500 yen and another 200 yen gets Butch blow-dried.
Farmers a little more to the south in Sendai were going bananas over the "monkey forecast" that told them in advance where they should go to counter the marauding Japanese macaques that had plundered their crops for years.
"We don't have hard figures to prove how effective it is, but it certainly is working," a local official said.
In something that's become a tradition in Japan, also copping the raw end of the stick were whales. Claiming that rescue efforts of beached whales were "too costly and dangerous," a government panel recommended that they be eaten instead.
It certainly wasn't a good year for marine mammals, as a stricken dolphin could attest over the summer. Just days after local divers rescued it from harm in Sagami Bay, it turned up again after having been harpooned.
Also betrayed where the thousands of tourists who had kept the Aichi Prefecture town of Kira afloat for decades by bathing in its hot springs with supposedly mysterious recuperative powers.
Turns out the "miracle water" had been coming from taps for years. "We were more worried about finding a new source of spring water and the effect of revealing the well had dried up to think about telling the public about it," Kira tourism official Masami Hayakawa said.
Saitama's National Goldfish Dipper Champion was used to stooping low to scoop out the guppies that made him a legend in the sport, but few suspected he would stoop as low as he did by cheating in the national championships of a sport that is still basically just a game for pre-school children.
A Tokyo postman paid the price for being a spoilsport, too. He was sacked for refusing to deliver letters to one of his creditors.
Staying away was also the name of the game for heart pacemaker wearers, who were warned by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare not to go near the latest models of rice cookers, whose electromagnetic waves could end up cooking their goose.
Parents were shaking in their boots after learning that a Chiba nurse had used a less than conventional pacifier with one tot in her care -- a vibrator.
And, could anywhere else but Japan see a local government to offer tax breaks to love hotel operators willing to turn their establishments, many of which come fully equipped with S&M dungeons, into childcare centers?
With that sort of background, it's almost blase that a pornographic filmmaker was swamped by applications after advertising for a job requiring schoolgirl actresses.
"We had more of them turn up than we could handle," blue movie director Mikinao Nakajima told the police shortly after his arrest.
Even more balls were on display in Yokohama Bay, where a 41-year-old golfer was sent to the prosecutors for using the cove as his personal driving range.
Iraqi terrorists have little to fear if Japan's Self-Defense Forces do eventually make it anywhere near them, especially considering some 1,600 soldiers spent most of a training exercise in July looking for an assault rifle that a sergeant has somehow mislaid.
Something was definitely smelly about Valentine's Day this year, which Japan celebrates by having only women give sweets to men, as chocolate-scented roses sold like, well, hotcakes.
Raising a stink of an entirely different kind was a revolutionary new diet tea, whose run on the market turned out to be a bit too close to the mark as the Health Ministry warned against its consumption because it was actually a laxative.
Also execrable was the version of corporate compassion displayed by Japan Airlines, which made its female employees with children draw straws to see who had to work night shifts.
Japanese companies have long been accused of coddling workers, but instant food giant Nisshin had some wondering whether it had lost its noodle when it decided to send newly appointed managers to live on a deserted island, their only food the chicken ramen that propelled the company to glory.
"We want them to tackle this training, and their job, just as the company started -- from nothing," Nisshin's PR man said.
Nisshin's novel approach to business makes it a popular employer, especially in these times of record unemployment, but one of Japan's largest organizations resorted to unprecedented means to try and bolster its ranks. Yamaguchi-gumi, the country's largest yakuza gang, had to advertise in sports newspaper classifieds to try and find new blood willing to carry on the centuries-old tradition of organized crime in Japan.
"Younger generations no longer see any charm in the yakuza world," non-fiction writer Atsushi Mizoguchi told the Mainichi.
(By Ryann Connell, MDN Staff Writer, Dec. 24, 2003)