Japan's crown prince hopes to continue father's legacy

In this Feb. 17, 2019, photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako pose for a photo at their residence Togu Palace in Tokyo. Naruhito celebrates his 59th birthday on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Japan's crown prince hopes to continue father's legacy

  • The Japanese throne is only inherited by male heirs, and Naruhito's only child is a daughter. Prince Akishino and his young son Hisahito are next in the line of succession after Naruhito

TOKYO: Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito says he hopes to continue the close relationship his father built with the people when he succeeds him as emperor later this year.
Naruhito, who turns 59 on Saturday, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 after Emperor Akihito abdicates.
"I feel very solemn when I think about the future," he said at an annual pre-birthday news conference Thursday. His remarks were embargoed from publication until Saturday.
"While I continue to prepare for this role, I would like to maintain the past emperors' work. I would like to think about the people and pray for the people," he said.
His wife, Masako will also assume a new role as empress. The former diplomat has suffered from stress and has often skipped public events, and it's unclear how she will manage her new role as empress.
"Although Masako is steadily recovering, her condition still fluctuates. I would like Masako to continue to slowly widen her contribution in her role," Naruhito said, adding he hopes to support his wife just as she has supported him.
Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, and his family are also expected to play a major role. The Japanese throne is only inherited by male heirs, and Naruhito's only child is a daughter. Prince Akishino and his young son Hisahito are next in the line of succession after Naruhito.
Akihito's desire to leave the throne revived a debate about the country's 2,000-year-old monarchy, one of the world's oldest, as well as discussion about improving the status of female members of the shrinking royal population.
"This problem will relate to the imperial family of the future. I would like to refrain from giving any opinions on the system," the crown prince said.
Those who are concerned about the future of the royal family with shrinking membership want to allow women to ascend the throne and others to keep their royal status so they can keep performing public duties, but a government panel has avoided the divisive issue.
Even before the 1947 Imperial Law, reigning empresses were rare, usually serving as stand-ins for a few years until a suitable male can be installed. The last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who assumed the throne in 1763.
Debate over the succession law, however, is emotional. Some conservatives proposed a revival of concubines to produce imperial heirs, and others argued that allowing a woman on the throne would destroy a precious Japanese tradition.


Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

Updated 24 March 2019
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Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

  • The niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production
  • ‘It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since’

NEW YORK: The humble cassette — that tiny little plastic rectangle containing the homemade mixtapes of yesteryear — is back, joining vinyl as a darling of audiophiles who miss side A and side B.
But as top musicians including Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber release their music on tape and demand continues to climb, the niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production.
Now, two facilities — one in the American Midwest and the other in western France — have stepped in to meet the need.
“It’s a good place to be — there’s plenty of business for both of us,” said Steve Stepp, who founded the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.
He said that around 2000 the “imperial hegemony of the CD” cut his business, which stayed alive as a major manufacturer of books on tape that remained popular.
But despite the astronomical rise of streaming, Stepp said rock bands like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins began seeking to manufacture anniversary tapes in the mid-2000s, launching a cassette comeback tour.
“That convinced major record labels that there was still life in the cassette as a music form,” he said.
Several years ago, National Audio bought 300,000 reels of tape from a South Korean company that gave up music-grade tape production.
As that stockpile began to shrink, his facility in November 2016 was faced with a choice: either make reels, or fold.
His business invested several million dollars buying up old equipment from defunct production facilities, and last year National Audio manufactured 18 million audio cassettes, Stepp said, selling to 3,500 record labels globally.
“I think it’s got a bright future,” Stepp said of the cassette market. “It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.”
“Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”
Since November, Mulann — a small French company near Mont Saint Michel — has also rebooted production, the country’s first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.
Already selling magnetic tape for metro tickets or military recording studios, the Mulann group acquired a plant to produce analog audio tapes under the trademark Recording The Masters.
For Jean-Luc Renou, Mulann’s CEO, there’s still a place for analog sound in today’s ephemeral music world.
“Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home. It’s comfortable, it’s digital — but next to you, you can make a good fire.”
“Pleasure” is the goal, he said: “That’s the cassette or vinyl.”
The company sells tapes for €3.49 each, producing them by the thousands each month and exporting 95 percent worldwide, according to commercial director Theo Gardin.
The 27-year-old admits he didn’t know in his youth the joys — and pains — of the Walkman personal tape player, or the delicate strip of tape that tangles up and must be rewound with, say, a pen. Or a finger.
According to Stepp, it’s precisely 20-somethings like Gardin fast-forwarding demand, as young people seek something tangible in the Internet age.
Urban Outfitters — an American clothing brand catering to hipster types that also sells electronics — on its site spells out the mixtape process.
“If you’ve never spent 3-5 hours sitting by the radio, waiting for that one Hanson song to come on so you could add it to your mixtape, get pumped: you can now relive that experience,” it says.
“Let those ‘90s vibes wash over you, man.”
Cassette tape album sales in the US grew by 23 percent in 2018, according to tracker Nielsen Music, jumping from 178,000 copies the year prior to 219,000.
It’s nothing compared to 1994 sales of 246 million cassette albums, but significant considering the format was all but dead by the mid-2000s.
“As an old fogey I don’t want to imagine a world with no analog,” Stepp said. “The world around is analog; our ears are analog.”
“Digital recordings are very clean and sharp but there are no harmonics. These are digital pictures of audio recordings, if you will.”
Bobby May, a 29-year-old buyer at Burger Records in southern California, said that while “physical media in itself is a totally antiquated idea,” cassette sound has what he called a uniqueness.
“The consumer public is fickle and trends always change, but for the foreseeable future, I know tons of people will stay pretty crazy for records and vinyl.”
Last year vinyl saw revenues hit their highest level since 1988, totaling $419 million — an eight percent jump from the previous year.
Though vinyl’s sound quality is unquestionably superior to cassettes, May said tapes’ low cost makes them ideal for collectors.
“I still like stuff pilin’ up around me,” May laughed, adding that he probably has 500 tapes from Burger.
In addition to the homemade and indie cassettes, he cherishes several mainstream albums as well.
“I have a prized ‘Baby One More Time’ cassette,” he said, referring to pop princess Britney Spears’ debut album. “It looks great on my shelf.”