Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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The Hindu Morning Digest: January 3, 2024

People search for survivors inside an apartment following a massive explosion in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on Jan. 2, 2024. An explosion killed Saleh Arouri, a top official with the Palestinian militant group Hamas and three others, officials with Hamas and the Lebanese group Hezbollah said.
| Photo Credit: AP

Home Ministry seeks to pacify truckers protesting new hit-and-run law

As transporters across the country struck work to protest the increase in punishment in hit-and-run cases in the yet to be implemented Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) convened a meeting with the All India Motor Transport Congress on January 2. Transporters, including bus and taxi unions, have called a nationwide strike from January 1 to January 30 to protest Section 106 of the BNS, which prescribes a maximum of punishment of 10 years in cases of rash and negligent driving. 

Roll-out schedule of 3 new criminal codes will be notified by January 26

The date to implement the three criminal codes that were passed by the Parliament in December 2023 will be notified before January 26, a senior government official said on Tuesday. The official added that it will take nine months to a year for the three criminal laws to be implemented across the country, and a pilot project is all set to begin in Ahmedabad in the next two months.

312 COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 cases detected in India

A total of 312 cases of COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 have been detected in the country so far, with about 47% of them recorded in Kerala, according to the INSACOG’s data updated on Tuesday. Ten States and 2 Union Territories have so far detected the presence of the JN.1 sub-variant of the virus. They are Kerala (147), Goa (51), Gujarat (34), Maharashtra (26), Tamil Nadu (22), Delhi (16), Karnataka (eight), Rajasthan (five), Telangana (two), and Odisha (one), according to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG).

Transport unions’ protest at Jantar Mantar on January 3 against new provisions on hit-and-run

Transport unions from across the country will join a protest at Jantar Mantar here on Wednesday against the new penal law on hit-and-run cases. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh will also participate in the protest on Wednesday and will host another gathering at Rajghat on Thursday.

Shahenshah enacted a law in Parliament against truck drivers, says Rahul Gandhi on truckers strike over criminal laws

Expressing solidarity with truckers who have gone on strike to oppose changes in the new criminal code, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday slammed the Union government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making laws without consulting stakeholders or the Opposition. Under the new criminal code, hit-and-run cases can attract up to 10 years in jail and a fine of ₹7 lakh. Those who operate commercial vehicles, including truckers and cab drivers, are opposed to this and have argued that they cannot pay such a high fine in the event of an accident.

Adani-Hindenburg case | Supreme Court to deliver verdict on ‘conflict of interest’ allegations against panel

The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment on January 3 on a plea to form a separate Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate Hindenburg Research’s allegations against the Adani Group. A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud had reserved the petition filed by Anamika Jaiswal, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had argued that the earlier committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice A.M. Sapre, had a “conflict of interest” on the issue.

CAA rules likely to be notified before 2024 Lok Sabha poll: Home Ministry official

The rules of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are likely to be notified before the announcement of the next general election, a senior government official said on Tuesday. Members of the Pakistani Hindu community who had entered India legally and their documents expired while awaiting citizenship will also be eligible to apply online under CAA, the official added.

Harvard president Claudine Gay resigns amid plagiarism claims, backlash from antisemitism testimony

Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned on Tuesday amid plagiarism accusations and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say unequivocally that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy. Ms. Gay is the second Ivy League president to resign in the past month following the congressional testimony. Ms. Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, announced her departure just months into her tenure in a letter to the Harvard community.

Hezbollah’s TV station says top Hamas official Saleh Arouri killed in Beirut blast

The TV station of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group says top Hamas official Saleh Arouri was killed on January 2 in an explosion in a southern Beirut suburb. Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing, had headed the group’s presence in the West Bank. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to kill him even before the Hamas-Israel war began on October 7, 2023.

Jet bursts into flames after collision with relief plane in Tokyo; five dead

Five people aboard a Japan coastguard aircraft died on Tuesday when it hit a Japan Airlines passenger plane on the ground in a fiery collision at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. All 379 passengers and crew on board the passenger plane, which burst into flames were safely evacuated, Japanese Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters.

Vodafone Idea says not in tie-up talks with Elon Musk’s Starlink, shares fall

Vodafone Idea is not in talks to tie-up with billionaire Elon Musk’s satellite internet unit Starlink, the Indian telecom operator said on January 2, sending its shares down 5%. The clarification from Vodafone Idea came after its stock surged in the past two sessions on what BusinessWorld said were “markets betting” that Mr. Musk was looking to buy a stake in the company to help Starlink enter India.

Core signals: Coal output growth at six-month low in December

India’s coal output growth slid to a six-month low of 10.75% in December 2023, with production levels nearing 93 million tonnes (MT), as per data released by the Coal ministry on Tuesday. Coal has a weightage of over 10% in the Index of Core Industries, which had slid to the lowest levels since March 2023 in November, with the growth rate slipping to a six-month low of 7.8%.

India in South Africa | India desperate to bounce back; looks to improve standing in WTC points table

Having lost the first at Centurion rather badly, India will be desperate to bounce back, ideally with a win, which it needs not just for its morale but for improving its standing on the World Test Championship points table. It is very early days yet, but the finalist of the last two championships is lying sixth. South Africa is on top, and it should be hoping to consolidate its position with another strong show against India. In Temba Bavuma’s absence, opener Dean Elgar will lead the side. 

AUS vs PAK third Test | Australia bids for Pakistan sweep in Warner Week

Australia will go for the tried and tested as they look to sweep Pakistan in their three-match series and send veteran opener David Warner out a winner at his home ground in his final test this week .Pat Cummins confirmed on January 2 that the same team that won the first test in Perth by 360 runs and the second in Melbourne by 79 runs would take the field for the final clash at Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday.

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Climate action or distraction? Sweeping COP pledges won’t touch fossil fuel use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A torrent of pollution-slashing pledges from governments and major oil companies sparked cries of “greenwashing” on Saturday, even before world leaders had boarded their flights home from this year’s global climate conference.  

After leaders wrapped two days of speeches filled with high-flying rhetoric and impassioned pleas for action, the Emirati presidency of the COP28 climate talks unleashed a series of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the world’s energy sector, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

The announcement, made at an hours-long event Saturday afternoon featuring U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, contained two main planks — a pledge by oil and gas companies to reduce emissions, and a commitment by 118 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy savings efforts. 

It was, on its face, an impressive and ambitious reveal. 

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive helming the talks, crowed that the package “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before,” referring to the Paris Agreement target for limiting global warming. 

But many climate-vulnerable countries and non-government groups instantly cast an arched eyebrow toward the whole endeavor.

“The rapid acceleration of clean energy is needed, and we’ve called for the tripling of renewables. But it is only half the solution,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production.” 

Carroll Muffett, president of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law, said: “The only way to ‘decarbonize’ carbon-based oil and gas is to stop producing it. … Anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”

The divided reaction illustrates the fine line negotiators are trying to walk. The European Union has campaigned for months to win converts to the pledge on renewables and energy efficiency the U.S. and others signed up to on Saturday, even offering €2.3 billion to help. And the COP28 presidency has been on board. 

But Brussels, in theory, also wants these efforts to go hand in hand with a fossil fuel phaseout — a tough proposition for countries pulling in millions from the sector. The EU rhetoric often goes slightly beyond the U.S., even though the two allies officially support the end of “unabated” fossil fuel use, language that leaves the door open for continued oil and gas use as long as the emissions are captured — though such technology remains largely unproven.

Von der Leyen was seen trying to thread that needle on Saturday. She omitted fossil fuels altogether from her speech to leaders before slipping in a mention in a press release published hours later: “We are united by our common belief that to respect the 1.5°C goal … we need to phase out fossil fuels.” 

