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Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2000

Just the facts, ma'am

Staff writer
FACTS AND FIGURES OF JAPAN, 2000 edition. Tokyo: Foreign Press Center, 116 pp., 1,300 yen.
SOCIAL SECURITY IN JAPAN, by Go Miyatake. Tokyo: Foreign Press Center, 80 pp., 1,800 yen (paper).
CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE RELIGION, by Nobutaka Inoue. Tokyo: Foreign Press Center, 73 pp., 1,000 yen (paper).

For people who need quick access to English information on Japan, the Foreign Press Center has an excellent solution in its annual Facts and Figures of Japan" booklet and "About Japan" series.

The latest edition of "Facts and Figures of Japan" gives readers instant access to information on over 200 areas in 23 fields, ranging from government and economy to crime, science and the environment.

Concisely written and employing numerous charts and tables, the FFJ includes comparisons with other countries or past years to help put statistics in perspective.

For example, in four fact-filled pages, the defense section outlines the basics of Japan's defense policy, cites the size of the Self-Defense Forces and how much money was spent on defense as far back as 1965, lists comparisons with other nations and features a public-opinion survey on defense issues.

Packing a lot of information into a very small space, the FFJ belongs on the desk of anyone interested in Japan.

The Foreign Press Center's excellent About Japan Series provides brief but well-rounded studies on current topics of interest. "Social Security in Japan" and "Contemporary Japanese Religion," two of the 16 booklets available, have been updated.

In 1997, Japan's population structure reached a milestone. For the first time ever, people aged 65 and over exceeded those under 15. As the working population shrinks and the number of retirees swells, providing adequate care for its elderly will be one of Japan's greatest challenges in coming years.

"Social Security in Japan" contains a detailed but easy-to-understand explanation of the new nursing-care insurance system -- the cornerstone of the government's effort to provide for its graying population.

Other aspects of Japan's social-security system covered here include summaries of national insurance schemes, welfare services and public-assistance programs.

Some people blame it on a lack of spiritual education in the postwar period. Others say it's a millennial phenomenon. Whatever the cause, concern is growing over the activities of some new religious groups, such as Aum Shinrikyo or the self-styled prophet who bilked followers of millions by "reading" their soles.

Exploring the role religion plays in contemporary society, Professor Nobutaka Inoue touches on traditional faiths but directs most of his attention to the new religions that have sprung up around Japan. Among the subjects covered are the relationship between new religions and changes in postwar society, the religious environment surrounding Japanese youth, state regulation of religion and an in-depth look at the Aum Shinrikyo organization.

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