Harris on Saturday said the world “cannot afford to be incremental. We need transformative change and exponential impact.” 

But she did not mention phasing out fossil fuels in her speech, either. The U.S., the world’s top oil producer, has not made the goal a central pillar of its COP28 strategy. 

Flurry of pledges  

The EU and the UAE said 118 countries had signed up to the global energy goals.

The new fossil fuels agreement has been branded the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” and earned the signatures of 50 companies. The COP28 presidency said it had “launched” the deal with Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the main obstacles to progress on international climate action.

Among the signatories was Saudi state energy company, Aramco, the world’s biggest energy firm — and second-biggest company of any sort, by revenue. Other global giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies also signed.

They have committed to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, to end the routine flaring of gas by the same date, and to achieve net-zero emissions from their production operations by 2050. Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, singled out the fact that, among the 50 firms, 29 are national oil companies.  

“That in itself is highly significant because you have not seen national oil companies so evident in these discussions before,” he told reporters.

The COP28 presidency could not disguise its glee at the flurry of announcements from the opening weekend of the conference.

“It already feels like an awful lot that we have delivered, but I am proud to say that this is just the beginning,” Majid al-Suwaidi, the COP28 director general, told reporters. 

Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, predicted: “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming.” 

But other observers said the oil and gas commitments did not go far beyond commitments many companies already make. Research firm Zero Carbon Analytics noted the deal is “voluntary and broadly repeats previous pledges.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate program director at the World Resources Institute, said it was “encouraging that some national oil companies have set methane reduction targets for the first time.” 

But she added: “Most global oil and gas companies already have stringent requirements to cut methane emissions. … This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis.” 

Some critics theorized that the COP28 presidency had deliberately launched the renewables and energy efficiency targets together with the oil and gas pledge. 

The combination, said David Tong, global industry campaign manager at advocacy group Oil Change International, “appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge.”

The charter, he added, “is a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash.” 

Beyond voluntary moves 

A push to speed up the phaseout of coal power garnered less attention — with French President Emmanuel Macron separately unveiling a new initiative and the United States joining a growing alliance of countries pledging to zero out coal emissions.

Macron’s “coal transition accelerator” focuses on ending private financing for coal, helping coal-dependent communities and scaling up clean energy. And Washington’s new commitment confirms its path to end all coal-fired power generation unless the emissions are first captured through technology. U.S. use of coal for power generation has already plummeted in the past decade. 

The U.S. pledge will put pressure on China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, as well as countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia to give up on the high-polluting fuel, said Leo Roberts, program lead on fossil fuel transitions at think tank E3G. 

“It’s symbolic, the world’s biggest economy getting behind the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And it’s sending a signal to … others who haven’t made the same commitment,” he said. 

The U.S. also unveiled new restrictions on methane emissions for its oil and gas sector on Saturday — a central plank of the Biden administration’s climate plans — and several leaders called for greater efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas in their speeches. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a “global methane agreement” at COP28, warning that voluntary efforts hadn’t worked out. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, urged negotiators to enshrine the renewables and energy efficiency targets in the final summit text. 

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, warned delegates not to get distracted by nonbinding pledges. 

“We need to remember COP28 is not a trade show and a press conference,” he cautioned. “The talks are why we are here and getting an agreed fossil fuel phaseout date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit.”

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting.



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Why Can’t the US Try Japan’s Marketing for ‘The Boy and The Heron’? | FirstShowing.net

Why Can’t the US Try Japan’s Marketing for ‘The Boy and The Heron’?

by Alex Billington
September 27, 2023

It’s the year 2023 and for the first time in 10 years we’re being graced with the presence of a new Hayao Miyazaki movie. The animation legend has directed his 12th feature, known in English as The Boy and the Heron, originally titled How Do You Live? (or 君たちはどう生きるか) in Japanese. The film already opened in Japan in July right in the middle of the summer, and it’s set to open in US theaters nationwide in December this fall. Described as a “big fantastical film”, it follows a boy named Mahito Maki, who discovers an abandoned tower in his new town and enters a fantastical world with a talking grey heron. The release in Japan was a fascinating experiment – because it opened without any marketing other than one poster and the title. Yet it did quite well – playing #1 at the Japanese box office for two weeks in a row in July. Though the initial reception in Japan was lukewarm with mostly positive reviews (no one called it a “masterpiece”), Western audiences are going crazy for it ever since its premiere at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival. But I’ve been wondering – why can’t the US distributor also open it without any marketing? And why did they cave?

Anyone that has been following FirstShowing for the 17 years we’ve been around knows I have always been super critical of Hollywood marketing, in a brutally honest way that bothers some who don’t dare mess with Hollywood. Sometimes they do brilliant things (e.g. The Dark Knight & Tron Legacy viral campaigns) but more often than not they make some mistakes or stick to the most generic, tried-and-true tactics. Nowadays, Hollywood marketing has relapsed into following some of the most boring, never-take-a-single-risk, follow-every-old-rule strategies. There used to be a time when marketing ideas would be so smart and fresh they’d influence pop culture and establish trends that others would follow, however nowadays they’re all controlled by existing trends and pop culture and mindlessly follow the latest fads like lemmings. Which is why I’m not surprised that GKids, the US distributor of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, decided to throw out the original Studio Ghibli no-marketing tactic and go with a conventional campaign. Perhaps they had no choice? Of course they had a choice. It seems they got cold feet, and decided they had to go back to old ways.

About a month or two before the movie’s initial Japanese opening on July 14th, 2023, reports from Japan quoted Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki saying they would release the film without any marketing material or plot synopsis or any images or anything else. Everyone knew about the movie anyway. “Over the years, we’ve done various things to get audiences to come see our films,” Suzuki told Bungei Shunju. “But I thought, ‘That’s enough of that.‘ It’s no fun doing the same thing over and over.” On the same day as the Japanese release in July, GKids in America (who has handled many Studio Ghibli & anime films) announced they will be releasing this movie in the US. Their initial press release included this fairly vibrant statement:

GKids states: “In an unprecedented decision by Studio Ghibli, no images, trailers, synopses, advertisements, or other information about the film have been made available to the public prior to its release in theaters in Japan. In keeping with this policy, GKIDS will not release any further details or marketing materials at this time.

Something happened between this announcement in July and the movie being selected to premiere at TIFF in September. For months there were rumors and speculation that How Do You Live? (what it was known by at the time) was going to premiere at Cannes or at Venice. It wasn’t ready for Cannes because, true to their word, Ghibli wanted the Japanese to experience the film first before any international audiences at festivals. After the Japanese release in July, then came more questions – will it be released internationally by the end of 2023 and by whom? When exactly? How long do the rest of us have to wait? Will it show up at film fests? Which ones? It’s showing at tons of other festivals this fall – after TIFF, it’s screening at San Sebastian, New York, Sitges, London, Chicago, Lyon; with release dates around the world set throughout the fall. Of course, the festivals MUST always have at least ONE photo for a film for its premiere. This is standard practice. But a few days before the TIFF premiere, GKids dropped a teaser featuring around 60 seconds of actual footage. No longer a surprise… It’s the same standard marketing tactic as most festival films that have a distributor.

While reading other articles about the Studio Ghibli marketing decision for The Boy and the Heron, I came across one that couldn’t understand the original Japanese strategy, claiming that “no one would even know about the film?! How would they know it exists?!” 🤦 🤦 Goodness. This is a blatant misunderstanding of marketing and how the world works, how people communicate with each other. Miyazaki’s film is a unique case. Of course it doesn’t make sense to try and open an indie film that no one has heard about without any marketing. But Hayao Miyazaki is a cinema legend! Yes, it’s true, he’s known around the world and beloved around the world. It’s also a complete misunderstanding to claim only Japanese people are familiar with his name and could be excited about a film just because he made one. Especially after Miyazaki announced he was “retiring” after The Wind Rises in 2013, followed by Studio Ghibli (historically one of the finest movie studios to ever exist) announcing they were also shutting down / no longer making anything new. The fact both came back and went into production in 2018 on a new Miyazaki film already put this on most people’s radar. Everyone knows it’s coming, they’re just waiting to see it. Which is why this innovative tactic worked.

The Boy and The Heron Trailer

Many movie fans are tired of trailers that show too much, and marketing overload that leads to exhaustion before a movie even arrives in theaters. This is all too common to encounter these days… Despite entirely bogus Hollywood marketing research claiming that “most” people are only interested in watching a movie (that isn’t some major franchise/IP they’re already familiar with) if they show them most of the movie in the trailer to hook them. I’ve never met or talked with a single person who agrees with that. Most cinephiles are tired of trailers like this. Even casual moviegoers will say, oh now they don’t need to waste their time/money watching a movie because most of it was shown in the trailer already. Why does Hollywood ignore all these voices and instead rely on some random market research they wasted money on? This is a common mistake within the Hollywood marketing system. Thankfully, Ghibli picked up on this vibe with audiences in 2023. Explaining why they made this no-marketing decision for the release, this is the quote that Suzuki provided:

“So, no trailers or TV commercials at all. No newspaper ads either. Deep down, I think this is what moviegoers latently desire. In my opinion, in this age of so much information, the lack of information is entertainment. I don’t know if this will work. But as for me, I believe in it, so this is what I’m trying to do.” –Toshio Suzuki

He’s right. Most importantly, it did work. Miyazaki’s highly anticipated new movie opened at #1 at the Japanese box office. I will let Wikipedia report the facts: “In Japan, The Boy and the Heron grossed $13.2 million (1.83 billion yen) in its opening weekend, becoming the biggest opening in Studio Ghibli’s history and surpassing Howl’s Moving Castle’s 1.48 billion yen debut in 2004. The film earned $1.7 million from 44 IMAX screens, setting a new 3-day record. It attracted 1.35 million viewers and exceeded 2.14 billion yen ($15.2 million) in box office revenue in its first four days.” It stayed in the #2 spot at the box office in Japan throughout all of August, only dropping to #4 after it had played for 7 weeks. That’s quite an achievement for a movie that had no marketing. Which is the point. It wasn’t their goal to maximize revenue, it was their goal to release a new Miyazaki movie and let fans experience it fresh, without anything guiding them before they go in to watch. This is an exciting experience. (It’s what I love about watching films at festivals, too.) Hollywood could & should learn from this, and I thought GKids would follow suit. Though apparently not… I guess fear took over and led them back to the safe comfort of their old tactics, which I think is depressing.

This is when someone usually exclaims, “well, Alex, that would never work outside of Japan! It only worked there because they know Miyazaki and Ghibli and love them already.” Yeah, not true. Not at all. Miyazaki is absolutely adored worldwide just as much as he is in Japan. No question about it. Ever since the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes took over Hollywood earlier in 2023, I’ve been lamenting how Hollywood has generally refused to try different marketing. They’re stuck on this archaic notion that actors doing interviews is the only real way to market a movie (or at least turn it into a box office hit). I was hoping some studios would try something new, try some clever ideas that might still get moviegoers’ attention. Every movie is different, and some require different campaigns, but Suzuki is right: “in this age of so much information, the lack of information is entertainment.” Even if it didn’t turn out to be a good movie in the end, the bold marketing tactic of releasing a surprise trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox during the Super Bowl (in 2018) at the same moment the movie is available on Netflix worked well (“According to Nielsen, nearly 785,000 viewers watched on the night of Super Bowl LII; by three days, over 2.8 million watched, 5 million after a week.”)

Why is Hollywood so afraid of doing anything different with marketing? Where have all the bold marketers gone? Why is doing something unique and innovative so scary nowadays? Especially if it has a proven track record of working. And why is GKids going against their own claim that they will follow what Studio Ghibli did and not release any info or marketing material? Maybe they were pushed by the festivals and by other distributors trying to release it worldwide. Maybe they got afraid that “no one would know about it” without marketing (which, for the record, is complete & utter nonsense, especially with these festival premieres). Whatever the case, I’m disappointed to see them give in and go back to the usual ways. Indiewire posted an article with the headline “The Boy and the Heron Is Studio Ghibli and GKIDS’ Biggest Marketing Challenge Yet” featuring quotes from GKids’ president of distribution, Dave Jesteadt, who claims “he’s not worried about the economics of the film and is confident audiences will show up.” The rest of his quotes sound like a stodgy old professor reading from his dusty textbook in Marketing 101 class at university, while students are trying to jump in with “but” & “well”, he just waves them off with his hand and points to the book. “This is the way, and we will never try anything different.” At least that’s what it sounds like from his quotes there…

I’m just tired of Hollywood never, ever having the courage to try something different, to do something new, to take a risk, and to let it pay off in the long run. There’s a simple strategy they could’ve followed – release nothing but one or two images during the festival run, create one new poster for the US release, let it open first in early December as they have it scheduled already. THEN release a trailer, THEN kick in marketing, THEN let the movie build to become a hit through December and January. This is even the perfect time to use that post-release buzz to get young generations who are not as familiar with Studio Ghibli to watch more of their films. They’ve already done this for years with Ghibli Fest re-runs. This is where real innovation in Hollywood marketing can come from – making bold choices. But I guess 2023 is not the year they want to try anything new. Suzuki’s quotes are still the best. He knows moviegoers want to watch good movies: “They’ll want to see for themselves what the film is about. And to do that, they’ll have to go to a theater.” Yep.

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Fukushima residents react cautiously after start of treated water release from wrecked nuclear plant

Fish auction prices at a port south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant fell Friday amid uncertainty over how seafood consumers will respond to the release of treated and diluted radioactive wastewater into the ocean.

The plant, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, began sending the treated water into the Pacific on Thursday amid protests at home and in nearby countries that are adding political and diplomatic pressures to the economic worries.

Hideaki Igari, a middleman at the Numanouchi fishing port, said prices of flounder, Fukushima’s signature fish known as Joban-mono, was more than 10% lower at the Friday morning auction, the first since the water release began.

The decades-long release has been strongly opposed by fishing groups and criticised by neighboring countries. China immediately banned imports of seafood from Japan in response, adding to worries in the fisheries community and related businesses.

A citizens’ radiation testing center said that it is getting inquiries and that more people may bring in food, water and other samples as radiation data is now a key barometer to decide what to eat.

Japanese fishing groups fear the release will do more harm to the reputation of seafood from the Fukushima area. They are still striving to repair the damage to their business from the meltdown at the power plant after the earthquake and tsunami.

“We now have this water after all these years of struggle when the fish market price is finally becoming stable,” Mr. Igari said after Friday’s auction. “Fisheries people fear that prices of the fish they catch for their living may crash again, and worry about their future living.”

The Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, say the water must be released to make way for the facility’s decommissioning and to prevent accidental leaks of insufficiently treated water. Much of tank-held water still contains radioactive materials exceeding releasable levels.

Some wastewater at the plant is recycled as coolant after treatment, and the rest is stored in around 1,000 tanks, which are filled to 98% of their 1.37 million-ton capacity. The tanks cover much of the complex and must be cleared out to make room for new facilities needed for the decommissioning process, officials say.

Negligible environmental impact: Authorities

Authorities say the wastewater after treatment and dilution is safer than international standards require and its environmental impact will be negligible. On Friday, the first seawater samples collected after the release were significantly below the legally releasable levels, the power company said.

But having suffered a series of accidental and intended releases of contaminated water from the plant early in the disaster, hard feelings and distrust of the government and TEPCO run deep in Fukushima, especially in the fishing community.

There are worries that the release, which TEPCO says will take 30 years or until the end of the plant decommissioning, could mean a tough future for younger people in the fishing town where many businesses are family-run.

Fukushima’s current catch already is only about one-fifth its pre-disaster level due to a decline in the number of fishermen and decreases in catch sizes.

Support for fisheries

The government has allocated 80 billion yen ($550 million) to support fisheries and seafood processing and combat potential reputation damage by sponsoring campaigns to promote Fukushima’s Joban-mono and processed seafood. TEPCO has promised to “appropriately” deal with reputational damage claims, and those hurt by China’s export ban.

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima prefectural fisheries cooperatives, said in a statement Thursday that worries of the fishing community will continue for as long as the water is released.

“Our only wish is to continue fishing for generations in our home town, like we used to before the accident,” Mr. Nozaki said.

Fish prices largely depend on the sentiment of wholesalers and consumers in the Tokyo region, where large portions of Fukushima catch goes.

At the Friday auction at the Numanouchi port, the price for flounder was down from its usual level of about 3,500 yen ($24) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to around 3,000 yen ($20), said Igari, the middleman.

“I suspect the result is because of the start of the treated water release from the Fukushima Daiichi and fear about its impact,” he said.

Mr. Igari said the discharge is discouraging but hopes careful testing can prove the safety of their fish. “From the consumers’ point of view about food safety at home, I think the best barometer is data,” he said.

At Mother’s Radiation Lab Fukushima in Iwaki, a citizens’ testing center known as Tarachine, tests were being conducted on water samples, including on tritium levels for seawater that the lab collected from just off the Fukushima Daiichi plant before the release.

Lab director Ai Kimura said anyone can bring in food, water or even soil, though the lab has big backlogs because testing take time.

She joined the lab after regretting she might not have fully protected her daughters because of the lack of information and knowledge earlier in the disaster. She says having independent test results is important not because of distrust of government data, but because “we learned over the past 12 years the importance of testing in order to get data” on what mothers want to know for serving safe and healthy food to their children and families.

Ms. Kimura said people have different views about safety — some are fine with government standards, others want them to be as close to zero as possible.

“It’s very difficult to make everyone feel safe. … That’s why we conduct testing so we can visualize data on food from different places and help people have more options to make a decision,” she said.

Ms. Kimura said the lab’s testing has shown Fukushima fish to be safe over the past few years and she happily eats local fish.

“It’s totally fine to eat fish that does not contain radiation,” she said.

But now the treated water release will bring new questions, she said.

Aeon, a major supermarket chain Aeon that has been testing cesium and iodine levels in fish, announced plans to also test for tritium, a radionuclide inseparable from water.

Katsumasa Okawa, a fish store and restaurant operator who was at one of his four shops Thursday, said customers were sparse after the plant started its final steps of the treated water release at 1 p.m. and media reports covered the development.

But on Friday, he said, his Yamako seafood restaurant next to Iwaki’s main train station seemed to be doing business as usual, with customers coming in and out during lunchtime.

He personally has been looking forward to the wastewater draining as a big step toward decommissioning the nuclear plant, Okawa said. “I feel more at ease thinking those tanks will finally go away.”

Mr. Okawa, who said he did voluntary testing of his products for a number of years after the disaster, is worried about returning to the days of radiation testing and data as a benchmark of what to eat.

“I think too much testing data only triggers concerns,” he said. “I’m confident about what I sell and I will just keep up the work.”

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US, Japan and South Korea agree Pacific security pact

“The purpose of our trilateral security cooperation is and will remain to promote and enhance peace and stability throughout the region,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

President Joe Biden and the leaders of Japan and South Korea agreed Friday to expand security and economic ties at a historic summit at the US presidential retreat of Camp David, cementing a new agreement with the allies that are on an increasingly tense ledge in relations with China and North Korea.

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Biden said the nations would establish a communications hotline to discuss responses to threats. He announced the agreements, including what the leaders termed the “Camp David Principles,” at the close of his talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Our countries are stronger and the world will be safer as we stand together. And I know this is a belief that all three share,” Biden said. 

“The purpose of our trilateral security cooperation is and will remain to promote and enhance peace and stability throughout the region,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

Biden maintained, as have US, South Korean and Japanese officials, that the summit “was not about China” but was focused on broader security issues. Yet, the leaders in their joint summit concluding statement noted China’s “dangerous and aggressive” action in the South China Sea and said they “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.”

Yoon noted, in particular, the threat posed by North Korea, saying the three leaders had agreed to improve “our joint response capabilities to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, which have become sophisticated more than ever.”

He said as the three appeared before reporters that “today will be remembered as a historic day, where we established a firm institutional basis and commitments to the trilateral partnership.”

Japan’s Kishida said before the private talks that “the fact that we, the three leaders, have got together in this way, I believe means that we are indeed making a new history as of today. The international community is at a turning point in history.”

The visitors spoke in their home languages, their comments repeated by a translator.

The US, Japan and South Korea agreed to a new “duty to consult” security pledge committing them to speak with each other in the event of a security crisis or threat in the Pacific.

The pledge is intended to acknowledge that they share “fundamentally interlinked security environments” and that a threat to one is “a threat to all,” according to a senior Biden administration official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.

Under the pledge, the three countries agree to consult, share information and align their messaging with each other in the face of a threat or crisis, the official said.

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Camp David’s place in history

The Camp David retreat, 104.6 kilometres from the White House, was where President Jimmy Carter brought together Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978 for talks that established a framework for a historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in March 1979. In the midst of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at the retreat — then known as Shangri-La — to plan the Italian campaign that would knock Benito Mussolini out of the war.

Kishida and Yoon were mindful of Camp David’s place in US and world history, making repeated references to its past and now their place in it during their comments at the news conference after the meeting with Biden. The leaders arrived in Washington on Thursday and, as guests of Biden, on Friday were flown separately to Camp David on US military helicopters like the ones Biden uses.

Biden’s focus for the gathering was to nudge the United States’ two closest Asian allies to further tighten security and economic cooperation with each other. The historic rivals have been divided by differing views of World War II history and Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Shared security challenges

But under Kishida and Yoon, the two countries have begun a rapprochement as the two conservative leaders grapple with shared security challenges posed by North Korea and China. Both leaders have been upset by the stepped-up cadence of North Korea’s ballistic missile tests and Chinese military exercises near Taiwan, the self-ruled island that is claimed by Beijing as part of its territory, and other aggressive action.

Yoon proposed an initiative in March to resolve disputes stemming from compensation for wartime Korean forced labourers. He announced that South Korea would use its own funds to compensate Koreans enslaved by Japanese companies before the end of World War II.

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Yoon also travelled to Tokyo that month for talks with Kishida, the first such visit by a South Korean president in more than 12 years. Kishida reciprocated with a visit to Seoul in May and expressed sympathy for the suffering of Korean forced labourers during Japan’s colonial rule. 

The effort to sustain the trilateral relationship won’t be without challenges.

‘Pacific NATO’

Beijing sees the tightening cooperation efforts as the first steps of a Pacific version of NATO, the transatlantic military alliance, forming against it. US officials expect that North Korea will lash out—perhaps with more ballistic missile tests and certainly blistering rhetoric.

Polls show that a solid majority of South Koreans oppose Yoon’s handling of the forced labour issue that’s been central to mending relations with Japan. And many in Japan fear that bolstering security cooperation will lead the country into an economic Cold War with China, its biggest trading partner. Biden’s predecessor (and potential successor) Republican Donald Trump unnerved South Korea during his time in the White House with talk of reducing the US military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

“If an ultra-leftist South Korean president and an ultra-right wing Japanese leader are elected in their next cycles, or even if Trump or someone like him wins in the US, then any one of them could derail all the meaningful, hard work Biden, Yoon and Kishida are putting in right now,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security’s Indo-Pacific Security Program.

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Japan’s Fukushima water release plan fuels fear despite IAEA backing

Japan plans to release more than 1 million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean by the end of August. After years of debate, and despite a green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the plan continues to stoke fears among the local population and in nearby countries. 

Twelve years after the triple catastrophe – earthquake, tsunami, reactor meltdown – that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011, Japan is preparing to release part of the treated wastewater from the stricken plant into the Pacific Ocean this month. A recent article from the daily Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun revealed the upcoming release without specifying a date. 

The release of contaminated water by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has been on the cards since 2018 but it was repeatedly postponed until it finally received endorsement from the International Atomic Energy Agency in early July. After a two-year review, five review missions to Japan, six technical reports and five missions on the ground, the international nuclear watchdog said the discharges of the treated water were consistent with the agency’s safety standards, with “negligible radiological impact to people and the environment”. The green light, which cleared the path for the completion of the project, was greeted with scepticism by some members of the scientific community and with animosity by many local fishermen who fear that consumers will shun their products. 

Storage capacities reaching their limit 

On March 11, 2011, the three reactor cores of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant experienced a meltdown, leaving northeast Japan devastated and adding a nuclear emergency to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Since then, massive quantities of water have been used to cool down the nuclear reactors’ fuel rods every day, while hundreds of thousands of litres of rainwater or groundwater have entered the site.  

Japanese authorities initially decided to store the contaminated water in huge tanks, but are now running out of space. Some 1,000 tanks were built to contain what is now 1.3 million tonnes of wastewater. Japanese authorities have warned that storage capacities are nearing their limit and will reach saturation by 2024. The power plant is also located in a region with a high earthquake risk – meaning that a new tremor could cause the tanks to leak. 

Read moreFukushima fallout: A decade after Japan’s nuclear disaster

Filtering the contaminated water 

To avoid such an accident, the Japanese government has decided to gradually discharge millions of tonnes of water into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years. The process is simple: the water is set to be released one kilometre away from the coast of Fukushima Prefecture via underwater tunnel. 

Releasing treated wastewater into the ocean is a routine practice for nuclear plants all over the world. Water is usually made to circulate around a nuclear reactor to absorb heat, making it possible to trigger turbines and produce electricity. In the process, the water becomes loaded with radioactive compounds, but it is then treated before being released into the sea or rivers. 

“In Fukushima, however, the situation is very different since it is a damaged plant,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel, deputy director in charge of health and the environment at France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). 

“This time, part of the stored water was poured directly onto the reactors in order to cool them,” Gariel added. “Unlike the water from our [French] nuclear plants, [theirs] became loaded with many radioactive compounds, known as radionuclides.” 

Before discharging the water into the sea, the challenge is therefore to remove most of the radioactive materials. To do this, Fukushima’s operator, Tepco, uses a powerful filtration system called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System). “This makes it possible to eliminate a large part of these radioactive substances, which are only present as traces,” said Gariel. 

“On the other hand, as in our own power plants, one component remains: tritium, which cannot be eliminated,” he added. This substance is routinely produced by nuclear reactors and released by power plants around the world. While it is considered relatively harmless, it is often blamed for increasing the risk of cancer. “To limit the risks even further, the water will be diluted in a large quantity of seawater to lower the concentration of tritium as much as possible,” Gariel explained. 

During the most recent test of the water tanks in March, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency detected 40 radionuclides. After treatment, the concentration in the water was lower than accepted standards for 39 – all of them, except for tritium. The level of the latter reached 140,000 becquerels per litre (Bq/L) – while the regulatory concentration limit for release into the sea is set at 60,000 Bq/L in Japan. After the final dilution step, however, the tritium level was reduced to 1,500 Bq/L. 

“To put it simply, while the water from the Fukushima reservoirs is more contaminated than the water from [French] power stations, after treatment and dilution, it is the same as anywhere else,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel. 

It’s like diluting whiskey in Coke 

Yet these standards and figures must be nuanced and taken with caution, with set thresholds varying greatly from one country to another. For example, France sets its tritium limit at 100 Bq/L, while the WHO sets it at 10,000 Bq/L. 

When it comes to diluting tritium, some environmentalists argue that it is like “diluting whiskey in coke”: the presence of coke does not mean there is less alcohol. Similarly, the quantity of tritium in the ocean remains the same; it is simply distributed in a greater quantity of water. 

Within the scientific community, the validity of the safety of Japan’s planned water release is thus widely debated. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), based in the United States, has regularly voiced concerns about the project’s impact on the environment. The Institute expressed its opposition once again to Japan’s project in December 2022, lamenting the failure to measure concentration rates in all the the reservoirs of the plant.

Yet for Jim Smith, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, releasing the wastewater into the ocean “is the best option”. The professor, who studies the consequences of radioactive pollutants, argued in an article published on The Conversation that “on the grand scale of the environmental problems we face, the release of wastewater from Fukushima is a relatively minor one.” 

An eminently political subject 

“This subject is eminently political. It reflects the desire of the Japanese government to make the Fukushima region an example of resilience after a nuclear accident,” said Cécile Asanuma-Brice, a researcher at the CNRS in France and co-director of the MITATE Lab, which studies the consequences of the Fukushima disaster.  

“This is the background of the Japanese government’s reconstruction policy, which includes dismantling the plant and reopening the area to housing,” Asanuma-Brice explained. “The plant can only be dismantled once they have got rid of these contaminated waters, according to the latest statements by the Minister of Economy and Industry, Yasutoshi Nishimura.” 

To carry out the project, the government must also deal with persistent opposition from the local population, especially that of the fishermen’s unions. “For [the fishermen’s unions], who represent an important part of the country’s economy, the question is not so much whether their concerns are justified or not,” said Asanuma-Brice. “After the accident, they suffered from a negative image for years, both in the region and internationally. They had just started recovering and regaining a dynamic economic activity. With the project to release the contaminated water, they fear their image will be damaged again and their products shunned by consumers.” 

Over the years, several alternative solutions have been examined with varying degrees of attention by the authorities. “One of them seems to have gained approval from the local population – that of building new reservoirs or even installing them underground and continuing to store contaminated water until it loses radioactivity in the coming years,” said Asanuma-Brice. The idea was rapidly dismissed by the government, which deemed it too expensive. 

In addition to the local opposition, the Japanese government will also have to deal with mistrust from other Pacific countries, particularly from China. Following the green light granted by the IAEA in early July, Beijing announced a forthcoming ban on the import of food products from certain Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, for “security reasons”. 

 

This article has been translated from the original in French

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From Argentina to Zambia, the A-Z of how fans are celebrating the Women’s World Cup

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It runs in my blood. That’s the common catchcry from fans all around Australia, who reflect on what it means to them to see their country perform at a FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Chicken, beer, and South Korean football

Employees at the Korean Cultural Centre in Sydney are excited to support the women’s team.()

A roar emerges from inside a replica of a traditional Korean hanok, or house. 

Employees from the Korean Cultural Centre in Sydney give a taste of the noise they’ll be generating during the Women’s World Cup as they support their country. 

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Jenny Chung was born in South Korea, but grew up in Australia, and looks after events and concerts at the centre. 

“Even though I’ve lived in Australia for most of my life, I would call Korea my home,” she says. 

Jenny Chung, Jihee Kim, and Joanne Tae will be attending some of South Korea’s matches. ()

“I think a lot of people feel the same way that have been living in Australia for a long time. They feel like Korea is closer to them.

“So every time we have a match like this, we go to a pub and we have chicken and beer, and we watch the tournaments together.”

The Korean Cultural Centre in Sydney runs K-Pop dance classes.()
Joanne Tae is proud to support her team.()
Kate Minji Jung is the manager of education and literature at the Korean Cultural Centre, Sydney.()

Joanne Tae is the Korean language program manager. 

“Hopefully they’ll get to the finals and win the Women’s World Cup,” she says.

“But even if they don’t, we’ll be definitely proud of our players.” 

General Manager of the Korean Cultural Centre, Inji Jung, in a traditional Korean hanok. ()

J-League star gets behind Japan’s women

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As a former J-League star, Kentaroh Ohi knows how much football means to the Japanese public.

A junior national representative, Ohi went on to make 483 appearances with three different clubs between 2003-2022, before crossing to Australia in 2023 to represent the Eastern Lions in Victoria. 

During a World Cup, Ohi says, it is common for families to “wake up at all hours”, glued to the TV as they cheer on the Japanese national team. 

Former J-League player Kentaro Ohi is excited to follow the Japanese women’s team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.()

“It’s an amazing atmosphere,” he says.

“Everyone’s up and about.” 

After the Japanese women’s team won the World Cup as underdogs in 2011, the country “went crazy”, he says.

“As soon as they won, the popularity [of women’s football] just skyrocketed in Japan,” Ohi says.

Some of those players also went on to become television celebrities.

Kentaroh Ohi played over 400 J-League games in Japan.()
Knick knacks inside Paprica Japanese restaurant in Melbourne.()
Paprica is run by Japanese football fans.()

Watching women’s sport grow in Aotearoa New Zealand 

Kiana Takairangi and Harata Butler hope the Women’s World Cup can elevate all women’s sport in Aotearoa New Zealand.()

Kiana Takairangi and Harata Butler play in the NRLW for the Cronulla Sharks, but when it comes to the World Cup, they’re ditching the code wars, to support their fellow female athletes.

“I’m a big fan of it myself, the more exposure, the more recognition that we get as female athletes, it’s really great for women’s sport in general,” Takairangi says.

“I feel like I’m in a privileged position to witness women’s sports, women athletes being recognised on an international stage,” Butler adds.

“Being hosted in our little part of the world for our girls to see women striving and achieving and reaching the goals and their dreams to be an athlete. It’s really massive.”

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Harata Butler’s Tā moko represents her family’s ancestry.()

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Takairangi was born in Australia, and has Cook Islands and Māori heritage, while Butler is from the North Island in Aotearoa. 

“To me, being Māori is my identity,” Butler says.

“It runs in my blood, it holds me grounded, wherever I go in the world, whether that is at home, on home soil, or afar, like here in Australia, it keeps me in tact with my spirituality, my beliefs and my cultural practices.”

Harata Butler plays for the Cronulla Sharks NRLW team. ()

Small, but loud and rowdy Panamanians 

The Altamiranda family are proud of their Panamanian heritage.()

There are only 300 people born in Panama who live in Australia, including the Altamiranda family. 

Andrewfer Altamiranda is the youngest of three boys — the only one of his siblings born in Australia — but his love for Panama, and especially football, runs deep.

“[My family has] been embedding the culture and the customs of the country in me since birth,” he says.

“And that’s how I’m close to Panama, and I’m passionate about my country’s heritage.

“[Panamanians are] very loud and rowdy. We’re very passionate about the culture, the music, the food.

“And once we find someone from Panama as well it’s an instant connection, like a brotherhood or sisterhood.”

Andrewfer Altamiranda plays a Panamanian drum.()

Andrewfer’s mother, Sofia, her husband and two oldest children came to Australia to escape the dictatorship of Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno. 

“We came to this wonderful and beautiful country to make them happy, better life for all of us,” she says.

“We still have [Panama] in our blood. The first time Panama [plays] in this event, it’s wonderful for us to give a lot of support to them.”

The Altamiranda family prepare dinner, while sharing their thoughts about the Women’s World Cup.()
Dayal Ortiz is excited to see Panama’s women on the world stage.()
The Panama women’s team have proven themselves equal to the men by making it to the big stage.()

Andrewfer’s wife, Dayal Ortiz, has only been living in Australia for a few years, and seeing Panama’s women here means a lot.

“We’re going to support [them] because they have done a magnificent job.

“They need to have fun, enjoy. I hope after this they receive all the support for the government that they need to.”

Andrewfer Altamiranda was born in Australia but is passionate about supporting Panama.()

Jamaica punches above its weight

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Ranked 43rd in the world, Jamaica punches well above the weight of its just 2.8 million population, qualifying for the two most recent tournaments.

Roderick Grant, a former professional player who now runs a Jamaican food truck business, moved to Australia when he was 15.

He sees the tournament as a new opportunity to inspire young girls to take up the sport.

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“It’s going to be excellent because Jamaica is so isolated as a small island,” he says.

“It’ll be a great motivator for the young girls to focus in on something and show that it can be achieved. It’s just hard work and dedication.”

Roderick knows first-hand how ingrained football is in Jamaican life, having gone on to represent his family worldwide.

Ranked 43rd in the world, Jamaica will be hoping to advance past the group stage for the first time at a FIFA Women’s World Cup.()

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Roderick Grant knows first-hand how ingrained football is in Jamaican life.()
Roderick Grant found a balance between playing football and bringing Jamaican cuisine to Australian.()

“Football, man, it’s one of those things growing up in Jamaica, you finish school, go home and get changed, straight to the football field in the evening,” he says.

“It’s not even to play as a club, it’s just to play with your friends, your mates, and everyone just pulls teams together. It’s a big part of what we do in Jamaica.”

Football part of Norwegian identity

Sebastian Grøgaard (centre) says football is a central part of Norwegian life. ()

At a celebration for Norway’s ‘Constitution Day’, Norwegian ex-pats get together to celebrate. 

“It was the day that the constitution was signed back in 1814, and it’s also known as the Children’s Day,” says one of the attendees, Bente Ryan.

Norwegian Constitution Day is also known as Children’s Day.()
There are many proud Norwegians in Australia.()
Traditional Norwegian food.()
Norwegian Constitution Day is a time for socialising.()

“So in Norway people will gather in towns and have parades, national costumes, flags, brass bands, lots of ice cream, lots of hotdogs. And it’s a whole lot of fun.”

Amongst the group is Håvard T. Osland, the Norwegian Chaplain to Australia and New Zealand, mainly working as a university chaplain for Norwegian international students. 

“It’s always exciting when your national team is doing really well, and football definitely is a big sport in Scandinavia,” he says. 

“So it really is one of the things that connects us, and is part of our DNA and our identity.”

Chocolate cake brings a smile at the Norwegian Constitution Day.()
Traditional Norwegian outfits.()
The Norwegian colours.()
Traditions are celebrated by Norwegians.()

Generations of Italians share joy together

The Raspoli and Pafralis family say football runs in the blood, with everyone playing locally or watching the national team.()

For generations, family has meant everything to Carmela Rispoli, who moved to Australia in the 1960s and raised four children.

As Italian-Australians, her daughter Philomena Pafralis and granddaughter Natalie Pafralis know when they come together and watch or play, it’s always special.

Italian-Australian mother and daughter, Philomena Pafralis (left) and Natalie Pafralis (right) love to watch Italy play.()

“It’s just beautiful to get together with the family,” Philomena says.

She was born in Italy and moved to Australia at just one year of age.

Italian nonna Carmela Rispoli (centre) moved to Australia in the 1960s, raising four children including Philomena Pafralis (left), and third-generation Natalie Pafralis (right).()

As for Natalie, there was really no other option, being born into an Italian family and raised in Australia.

“If I didn’t want to do it I didn’t have a choice. I was playing all my life, all my childhood,” she says.

And after all – “Italy has to win because they’re the best in the world,” Carmela cries in Italian.

Portuguese community linked by football

As soon as you walk into the grounds of Fraser Park FC in Sydney’s inner-west, the melodic sounds of an accordion ring throughout the area.

Members of Sydney’s Portugal Community Club are enjoying a meal and listening to the traditional music, while on the football field next door, the senior men’s team is preparing to play.

A man plays an accordion at Sydney’s Portugal Community Club.()
Fraser Park FC in Sydney’s inner-west is connected to the Sydney Portugal Community Club.()
David Palma used to play for Fraser Park FC, and is now a supporter.()

Football and community are inseparable here. 

Andrew Alves was born in Australia, after his parents migrated from Portugal. He used to play for Fraser Park, but now supports the team from the sidelines.

“It’s always been a massive part, the Portuguese community here, and has been for many years,” he says.

His niece, 13-year-old Annabella Vasconcelos, plays football, and is amongst the generation of players watching the tournament and being inspired.

“[I’m] more excited than to have the men’s World Cup here,” she says.

The glue that binds Argentines in Australia

Argentines in Australia are still on a high after the men’s team won last year’s World Cup in Qatar.()

“The women’s World Cup means a lot to Argentinians,” says Alfredo Couceiro of Melbourne City Football Club, based in South Kingsville, Victoria.

This is especially the case, he adds, for those like him who have relocated to Australia. 

“Even if you migrate to another country, your heart is beating for Argentina,” adds fellow Argentinian Melissa Gugliara. 

“Football is born into you [as an Argentinian]. 

“It’s in your veins, it’s in your blood.

“You love it, you become passionate.”

Argentina fans at a fan day in Melbourne.()

Cristian Emanuel Mansilla adds that football is the glue that binds Argentinian migrants.

“We are always trying to connect with other Argentinian people within our community,” he says.

“[With football], we are together the whole time. It’s why we love it; hugging, supporting, singing together.”

Even pets are roped in to support the team.()

Brazilian football ‘like a religion’

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No one does football like Brazil, with some of the most passionate supporters and best players in the world.

When Adilson Andrade de Melo Júnior moved to Australia, he knew there was a spread of sports compared to back home in Brazil.

“It’s hard to explain … in Brazil when you talk about football, soccer, it’s part of the culture. It’s a religion in a way,” he says.

Brazilian supporter Adilson Andrade de Melo Júnior performs on drums and other instruments at any match he can attend when they’re playing in Australia.()
Brazilian supporter Adilson Andrade de Melo Júnior performs on drums and other instruments at any match he can attend when they’re playing in Australia.()

“Everyone follows, every four years we stop for this magnificent event.

“Whenever Brazil comes here, myself and a couple of other friends, we get together trying to organise tickets for everyone and being close to each other.

“Last game that Brazil had here we probably had over 300 people sitting together cheering, which was an amazing atmosphere.”

Zambia’s Copper Queens inspiring a nation

Dr Elias Munshya is Zambia’s High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand.()

Zambia is one of eight countries making its tournament debut, and no one is more excited to sing their praises than the country’s High Commissioner for Australia and New Zealand, Dr Elias Munshya.

“It’s a huge, huge time for us,” he says.

“It’s amazing just to see the impact that this qualification of Zambia National Women’s [team] has had on young girls in Zambia.

“These players have inspired a whole generation of young girls that believe in themselves, that they believe they can achieve, that are fighting for equality, that are fighting for equity.”

Nigerians use sport as a form of survival

As Africa’s top-ranked nation, Nigeria’s women’s national team has plenty of support, including from Toyin Abbas.

“From day one, we embedded with soccer because we were colonised by Britain,” he says.

“It’s one of the reasons people play sports in Africa.”

As he knows well as a former professional player, Toyin played football, just as the Super Falcons players do so across the globe.

“People started to see soccer as a form of survival. Like you want to earn a living and it’s tough for some families, it’s very tough for some individuals.

There’s plenty of support from Melbourne’s Nigerian community with sport being a way to make a living for some players.()

“It unifies relations, the people, it binds people together.”

Nigerian supporter, Toyin Abbas says the Super Falcons can win it all at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.()
The Super Falcons are 11-time champions at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament, but have never made it past the quarter-finals at a World Cup in nine attempts.()

As Toyin says, the Super Falcons players will have success if they stay tactically disciplined together.

“We’re going to win the trophy, I will tell you,” he says.

“The Nigerian team, we have what it takes, we can be world beaters.”

Canada to ‘knock people’s socks off’

Stacey, Dylan, and their boys come from Edmonton, Canada.()

Stacey, Dylan and their three boys hail from Edmonton, Alberta.

They’re a long way from home but their Canadian national pride is never far away.

“We’re really, really proud. I think they have a really good chance of winning, [we’re] really hopeful, we will be cheering them on,” Stacey says

Rod Johns is the president of the Canada Club in Melbourne.()

Equally ecstatic is Rod Johns, president of the Canada Club in Melbourne.  

“I think it’s great that they’re coming because the girls don’t get enough exposure, it’s good for soccer in Australia, and it’s good for women’s sports in general, Mr Johns said. 

“Based on their pre-performance I think they’ll knock some people’s socks off, they should do very well.” 

Credits

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Being a digital nomad isn’t just for singles. Here’s how families make it work

To many, the lifestyle of a “digital nomad” is an aspirational one — you can live anywhere in the world, visa permitting, with your laptop as your office.

Forget the daily grind of the rush hour commute. As long as there’s decent Wi-Fi, simply pick a coffee shop, park or pool and get to work.

The lifestyle has become more popular in the wake of the Covid pandemic, which accelerated the trend of remote working. The number of American digital nomads increased 9% in just 12 months from 2021 to 2022, to a total of almost 17 million, according to the jobs platform MBO Partners.

But one factor deters many from the lifestyle: kids.

Whether it’s schooling, health and safety concerns, or the question of a child’s ability to develop lasting friendships, parents face multiple barriers.

But some have taken the plunge anyway. Two families tell CNBC Travel how they’ve made it work.

Keller family: French Polynesia

Sam Keller is the founder and CEO of Working Without Borders, which calls itself “the world’s first company providing coworking retreats for families with culturally immersive programming for kids and teens.” 

He’s also a dad of two kids under the age of 12.

Sam Keller, founder of Working Without Borders, which organizes coworking retreats for families.

Working Without Borders

“My wife and I each had living abroad experiences, but we couldn’t figure out how to make it happen” again, he said. “Then we had kids.”

The couple scoped out a school while on vacation in French Polynesia, thinking it could be “the place where we can go live,” he said.

Another factor worked in their favor: Keller’s wife Pascaline Cure works for Airbnb, which allows her to work anywhere she wants.

So together they made a big move from California to French Polynesia. And not just at any time — they moved during the pandemic.

“The stars aligned, we made it onto the plane and decided we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons of this pandemic.”

Sam Keller with his family in Bora Bora.

Working Without Borders

Education is regularly cited as the biggest challenge for digital nomads with children. Navigating an unfamiliar school system, often in an entirely new language, can be a struggle.

“We found that [in French Polynesia] there are a fair number of private schools that will accept kids for as short a time as a couple of weeks or a month. Then there are plenty of schools set up to provide online support, or online-only schools with really good teaching and instruction and curricula,” Keller said.

Homeschooling is another option for some, but Keller prefers to call it “world schooling,” which he says “embraces this notion of viewing the world as your classroom.”

“From the playground you could see stingrays swimming by,” he said. “Kids are out as part of the curriculum, so we’re paddling outrigger canoes in the lagoon, seeing sea turtles and dolphins. It was just magical in so many respects.”

He added that now more resources exist to help people learn about the digital nomad lifestyle, thanks to its growing popularity. Companies, like this own, let families “dip their toes in the water,” and some Facebook groups for world schooling have more than 50,000 members — so there’s always someone to answer a question, he said.

Elledge-Penner family: 20 countries

The beautiful Indonesian island of Bali, famed for its laidback lifestyle, is a popular destination for digital nomads.

Martin Penner and Taryn Elledge-Penner from the boutique travel agency Quartier Collective call it home, along with their three children, aged between seven and 12.

Since leaving Seattle in 2018, the family has visited nearly 20 different countries, including Japan, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and Sri Lanka. Sometimes they stay a few weeks, but typically they’re in one place for one to three months.

Taryn Elledge-Penner and her son Viggo in Ahangama, Sri Lanka.

Quartier Collective

Penner said his children were part of the reason they decided to leave the United States.

“We traveled a lot as individuals and just felt that the world was this big, wild place — and that our world in Seattle had shrunk in a way,” he said. “We had to show them the world and didn’t want to miss this connection to something bigger.”

Elledge-Penner said they wanted more time with their kids, to make their journey sustainable and, critically, to connect with other families.

“When we left it was lonely for families like ours on the road,” she said. “Now that has really changed and a lot of families have realized this is an option, going longer and deeper.”

The family of five have enjoyed a range of experiences: living on a farm in Japan where they slurped soba noodles from a 30-foot hollowed-out bamboo pole; making pottery in Mexico; and taking in a shadow puppet show in the Cyclades in Greece — though they didn’t understand a word.

Penner said the key to making the lifestyle work for them is “connecting with people” and not approaching places “as a travel highlight hit list.”

Martin Penner walking with two of his children in Japan.

Quartier Collective

But it’s not all fun and games. There are also practicalities to be reckoned with, Elledge-Penner said.

“One of the challenges has been finding a balance with time and space on our own — and away from each other and the kids,” she said. “We’ve gone such long periods being together, every waking moment of a day.”

“We all need a break and space, normally by going to work or school. Even though this is what we’re choosing, it still requires some balance and that can be difficult to find and that can lead to tension.”

The pre-teen marker is a natural point when pressures mount.

She also touches on what she calls “decision fatigue.”

“The time to plan out the logistics, getting from A to B, where to stay, it can literally be a full-time job and really exhausting,” she said.

Once again, education is one of the biggest questions for global nomads with kids, but — like Keller — Elledge-Penner said there are plenty of options.

“Things have changed a lot from when we first set out. It’s tenfold the number of options you can find and plug into as a world schooling family,” she said.

“We’ve dropped into schools in different countries around the world. There are accredited distance learning programs too and home-schooling pods. For literally anybody who wants to untether from their current school system, it’s totally possible to find whatever you’re looking for.”

The couple noted that the family dynamic has changed since they started traveling in 2018. Their daughter, for example, now wants more long-lasting friendships, while the idea of having a dog — and a bedroom she doesn’t have to share with her brothers — is a big draw.

“The pre-teen marker is a natural point when pressures mount. Lots of families we see stop traveling when [kids] are that age. Now they want to spend more time around friends [which is] a big shift from when we started out.”

 



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I asked ChatGPT to help me plan a vacation. Here’s what happened next

Some people love travel planning.

But I am not one of those people.

So the idea that artificial intelligence chatbots, such as ChatGPT and Bing, can research travel destinations and create itineraries is intriguing.

But I’m skeptical too.

Do recommendations just scratch the surface — for example, suggesting that I see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Or can they recommend lesser-known restaurants and handle specific hotel requests too?

The answer is: yes and no — at least for ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Bing. When I tried to access it, I was put on a waiting list. The website said I could “get ahead in the line” if I set Microsoft defaults on my computer and scanned a QR code to install the Bing app. I did both. I’m still waiting.

ChatGPT was easier. I went to the developer’s website, clicked on the word “ChatGPT,” registered for an account — and started chatting.

‘Can you help me plan a beach trip?’

“Of course!” replied ChatGPT. But first, I needed to tell it about my interests, budget and how long I planned to be away.

I’m looking for a week-long beach trip in mid-March to spend time with my family, with no set budget, I typed.

“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” it replied, before recommending Hawaii, the Caribbean — specifically the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — Florida and Costa Rica, along with details about the weather and popular attractions for each.

Nice. But I live in Singapore, I said.

“I see!” it exclaimed. (ChatGPT loves exclamation points.) In that case, Bali, Indonesia; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Phuket and Krabi in Thailand were better choices.

ChatGPT is nothing if not apologetic.

Cost estimates for each hotel were more accurate. But ChatGPT couldn’t show photographs of the hotels or help book them — although it did provide ample instructions on how to do both.

By road or by rail?

Flights

ChatGPT can name airlines that connect cities, but it can’t give current flight information or help book flights.  

It wasn’t able to tell me the cheapest fare — or any fare — from London to New York this spring because it doesn’t “have access to real-time pricing information,” it said.

In fact, ChatGPT data ends at September 2021; it doesn’t “know” anything that’s happened since.

However, the bot could answer which month the London-to-New York route is usually the cheapest, which it said is “January and February, or during the shoulder season months of March and November.”

As for the best airline in the world, it said: “As an AI language model, I cannot have personal preferences or opinions.” But it went on to name the top five airlines named to Skytrax’s “World’s Top 100 Airlines” in 2021.

The list wasn’t correct.

The list provided by ChatGPT appears to be Skytrax’s airline ranking from 2019 instead.  

“Where should I eat?”

Specific questions

I had many more questions for ChatGPT, such as:

“How should I spend five days in South Africa?”
“Which chateaux accept visitors in Bordeaux?”
“If I only have one day in London, what should I do?”
“Which rides have the longest lines at Disney World?”

But before I could, my screen said “Access denied” alongside an “error code 1020” message.

This error may be caused by overloaded servers or by exceeding the daily limit, according to the tech website Stealth Optional. Either way, all of my previous chats were inaccessible, a huge negative for travelers in the middle of the planning process.

A new window didn’t fix the problem, but opening one in “incognito mode” did. Once in, I clicked on “Upgrade to Plus,” which showed that the free plan is available when demand is low, but for $20 per month, the “Plus plan” gives access to ChatGPT all the time, faster responses and priority to use new features.

With access again, I quickly asked about wait times on Disney World rides, a subject which I had spoken to luxury travel advisor Jonathan Alder of Jonathan’s Travels about last week. Alder lives close to the park and has lost count of how many times he’s visited, he said. Yet, only one of their answers — Epcot’s “Frozen Ever After” — overlapped.

ChatGPT mentioned that FastPass and Genie+ can reduce wait times at Disney World, which is partly right. The company phased out its “skip the line” virtual queue FastPass program when it introduced Genie+ in the fall of 2021.

The takeaway

ChatGPT is fast, chatty and feels like you’re interacting with a human. I found myself responding with unnecessary pleasantries — “Ok, sure” and “Thank you” — out of habit.

I could see how it could save travelers’ time, especially if they are looking for an overview or are at the early stages of planning.

But information will need to be current, of course — and bugs and error messages, which I faced several times in addition to the “1020” message mentioned above — will need to be fixed.

OpenAI states that the current ChatGPT version “is a free research preview.” It also says the system may “occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information” and that it’s “not intended to give advice.”

When I asked it about its travel planning abilities, it said it “can assist with many aspects of travel planning” but that it may not be able to “provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances.”

My verdict: Travel agents’ jobs are secure for the time being.

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